Initerview with Julie Bowe, author of the FRIENDS FOR KEEPS series

As I said in my earlier post on Julie Bowe, I can't tell you how impressed I am with her books. When I was in 4th and 5th grade, nobody wrote a book about what it meant to be a regular kid better than Judy Blume. I think that Julie Bowe and Grace Lin, author ofYear of the Dog and Year of the Rat are doing for young adult literature what Judy Blume did in the 1970s. Bowe and Lin are both writing about the real life experiences of girls in a way that validates and values their differences in creative and meaningful ways that, I think, are ultimately universal. With Julie's blog tour, I had the opportunity to ask her questions about her books, her writing, and what she likes to read. For another look into the world of Julie Bowe, theck out this interview at bildungsroman, which is the first stop on Julie's blog tour this week. Look for book 4 in the Friends for Keeps series coming summer of 2011. The title will be My Forever Friends!

I noticed so many special and unique aspects of Julie's books as I was reading them. It was such a treat to be able to ask behind-the-scenes, sausage making type questions. I hope you enjoy this Q & A as much as I did!

Tanya: What I loved about your first two books was the innocence of Ida. I was a bit thrown when "Frenemy" introduced the game "Truth or Dare" as well as "liking" boys in the first couple of chapters. I worried that this was turning into a different kind of book, but, I feel like you brought it around quickly and nicely and maintained Ida's childlike nature while also having her prove that she could be responsible and mature in some areas.

Is it a challenge for you to navigate that fine line between the innocence of childhood and the reality of the mature nature of the content on TV and in movies and music, content most girls have experienced by the age of 9 or 10?

Julie: When I wrote the first book in the series (My Last Best Friend) my daughter was in fourth grade so it helped to be around nine-year-old girls (and boys) a lot. I tried to gauge what was important to them, what worried them, what made them laugh, etc. To me they seemed very much at that balancing point between childhood and adolescence. I try to explore that sense of balance, and the stuff that upsets it, in my character, Ida. Sometimes I tip too far into childhood ways, or too far into older behavior/interests. But I keep trying to get the balance right. I’m always learning new things about kids and about my characters along the way.

Tanya: I am very impressed that you have kept Ida in the 4th grade for all three books so far as opposed to aging her a year for each book as most authors do with their characters. What are the challenges, if any, of keeping Ida in the 4th grade?

Julie: There is so much going on intellectually, socially, physically, and emotionally during this little chunk of childhood. I’ve read that at no other time, other than infancy, are children changing and growing so rapidly and in so many ways. I didn’t want to rush away from that time in Ida’s life and age her too quickly. I work hard to help her grow and develop a little in each book, but not too much.

It’s challenging to make each book a little different in terms of theme and setting. All the books focus on friendship, but I try to view friendship from a fresh angle in each book. In terms of setting, the first book takes place mostly at Ida’s school/playground. In the second and third books we venture out a bit more into her home and community. In the fourth book, the kids take a class trip and they make discoveries in the little woods behind Jenna Drews’s house.

It’s also becoming more challenging to keep track of the little details regarding Ida’s school, town, and her life in general. Young readers are so good at noticing and remembering them! They remind me of that skill every time I do a school visit. I often have to go back and reread portions of the previous books to recall what happened.

Tanya: I think that Jenna Drews is a fabulous character - she is prickly, bossy and opinionated but not entirely unlikable. I was very happy to see the way she and Ida inched toward each other in "Frenemy." What are your plans for Jenna, if you can share?

Julie: Oh, I love Jenna too. Girls like her would have completely intimidated me as a kid, so it’s fun to poke around inside her head and see what makes her tick. I’m happy Ida finds a way to stand up to her bullying in the first book. And I’m proud that she sees a side of Jenna that others tend to overlook. I’m working on a fourth book now and Jenna is again one of the central characters. I want to know more about her too.

Tanya: As a kid I struggled with friendships and jealousy. Ida is upset when her best friend spends time with Jenna and Brooke in books 2 and 3, but she never experiences any negative feelings surrounding this. Can you talk a bit about the lack of negative emotions, such as jealous or anger, Ida feels when she is confronted with Stacey's choices?

Julie: I think those negative feelings are there for Ida, but she tends to internalize them rather than openly share them. I created the character George, Ida’s sock monkey, so she would have an outlet for her feelings and a sounding board as she sorts through all the fourth grade ups and downs she faces. I hope readers can connect with the way she deals with both positive and negative feelings.

Tanya: I really like the character Tom Sanders and the role he plays in "Frenemy." Will we see more page time for the boys in Mr Crow's class in the next book?

Julie: I really like Tom too. His personality is very similar to my son’s. I’m having a lot of fun with all the boys in Ida’s class as I work on the fourth book. So, yes, the boys are demanding more page time. J The fourth book is called My Forever Friends and it’s scheduled to release Summer, 2011 (Dial).

Tanya: Do you read children's literature, and if so, what are some of your favorite books and authors?

Julie: Yes, I do! All the time! I recently read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, which I completely loved. One of my all-time favorite middle-grade books is Wringer by Jerry Spinelli. I also love books by Lauren Child, Beverly Cleary, Gary D. Schmidt, K.L. Going, and Gennifer Choldenko just to mention a few of my favorite authors.

Tanya: How/Where/When do you write?

Julie: My computer is set up in a corner of our basement. It’s actually the family computer so I have to share. I try to get some writing done right away in the morning. But I also do a lot of thinking and fretting and jotting away from the computer. I cut up my old manuscripts into little squares and if an idea or a bit of dialog pops into my head while I’m doing laundry or washing dishes or waiting for my son to get done with baseball practice, I scribble it down on the back of the recycled paper. Later, I’ll type the new bits into the story. My desk has lots and lots of little squares of paper scattered across it most of the time. When I get the story somewhat written, I like to print off a few chapters at a time and revise the old-fashioned way – with a red pen just like my fourth grade teacher used to correct my math papers. It makes me sit up straight and pay attention while I work. Often I’ll take the draft to the food court at the mall and revise with lots of commotion and chatter and kids running around. I think it helps me keep things real. Plus, there’s really good coffee there.

Julie, I love your (earth friendly) work methods! And I can't believe you share a computer!! I share with my 12 year old son (and occasionally the 5 year old) and we have some battles. At this point, he gets it in the evening when my brain is too limp to write, and I get it in the day - when I am not at work. Weekends are a free for all...

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions, and, of course, for the indespensible books you have added to the shelves!

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