Welcome to Unwritten, Jess. First, please tell us what you do when you're not writing about teenage angst.
Thanks for having me today, Misty (and "hello" to all your blog readers too)!
Great question. When I'm not writing about teenage angst, I guess I'm writing about adult angst (there's usually some kind of interplay between love and sex, thought and emotion, and other "conflicting desires/motivations").
I'm always interested in how collaborations come about. First, how did you meet Matt, and where did this idea come from?
Back in 2010, Matt saw a message I posted on Amazon (I think it was a request for some proofreaders for one of my books). We exchanged some emails and supported each other's novels in terms of cross-promotion on our various social media platforms.
Matt and I enjoy writing in different genres (fiction as well as non-fiction). One of the genres I specialize in is relationship-based erotic fiction (where the focus isn't solely on "graphic scenes" meant to titillate the reader).
In late 2011, Matt asked if I'd be interested in co-authoring a book he'd had on the back-burner for a while. He described it as a book that offered "straight talk about sex to teens" via both a male and a female perspective on similar issues.
The concept was cool and sincere--I'd have to be insane not to have jumped at the opportunity to contribute to the project!
I snooped around your website, jessINK publishing, and see that the book is in a Q & A format. Did you ask teenagers to send in the questions for this book or did you just do research to find out what concerns teenagers have in this area?
Thanks for snooping! The questions are based on informal knowledge and experience, with no attempt to be particularly scientific or thorough. We wanted to provide mostly common-sense and basic information, written for those who know very little or are confused.
We did enlist the help of some teens who were kind enough to beta-read the first draft and provide us with some feedback. We ended up incorporating a couple of questions that were requested by the very insightful beta readers.
I know Matt is a NYC teacher, so how big of a role did his vocation play in this project?
Yes, and he's a very hardworking teacher. I think his vocation was one of the motivating factors for the project. As a city teacher, it's tough for Matt to give straight talk about sex to teens without the risk of being accused of sexual harassment. Teachers may observe teens engaging in risky/dangerous behavior without understanding how to handle the minefield of 21st-century sex and relationships, but it's difficult for teachers to directly intervene. As a writer, though, Matt knew he could still put his ideas out there and potentially help someone.
It's been a while since I've been in high school. Have you discovered that things have changed over the past twenty years when it comes to teenagers and intimate relationships, and if so, how?
I grew up in Singapore and graduated from high school about ten years ago--I think the "speed" of life tends to increase with each new generation. There are smart phones and an endless amount of entertainment being produced (in the form of books, movies, music, magazines, etc), though I think these things can sometimes be a form of "information overload."
A person (whether they're a teenager or an adult) isn't exactly encouraged to reflect on things or pay attention to their emotional health, so to speak. People might be connected via social media and technology, but this doesn't necessarily mean the actual quality of their relationships is better. In the long run, it is important not to sacrifice quality for quantity (whether it's with human relationships or anything else in life).
Jess, I hate to break it to you, but no one is immune to my random questions, not even non-fiction writers. So, here's your, though you may find it not-so-random: If you could go back and give your teenage self one piece of advice, what would that be?
Randomness Rules (it keeps things fresh and interesting).
I think I'd tell my teenage self to "carry on" with the way she'd done everything. As a teen, I'd do whatever I was passionate about because I liked giving my 100% when I cared about something. It's a "tradition" I'm proud to continue into my mid-twenties.
Lastly, would you give us an excerpt from the Teen Guide?
Sure--here's a short excerpt:
Qn. Should I undergo plastic surgery to look more attractive?
A girl may think that if she has bigger breasts, boys will like her, or that if her nose were smaller, she would be more admired. She may think she is ugly and that plastic surgery is necessary to make her beautiful. However, a genuine smile or a laugh can make even a relatively unappealing face attractive. I have met plenty of women over the years whom I did not consider attractive but who had husbands and children. Confidence, happiness, and sincerity are attractive. Being in good health helps, too. Your physical look does matter, and some girls get overlooked while others get a lot of attention, but eventually, this always sorts itself out.
Looks eventually fade--aging is a part of life. One might spend a lot of money and/or many hours a day (or week/month) on looks, but those hours are not going to help a person become a better person.
I've always thought that there's more to human life than external looks. One has a mind and personality and heart to cultivate. I think these things deserve as much, if more attention, than one's physical appearance. Just because vain and shallow values are prevalent doesn't mean they're good values for society. And you don't have to buy into any message or brand or product, if you decide not to.
Thank you very much for stopping in, Jess, and I hope you can return!