Interview by Michelle Lynn
An Interview with Beth Rodgers
Thanks for talking with us, Beth. We’re glad to have you on the blog. Tell us about your book.
My debut novel is titled ‘Freshman Fourteen.’ The main character is Margot, a high school freshman girl, and she is trying to win the heart of her first true crush, Peter, while at the same time fending off advances from a dorky boy who likes her and trying to escape the torment of the school bully.
I’ve read Freshman Fourteen and you have a lot of great characters. Who’s your favorite?
I enjoy all of my characters, but my favorite one to write was Walter’s mom, Mrs. Gribble. She’s just so over-the-top annoying, but she doesn’t realize it, and everything she does makes me laugh even though it would be agonizingly aggravating if I was the recipient of anything she does to Margot or the other characters in the novel. Even though she means well, it comes across as overbearing, but in a funny way!
In your series, Margot is a young girl who’s just trying to fit in as she’s bullied by some of the more popular kids. What made you decide to tackle a massive subject like bullying?
I didn’t really think about it too much, to be honest. I think that everyone, at some point or another, is bullied in some way. Even if it’s just a little crack based on how short or tall someone is, what kinds of clothes they are wearing (or aren’t wearing), who they like, etc., bullying is prevalent in society, and definitely in schools. We’re prone to see bullying as larger-scale issues, like when it gets physical or someone is taunting someone mercilessly and preying on their emotions. We take for granted those little, minor episodes that don’t seem like bullying, but really are, and Margot has her fair share of issues that some of the mean kids like to call her out on. It’s hard for her to deal with, as I’m sure kids in school find it hard to deal with in reality, so focusing on what might not seem the worst kind of bullying in the world might actually shed some light on how bullying is so pervasive that sometimes it’s not even necessarily noticed to the extent that it should be.
Your book is on the younger end of YA fiction, but above middle grade, reaching kids at a critical time in their lives. How did you choose this age group when they are arguably the hardest group to obtain and keep their attention?
I wanted to write a “clean” novel, as best I could. There isn’t any sex, drugs, or violence in the novel, save for a punch or two that get thrown. I read young adult novels like they’re going out of style, and for every one I read with those few aspects, I read some without them as well. I think it’s important to remember that kids can just be kids, much like I was, without all the issues that can plague them. Not everyone gets sucked into the world of sex, drugs, and violence, and even those who are near it may not have to deal with it beyond hearing about it. That’s how I was, and I think it’s important to show that these issues do not have to be front and center to gain attention.
Did you ever have the chance to be in a play like the talented little Margot you’ve created?
Yes. That was part of the semi-autobiographical nature of the book. Even though everything that happened to Margot after the first couple of chapters in the novel did not actually happen to me, I definitely was in two plays, and much like Margot, I was typecast as a child. I was in ‘The Miracle Worker’ about Helen Keller as ‘the smallest child’ (and yes, that really was the name of the role I was cast in), and I was also in ‘David and Lisa’ as a young girl.
Were there alternate endings that you considered?
I thought about all the ways the end could have played out, based on how Margot could have chosen to move forward with her life as the fall play came to an end. I am happy with the ending I chose. I think it wasn’t necessarily expected, but that may not be true for all readers. I’m sure some may have seen it coming, but it was definitely not totally predictable, and that’s what I was aiming for. You can’t please everyone all the time, and no matter what ending I would have chosen, some reader out there surely would have thought it could have been different. So I stand by my choice, and I urge others who are considering alternate endings in their writing to do the same. Just because a story doesn’t end up the way someone wants it to does not make your ending wrong.
What authors have inspired you to write?
Sonya Sones, a fantastic author who writes novels-in-verse is one of my biggest inspirations. Of course J.K. Rowling with the ‘Harry Potter’ series, because how could I not mention someone who has captivated millions of people and showed me how to weave words so effortlessly. Also, I cannot fail to mention my aunt, who writes wonderful historical and contemporary romances and thrillers. She writes under the name Jill Gregory. Even though her books are far from YA, they are awesome and I love reading them. Her writing style is one that I truly enjoy! Even though there are many, many others, one more I want to be sure to add is Sylvester Stallone. I thanked him in the acknowledgments of my book, but I’ll thank him here too. If you don’t already know, he wrote all the original ‘Rocky’ movie scripts. I love those movies, and it really is a testament to how talented and creative he is to think about how wonderful those scripts are and how thoroughly well-written they were to elicit such fabulous performances out of the actors who played the roles. I dont’t know him personally, but I wish I did!
What age were you when you started writing?
I was very young. I have journal entries from when I was in the first grade that say I want to be a teacher and an author when I grow up. I have achieved both of those goals now! I have stories about dragons, frogs, and other types of animals from when I was really young, and, starting in upper elementary and middle school, stories about young kids and eventually teenagers. I have not tried writing about adults too much, as I find that I feel more “at home” with the young adult genre.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Definitely. Who doesn’t? I used to have a website all about how to defeat writer’s block, and I use the techniques to this day. At one point, I had over 180 pages of unique content on the site that I would come up with as I used the different techniques myself. From journal writing to making lists to reading books in the young adult genre, I have a whole host of methods I rely on regularly to help me break my writer’s block more efficiently.
Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I tend to just write. Sometimes I make a few notes, but overall, I come up with an idea and I just go with it as long as I can write about it without having to think too hard. When I find myself thinking too hard about it, I sometimes stop for a while and wait till more inspiration hits, or make a list of what could occur next and then pick and choose from it until I have my idea worked out as best I can for the moment.
Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?
A little. I’m someone who loves TV and movies, and I have a hard enough time realizing that those characters aren’t real. Part of why I write about high schoolers is because I really enjoyed high school, and sometimes I wish that the characters I’m writing are real so that I can go back and be with them and witness high school from a different perspective that I may like just as much, even though it may have played out differently when I was in high school.
Now, for some fun ones – if you were a super hero, what would your super power be?
I’ve seen a lot of people say this, but I don’t care. I would want to fly. I have always wanted to fly. I used to dream I was Peter Pan and would fly around my house. So, without a doubt, my superpower would be the ability to fly. However I could use that to help others, I would, but flying is the most important part of the equation!
If you could have any accent from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?
Irish – or maybe Scottish. I like them both, among a variety of others.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
It took me 9 years to write my book and finally get it published. It was a lengthy process, but totally worth it in the end. I love being able to hold my book in my hands and know that it was my effort and dedication that made it possible.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
I would have worked on getting it completed more quickly. I would have days or weeks where it would just be flowing out of me, but then I would have more days or weeks than that where writer’s block would just take over, or life would get in the way. I would have pushed through it more, much like I’m doing with the sequel, so that it would have taken much less time than 9 years. However, now that it’s completed, it doesn’t really matter to me how long it took. Just the fact that it’s done and out there in the world means so much to me!
Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
I am working on the sequel to ‘Freshman Fourteen’ right now. Since the first one follows Margot and her friends through the beginning of freshman year of high school, the second one will follow the same characters (plus some new additions) through sophomore year. I’m hoping to keep track of them through all four years of high school when all is said and done.
How do you deal with criticism of your work?
It’s hard. Criticism is never easy to take. Granted, sometimes a critique can be positive. The word criticism just sounds so negative that we liken it to that automatically. But even though it’s hard to take, it sometimes helps me think of ideas for how I might want to change or adapt my writing.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Never give up on your dreams. I worked hard and continued striving for what I wanted, and eventually I achieved it. I published my book. No matter what anyone says, keep doing what you love, because if you love it, no matter whether you sell one copy or a million copies, you will be making yourself happy. And that’s what truly counts.
Thanks again Beth. Now, everyone – go check out Freshman Fourteen. You won’t regret it!
Praise for Freshman Fourteen:
“The characters were well-written and engaging, and getting into the mind of the neurotic Margot made me feel like I was fourteen again. A great read for anyone of that age.”
“Rodgers manages to create a realistic world that focuses on the most important things many teens care about….peer issues and the opposite sex.”
“The characters are well developed and easy to relate to – in fact, most of the time I felt like the main character could have been me at that age.”