I was born in 1984, and I grew up outside of Boston, Massachusetts, with my parents and our cat. When I was little, I wanted to grow up to be a writer, actress, or singer. The writing part turned out to be easiest to accomplish, since it turns out I can’t really carry a tune, though I can do a pretty compelling karaoke rendition of “Hey Mickey.”
I wrote and illustrated approximately one million picture books when I was in elementary school, all of them about unicorns or cats or princesses, or princess unicorns who were best friends with princess cats. When I was seven, I wrote a longer story about quintuplets named Marissa, Larissa, Clarissa, Melissa, and Alyssa. The quintuplets were not princesses, but they did get invited to a royal ball.
During middle school and high school, I wrote five unpublished YA novels. I also acted in plays, competed in gymnastics meets and debate tournaments, babysat, and did an awful lot of schoolwork. My favorite school subject was math, and my worst subject was either science or Spanish.
I went to college at the University of Chicago, where I majored in psychology. I also performed in Off-Off Campus (an improvisational and sketch comedy troupe), competed in debate tournaments all over the world, helped judge the world’s largest scavenger hunt, and wrote a humor column for the school paper. And I wrote another unpublished YA novel, for which I was awarded the Olga and Paul Menn Foundation Prize for Fiction Writing.
After graduating, I got a job at a children’s book publishing company in New York City. I worked there for more than eleven years, and I got to edit lots of critically acclaimed and bestselling books by talented authors including Max Brallier, Gayle Forman, Sally Green, Viola Davis, Greg Pizzoli, and many more. You can see more of the books I edited here.
My first novel, Mostly Good Girls, was published in 2010, and since then, I’ve just kept working on more. I’ve had books translated into a dozen different languages, and I’ve gotten to speak about writing and kids books to students as well as industry professionals all over the world.
In 2018, I left my full-time job to focus on my own writing and to launch a book development agency called The Book Engineer. Basically, I get to make books exist. What could be better? I’m now often in Austin, sometimes in Brooklyn, and the rest of the time in anyplace that seems interesting.Need a photo of me? Here you go.
11 Random Facts
- I did gymnastics for eight years (but was never very good at it.)
- I type using only two fingers.
- I am a modified vegetarian—I haven’t eaten red meat since I was in second grade. My favorite food is chocolate.
- My middle name is a boy’s name.
- My first car was a grey 1988 Toyota Corolla. I named it “The Heart of Gold” and painted the words “ROAD TRIP” on it in red.
- I went to summer camp for so many years that I am basically an expert at team cheers, hand-clapping games, and friendship bracelets.
- Every week during high school, I posted a different quote on my locker, so now I have a collection of two hundred quotes from my favorite books, movies, and songs.
- I can recite the name of every student in my high school class in alphabetical order.
- I own more than one hundred original My Little Ponies.
- For five years I received so many text messages from strangers that I started a blog about them.
- I live with two cats.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How do you pronounce your name?
- My first name is pronounced Lie-lah—like “lilac” without the “c” on the end. My last name is pronounced just like the word “sales.”
- What is your writing ritual?
- I try to write one evening a week after I get home from work for about four hours, and one full weekend day. If I have a deadline coming up, I’ll write even more often than that, or if I’m in between projects, I’ll take a break. I don’t like to write without comfy pants, a slinky to fiddle with when I can’t think of what to type next, and lots of chocolate chips.
- How did you get the idea for Mostly Good Girls?
- I attended an all-girls high school which inspired Westfield in the book. The plot points and characters are made up, but Violet and Katie’s friendship is based on my relationship with my high school best friend Allie, and some of the funny customs (like a Candy and Tampon Locker, or waving to the people in the building next door during fire drills) really happened at my school.
- How did you get the idea for Past Perfect?
- The summer after my freshman year in college, I did an internship with the Freedom Trail Foundation in Boston. I got to wear a Colonial outfit and show tourists around the historic Granary Burial Ground two days a week. I didn’t have a Colonial ex-boyfriend or a Civil War-era forbidden crush or anything like that. But I did sweat a lot in my petticoat, so I felt qualified to tell this story.
- How did you get the idea for This Song Will Save Your Life?
- When I was eighteen, my friends and I started going to an indie rock nightclub in Boston, and I fell in love with it. Since that time, I have been to many, many dance parties all over the world, and I have many friends who are DJs, and I wanted to write the story of a girl who’s captivated by nightlife in the way that I am. I did a Q&A with my editor in the paperback edition of the book, so if you read that you can get a lot more information about how this book came to be.
- How did you get the idea for Tonight the Streets Are Ours?
- Like Arden in the book, I’ve become obsessed with a fair number of online writers in my day. Some of them I found in real life—just as Arden does—and turned them into my friends. Some of them I found in real life, and they definitely did not turn into my friends. And some of them I’ve never met, and I still imagine, however misguidedly, that they could be as amazing in real life as their writing makes them seem.
- Are you ever going to write a book for adults? Or for younger readers? Or a sequel to one of your books?
- I’m not going to say “never” to anything, because I don’t know what I might someday want to write about. I’ve written one middle-grade book, called Once Was a Time, geared at readers aged 8 to 12, and I have another book for that age group coming out in 2020. As for adults, I edited an anthology of stories about the University of Chicago’s annual scavenger hunt, called We Made Uranium!, coming out in April 2019.
- How do you deal with writer’s block?
- I try to walk away from the computer and do something completely different, like go for a bike ride, or a long walk with music. Something where I can hear my thoughts without demanding that they come to me at a particular time. I’ll also write longhand what it is that I do know about the characters and their story, to see if that can help me figure out what I don’t yet know. Finally, I remind myself that writing is not like life: there’s no mistake too big to be deleted and rewritten, so you might as well just write something.
- Do you write from an outline?
- Not really. I’ll make a list of some of the things that I want to make sure happen in the book, but I don’t make a formal outline. Lots of writers do outline, of course, and maybe someday I’ll be one of them!
- Are any of your books going to be made into movies?
- I hope so! Authors don’t get much say over whether that happens, though. This Song Will Save Your Life has been optioned for stage and film development by Kevin McCollum (who produced Rent) and Michael Novick (who produced Glee). There’s no guarantee that it will get made into a Broadway play or a Hollywood movie, but it could.
- Will you come visit my school?
- I love being able to meet my readers in person. Here’s a flyer about my school visits. I live in Austin, I’m frequently in New York City and Boston, and I often travel to other parts of the United States. I also do Skype visits to classrooms. If your teacher or librarian is interested in a visit, they can email me at email@example.com to discuss.
- What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
- Read! Read a lot. And when you find something you love, read it over and over, until you can start to figure out how the author did it. And then, of course, write a lot. Learn to absorb feedback without taking it personally, and learn how to revise. Don’t get discouraged if you’re not scoring publishing contracts and winning awards at the age of sixteen. If you like to write, just keep writing.
- What advice would you give to teens reading your books?
- Figure out what it is that you love to do, and do that. Find other people who love to do that same thing and work with them, get to know them. Don’t feel ashamed of being smart, or different. Most interesting people feel like they’re different. Learn how to focus, and how to be alone with your own thoughts. And try to get some sleep. I know it’s hard to make time for it, but everything looks better after a good night’s sleep.