Drawing on her experience as a high school teacher—this time with a social concern, Spero infuses the rites of passage for the teenager—cliques, first kisses, peer pressure, and bullying—with magic. This stresses how tenuous and critical this time is for young people in a new, fascinating way. Written from Sami’s point of view, Spero’s narrative puts the reader into the mind of a fifteen-year-old who must navigate the tumultuous waters of being the new girl—the underdog who starts to win and is intoxicated by it. Truly a page-turner, this action-packed story will have readers of all ages eager to see what happens next.
What was the hardest part of writing your book, and how did you overcome it?
Stripping “Coach Panic” from this story was the hardest. I was conflicted. I loved the title PLAY FOR PANIC and—in my book—the character of Coach Panic was a perfect personification of the feeling (which is nothing like the real Coach Panic, by the way!). In my first draft, Coach Panic wasn’t a villain and her goals weren’t clear. My editor told me Panic had to be a true antagonist, and it was hard for me to make her evil when she carried the name of my beloved high school coach! After many drafts and wrestling with many different names and titles, I changed the name to Coach Payne and was able to create a convincing antagonist. The title came much later—after many versions. I’m thrilled with the end result, however. So the struggle was worth it.
What is your writing drive? The power that keeps you going when your writing gets difficult?
Endings are tough. I usually know how I want to end my stories, but getting there convincingly and in a realistic way is always hard. But when I’m so close, it’s impossible to let it go! I get obsessive, thinking about it on long drives, watching my kids on the playground, etc. Until I can figure something out.
If there’s a scene that isn’t feeling right as I’m getting it down, I try to push on and tell myself I can fix it later. Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones helped me with that. Sometimes I chant that phrase to myself as I’m writing something I know is awful, telling myself it is just “the bones” and will be revised and changed and edited or maybe even cut altogether. It’s freeing.
How did you come up with the title?
The final title—FORTE—came to me in the shower! After so many a few versions, and the current title not working at all (per publisher), I was determined to find something that made sense. FORTE has a double meaning. It is a musical term meaning stronger or louder and it also refers to someone’s strength or field of expertise. Perfect!
Anything else you’d like your readers to know about you or your books?
One thing people find interesting is that I’ve worked as a professional actress. When I was 13, I won the role of Laurie in Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs. The Dinner Theatre run lasted four months, in which I performed seven times a week. It was an experience I’ll never forget. And although I haven’t pursued a career in theater, I’ve often been complimented on my realistic dialogue, which I attribute to my experience on stage. Perhaps a screenplay is in my future?
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