Swanky Seventeen author Stephanie Elliot recently interviewed Sweet Sixteen author Julie Buxbaum about her YA contemporary debut, TELL ME THREE THINGS (Delacorte/Random House, April 5, 2016).
What if the person you need the most is someone you’ve never met?
Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?
It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.
In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?
Julie Buxbaum mixes comedy and tragedy, love and loss, pain and elation, in her debut YA novel whose characters will come to feel like friends. Tell Me Three Things will appeal to fans of Rainbow Rowell, Jennifer Niven, and E. Lockhart.
Julie Buxbaum is the author of the critically acclaimed The Opposite of Love and After You, and her work has been translated into twenty-five languages. Tell Me Three Things is her first young adult novel. Her writing has appeared in various publications, including The New York Times. She is a former lawyer and graduate of Harvard Law School and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two young children, and an immortal goldfish. Visit Julie online at www.juliebuxbaum.com and follow @juliebux on Twitter. You can also find Julie on Facebook, Instagram (@juliebux), and Goodreads.
Stephanie: Tell Me Three Things is both heartbreaking and hopeful as the main character is grieving the loss of her mother, dealing with a new move, and feeling all sorts of emotions having to leave her best friend and home and start school in a pretty upscale (dare I say snotty) L.A. high school. How did you manage to write Jessie as perfectly as you did – and get her emotions so on target?
Julie: First of all, thank you so much. Jessie definitely isn’t the teen me, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to borrowing some of my own experiences for Tell Me Three Things. Not so much the plot—my dad never married a woman he met on the internet nor did I ever have to be the “new kid” in school and let’s be honest, Jessie is WAY cooler than I ever was—still I also lost my mother at fourteen, and so I channeled much of that grief into her character. Writing this book ended up bringing out all the feels in me, for better or worse I guess, and so it was a cathartic experience channeling it onto the page. I just wish I had handled those difficult years with as much grace as Jessie manages.
Stephanie: I know Tell Me Three Things was inspired by a real-life secret admirer who sent you emails. Can you tell us about that experience/time in your life?
Julie: Ha! Yeah, it’s sort of a strange story, and I still haven’t yet figured out how to tell it properly. But in my early twenties, one day, completely out of the blue, I received an incredibly flattering, anonymous email from someone who claimed to be a former law school classmate. I never found out who he was, but the experience ended up having a bizarrely profound impact on my life. The thing is, his email arrived at EXACTLY the right time. I was in the midst of my own personal crisis—I was working long, hard hours at a job I wasn’t sure I wanted anymore, I felt unattractive and tired all the time, and looking back now I realize I was probably depressed. And then this email arrived and for reasons I still can’t quite explain, it was a turning point in how I felt about myself and my life. I wanted to capture some of that magic with Tell Me Three Things.
Stephanie: That’s amazing! It was kind of like having your own ‘Fairy Godmother’ except I’m imagining a hot law student! Your first novels were contemporary women’s fiction, which I read and loved. What made you switch to writing young adult? What do you think are the main differences in writing for these two very distinct audiences? Are there differences?
Julie: In the past few years, after adulting pretty darn hard, I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I’m a full-fledged grown-up. I have two kids, a mortgage, a husband, a writing career, and this realization, which I had put off for as long as I possibly could, is what made me turn to writing YA. I missed the wonder of the teen years when all of life’s question were still open to be answered. Who will you be when you grow up? What’s going to happen? So many of my life’s questions are answered (at least for now) and so it was super fun for me to go back and revisit that magical (and sometimes terrifying) time when that wasn’t the case.
Stephanie: Without giving anything away, I LOVED how in Tell Me Three Things, you so creatively keep the reader guessing as to whom the secret admirer might be. Sometimes in books the secret admirer is so obvious, but not in TMTT. All of the “suspects” were such great candidates. Was this a challenge to keep coming up with interesting characters and how did you keep making up fun, creative teenagers!? (And PS, I have a major, major crush on one of them, and this doesn’t happen for me all that frequently, but I want to turn myself into a high school student, jump into your book and make out with him!)
Julie: OMG, I have so many inappropriate book boyfriends. Don’t tell my husband! I love writing boy characters, and spending the time to figure out who they are, what they want, what interests them. I imagine how they spend their afternoons after school, what their home life is like, I even listen to the music I think they would listen to in order to get a real feel for who they are and what makes them tick. High school is a time full of self-discovery, so it’s always fun to create people who are embarking on that journey.
Stephanie: I also happen to know you’re a very busy mom to two awesome little kids. How do you manage to balance your mom life with your writing life? What’s your writing schedule like?
Julie: I try to keep very normal working hours, as if I had a normal 9-5 office job. I don’t spend the entire eight hours writing, but I do try and spend much of that time conquering work stuff, with the occasional kid responsibility thrown in. I clock back in as Mom at around 5-6, and I try to put work out of my mind until they are in bed. After that, the last tiny bit of the day is reserved to catch up with my husband, or to watch television or read books, both of which I think are important and necessary for my creative life. To be honest, though, most days are much more jumbled than this, and all sorts of things can throw my routine off. Sometimes, I’m on deadline. Sometimes, I have a kid sick at home which means accepting not much writing is going to get done. Balance feels like an elusive, weird moving target that I’ll never reach and I’m trying to be okay with that.
Stephanie: You recently turned in your next YA. Are you able to tell us what it’s about?
Julie: It’s the story of an unexpected friendship between a socially isolated boy and a girl who has recently lost her father. And writing that last sentence makes me realize how badly I need to nail down an elevator pitch for that book! What I can say is that I think it may be my favorite thing I’ve ever written, which is kind of like picking a favorite kid, but whatever.
Stephanie: Oh my gosh, I can’t wait for the next JBYA – Julie Buxbaum Young Adult. I love your pitch for it already! Thanks for taking the time to chat Julie! Here are some quick Lightning Round questions for you:
Drink of choice:
Water. I’m so boring.
Counting Crows. Yeah, I do realize it’s 2016.
Late night or early morning:
How do you take your coffee?
Splash of coconut milk
Favorite color, number, letter:
Blue, 3, R or E
Favorite place on earth:
One non-electronic item you can’t live without:
Stranded on a deserted island with one person, famous or otherwise, who and why?
Husband. We started talking 15 years ago and haven’t stopped since. Might as well do it on an island.
Best song in the entire world:
Just can’t. TOO MANY. Tangled up in Blue. Piece of my Heart. Anna Begins? AHHH!
One cup of coffee, laptop, Freedom app, no kids around.
Stephanie Elliot hates crafting interesting bios. She obviously loves to read and write, and napping is her next all-time favorite activity in the world (Look up #napmaster on Twitter!). She’s been married for a long time and has three children who cannot be the ages they are already. She’s lived in Florida, Illinois (twice!), Pennsylvania, and now resides in Arizona, but to her, “home” is family and a page-turner. Her debut young adult novel, Sad Perfect (FSG/Winter 2017) is based on a unique eating disorder her teenage daughter has – ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder). Visit www.stephanieelliot.com for more info.