Are you ever going to let you readers know who you killed off in United We Spy but decided not to in the end?

Asked by bcbookobsessed

I suppose I can now tell you that in the early versions of UNITED WE SPY  Preston died. And he died bloody.

Perhaps some day I will talk about it more—explain the whole subplot that led to that and why I decided that it wasn’t the correct ending for the series.

Basically, my brilliant editor read the book and, like me, felt like something was…off. We decided that the ending should be Cam and crew facing off against the series’s ultimate villain: Catherine. So I made this massive change at the 11th hour, and it was absolutely, 100% the right call.

Because editors are brilliant, and authors are smart to always at least consider what they have to say.

So…yeah. Preston DID die. But then he didn’t.



Several months ago, I was at a school event where a very young black girl was standing shyly off to the side as I was chatting with some 6th grade students after my presentation. She gave me her notebook and asked me to sign it, which I was glad to do. It was a book of her own poetry and short stories. I smiled and said “I’m so glad to meet a young writer!” She beamed at me and said “I love writing and I want to be a writer but I didn’t think I could because I’m not white.” I was surprised and asked her if she’d read any books by Walter Dean Myers, Angela Johnson, or Linda Sue Park. She nodded and shrugged her shoulder and said, “But I’ve never seen them in person.” To this young teen, an author of color was a mythical creature, not to be believed, until she’d seen one in person. She couldn’t believe in her dream to become a writer until she saw for herself that a real life POC had done it. This is why we must continue to fight for diversity in children’s literature. For all of our children, so that they can see that we exist and that they can believe that their dreams of becoming whatever they want, can come true.

From this great post by Ellen Oh.

This story reminds me, too, of something I always talk about which was that I never met an author until I was like 25. Until then, I didn’t think I could be one because I thought being an author was for special rich people who lived far away, probably in New York, and had some secret access to that whole world. (This was before the internet.) So I can totally imagine how a non-white kid who only ever met white authors would think the way the girl in this story does.

Adults are models of possibility. We need to model all sorts of possibility for all sorts of kids, and can’t ever assume that they just “know” about things existing that they don’t get to see and experience for themselves.

Especially when you’re a poor kid or otherwise not privileged in some way or come from an addicted family, you tend to have people around you that have those same limited and limiting beliefs. I never had goals or ambitions modeled for me by the adults in my immediate family. No one ever said I could and should try things that I wanted to do and have dreams and take risks. I learned survival and getting by, and making do with what you have and staying safe. I was a poor kid, and got that. When I multiply my own experience by a factor of also not-white, I can start to catch a tiny glimpse of what the girl in Ellen’s story and kids like her are up against.

I can stand in front of kids and talk about my background of poverty, and the dysfunction I grew up in, and I do do that, to share my own struggle to achieve a goal. But when I’m talking to a roomful of not-white kids (and I’ve been to plenty of schools like that) I know it’s not the same as if they could see someone who looks like them telling that story. Thanks, Ellen, for sharing this.

(via sarazarr)

I didn’t believe that I could be a writer until I learned that SE Hinton was 1. a woman and 2. from Oklahoma just like me. I was born and raised on a farm. I went to a small school in a very rural area. Like a lot of people, I thought writers were mystical creatures (and dead Europeans). Learning THE OUTSIDERS was written by someone more similar to me than different changed the course of my life.

It is SO important for young people with dreams to know that people who resemble them (in all ways…race, gender, socioeconomic status—everything!) have achieved the same dreams.

So dream. Share. Repeat.


Hi! Just curious: What are your thoughts on teens who want to get their novels published, and have done their research and an extensive amount of editing? Thank you!

Asked by Anonymous


I wrote my first published novel when I was nineteen. It was the seventh novel I’d written. Of those seven, four were written while I was still in high school (or the summer right after I’d graduated). I know what it is like to be a teenager seriously pursuing publication!

Much of my advice for teens pursuing publication is similar to my advice for people of any age pursuing publication: keep writing and revising and getting better with each book; know that many writers do not sell their first book and that this is largely a persistence game; do what you can to defend the joy you take in writing; be professional and act professionally.

As for advice I have especially for teens—advice I might give Teenage Jen, if I could go back in time and talk to her—I would say:

Be extra kind to yourself, Teenage Jen, even though being kind to yourself isn’t necessarily something that being a teenager has prepared you to do. Writing and pursuing publication is not like anything else you’ve done. It is not like getting an A in school, or studying for an exam, or working to make first string on your sports team. It is not like any of those things AT ALL.

Acceptance and rejection are not solely about what you did “right” or “wrong.” And even once you sell your first book, Teenage Jen, even once you’re living your dream, it will often be hard. Because you will be *living* it, and the reality *is* hard, and selling a book is not the end of a journey, but the beginning. Be prepared, Teenage Jen, to essentially be running  your own small business, because as a professional author, that is what you will be doing. There are so many things, Teenage Jen, that go along with being a published author, other than just the writing, and if you were to decide you were not ready for that yet, that would be okay. It would not make your writing mean any less. 

Do not wish away the moments you have now, Teenage Jen. The nights when you are writing, the way it makes you feel, the joy you find in telling a story, how excited you get just to get a hand-written note on the bottom of a rejection letter. Enjoy being exactly where you are, Teenage Jen, because you will eventually come to the conclusion that NONE of this is about reaching some end-point or achieving some specific thing. There is no end-point! There is only the journey. 

I have so much respect for teens pursuing publication. It is wonderful to work toward a dream! But I think it’s especially important for teen writers not to put too much pressure on themselves, and especially not to give themselves arbitrary deadlines. “I want to be published by the time I’m 16!” “I want to be published before I graduate college!” “I want to be the youngest person to X!” 

Because honestly, guys, IT DOES NOT MATTER. You don’t get a prize for publishing young. If you are in this career for the long haul, if it is your dream to be an author, then it really doesn’t matter how old you are when you sell your first book. Because, if all goes well, there will eventually be a second book and a third. And you may find yourself reinventing your career many times over, and by and large, PEOPLE WILL NOT CARE how old you were when you published your first book. It will, in all likelihood, be pretty much irrelevant to your career as a whole. It is much more important for your first book to be the book best suited to launching your career than it is for it to be a book that you wrote when you were however-many years old.

The last piece of advice I have for teen writers is related to something that I am very grateful that Teenage Jen did (and that Teenage Jen largely has her parents to thank for, so THANKS, MOM AND DAD), and that is this: if you are pursuing publication as a teenager, that means that you will be entering an adult professional world at a young age. There can be tons of obligations that come along with that, and I am so grateful, looking back, that I made an active effort to not let writing (or publishing) stop me from having the experiences my same-age peers were having while I was starting my career.

I had a rule in college that I couldn’t write until everyone else had gone to bed. I didn’t *always* follow it, but the reason for the rule was that I did not want to miss out on other things—experiences that I could only have at that stage in my life—because I was shut in my room writing. I had to make an active effort to say yes when people asked me to do things, to get involved in activities, to explore majors, to DO THINGS that had nothing to do with writing. As an adult, there are many times when I have made sacrifices to write. I am very, very grateful that I didn’t let myself make those same kinds of sacrifices when I was in high school and college.

I get SO MANY questions about, not just publishing, but publishing young.

This is the best advice I can hope to give on the subject: read Jen’s post.