RAWing with Stephanie Perry Moore
- Tell me how you got started writing, in particular writing for teens. I know you’ve published also for children and adults, but what is it that draws you to writing for teens?
I started writing because I wanted to fill a void in the marketplace and write books with characters in which I could identify. Bigger than that, it’s a calling. My heart beats for telling stories to the YA market. Of all the genres I write for, YA is my favorite. The first draft prose flows out effortlessly.
2. You recently began publishing reluctant reader fiction with Darby Creek. How are those titles different than other books and series? In your opinion, what are the elements of a successful book for reluctant teen readers?
When a high percentage of 8th graders in urban areas are not reading on grade level, we have to become creative to change this unfortunate fact. For me, I love spending time with struggling readers in efforts to meet them where they are so I can help them grow to where I know they are capable of being academically, socially and mentally. I have found many struggling readers consistently have not been successful readers, haven’t seen themselves in books, and haven’t understood why reading is important. Thus my recommendation is threefold to turn around these staggering statistics.
First, encourage the students and show the students that they can be successful readers. This can be done by speaking positive words into students that do not normally hear the words, they can. Also, bring in a speaker, author or other outside source that can relate to the students. For example, when I speak in schools and share that I was a struggling reader that turned things around the students appreciate that and begin to feel they too can achieve greatness. Then once the students believe they will try the whole ‘reading thing’ again, give them books that are on, or below, their reading level. Allow them to tell you about the story and test them on it. When they begin to comprehend and excel at the tests, they will read more and more and more.
Secondly, make sure your titles reflect the demographics and issues of your student body. While there are several more urban titles available now, many media centers do not have the updated new titles that have the stories similar to the lives lived by the students in their school. For example, I was at a school years back and as always I asked what other types of books would they like to see me write. A sweet young middle-grade reader said, “You write characters that have two parents in the home. That’s not my story. My dad is in jail. My mom works two jobs and it’s always something. Can you write a story that’s more like my life?” From that conversation, the Yasmin Peace series, about a strong girl from a tough background, was born. Once, you know your students struggles you can help them find books that will help them and hold their interest.
Lastly, many kids do not read because they do not understand that reading unlocks the key to their future. Find out their hopes and dreams and help them make the connection that reading is needed to achieve their goals. Show them a nonfiction title related to their career interest. Explain to them that if they want to go to college they will have to make great marks on the SAT and ACT exams. Elaborate on how strengthening their reading skills can help them in their other subjects. When a student realizes how crucial reading is they will become more interested.
3. Last year the #we need diverse books movement kicked into high gear and interest in a more diverse body of literature for and about diverse populations, in particular kids of color. What do you think are some of the barriers to making YA more diverse?
True answer, many things. The ones in print need to sell more and the folks making the decisions need to care about the stories so they will pick them up. The biggest challenge I think is everyone doesn’t always feel they are interested in our stories. Folks of color are minorities and have to live in diverse worlds. That’s not true for the majority. Therefore it comes down to economics. When decision makers don’t think the mass will buy urban books, then many are not made available for sale. However, with shows like Empire doing so well across ethnic groups, hopefully this will show many do have an interest in a diverse background of stories, thus making more in print.
4. I know you do many visits to schools to promote your books as well as meet your readers. Tell me a little bit about how those visits inform your books, but also why teachers should invite authors into their classrooms.
I visited a rural school two years ago and was told about this list that had literally just been released at this particular school. I’d never heard of The Swoop List, but that day I was informed. I learned it’s another form of bullying and in many cases people who are placed on The Swoop List, THOT list or Expose Page, and other names for the same thing, do not deserve to be there. Just people ‘hatin’ as the young people say.
I had a heavy heart hearing about the list so I researched it. A spark went off when I realized I could create a fun series around this tough, real topic that could make a difference. The message is simple. Teen life can be hard, but you can make it through victorious. Here are the points to the five books. Book 1-GIVE IT UP…In order to be great you can’t get in your own way, so give up doing things that bring you down. Book 2-ON YOUR KNEES…If one wants to be a better person, get some faith. Book 3-BACK THAT THING…To get things on track sometimes we have to back up and fix our mistakes. Book 4-FEEL REAL GOOD…If you want to be truly happy, then you need to give back and help others as it’s not all about you. Book 5-SIT ON TOP…A true leader forgives and brings out the best in all those around them. I hope The Swoop List swoops in and helps readers become better, stronger, and wiser people by learning what is meant for bad can turn out good. Click here to see the book trailer on The Swoop List, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MXHfZPDPJ8.
Authors are an integral part of students’ successes for many reasons. Authors are partners to the teacher that can help motivate the students through encouraging words and making the media center come to life. They connect with students and encourage them to use the resources to help with their school work, ie copy machines, computers, etc. I am thankful to partner with this group of professionals in efforts to make a difference in the lives of young people. Together we are making an impact. The care all of us stakeholders show to help students achieve motivates me to continue writing.
LOL! Much appreciated. I’ve been published for the last seventeen years so my writing brain is always on and popping. I feel I’m now writing the book I was born to write. Pray for me it’s impact and stay tuned!