I know you’ve said you often start writing a new book by asking a question. What questions prompt some of your young adult novels?
“How does a boy go on keeping his dad’s mental illness a secret?” (The Keeper)
“Should a girl risk her own life to try to save her dad in a blizzard?” (Blizzard’s Wake)
“What does a teenage boy have to do to escape from a strange lost-in-time community?” (Sang Spell)
“How does a boy triumph over his bullies?” (Going Where It’s Dark)
“How does a girl adjust from being part of a couple to being single again?” (Alice Alone)
Note from Phyllis:
I’m often asked if I’d be willing to read someone’s manuscript. I truly wish I had time to do that, and to give what advice I can, but there are never enough hours in the day to accomplish all I need to do. Perhaps one way we could use this blog, though, is to explore various aspects of the writing process. One of the questions I’m frequently asked is whether it’s better to write a novel or story on the computer or by hand. I know wonderful writers who swear by one or the other. My answer is whatever seems more comfortable. I used to write each book, chapter by chapter, three times—trying to perfect it with each rewrite—before I typed it up. Because once it is set in print, it looks so nice on the screen that it doesn’t seem to need as much work. But if I have to write the whole thing over, word by word, it makes me think about each one: Is there a better choice? How does it sound when I read it aloud? Is the rhythm right? Have I already used it in a preceding sentence? But now that my writing hand gets cramped from all this work, I’m experimenting with writing my chapters only once by hand, then typing them up and trying to think through each word as I go. Perhaps someone has a better idea….
Over the summer I grew a love for the three books about Alice McKinley, during her high school years. I could relate so much, that when something embarrassing would happen to her, I would laugh or my face would turn red. I think that’s one of the reasons you wrote this book. You knew that girls like me could relate, which would help us through our high school years. For example, when Alice was at the airport and her underwear was showing and Lester said, “The world does not revolve around you. Keep walking.”
Reading these books has helped me to embrace my flaws, realize the world doesn’t revolve around boys, and to have fun in high school. I think your message that you wanted to convey to the readers is that, it’s okay to not always have everything in control. In high school a lot of unexpected things happen, which you might not be ready for. Friends will change and leave, and in that moment, you will want to think that your life is over, but it’s not. When Alice had friendship problems that she realized she couldn’t fix, she let it go. Alice definitely spoke her mind, especially when something wasn’t right or she didn’t want to be put in a bad situation. It’s helped me to speak up when I know what’s going on is wrong.
I’ve learned immensely when I read all three books. I’ve learned to embrace life, try my best with my friendships, and to not worry so much about boys. Alice doesn’t have a mom, so when she would cry over not knowing her, I realized that I’ve taken my mom for granted. She’s done so much for me, yet I lack thanking her for making dinner, always coming to my events, and allowing me to have friends over. I’m definitely more aware of everything she takes time to do for me, and for her being in my life. This past summer, I’ve had a lot of problems with my best friend. She changed, a lot. I realized towards the end of the summer that she’s still trying to find who she is. I know that I don’t need to pretend to be someone I’m not, I already have a lot of friends who love me for who I am. She wants to be popular and be friends with fake people, I don’t.
High school is about making new friends and experiencing new adventures. I don’t need boys to be happy. I think girls in my grade think that it’s okay to let a boy shape you into who they want you to be. NEWS FLASH: IT’S NOT. You don’t need to date in high school just to date, or have someone to hold hands with. The one you are supposed to marry, heck, he probably doesn’t even know you exist. High school is about friends you’re making for life, not ditching your friends for some boy you won’t even talk to in the next 4 years. Thank you so much for making these books, they have impacted my life greatly.
I so appreciated your letter. Some of us girls are slow learners, though. I can remember dating a guy for whom I really wanted to be cool. Down deep, in my heart of hearts, I knew he was not the kind of guy I would marry. He was actually my older sister’s age, and when I was a sophomore, and he was a senior, and he walked into my homeroom one morning, asked if he could speak to me, came back to my desk, and with others hearing, invited me to the Military Ball, I was over the moon. I dated this guy for two years, before I met someone I did marry–my first marriage–and when I had to tell my current boyfriend I was in love with someone else, I realized for the first time that I had actually let him believe we would marry. I still remember his crouching down, resting one arm on his knee, his head in his hand, and I felt horrible, really, really horrible, for having led him on. He was so hurt. Even writing this today, decades later, I feel bad about this. So it works both ways. All this time, both of us were probably pretending to be something we weren’t. I wish that I had dated more, instead of feeling I had to have a “steady” boyfriend–that’s what we called it back then. But I was insecure. And thanks for your shout-out to let your mothers know how much you appreciate them!
At some point, your novels were not translated anymore. I was so upset about that. Alice was so much… well, me! While reading about her I felt like I was looking at a reflection of myself, even though of course we still had our differences. But she taught me so much about life, about love, about other people, about being kind and forgiving, and and and. I always tried to imagine what could’ve happened after her breakup with Patrick and Sam, and for a few years I just accepted that I had to get creative on that.
And now here I sit, right after finishing your very last book of Alice. I cried my eyes out. Even before reading this book I was so scared because Alice had always been the girl I’d grown up with. It even felt, crazy as it sounds, as though she was one of my closest friends, giving me advice and comfort, and making me feel like I wasn’t alone with the little and big problems we all had when we were in that age. And now, all of the sudden, she was supposed to be 60?! But of course, I had to read it anyway. I’m so happy and so sad at the same time. There’s nothing I can really say but thank you for giving me Alice. Thank you so much. You’ve definitely influenced and inspired me in many, many ways, and I feel like they are all positive. I’ll keep these books forever, giving them to my kids when I am a real grown-up (even though I already am, but with Alice I’ll always feel like a child I guess). Every human should have an Alice-book in their shelves. Everyone should carry at least a piece of Alice in him/her. Even my boyfriend does now, never reading the books but always listening to me when I talk about the girl I can und will always compare to so well. Virtual hugs from Germany. Always Alice.
I discovered the Alice books when I was in middle school. I have vivid memories of passing them between my friends – trading Alice in April for Alice the Brave and so forth. Once we caught up with all of the previously published books, my two best friends and I would wait eagerly each summer for the next one to be published. Throughout high school and college, the three of us held on to the tradition of sharing the Alice new novels each summer. Now, as a school counselor in an elementary school, re-reading the Alice books is like a visit with old friends. Memories of my own middle school experience come flooding back as I read about the adventures of Alice, Pamela and Liz. And in reliving their middle school experiences, and my own, I remember the twisty tumult of emotions of adolescence and bring those memories back to school and working with my students. I always feel like I can emphasize with my students better once Alice, Liz and Pam have helped me remember just how big a problem at home or school can feel when you’re a kid.
I LOVE the idea of trading books with friends! I hear that so much. It’s one way to have the entire series at your fingertips. And how wonderful that you can now recommend these books to your students. Let’s face it: sometimes the problems at home or at school really are big ones, and can be overwhelming. Counselors today are much more friendly and welcoming than the ones I remember; you mix much more with the students and let them get to know you before they come to you with problems, and that’s a good thing.
I love your Alice books like crazy, filled with romance, friendships, drama, and just the every day life of a teenage girl, and would love for you to write more. You love to write them, and say they come easy to you, so why not write more and please all of your fans?! : D I’m thirteen and the Alice series has inspired me to start a novel. In my own words, if you asked me how reading was related to writing I’d probably say something like this: Writing takes time and cleverness. You need to make it interesting. When you read, you are brought into a new world filled with imagery. When writing, you remember these places that you’ve traveled to through books, and try to imitate what you have learned. By reading that of a good writer, you can enhance your skills by imitating the characteristics of a good writer.
You are my inspiration. You are that good writer. You are the one who made me want to become a great writer like you did. Thank you.
P.S. If you have any name suggestions for a 14 year old girl, a 7 year old girl, or a baby boy, pLeAsE wirte back! You are my biggest inspiration.
Thanks so much for your email. I am really humbled that you feel you have learned from me. I’ve learned from so many writers myself, and seem to learn more easily by listening to audio books than by reading. Perhaps because my parents read aloud to us far past the age when we were reading ourselves; we just loved the sound and drama of their voices. I just felt it was time to move on. I had taken Alice and her friends and family a long way, and there are so many other books I want to write!
Hey Ms. Naylor, How are you doing? I want to say I was born January 3. If I am right you were born January 4. I was shocked one of my favorite authors birthday was the day after mine. How cool is that. I know its not interesting but it is cool huh. Well I love your Alice books. Alice has the romance I want.
Ummmm…yeah. Sort of cool. Now if you tell me we were born in the same year, that would definitely be amazing.
Hey, I’ve watched the Alice Upside Down and I was wondering if there would be another movie like based on the last book Now I’ll Tell You Everything and how everything all ended. I know you may not have control of making the movie, but are you allowed to ask some directors if they could make a movie for your readers? I really enjoyed reading the Alice series and I’m really sad that it ended but I loved how it ended.
The same directors and producers who made this Alice movie, based very loosely on The Agony of Alice, made the three Shiloh movies also. So they are aware of all the Alice books, but whether or not they want to do another, I don’t know. Right now they’re focused on the possibility of a movie of A Shiloh Christmas. They do know that the Alice books have a special place in my heart!