Friday, April 22, 2011

Talking with Simone Elkeles, Author of the PERFECT CHEMISTRY (Oh...And a chance to win a free book!)

Simone Elkeles, author of Perfect Chemistry, Leaving Paradise, Return to Paradise, and other YA novels, graciously agreed to share some of her thoughts on writing – specifically writing realistic YA characters who have (gasp!) sex (!!). Her books have consistently been on the New York Times and USA Today best selling lists, so obviously, the woman knows what she is doing! I hope we can all learn something about writing for the YA crowd and navigating the publishing world from Ms. Elkeles.

Keep reading for a chance to enter to win a copy of Perfect Chemistry…in early celebration for Ms. Elkeles’s upcoming release of Chain Reaction!

Welcome, Simone, to Carpe Keyboard!

CP: Thanks for agreeing to spend some of your valuable writing to answering some questions! I’d like to start by asking if you’d tell us a quick version of your “writer story” – You know…how did you first get published? Do you have a degree in creative writing? Did you do a happy dance when you first signed with an agent?

SE: First of all, thank you for having me!

Unlike most authors I know, I hated reading as a teen and didn't do so hot in English class.  I got B’s and C’s in English class most of the time.  I have a master’s degree in Industrial Relations from Loyola University-Chicago and a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Psychology from the University of Illinois. I’ve never taken a creative writing class in my life.  I fell in love with reading as an adult – specifically romance novels.  I was so in love with them, I started writing them.  Once I started writing for “myself” and not a teacher or for a grade, I realized that I loved writing and never wanted to stop.  I pretty much taught myself how to write, because they didn’t teach me how to write a book in my regular English classes (they taught me how to write correctly, but not write a book).  It took 5 years for me to find an agent and get my first book published. I definitely did a HUGE happy dance when it finally happened!  Writing is the best profession and now I can’t imagine doing anything else! 

So…you write sexy books for the YA crowd! (And wowzers…you do it very well!) Some might consider sex a difficult topic for this audience, while others think it is just part of life for teenagers and should be addressed in their literature. Do you get much reader feedback on this? Parental feedback? What about your editor?

My goal is to write realistic content and realistic stories. I delve into all the emotions my characters would go through as a result of being confronted with a decision about sex.  I definitely get a lot of feedback from readers, and it has always been positive. The covers of my books depict the content inside, so I haven't had any negative parental feedback - just the opposite!  One church book club leader even emailed me and thanked me for putting the issue of sex in my books because it sparked an open discussion about it with the book club members.  Open discussion is great because you can get all sides to an issue!  In the How to Ruin series, Amy chooses to wait for marriage.  She's definitely tempted. . . but she chooses to wait. In the Perfect Chemistry series, it's realistic that my characters in the stories would be intimate with each other.  There are always consequences to being intimate, though, and I write about those consequences as well! 

I found Maggie and Caleb’s relationship a lovely combination of sweet and hot. (Chocolate covered chile peppers come to mind.) I loved that they didn’t pressure each other to have sex and they work through such genuine “real” feelings for each other. On the other hand, they certainly did send sparks flying. Do you think much about how far to go with the sex in your stories? Do you hope your characters are a sort of role model about how people should treat each other in a relationship?

When I write, I don't think that much about lessons or think about my characters being role models - if it happens then GREAT, but I don't write a book with those issues in mind.  I just write a love story.  As my characters develop, they really dictate the story.  If my characters don't have sex, it's because I don't think that would be the decision they would make in real life.  I knew Maggie and Caleb had a lot of passion and would definitely want to, but it just never felt "right" at any time when I was writing it.  It just wasn't their time yet, but I didn't decide that in advance.

Did you know there would be a sequel to Leaving Paradise when you were writing it? I’ll admit, the ending to Leaving Paradise left me conflicted. I liked that it was not cliché or expected…but I also found myself saying, “What the what? He’s doing WHAT?” (I’m trying not to be a spoiler!) From a publishing business point of view, how does a sequel come about? Did you suggest it or did your publisher ask for it? Either way, I was thrilled to hear more of Caleb and Maggie’s story in Return to Paradise.

I sold Leaving Paradise on a synopsis and 3 chapters.  In the synopsis, Maggie and Caleb got together and it was Happily Ever After.  But as I was writing it, that Happily Ever After just didn't fit.  I felt I'd compromise the story if I'd did that.  So I changed the ending, but I hated it.  (by the way, Caleb didn't look back as he drove away because he was crying and knew if he looked back that he'd never be able to leave her. It wasn't because he was heartless!) When my publisher wanted a third How to Ruin book, I told them I'd only write one if I could "finish" my story with Caleb and Maggie.  I needed to make things "right" with them.  They agreed, and I was able to write Return to Paradise which became a NY Times bestseller!  Sometimes the author has to manipulate the publisher to do what they want.  I was lucky it worked! (don't tell my publisher that!)

Here is a question I ask a lot of authors:  I’ve recently learned (the hard way!) that the editing process is where a huge part of the art of writing happens. I think some writers would argue the magic is in the act of writing the first draft. What do you think?

I work so hard on my first draft that I would have to say that's where the magic happens.  My publishers might even say that I take too long with the first draft!  By the time I start doing rewrites, most of my story is pretty much set.  I definitely change things in rewrites, but the magic is definitely in the first draft.  Believe me, I have thrown away a good portion of a book and completely started over before!  (I wrote Chain Reaction three times...some books flow out of you and some are like wading through molasses!)

What’s next for you? Do you have another work in progress? Can you tell us about it?

Chain Reaction (the 3rd in the Perfect Chemistry series) will be in stores August 16, 2011!!!!!  Chain Reaction will be about Luis Fuentes, the youngest Fuentes brother.  He’s such a good guy who doesn’t live with the angst that his big brothers have always lived with.  Luis is smart, funny, and has big dreams.   Just when he thinks he’s got life all figured out, Luis learns some disturbing news about his family that destroys his positive outlook on life and his new relationship with a girl named Nikki. 

Finally, when do you carpe your keyboard? What are your writing habits?

I usually work whenever my kids are at school or asleep.  I try not to let my writing take over family time, but when I'm under deadline it's really difficult to get everything done!  I have an office away from home so when I go to "work," I can really just focus on work and not worry about doing the laundry or starting dinner. 

Thanks so much for taking time out of your writing life to share your thoughts and insights with us. And please…keep writing about characters like Caleb and Maggie and the Fuentes brothers…. Your teen (and adult!) readers can’t wait for more!

And for CP readers…if you would like to enter to win a copy of Ms. Elkeles’s Perfect Chemistry, leave a comment below. I’ll randomly draw a winner on Saturday, April 30 and post the winner here on the blog. (If the winner does not respond within one week with their snail mail address, I will put the novel back in the stack for another giveaway event later in the year.)


  1. Great interview! I always love hearing about how other writers work. I spend a good deal of time working on my first drafts too, so it was encouraging to hear that's okay.

  2. Enjoyed the interview. Your books sound wonderful. Am adding them to my TBR list. It would be nice to win one too.

    Have a nice weekend, ladies.

  3. Great interview Karen. Simone's books are among my most favorite. She's an amazing writer. It's no wonder she won the 2010 RITA for young adult fiction.

    I can't wait for Chain Reaction. She writes bad boys so well, I can't wait to see what she does with a good one.

  4. When I saw who you had on here, I jumped right on over. I loved "Perfect Chemistry" and Simone's writing is amazing! Her words here are so, so encouraging, too, especially for those of us with no other training than what we teach ourselves. Thanks so much for this wonderful interview! (I would love to win a book. I read these great ones over, mark them, up study them.)

  5. I actually already own and have read and absolutley LOVED Perfect Chemistry and Chain Reaction as well as both "Paradise" books. Simone is easily one of my favorite authors ever! I hope she continues with more bad boys like Alex and Carlos but I'm super excited for Luis's story! I may actually cry when the series is over I really loved it so much! Thanks so much for the interview!

  6. Fantastic interview - don't know her work and am grateful you interviewed her and added to my enormous TBR pile!

  7. She is on my TBR list. What a wonderful interview. Thanks.

  8. It's winner day! The lucky winner of the random drawing is...Carey_Corp! Congratulations! Send your snail mail address to me at and I'll get the book in the mail to you asap. And thanks for reading Carpe Keyboard!