Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. That’s why I’m sure to keep a notebook nearby at all times—just in case.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I wrote my first story just for me—not because it was an assignment for school—when I was in fourth grade. I remember my mom reading it and saying, “Some day, Beth, you're going to write a story and it's going to be published.” I could picture it, that little story I wrote, on shelves.
You know, looking back on that now, I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if Mom had just said, “That’s nice, Beth” and moved on to whatever else she had been doing before I waved those pages in her face. Maybe I would’ve fallen in love with writing on my own. Maybe I wouldn’t have.
The thing that strikes me is the power of that moment of kindness on her part. It didn’t cost her anything—maybe a few minutes—to read those pages, smile and encourage me. But it changed the course of my life. I try to be mindful of that now, as a mom but also as a person who spends a lot of time with children. One moment of kindness and attention can be so powerful.
What gave you the idea to write this book?
I think we all go through a period where we feel a little picked on and misunderstood. For me, that was fourth grade. My dad had been seriously injured at work, with a long hospital stay and much longer recovery period. He and Mom were understandably stressed and distracted. While I didn’t completely understand what they were dealing with, I knew not to bring up things like that other kids were laughing at my penny loafers. All my buddies from fourth-grade seemed to have paired up with new friends during the summer, and I felt pretty alone. I remember searching the cliques in my classroom, trying to find a place where I fit.
It’s a lonely feeling, but powerful material for a future writer!
Are you a lot like Lucy (Pack of Dorks)?
Oh, I wish! While Lucy might not be the nicest, most considerate person, she is authentic. I wish I had known and respected myself as much as her by the time I finished fourth grade. I wallowed. Lucy takes action!
How long did it take to write PACK OF DORKS?
I’ve got a short and a long answer to this question. Here’s the short version: About a year. I wrote most of PACK OF DORKS at a local coffee shop while my son was in preschool.
Now, for the long version, I’d say it took me about five years and four books. Even though PACK OF DORKS is my first published book, it’s not the first I’ve written. My first novel, I’ll just say it, was terrible. So, so bad that kittens died. For real! I wanted to write a Serious Work of Fiction. You know, those books that make you think and pang and long. That was the type of book I was certain I should be writing. Well, it didn’t take long to realize instead of a Serious Work of Fiction, I had just written a dull, depressing book.
But here’s the thing: I had finished a whole novel! Sure, no one, aside from my ever-loving mom would read it, but I finished it. And that meant I could do it again.
The next time, I tried writing the kind of book I loved to read. It was full of excitement and drama and even a little magic. I liked the story when it was finished, but I knew it wasn’t great. Why? It didn’t read like a story I would write. It read like a story I wrote to sound like other writers. Does that make sense?
But once again, I had finished. And that meant I could do it again. This time, I wrote a story only I could tell. I shared it the way I would tell a friend a story. I love that novel, and so did my friend and agent, Nicole, but publishers didn’t agree that it was ready for bookshelves.
I didn’t give up. I sat down and wrote again. This time, PACK OF DORKS. And you know what? It was so fun to write. I cracked myself up as I typed in the coffee shop. I teared up, too, during certain scenes. When I was done, I was so proud because I knew this was a story only I could create.
Where’s your favorite place to write?
I have three. The first is for when I’m home alone. Then I put on HGTV and write while sitting on the couch, preferably with a cup of coffee in my favorite mug and a box of Girl Scout cookies. My second favorite is in the summer, when I write on our deck next to the little pond. My children are usually playing in the woods surrounding our yard, so in between the croaks of the frogs in the pond, I hear them as they scurry up trees and explore the wilderness. The third is the coffee shop in town. My daughter, who also loves to write, brings her laptop, too. We’ll sit side by side, me with my coffee (black, thank you) and her with her smoothie (vanilla bean), and write. She jokes that it’s quality time with Mom, where we basically ignore each other for hours. The key to a good writing place seems to be a lot of background noise!
Why did you decide to include Down Syndrome as part of PACK OF DORKS and cystic fibrosis as part of CALEB AND KIT?
It’s important to me that books—especially books for young readers—include diversity. Many families face unexpected challenges, the way Lucy’s family does when Molly is born with Down Syndrome. When things like this happen, families need time to adjust. Maybe they’re even sad and mournful for a time, but then they realize they’re stronger and more capable than they thought. I love that impulsive, self-centered Lucy is the one to prove this to her parents.
And Caleb, he's just like everyone else--a regular kid, doing regular stuff--but he happens to have this additional challenge of living with chronic illness.
What scares you?
Spiders, falling and fevers.
What is a dork?
To me, a dork is someone who isn’t like everyone else and doesn’t try to be. Too many of us spend too much time trying to fit in, to be like everyone else, when what we really want is to stand out. Celebrate what sets you apart! Be a dork!