FAQ about me and my books
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 do you do for fun?
Ride my bike, travel and explore, eat ice cream, read, organize parties, listen to music, go on adventures with my friends, try to make my cats hang out with me, and sleep a LOT.
What is your writing process?
I spend a long time imagining a book, asking “what if?” questions in my head, before I actually start a new project. When I’m drafting a new book, I try to write 1,000 words a day, but there are many days when I don’t write at all. I tend to revise as I go—I have trouble starting Chapter 8 until I feel like everything in Chapter 7 works. 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 in Boston 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.
How did you get the idea for If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say?
I heard Jon Ronson give a talk about his nonfiction book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was seeing instances of cancel culture everywhere, but no matter who was getting cancelled on any given day, I never reveled in it. I experienced a very small version of getting called out when I was a teenager, and it really informed how I think about the whole issue.
How did you get the idea for Once Was a Time?
I thought this sort of thing never really happened, but the premise actually came to me in a dream! I woke up wondering, “What would happen if you got a letter from someone who you thought was dead?” and I developed the rest of the story from there. I am very, very close to my best friends, so the idea of a friendship that conquers time and space feels real and valuable to me.
How did you get the idea for The Campaign?
Like the main character, Maddie, I volunteered for my first political campaign when I was 12 years old. I loved being part of this cause that was bigger and more important than myself, and for a while I even thought I might want to be a campaign manager! I didn’t pursue that career, but I’ve volunteered for many political campaigns since then. For a lot of kids, politics seems like something far-off that only involves adults, so I wanted to show how government affects all of us, every day.
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. Sometimes I’ll 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’m not one of those writers who makes a formal outline.
Are any of your books going to be made into movies (and if so, can I be in them)?
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. Find out more about about my school visits on my speaking page. I live in Austin, I’m frequently in New York City and Boston, and I love excuses to travel elsewhere. I also do Skype visits to classrooms. If your teacher or librarian is interested in a visit, they can email me at leila (at) leilasales (dot) 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.