Wouldn’t You Like to Know… Simone Elkeles
By Stacey Hayman
Now the author of eight–and counting!–wildly popular teen books, Ms. Elkeles has also been a photographer for fraternity and sorority parties, a diversity trainer, and the owner of manufacturing company, which makes for one of the most interesting resumes ever seen! The only thing more eclectic than author’s resume is the sheer number of awards her books have won over the last four years. Impressive, but it’s also interesting to note the wide variety of organizations bestowing the awards. From making it to #3 in the Top Ten Teen book of 2007 for her first book How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, to being voted the 2008 Author of the Year by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English, to winning the 2010 Romance Writer’s of America RITA for Best Young Adult Romance with Perfect Chemistry, this lady’s been busy. When she’s not speaking to schools or at conferences, you’ll find Ms. Elkeles in her Chicago home with her son and daughter, her German Shepard and Labradoodle, her husband, and an assortment of friends, some of whom just might be aspiring authors. What would this motley crew be up to? Maybe having a laugh in a 1980s, John Hughes-style montage with a pop music soundtrack.
SH: When I was a teenager, people would describe me as a: jock, band geek, popular, goth, or (fill in the blank)?
SE: Friends with everyone – I had a group of twelve friends who hung out all the time. We had the best time hanging out with each other, and I have videos of us acting stupid together to prove it. Thank goodness YouTube wasn’t around back then!
SH: The best/worst thing that happened to you in high school was?
SE: Best thing: I fell in love with a boy named Andy who stole my heart. Worst thing: I fell in love with a boy named Andy who stole my heart.
SH: Favorite food growing up?
SH: Favorite food now?
SH: Favorite food to snack on while writing?
SE: Anything in the refrigerator or pantry or freezer . . . don’t tell my trainer!
SH: Favorite album or artist growing up?
SE: Early teens: Shaun Cassidy, later teens: Michael Jackson.
SH: And now?
SE: The Fray.
SH: Do you listen while you’re writing?
SE: No, but I have song lists for most of my books.
SH: Favorite television show growing up?
SE: Beverly Hills 90210.
SH: And now?
SE: Friday Night Lights–can we petition to get it back on the air?
SH: Favorite family vacation?
SH: And now?
SH: What made you want to be a writer?
SE: I fell in love with reading as an adult and wanted to share my love for reading with teens.
SH: If you could handpick the ideal reader for your book, how would you describe that reader?
SE: Seriously, there is no “ideal” reader. All readers who pick up my book are “ideal!” (They’re also extremely intelligent!)
SH: Is there a book, besides your own, of course, that you think everyone should be reading?
SE: Everyone has a book that inspires them–I can’t pick one book will appeal to all readers. I did love The Hunger Games–and think people universally will like it.
SH: Who was the first person who told you should be a writer?
SE: Nobody. I told myself. I did crappy in English class.
SH: If one of your books has been selected to be made into a full-length film, which book would you want it to be and who would want in your cast?
SE: Oh, I want ALL of my books to be made into full-length films! I did pick the boys who I’d pick as my heroes in my Perfect Chemistry series – Alexander F. Rodriguez as Alex, Giancarlo Vidrio as Carlos Fuentes, and Gabriel Chavarria as Luis Fuentes.
SH: It’s your birthday, what is your ideal day like?
SE: Watching reality television or a Bears game (It won’t be a Bears game because football season is over by April, though) and being with my kids and husband.
SH: What three words do you think other people would use to describe you?
SE: Funny. Chubby. Entertaining.
SH: What one thing makes you feel happiest? What scares you?
SE: I’m happy when I see my kids with smiles on their faces. Death scares me–it’s the unknown that freaks me out.
SH: Do you have a phrase or motto that inspires you?
SE: My go-to phrase is, “Here’s the deal . . . .” Motto that inspires me is, “Go big or go home.”
SH: If you were able to choose a superpower, what would it be and why?
SE: The inability to be fat. Some people have this superpower . . . don’t you hate them!
SH: You get three wishes, what are they? (Yes, you can wish for more wishes but are you *that* person?)
SE: My kids to be happy. My family to be healthy. World peace.
SH: When asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, what did you say? Were you telling the truth?
SE: I wanted to be a vet because I love animals. Yes, I was telling the truth.
SH: Any advice for teens, something you wish you had known? Or wish you had done? Or wish you had not done? And why. (Or maybe: Best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten, at any age?
SE: Pay attention to the geeky guys at school–they’ll probably be cute and successful at your twenty-year high school reunion. The cute jocks might be bald, fat, and broke.
SH: Is there one moment in your life you’d love to live again? To either change it or to enjoy?
SE: I’d love to be in high school again. For me, it was fun!
How to Ruin Series
SH: Starting with the fact that I love the original covers, this series seems to be receiving new cover art. Was there a reason for the change? How much input did you have?
SE: I didn’t love the old covers. I’d asked (begged) for new covers, and was thrilled that they changed them. (Sorry you liked the old ones!)
SH: Amy Nelson is your most comedic leading lady. Does she have your sense of humor or was she based on someone you know?
SE: I AM Amy Nelson. All the stupid thoughts she has are my stupid thoughts.
SH: Amy tends to be pretty impulsive and her boyfriend Avi, currently a solider with the Israel Army, is much more of a planner, but they both have a bit of a temper. What do you think makes them such a good match?
SE: Opposites attract. I dated my husband when he was an Israeli soldier and we clashed on a lot of different subjects. We still do, haha. It makes for some interesting sexual tension.
SH: Amy has some body image issues. She particularly struggles with having a large chest. Do you get much feedback from teens on this topic? If so, do you hear more from the haves or more from the have-nots?
SE: I have a large chest and can relate, big time (pun intended). Everyone wants what they don’t have. My friend Wendy used to say, “Simone, you love your boobs.” Reality was that Wendy hated hers.
SH: Amy’s dad doesn’t really shine until late in the series. Were you waiting to bring him into the story? Was it a surprise to find yourself writing so much about Amy’s issues with her absentee father and the Israeli family she’d never met before?
SE: I knew I wanted Amy and her dad to have issues. My dad and I (who was Israeli and died when I was 24) were super close. I didn’t want Amy and her dad to be close because it would have brought the pain of my dad’s death to the forefront and I didn’t want to cry while I wrote a comedic series.
SH: What do you think Amy and Avi were doing five or ten years after the end of the last story? Where do you think they’re living? What would their careers be like? What would they be fighting about now?
SE: Amy and Avi have a connection that can’t be broken and I definitely see them staying together. But . . . they definitely have arguments and disagreements . . . which makes making up that much more fun!
Leaving Paradise Series
SH: Caleb voluntarily goes to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Do you think that happens often? Is it brave or is it foolish to make this kind of sacrifice?
SE: I try not to judge other people, so I can’t say my opinion on that. I do think it happens. How often, I can’t say. It’s a selfless act that probably has very few benefits.
SH: If Caleb knew what it would be like to go to jail, and how drastically it would change his life, do you think he’d do it again?
SE: I’m not sure. Next time I see him I’ll ask him!
SH: Maggie could have become nothing but a victim. What do you think were the key elements that kept that from happening?
SE: Deep down she’s a strong female, even if she doesn’t even know it.
SH: Maggie and Caleb don’t want to be close, or romantically connected, but they can’t seem to help themselves. If you knew these teens in real-life, would you think their relationship was the ultimate healing or nothing but trouble?
SE: I think two people can heal each other if they’ve been in a similar experience and can understand each other. Sometimes nobody else besides “the one” feels your pain.
Perfect Chemistry Series
SH: Giving Alex such a strongly developed sense of responsibility could have made him seem dull. How hard was it to keep him feeling edgy and unsafe? Sacrificing so much for his family, did you worry that Alex could turn into sad character?
SE: Alex was a character that just came out perfect right from the start. His character, as soon as I started writing him, had a life of his own. It was never sad or dull . . . the guy is the ultimate hero and I can’t imagine him being anything else.
SH: How hard was it to create the future we see at the end of Alex and Brittany’s story? Do you think it was more important to show their research success or their success as a family?
SE: The entire series is about love and family. Both are integral to the series, and I was so excited that my editor let me write an epilogue!
SH: Carlos might like his privacy and independence even more than Alex. What do you think makes him gravitate so quickly to a family that’s so close and supportive of each other? Was picking his future career hard?
SE: Carlos thinks he’s independent, but in reality he needs his family and just doesn’t know it. He actually fights it, but in the end he can’t escape from his Mexican family that will always be there to support him. His future career as a soldier was easy–Carlos is a fighter and it was only natural that he’d be a hero to fight for his country. I admire people in the armed forces–they are the ultimate heroes in my eyes! Freedom is not free.
SH: What do you think is more important in determining Kiara’s character, her mechanical skills or her stutter? How difficult was it to balance Kiara’s mix of vulnerable and tough?
SE: I think Kiara is a great heroine. She’s very secure in her ability to fix cars–in that respect she’s completely in her element. When it comes to her stutter, her insecurities show in a big way. I think we’re all like that–confident in some areas of our lives and completely insecure in others.
SH: Luis is the youngest of the Fuentes brothers and has been in both previous books. Was it hardest or easiest to write his story? Did you have to reread to remember what you’d already had him see and do? Or was he too unforgettable for that?
SE: All of the Fuentes brothers are unforgettable to me, and are all very unique. Luis’s book, Chain Reaction, was the hardest for me to write. I had so many characters in the previous books that I wanted to appear in the book, but didn’t want to take away from Luis and Nikki’s story. I re-wrote the book three times, because I have so much respect for the series and wanted to get it right. I’m thrilled my fans love the book and the entire series as much as I do!
SH: Did you already know how you wanted to bring the series to a close in the first book, the second book, or was it the third book? The secrets revealed in Luis’ story change so much, what kind of reader responses have you gotten?
SE: My fans love the stories–and I love my fans for their unwavering support! Seriously, my fans are the best part of writing books. I didn’t know how I wanted to close the series, and hope one day to continue writing about the Fuentes family (the kids of Alex, Carlos, and Luis). I cried when Chain Reaction ended, because the characters are like family to me and I didn’t want to say goodbye!
SH: What are you working on now?
SE: I’ll be working on another book/series soon–more details to come in the next few months!
SH: I love the wide variety of book trailers you’ve created–for all your books! Which trailer was first and what prompted you to try your hand at making one?
SE: I had a friend make one for How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, but I was a teen in the 80s when the Fresh Prince of Bel Air came out and I loved that rap that Will Smith did in the beginning. I wanted to write and produce a rap video, and had a ton of fun doing the Perfect Chemistry rap video book trailer. Then I decided to go one step further and do a “movie trailer” book trailer. Doing those movie trailer/book trailers was an experience I’ll never forget as long as I live.
SH: You belong to a local chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Would you say you write teen romances? Or would you categorize them in a different way? Which couple, in any of the series, do you feel has the most romantic story?
SE: Yes, I write teen romances and I’m not afraid or ashamed to say it. I love all of the couples I’ve written about–they’re all romantic and magical in their own way.
SH: Is there an award you’ve received that has given you the greatest satisfaction? Or is there an award out there that would bring you even more joy?
SE: Every award I’ve won humbles me and makes me happy, but to be honest it’s the letters I receive from fans and meeting my fans that give me the greatest satisfaction!
SH: There are so many different cultural backgrounds within your books, how hard is it to get those diverse families right? Did you learn the most from academic research or from getting to know a variety of families? Which of the three series do you think was hardest, or easiest, to get just right?
SE: I do a lot of research to get the cultural backgrounds right. I have respect for the cultures I write about, and have a responsibility to make sure it’s realistic and correct. The How to Ruin series was easy for me, because Amy in the series is just like me. The Perfect Chemistry series was harder because of all the research, but I love that series so much and love bringing the pride and honor the Fuentes brothers have to their Mexican heritage!
SH: Is there anything I missed asking that you’d like to add?
SE: Yeah! If you know any producers in Hollywood, let them know that they’re missing out by not putting the Fuentes brothers on the big screen!
Simone Elkeles on the Internet
Book Trailers. http://www.simoneelkeles.net/videos.html
Smart Chicks Kick It Tour. http://www.smartchickskickit.com/
Simon & Schuster UK. http://authors.simonandschuster.co.uk/Simone-Elkeles/70676723/author_revealed
Books by Simone Elkeles
How to Ruin a Summer Vacation. Flux, 2006. 234p. $8.95. 978-0-7387-0961-1. VOYA April 2007. 3Q 4P J S
How to Ruin My Teenage Life. Flux, 2007. 281p. $9.95. 978-0-7387-1019-8. VOYA August 2007. 4Q 4P M J S
How to Ruin Your Boyfriend’s Reputation. Flux, 2009. 257p. $9.95. 978-0-7387-1879-8.VOYA February 2010. 5Q 4P S
Leaving Paradise. Flux, 2007. 303p. $9.95. 978-0-7387-1018-1.
Return to Paradise. Flux, 2010. 302p. $9.95. 978-0-7387-1868-2. VOYA December 2010. 4Q 4P J S
Perfect Chemistry. Llewellyn Worldwide, 2010. 312p. $17.99. 978-0-802-79823-7. $9.99. 978-0-8027-9822-0. VOYA February 2009. 3Q 3P J S
Rules of Attraction. Walker, 2010. 326p. $16.99. 978-0-802-72085-6. $9.99. 978-0-802-72290-4. VOYA June 2010. 4Q 4P J S
Chain Reaction. Walker, 2011. 310p. $17.99. 978-0-802-72087-0.