Sunday, March 30, 2014

Life, Love, and Surviving High School by Ann Herrick: Interview and Excerpt


Interview with Ann Herrick


Welcome, Ann!  It's so nice to have you back again. Thank you for being here! 

How did you start your writing career? 

My parents read to me, so from a very young age I loved books and reading. When I was 11 I decided to not only write, but publish, a book. This was before home computers, however, so it wasn’t too long before I got lost in the mechanics of how to put a book together and gave up! 

Later, when I was an adult, I told a friend of my interest in writing and she dragged, uh, took me to a writing-group meeting. Shortly after that first meeting I started writing and haven’t stopped since.


Does your significant other read your stuff?

My husband does read my books once they are published. He enjoys them, though every once in a while he’ll raise an eyebrow and ask, “How did you come up with that idea?” J


What was your first sale as an author?


My first sale as a writer was actually a greeting-card idea. The friend who’d invited me to the writing-group meeting and I decided to brainstorm card ideas. One of the cards was for Baby Congratulations. My friend came up with “Welcome to the generation gap.” I added the inside tag line of “Now it’s sitting on your lap.” That idea sold for $40, so we each got $20. It was the first sale for both of us.


Plotter or Pantser? Why?


I write by the seat of my pants, or, in other words, I make it up as I go along. I do have a beginning and an end and a rough idea of the middle before I start, but that’s all. Characters and plot unfold as I go along. In fact, I get to know the characters while writing the first draft and develop them further in later drafts. The interesting thing is I’ve often been told that my stories flow well. Maybe it’s because I’m not trying to force the plot into a preconceived outline. I don’t know.


Do you listen to music while writing? If so what?


I don’t listen to music while I write, because I find it too distracting. I want to sing along (imagining myself onstage, of course!). I also find music a distraction when I’m trying to have a conversation, because if there’s a song I like I tend to listen to that and not the other person. (But, shh, don’t tell my friends.)


Have you attended a high school reunion? What did you learn?


I have attended reunions for my high school class and my husband’s. We went to the same high school (yes, we were high school sweethearts J ), so I know all the people. What I’ve learned is that the cliques and various groups melt away and everyone reacts to everyone else as a long-lost friend! There’s something about spending time with people you grew up with that is special. I never believed that times in high school “are the best years of your life” to begin with, and growing up (and attending reunions) just confirms that. 


Tell us about your current release.


Life, Love, and Surviving High School is pretty much about, well, what the title says. The main character would like to skip ahead to her early twenties and not have to deal with her first date, first kiss, her driver's test, taking the SATs, filling out all those college applications, etc. Except she discovers that if she did that she’ll miss out on many of the important aspects of life (guys, just as one not-so-minor example). She has managed to stay BFF with her three best friends and doesn't need to share in her friends' spotlight. She's happy to follow along in the shadows, as long as she's not totally cast aside. When she secretly lusts after Brent, Claire's boyfriend, and then Claire makes Becca an offer about Brent that she can't resist, well, that changes everything.


It’s available as an ebook and paperback at

My Web Site: 

 Becca secretly lusts after Brent, Claire's boyfriend--then Claire makes Becca an offer about Brent that she can't resist.
Becca's in high school, but she hasn't been on the same page as her best friends since just before the start of middle school and she doesn't know exactly how things got so different. Not different in some edgy, gritty, she's-a-rebel way. More of a Yes-she's-a-dork way. Which makes it all the more amazing that while other friendships have crashed and burned all around them the four of girls have managed to stay Best Friends Forever. She doesn't need to share in her friends' spotlight. Becca's happy to follow along in the shadows, as long as she's not totally cast aside.
She's definitely not ready for guys. In fact, she just wants to skip right over high school and jump straight to twenty-two. By then she figures she will have gotten through her first date, first kiss, passed her driver's test, taken the SATs, filled out all those college applications, somehow survived living in a dorm and gotten her college degree without all the anxiety and drama.

Instead, just after silently deciding to not even think about guys and concentrate on school work for the next four years, she is instantly mesmerized by Brent, a seriously great-looking senior who also happens to have a long-time girlfriend, Claire. Not one to be the "other woman," Becca imagines creative ways for Claire to be out of Brent's life.

Meanwhile, Becca forms a strictly friends-only relationship with Colt, who she first thinks of as "Farmboy." Becca and Colt turn out be good partners when it comes to studying, taking pictures for the school newspaper and working on a term paper together. But when one day Claire makes an offer about Brent that Becca can't resist, that changes everything.


Chapter One

I'm the only one basically ignoring the sailboat stocked with Cute Guys straight out of central casting.
It figures. I haven't been on the same page as my friends since just before the start of middle school. I don't know exactly how things got so different. Not different in some edgy, gritty, I'm-a-rebel way. More of a Yes, I'm a dork way. Which makes it all the more amazing that while other friendships crashed and burned all around us, the four of us have managed to stay Best Friends Forever. Luckily, because in a group I can hide from my own I will never get life figured out fears.
Thing is, do my Best Friends Forever still really like me? Or is there just some leftover loyalty going on? You know, the way I keep Sammie, my matted, scruffy teddy bear. I guess Sammie "should really be thrown out" (according to Mom), because he is a total mess. But he was always there for me when I was little. I mean, the reason he's so matted and scruffy is because I spent the vast majority of my formative years either drowning him with my tears or practically asphyxiating him with my hugs (not that he actually could breathe, but you know what I mean).
Anyway. My Best Friends Forever and I are all first-borns. We all live on Chittenden Street, which has the most architectural diversity in Franklin, Oregon. Students from the School of Architecture at the university come to study it, because even though there are different styles of houses from different eras it all works together. Just as Randi, Tanya, Nina and I used to. (Dad calls us the Vowel Sisters, because, you know, our first names all end in vowels.) For a while now I've felt as if maybe I need remodeling, updating, or maybe a bunch of architecture students writing a thesis about me on how to fit in anymore.
For one thing, Nina, Randi and Tanya love reality shows. I, however, have no patience for the phony drama on those programs. There's more than enough real-life drama. (Okay, so mine is mostly internal and self-inflicted, but still.)
Then there's the whole Looks thing. I was just as cute as any of them up until, you guessed it, middle school. Then my jaw got a little too square and my nose got a little too pointy and suddenly I was off center from being cute (Tanya Moreau), pretty (Randi Volmer) or beautiful (Nina Olsen). I'm not even interesting-looking enough to qualify as exotic or mysterious.
I no longer bring up the stuff I still think is fun. Horses or bike riding, for instance. Nina, Randi and Tanya went straight from that sort of thing to hair, makeup, clothes and guys. Not that I'm totally not interested, more that I never seem to get any of the first three right, which leaves me feeling less than comfortable around the opposite gender—as Mom insists on putting it. "Sex is what people do," she says, "gender is who they are". Whatever. Sometimes I still ride my bike. It's not so much fun by myself, though.
Then there's the fact I always think summer's never going to fade. Until, of course, it does.
Like now—Labor Day. Boats, swimmers and splashing kids churn the surface of Pine Crest Lake. People soaking up the last rays of summer litter the grassy area of the park like refuse from the overflowing trashcans. Cute Guys in the sailboat circle like sharks on the trail of hemoglobin.
Nina, Randi, Tanya and I stretch out on our towels on the thin strip of rough, pebbly grit that doesn't quite make it as a beach, but which I like to pretend is the white sand of Hawaii (not that I've ever been there). Did I mention that given a twelve-week stretch of warm, sunny school-free days I can imagine I live in a tropical dream world? While I'm pretending summer is going to go on forever, Nina, Randi and Tanya are talking about Wednesday, The First Day of High School, which they've been looking forward to and I've been (silently) dreading all summer.
"I so can't wait!" Randi reaches up to comb her thick brown hair. She arches her back to stick out her boob region, and watches every guy within a fifty-foot radius check out her B-cups. I mean, guys must think they're holding conversations with boobs, because that's where they focus their attention.
"Yeah." Nina twists the tiger's-eye ring on her middle finger.
"Ooh, nice ring," Tanya says. "Did you make it?"
Nina nods. Not only is she beautiful, she's creative. She has a rock-polishing machine she got off the internet for almost nothing, and uses inexpensive semi-precious stones with twisting wire for the settings. She sells some of her jewelry to girls at school and occasionally at the Outdoor Market that's held downtown every Saturday. "I'm ready for some decent art classes."
Note: The closest I come to art is doodling in class.
In the boob department Nina's not so much, but she's so amazingly beautiful guys actually gaze into her face, or maybe stare at her with longing, as romance novels would put it. Sometimes it's hard to believe someone so beautiful has to work for everything she has, from her clothes to her rock-polishing machine, earning the money by babysitting, dog-walking, jewelry-selling and yard work.
"I'm ready for more guys." Tanya flicks her sleek wealth of black hair off her shoulder as she sits cross-legged, almost finished knitting the sweater that was originally going to be the first of a matching pair for her and Colin, her boyfriend all through eighth grade. While Randi and Nina usually have guys buzzing around them, Tanya is the only one who wore her boyfriend's T-shirt, went to movies with him every week and called him to come over and walk her to wherever she wanted to go all the time. She's totally entertaining when it comes to her endeavors of domination of the male species.
Colin's dad got transferred to upstate New York in early August, however, and off Colin went, poof, just like that. He and Tanya were going to stay a couple and go to the same college, thus the matching-sweaters plan. But New York turned out to be too far from Oregon for a long-distance relationship for Tanya. Really, another school district would be too far for her. She wants a boyfriend to be elbow-to-elbow at all times. I think she thought she'd have hooked someone new by now, but it didn't happen. Despite being a little on the chunky side, she is cute enough to get most guys to look at her more than once, especially since some of that chunkiness is in the exact right location, if you know what I mean.
"More guys, for sure." Randi says. She shakes her hair so the sunlight bounces off the shiny chestnut tones, because she sees the Cute Guys in the sailboat sliding slowly by again, ever closer to shore. "But, also, high school is when your parents still take care of you financially, but you don't have to spend that much time with them."
"I want to skip right over high school and jump straight to twenty-two. By then, I figure, I will have gotten through my first date, first kiss, passed my driver's test, taken the SATs, filled out all those college applications, somehow survived living in a dorm and gotten my college degree," I don't dare say, because I don't want to anyone to know how dorky I am. I mean, I'm a good listener when it comes to others baring their entire inner selves, but I prefer to keep my own feelings bottled up.
However, even though I don't say it out loud, if I could skip right to my twenties I would, so all the stress of high school and college and all those firsts would be behind me and I'd be ready to cope with life.
I think.
I hope.


Though my stomach feels like a butterfly sanctuary, Mom insists, "You need to eat something, Becca." 
So I stick some whole-wheat bread into the toaster. White bread has been banned from the household. "No nutrition," Mom says. I stand there, staring at the red coils, willing the bread to toast faster, while Dad rattles his newspaper as he turns a page.
"I'm thinking of getting a boob job." Mom smears flax-oil spread on her toast.
If I were holding anything, I'd drop it.
Dad, however, doesn't miss a beat. He's cool about Mom's proclamations. Without even looking up from his paper, he comes back with, "I'm thinking of getting penis enlargement."
"Gil, I'm being serious."
"And you think I'm not?" Dad lowers the newspaper a little so he can peer over it at Mom. "I get dozens of emails every day saying that's what I need to do to 'please my woman.' You want to be pleased, don't you, Jess?"
Ewww. I wish my parents would edit their conversations!
Mom lets out a little tsk, sips her coffee, eats a bite of her scrambled egg-whites, then says, "Those wench costumes we wear at The Colonial Inn are very low-cut and I've seen which waitresses get the biggest tips. Breast size affects earning power."
Rumor is that there used to be a bordello upstairs at The Colonial Inn, but that was nearly a hundred years ago. Still, the wench costumes that the waitresses wear seem to be a current reminder of that long-ago business. I'm sure that's what the manager had in mind when he selected them. I mean, on the one hand, the place promotes itself as a respectable place to have business and "ladies club" lunches and romantic dinners, but the red-flocked wallpaper gives another impression, at least in my mind.
Mom jabs her fork in the air. "Plus, the manager thinks that busty waitresses bring in not just big tips, but the big spenders."
Dad closes the newspaper, folds it and puts it next to his plate. "Jess. You have a career with your catering business. You don't have to wait tables too."
Catering business is kind of an exaggeration. Mom bakes cakes for all occasions—wedding, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Thing is, she doesn't advertise except with flyers at the library public-notice board, so she might be busy one week, then go several weeks without anyone ordering a cake. I've suggested she post on some online sites or something, but she's afraid that only weirdoes would respond, no matter how I try to convince her otherwise.
I realize my toast is starting to burn. The setting part of the toaster is broken. I think we should get a new one. Mom and Dad, however, say it can just be fixed, so we don't add a "perfectly good appliance" to the landfill. Okay, except it never gets fixed.
I spread peanut butter on my toast, hoping to cover up the burned taste. After I pour myself a glass of orange juice, I sit down at the kitchen table, thinking the boob/penis/job conversation is over. I think wrong.
Mom points her fork at Dad. "You know my cake-baking income is not steady. I want some money I can count on every week. We have two kids to put through college.
"Besides," Mom adds, "baking doesn't get me out of the house every day." She points at Dad just as he starts to open his mouth. "And…after having two kids, my boobs just aren't as round, firm and fully packed as they used to be."
Ew. Ick. I take a sip of orange juice, hoping to disappear behind the glass. I should be used to Mom's and Dad's weirdo conversations, but I'm not. They were college sweethearts, so they've had years and years to develop their routines.
"I think your breasts are great." Dad wiggles his eyebrows.
"I'm going to school!" I jump up so fast I almost knock over my chair.
"In a hurry much?" Ray bursts into the room.
"Only to get away from you!"
As kid brothers go, Ray's actually not completely horrible, especially considering that he is eleven, but I point my tongue at him just because, which, of course, prompts Mom.
"Rebecca Bidwell." She uses my full name only when she's scolding.
Ray, with his huge blue eyes, freckle-face and wavy brown hair that always falls casually over his forehead, is the picture of innocence. Mom calls him her "Little Ray of Sunshine." That clues you into the fact that while maybe he can't get away with a felony, misdemeanors are usually pardoned.
Living in a big old storybook house in the flats of Franklin has its advantages. It's not only a pretty shade of pink, with cross-hatched windows and a roof that curves under at the edges. It also has plenty of room, so I can be miles away from my knows-everything (in his own mind) brother, which contributes greatly to having the okay relationship with him.
The disadvantage is Mom and Dad like the place to look storybook on the inside too, so the bathrooms have pedestal sinks and antique mirrors. Yeah, it looks cute, and guests ooh and aah over the "charm." But there is almost no place to put anything, such as a comb, curling iron or lipstick. Not that I can ever do anything with my hair, or figure out a flattering shade of lipstick. Still.
Maybe I just use lack of bathroom storage space as an excuse to wear my drab brown hair in a ponytail, and a barely-tinted-pink lip gloss on my slightly-too-full lips. In any case, that's what I'm going with for the (drum roll, please) First Day of High School. Plus a bluish-green T-shirt (concession to one of my few Attempts at Beauty—I think the color sets off my hazel eyes), my favorite jeans and a totally new pair of all-purpose sneakers with green cotton canvas uppers. They have thick, grippy rubber soles and are almost as comfortable as my fuzzy bedroom slippers. For the most part, though, it's, Fade into the background. Fade!
I retract my tongue and give Mom and Ray a sunny smile, proof enough to Mom that I don't actually have a cold, hard heart. "Okay, Mom. Gotta run!"
I give Mom and Dad a quick kiss, rap Ray on the head with my knuckles, which elicits only a minor-chord tsk from Mom and a cross-eyed look from Ray. He's probably more interested in food at the moment than retaliation, because eating is his passion as well as his hobby. Fortunately, for him, he skateboards, plays soccer, shoots hoops and hikes up the reservoir just to make sure the view hasn't changed, sometimes all in the same afternoon. A fat molecule wouldn't dare hang out on his body.
"Have fun at school," Dad says, just as deadpan as when he brought up the subject of penis enlargement.
He may not know I actually want to time-travel past high school and college, but he's heard me complain about homework ever since I brought home my first assignment sheet with circles, triangles and squares and instructions on how to color them. I do get good grades, but it's not because I love homework and studying. It's because I have this annoying inner sense of duty to do all my assignments and do them well and on time. If only I could be normal and casually ignore schoolwork with no sense of guilt.
The early morning, first-day-of-school snap of cool air hits me as I step out the door. It's probably been this chilly at this time of day for a couple of weeks, but I haven't been heading outside this early since school let out in June. I hurry down the block because I see Randi standing on the corner in front of her so perfectly painted and landscaped that it's trendy bungalow style house, cell phone to her ear. She looks completely together in a button-up shirt over a bright pink T and a rhinestone-belted mini.
Randi's mother, owner of Rising Star Talent Agency, coaches her on all the latest fashions, as well little tricks to catch a guy's interest. The stick out the boob region while combing hair ploy is one of them. Randi's dad split when she was seven and lives on the other side of the country, so, while those tricks might get a guy's attention, it's not clear they hold that attention forever.
My cell phone rings. "Sorry I'm late, I'm on my way," I tell Randi, even though she can see me coming. I don't explain that I was forced to sit down and eat. Randi wouldn't care. Patience is not one of her virtues.
Randi starts walking the second I'm even with her. "That's what you're wearing?"
"Uh. Yeah. I thought I'd, um, be, uh...neutral. 'Til I see what everyone else is wearing."
We click off our phones and start addressing each other directly.
"Becca, you should've gone shopping with me and Tanya on Saturday," Randi says. "You so need to take more interest in how you look."
"Hey, thanks."
"You know what I mean."
"Mmm." I think she means she cares about how I look because she cares about me. I worry maybe she cares about how I look because it reflects on her. She wouldn't want me to look better than her, I'm sure. I mean, on the rare occasions I actually have gone shopping with her and Tanya it felt like a competitive sport. "Yeah, I know what you mean," I say, making sure my voice rises at the end of the sentence, so it sounds positive.
I am such a wuss.
We stop in front of Nina's house. The old Victorian looks pretty, despite the faded paint and scruffy yard. The one time I slept over I was surprised at the state of disrepair inside. Despite having a brother and a sister, Nina, like me, has space to herself, except hers is a tiny room that makes up the third floor. It's almost more like an attic. Trouble is, the room has no heat and the extra blankets didn't really keep me warm during that middle-of-February sleepover last year.
I hope she'll be right out. We can't call her, because she doesn't have a cell and her dad gets pissy if anyone calls this early in the morning. We don't want to knock on the door for the same reason. Nina's mother's already at work pulling green-chain at Weyerhaeuser. My Dad pulled green chain summers back in college. He says it was the toughest job he ever had, pulling green wood off a conveyor belt. At the end of the day his hands felt like pin cushions, and his ears rang from guys yelling whenever someone didn't pull off a piece of wood exactly on time. He says he's glad he's an accountant now, even at tax time.
Nina's dad works part-time delivering the Franklin Weekly, which must take him all of five hours a week, tops. Otherwise, from what I've seen, he sits around, smokes, drinks beer and gripes to Nina about how the dishes are still in the sink or the living room is a mess or the laundry is piling up. It's not totally clear if he and Nina's mother are actually married.
The door opens. Unaware I've been holding my breath, I let out a little sigh of relief. Nina floats toward us. A breeze gently fluffs her long platinum hair. Tall and lithe in a filmy, flowing top and skirt, she looks like the ballerina she once wanted to be until she started focusing on making jewelry and saving money for college. Pink ballet slippers complete the look. She makes half her clothes, gets the other half at thrift stores. Knowing how to put everything together combined with being naturally beautiful makes it all work. "Jewelry 101 and Beginning Russian. I'm absolutely ready for this day."
"Me too." Randi snorts out a laugh. Her real laugh, not the practiced one that sounds like tinkling bells she uses when guys are around. "I'm ready for freedom and gorgeous older guys."
On the corner sits Tanya's split-level, looking like something straight out of a Brady Bunch rerun. The Moreaus, who both teach Folklore at the university, have filled the house with kids (five girls), numerous cats and seventies furniture rough-and-tumble enough for all the occupants.
I see Tanya peek out the front window, and like-that she is on the sidewalk with us, before Randi can even whip out her phone again. She poses for a moment as Randi inspects her lilac brocade jacket, lilac pleated top, floral print shirt, brown chiffon skirt and white stockings. Tanya also sizes up Randi's clothes. They do their hug/squeal/air-kiss thing, which I conclude means they approve of each other's clothing while each secretly thinks she looks better. "Hi," Tanya chirps, "I think I know who I want for my next boyfriend!"
No one is surprised Tanya is so over Colin already, but we all try to sound impressed as we simultaneously chime, "Who?"
"Del Jara."
"He's cute," Randi says, giving her stamp of approval.
"Del? Dark curly hair?" Just like Colin, I do not add.
"Yeah, he was in our Ancient and Medieval History class." Tanya gets this dreamy look on her face. "Remember? He moved here in the middle of the last term. I figure that means he won't be moving away any time soon."
"Good thinking." Nina turns so only I can see her close one eye, roll the other eye expression.
In a way, Nina and I are kind of alike when it comes to guys—we don't plan our days around them. Nina does like guys, and she's often trailed in the distance by love-sick admirers, one or two of whom she will let walk her to class or sit next to in assemblies, but she's always so busy earning money and stuff that she's not obsessed. With me, partly it's because I'm too shy to go after guys and, in any case, they aren't interested in me. But, also, I think there's way more to life than constantly worrying about guys. For one thing, I want to dedicate myself to my Purpose on Earth—as soon as I figure out what that is. Besides, I don't want just any guy. I want somebody totally great and I'm willing to wait.
With Nina, though guys are interested, most are so nervous around her that only a few dare to get close, as if there was some invisible shield around her. Maybe there is, one that maybe she puts up. Though Nina's never said anything, I've kind of had the feeling she's also waiting for someone more ... something, I'm not sure what. Great, of course, but most of the guys she attracts are great. Well, our-age-level great. It's just that she seems to be waiting for that something I haven't figured out that none of the guys who hang around hoping she'll give some sign it's safe to approach her have.
Suddenly we are dead even with the front door of the school. We pause, silent. Then Randi says, "This is it!"
We move forward as a unit. We could be synchronized swimmers, except, of course, we're not in water. Two Really Cute Older Guys stand ready to the open the doors. Guy One has dark eyes and a ruggedly-handsome type face. Something about him screams jock. Guy Two has a pale gold, sensitive face and compelling blue eyes that seem to sparkle as he smiles at us (well, at Tanya, Randi and Nina, anyway). Suddenly, my whole being fills with hoping for Golden Guy to notice me. Yikes—is he The One?
The Really Cute Older Guys open the doors and gesture for us to enter the school. Randi and Tanya stifle giggles, Nina ignores Guy-One's leer and I alternate between wanting to be invisible to wishing I had a clue about guys. I set foot inside and think I'm safely on my way, when my shoes hit the floor and make a huge fart noise.
Cue the screeching music! I am going to die of embarrassment.


Ann Herrick is the award-winning author of several books and short stories for kids and teens. Included in the awards her books have won are the ALA Recommended Book for Reluctant Readers, IRA/CBC Children’s Choice and EPIC Best YA Novel Finalist.

Ann grew up in Connecticut, where she graduated from The Morgan School and Quinnipiac University.  She now lives in Oregon with her husband, who was her high-school sweetheart.  Their wonderful daughter is grown, married and gainfully employed, and has given Ann her only grand-dog, Puff, a bloodhound-rottweiller-beagle mix and six grand-kitties.  While she misses the East Coast, especially houses built before 1900, she enjoys the green valleys, fresh air and low humidity in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.  Ann loves cats, walking, the Oregon Ducks and working in her back yard.  In addition to stories and books for children and young adults, Ann also writes copy for humorous and conventional greeting cards.


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