Author Interview: Steph Bowe

Some stats on Steph:

Writes: YA Fiction
Represented by: Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown.
Debut novel will be published by: Text Publishing
Release Date: September 2010.
Writes the popular blog: Hey! Teenager of the Year
Resides in: Victoria, Australia

Jody: You are fifteen. Is this true or false?

Steph: True!

Jody: I still can’t believe it.  A book deal at 15! I did not have the confidence in myself to think of beginning an actual writing career or the patience to write a novel at fifteen. I’m impressed, to say the least.  How did you get so involved in reading, writing, and blogging?

Steph: Even though my parents aren’t fiction readers themselves, they read to me a lot when I was young, and when I was little my mum worked in computers, so I’ve always had lots of books and new technology around me. I’ve been writing since I was very young, and everyone has always encouraged me, though it’s something I’ve done totally independently.

Jody: I’ll be honest; it’s kind of confusing to think of you as fifteen and as a professional YA writer. I don’t mean that to sound negative at all–It’s just rare and fascinating. How does it feel? Is it annoying when people make a “thing” of your age? Or, is it kind of confusing for you too?

Steph: To be entirely honest, I don’t really act my age. I do school by correspondence, and I’m very independent and self-driven. I don’t really tend to drink alco-pops at parties or upload unattractive photos to Myspace or do other fifteen-year-old things. It probably is confusing for other people, but it isn’t for me – I’m just me! And this is something I’ve been working towards for a long time, so none of my family or friends were particularly surprised, though new people I meet are.

Jody: Can you tell us about your journey to getting an agent/book deal? I understand you had not one, not two, but three agents vying for your manuscript.

Steph: An author friend who I got to know through my blog, Sara Henry, read my manuscript and encouraged me to contact agents she knew in the US. I queried three, and entered a Secret Agent contest on a blog as well. From that, I had three offers of representation. I spoke to all of the agents on the phone, and eventually signed with Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown. After doing a revision with Ginger, she sent my novel out on submission in Australia & the US. I got to meet a few of the Australian publishers who were interested, and then the ANZ rights went to auction. (Me through the entire process: Stress, stress, worry, stress.) Then I signed with Text Publishing.

When it’s distilled like that it seems very easy and quick and painless, and I assure you, it was not.

Jody: Okay, so about this book. Congratulations on this huge accomplishment. Can you blurb us a little? What is it about and is there a title yet?

Steph: It isn’t properly titled yet – still working that bit out! And a blurb isn’t quite ready yet, but I will tell you three things:

1) It begins with a girl saving a boy from drowning

2) It features a garden gnome thief and two ridiculously tall child prodigies

3) It is hopelessly romantic. It’s so unlike me that it’s kind of stupendous that I managed to write something so romantic.

Jody: Do you have any writing routines or rituals?

Steph: I write on my laptop, in my room, late at night. I need a bottle of water, have a piece of toast and a cup of tea before I start, and my novel soundtrack playing. Then I’m in my writing zone!

Jody: What is your favorite part of the writing process? Least favorite part?

Steph: I love all parts of the writing process, though revisions and edits are easiest for me, because I know where the story is going (I usually don’t when I’m writing the first draft). My least favorite part is probably when I’m in the middle of a first draft and start freaking out because I don’ t know what to write next and I’m thinking, “Why on earth did I want to be a writer in the first place?”

Jody: Here’s a hard one: What makes you fall in love with a story?

Steph: The characters. I love character-driven novels, and even the most brilliant plot doesn’t make up for a story with two-dimensional characters, for me at least.

Jody: Name three things you’d like to do before you die that don’t have anything to do with writing.


1. Travel. Widely. I want to go all over the world. I’ve never been outside of Australia.

2. Have a family of my own. Of course this isn’t something I’m going to do for years and years, but family is something really important to me.

3. Sing in public!

Jody: I hope I’m there when you sing in public! Awesome. Thanks so much for this interview, Steph. I’m a big fan of garden gnomes and I’m excited to read your book. Find out more information about Steph Bowe at her website.

Self-Deprecating Sunday (9)

In which the YA Author showcases her teen years in all their awkward glory.

To be fair, I think this photo was taken circa 1984/1985 which puts me at about 11-years old, so this falls more in the awkward category than it does the the teenage years category.  But I couldn’t resist showing off the those bangs. (I’m on the left) and by bangs, I mean BANGS! Those things reach back nearly back to wall I’m standing against. I also couldn’t resist answering your burning question about this rollerskating rink, you’ll be pleased to know that,  yes! They have NACHOS!

Why would we wear theses Peggy Fleming outfits to the roller rink? Well, because we had roller skating lessons, sillies!  See that beautiful lady between my sister and I? That’s my mom. (Dudes, admire that posture!) She roller-skated competitively before having us kids, once taking second place in the World Championships in Pairs. I actually come from an incredibly athletic family. My dad also briefly played professionally with the Detroit  Lions defense (you heard me, Jim). So, yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah, I’m a writer. Sorry, Mom and Dad.

Must Be Santa

In the spirit of the Holidays, I thought I’d post some of my old writing and illustration. You can clearly see my talent leans toward writing for young adults. This was back when I was still making the Y in Jody backwards, so I was maybe six years old. This was also back when the only holiday we talked about in school at this time of year was Christmas. Oh, elitism.


RUDOLPH, by Jody Sparks

Rudolph has a red nose. Some laughed and called him names. Santa picked Rudolph for the leader.

(Apparently Rudolph also dreams of little skunks made out of pink bubble gum and a life of sunshine and flowers made of hearts and pink clouds. He may also be wondering where is other leg is…or he’s lost one of his black boots while hiking his leg to pee.)

SANTA MOUSE by Jody Sparks

Once upon a time there was little mouse. He did not have  a name. Santa named him Santa Mouse. He helped Santa with the presents.

(While Rudolph is pondering his missing leg, it’s clear why Santa needs help: He’s lost his hands. And his hair. This has driven Santa Mouse to drink. Apparently his drink of choice is Absinthe.)


It’s possible I have a tiny little hint of a whiff of a speck of whisper of an obsession with a book called Stargirl. It’s just that Jerry Spinelli does everything right in this book. He makes a character so beautiful (and beautifully flawed, though it’s hard to see it when you’re reading the story–at least it was for me) that she’s far and away the most memorable and admirable character I’ve ever read. On top of that, the writing is heart-warming and magnetic at the same time. There’s magic and realism but you couldn’t call magic realism. For me, it’s the perfect YA book. I don’t know how to define story, but I know this is it. Much like you when  you look at a painting, you don’t know how to explain it’s Art, but you know when you see it, that’s Art. As I told Steph in an interview over at Hey! Teenager Of The Year, this book, Stargirl, made me want to write YA.

Not too long ago a good friend of mine got a chance to meet Jerry Spinelli and his wife Eileen, who is also a writer, and who (I’ve heard) is the inspiration for the character Stargirl. Then all of a sudden, on Twitter, this friend (oh, fine, it’s Berk) starts posting pictures of them all meeting each other and I may have been a wee bit jealous and BAM! There’s a photo of a signed copy of the book that says, “To Jody.”

Kind of made my day.

So, I had to post this:

As you can see, I’m happy. But it bears repeating. This book makes me happy. Thanks, Berk.

Self-Deprecating Sunday (8)

In which the YA author showcases her teenage years in all their awkward wonder.

This is my eighth grade school photo. I kind of can’t believe I’m posting it. Can you imagine if I’d worn my blue glasses? You know what I remember about this photo?  It was re-take. I hated my first one. But this one…this one! It made me look good! What can we learn from this photo? I really don’t know. Seriously, how do I spin this into something positive?

Also, is there anyone who reads this blog whose former fro is jealous?

Doug The Dog

A story about taking Parenting too seriously:

It was during the lean years. We were renting a house in Half Moon Bay, CA, which is just south of San Francisco. We had sunk all kinds of money into our rent and into a dot com start-up company that was failing miserably. Eleanor was four years old and Magnolia was about 18 months. I was about 25 or 26 while most other moms with kids my age were in their 40s. So, I put a lot of pressure on myself to prove my parenting skills. I also love dogs.

While I knew that the timing was pretty wrong for getting a dog, I still did it. He was a pound dog, a mix of Great Dane, Dalmatian, Black Lab, possibly some Pit Bull. He had slick black fur, a white belly, and a face like the guy in the photo there. We named him Doug. Josh would say, “Go get the Doug! We’re going to the beach!”

But Doug had some issues, namely anxiety. He could not be left alone. At all. The first time we tried to leave him home alone, he successfully scratched and  chewed his way through a wooden door and went on a search through town to find us. Or maybe a new family. Who knows? Later, he destroyed many of my college papers and yearbooks and boxes of books. While that hurt, I could still forgive it. He let me cry all over him when I didn’t think my friends could stand any more of my sadness over the fact that Josh’s dot com was probably not going to make it and I was about to have to move back home.

Then my birthday came. Josh bought me a new pair of running shoes. It was a generous gift; I’m particular about my running shoes. And obviously, we had little money.

You know what’s coming, right? I don’t know why I didn’t simply take the dog with me that day. I just needed to pick up Eleanor from preschool. I guess I figured it was going to be a quick trip, and I was probably running late. Don’t you hate those programs that charge you for every minute you’re late to pick up your kid?

So, I walked back into the house, set Magnolia down to play, went into the kitchen with Eleanor and there were my brand new shoes torn to shreds. It was always so damn personal!  My yearbooks?  My college papers?  Now my shoes??!! I gave in to my emotions. I picked up what was left of one of those shoes and I whacked the dog. “Bad dog! You are so bad!  I rescued you, you ingrate!”

“Mommy?” Eleanor looked concerned.

Oh, hell. I’d just hit and name-called in front of my four-year-old. If I wasn’t crying already, I was then. The weight of that moment fell hard on me. I crouched down and looked at her and said, “Eleanor, you know I would never do that to you, right?”

She shrugged. “I know. I would never chew your shoes.” And then she went off to play.

Author Interview: SPC Michael Anthony

Knowing my interest in military books (especially ones that are about young people), my friend Val, a book reviewer, let me know about this book. Thank you, Val! I quickly bought it, and contacted the author. Even though I’ve talked to a lot of soldiers, I still get a little intimidated. SPC Anthony is, of course, very kind and I’ve enjoyed trading emails with him (especially the ones about shopping, but that’s getting off-topic).

*Note: This post will contain some cursing and adult content. While the book is very much an adult book, I think there is much to be gained from reading this as a teen, and I (being very liberal in what I think teens and kids should read) would encourage young adult readers to pick up this book.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach this blog post because the book, at first, was very serious, and then it turned a corner and became very funny, and then I began to hate the Army, but then it was funny again and kind of weird. Here’s a great example (edited for length):

As Laveled approaches, I get in to the position of parade rest–hands behind my back, legs shoulder-width apart.

“Good evening, command sergeant major.”

“Good evening, soldier. Hot day out today. Good thing I’m not wearing any underwear.”

I know that I should laugh as  a sign of respect, but I can’t. Command Sergeant Major Laveled says nothing. We both stare at each other, holding the other’s eye contact. I’m in no mood to play this game.

Twenty seconds goes by: What the hell is going on? Is he going to just stand here staring at me?

Thirty seconds: Why didn’t I just laugh at his stupid joke?

Forty-five seconds: I’m insane. I need to do something.

“At least I don’t get any wedgies this way,” he says after almost a minute of eye contact.

I continue to stare at him. Why is he just staring at me?

Twenty seconds: What is this guy’s fucking problem? Leave me alone you freak show!

Thirty seconds: Maybe I don’t understand the joke.

“I mean sometimes I get swamp ass, so I just do lunges and dry it up,” he says.

What the fuck is going on? This doesn’t even make sense.

Twenty seconds: Does this fucking guy really need my approval that bad that he’d have a staring contest with me until I act subservient and laugh?

Thirty-five seconds: I’ve got to do something

Forty seconds: I’ve got it!

I move the right side of my mouth up a half centimeter into what could be called a smirk.

Five seconds. . . .

Laveled looks at me and smiles.

“All right,  very well, soldier: carry on with the day’s work.”

Oh dear God, I need to get out of here.

But there were many parts of the book that left me with a sad feeling about his experience and the state of the Army. Maybe that’s obvious since it’s a war book, but Anthony gave meaning to that sadness. And, there were notes of hope, mostly in what remained unsaid. Despite all the monkey business, fear, and hurt, he (as far as I can tell) remained honest, faced his fears, and as he said, “the goddamn army made me a man.” I love that line; it’s my favorite.

As a civilian, some of the sections that really struck me were when Anthony talked about old folks and kids supporting the troops. Take this section (again, edited for length):

I dump the contents from the package I received on the table: tuna fish, ramen noodles, a pair of used black socks, a notebook with half of the pages missing, and a pack of crayons from the family restaurant, Friendly’s. The package says it’s from a senior citizens group home in New Jersey.

These people are sending us everything they have, and most of us don’t deserve it. They aren’t sending provisions to the heroes they think we are. It is going to us doing shit jobs and others who are criminals; people doing drugs, committing crimes, molesters, adulterers; people doing anything they can to only help themselves. The worst part about these old people sending me this package is they think they’re helping. I don’t want to tell anyone the truth because it will just break their hearts.

So, I had to ask myself what does it mean exactly when we civilians say we support our troops? Are we saying we support the way the military is operating? Or are we saying we are supporting the troops in spite of it? I’d like to think we’re supporting the Michael Anthonys out there who even though they didn’t get what they thought they signed up for, are working hard making the most of it, pushing past the ridiculous, and becoming men. And oh yeah, risking their lives. I’d recently asked one of my friends in the army if it was weird when people thanked him for serving, or if he appreciated it. After reading Anthony’s book I wondered if he would have a different answer. So I asked him this question. And a couple others.

Jody: How does it make you feel when people thank you for serving in the army?

SPC Anthony: It is a great thing to be supported by your countrymen and it fills you up with a sense of Pride, while at the same time an awkward humility (I couldn’t even imagine coming back to what the Nam guys did) but at the same time, we can’t let it get to our heads, because that’s not what it’s about.  It’s not about praise and awards; it’s about doing the right thing, even if you don’t get any praise or awards.

Let me explain:  I’ve met soldiers who go out of their way to let people know they’re soldiers just so they can be thanked.  I’ve met soldiers who have lied just to get awards so they could look cool.  The real soldiers that I’ve met and respect are the ones that shy away and get awkward when someone shakes their hand or says thank you.  Only in the sense that: “we don’t do what we do in order to get praise or to win awards, we do what we do because we believe it’s the right thing to do.”  So if you see a soldier who goes out of their way to let you know they served overseas.  Or they’re constantly telling you all the cool things they did.  Be wary of them.
The real veterans that I’ve met, are the ones you would never guess are veterans, because they don’t talk about it, are in the background, and get awkward when someone thanks them.  I don’t know it’s hard to explain.

Jody: Actually,  I think you explained it quite well. If you had it to do over again, would you?

SPC Anthony: Absolutely.  Over in Iraq I helped save roughly 400 lives.  If I didn’t do it all over again, who knows if someone would have been there to help those people out?  Also, who knows how long some of these stories would have gone untold?

Jody: I know you’re the youngest of seven kids, but if you had a younger brother and he said he wanted to join the Army, what would you say?

SPC Anthony: I would let him know the truth: the high highs and the low lows. I came back from Iraq 21yrs old.  I had 40 grand in the bank, had helped save hundreds of lives, had delivered almost a dozen babies, went through the trials and tribulations that come with surviving a war and made life long friends.  I came back home a man, with money in the bank and the GI bill for school. But that also I would let him know.  There was a lot of bullshit I had to put up with in order to get where I am/was.  It’s not like the glossy brochures show you.  It isn’t all glorious like the movies depict.  Not everyone in the military is perfect. I would just tell him to prepare for the greatest time of his life, but also prepare that it may be the worst time of his life and he may come back either as a man, or a shell of a man.  (Suicide, PTSD etc.)

Jody: And now that you’re out, what are you up to?

SPC Anthony: I’m a full time student getting my degree in creative writing.  I am also working on a screenplay of Mass Casualties.  And I am working on a few other Non-Fiction projects.

Jody: That sounds great! I’ve learned a lot from reading your book and talking with you. I wish you the very best of luck with your writing projects and your career. And, thank you for your service to our country.

Purchase a copy of Mass Casualties: A Young Medic’s True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor In Iraq or find out more about this book and author at Michael Anthony’s website or blog.

Self-Deprecating Sunday (7)

In which the YA author showcases her teenage years in all their awkward wonder…

So, I went home to Indianapolis for Thanksgiving. It was a lovely for many reasons. One of those reasons was that I found some new teenage photos. But also, I read some great books including Mudville, by Kurtis Scaletta, which you should read, or buy for the middle grade people in your life for the Holidays. (If you celebrate that sort of thing.) In honor of this wonderful book, I’ve decided that today’s photo should showcase my little league years. In this photo (I’m on the right), I think I’m 12 or 13–possibly younger. As if the photo isn’t awkward enough, what with the high waist pants, rec specs, and Iron-on decals, that ‘I’ on our hats stands for Indians. Nothin’ like a little political incorrectness to toss around with the softball. And Kurt, if you happen to be reading this, I was the catcher.

Obviously the book is much lovelier than this photo! (Also, I must have had a very important business meeting to attend after the game. What in the world is going on at my feet?)

Self-Deprecating Sunday (6)

In which the YA author showcases her teenage years in all their awkward glory. If you thought I brought something special to the Eighties, this photo treats of what I brought to the Nineties.

This was my freshman year of college, I think. I’d cut my long hair, dyed it black, found a poet’s blouse, and was clearly on my way to leading the Goth movement, but still couldn’t part with my bizarro Mickey Mouse obsession. *shakes head* Believe it or not, I got dates. Clearly, this proves that confidence trumps fashion sense in the world of dating.

With me in this photo is my sister.  She clearly had more refined style, her choker (hey, it was 1994)  looks pretty and subdued, and if she had her straw hat on, she’d be quite the southern belle. (We were in college together in Tennessee. Perhaps this makes her outfit more acceptable?) Does this kind of remind anyone besides me of The Country Mouse And The City Mouse? And still people would ask if we were twins. What do you all think; do we look alike?