Author Amanda Howells got her start as a ghostwriter for the Sweet Valley High series and now her life couldn't be much sweeter. Her own debut novel The Summer of Skinny Dipping is out in stores and is a beautiful, bittersweet look at first love.
Amanda Howells chatted with SheKnows to discuss her new novel and her journey as a writer.
SheKnows: Tell us a little bit about The Summer of Skinny Dipping.
Amanda Howells: It's about 16-year-old Mia who is nursing a broken heart and really looking forward to spending the summer at her cousins' beach house in the Hamptons. But she finds her cousins to be moody and cold--not the perfect people she'd hero-worshipped as a child. Family secrets are brewing and despite everything she finds herself falling for an unusual boy. Simon is different from the boys Mia's cousins are interested in. He's artistic, rebellious and a fellow outsider. Love blooms, but not in the way you might expect.
SheKnows: How did you become a writer?
Amanda Howells: I got an MFA in Creative Writing and wrote a lot of short stories. I also worked as a ghostwriter for the Sweet Valley series. It was a good gig for a young writer, and though I hadn't intended to write for a teen audience, ghostwriting really warmed me up to the writing for this age group. Somewhere around my tenth ghostwriting project I realized I wanted to write a mainstream teen love story that would also appeal to women, and so I went for it!
SheKnows: What was your inspiration for writing The Summer of Skinny Dipping?
Amanda Howells: The Summer of Skinning Dipping came to me in a dream. I literally dreamed the title one night, and then the story fell into place over a summer.
SheKnows: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Amanda Howells: I am from South Africa originally; I grew up there. My father lives in the US so I actually spent a lot of time here as a young girl. So I feel fairly comfortable writing an American love story. I am also a mother of a 5-year-old daughter named Astrid.
SheKnows: What do you want readers to take away from the novel?
Amanda Howells: At its core The Summer of Skinny Dipping is a love story and a realistic one at that. It's about romantic love, but it's also about the love between mothers and daughters, family and friends and the various ways in which we succeed and fail in our endeavors to love each other. As far as the romance goes, I hope readers will connect to the idea that love is rarely how you imagine it to be -- it doesn't always look the way you think it will and it doesn't always happen the way you think it should. Also, love stories don't always have a picture-perfect ending; this story is bittersweet, but so is real life.
Amanda Howells: The Great Gatsby threads its way in and out of this book in ways that will be obvious to those who have read it. But other books played a role, too. I really wanted to write something for teen girls that might also appeal to their moms and even grandmothers, and so I wanted it to have a timeless sort of feel. I'm not going to compare myself to Judy Blume any more than I would compare myself to F Scott Fitzgerald, but that classic frank teen girl voice pioneered by Judy Blume was something I thought about when I first started drafting this book. I also thought about books I'd loved as a young teen that had a tragic twist to them -- A Summer to Die, Bridge To Terabithia -- and I wanted to try for that same memorably heart-wrenching story arc that moved me so much when I was a young reader.
SheKnows: Do you consider this a beach read or a serious novel?
Amanda Howells: A bit of both. I hope readers will enjoy the book for its entertaining, beach read elements -- the juicy secrets, romance, and family drama -- and yet find it lingers in their minds after summer is over. A serious beach read -- that's what I'm going for!
SheKnows: Which author's fans do you think will enjoy your book?
Amanda Howells: Sarah Dessen. She's a master of YA romance, and this is just a first novel, but I hope fans of hers might like it. Also, while Nicholas Sparks has nothing to do with Sarah Dessen, I think some of those fans might enjoy my book too. I think it has quite a broad appeal.
Amanda Howells: I have two books I can read over and over. The Great Gatsby which, dare I say, influenced my own book and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It is a classic suspense story that I never tire of. I read it every few years.
SheKnows: Have you jumped on the social media bandwagon yet?
Amanda Howells: I'm not on Facebook or Twitter, I'm not as involved in social media as I should be. I feel like there's only so many hours in the day. I enjoy Goodreads and seeing what others are reading. I think it's important and I have nothing against it, it's a matter of time and resources and figuring it all out. I have a lot of interaction with YA blogs and I'm enjoying that. I've found that blog touring is a great platform to reach readers.
SheKnows: What's next for you?
Amanda Howells: I have a second summer book in the works. This one is a darker romance, set on the spooky Oregon coast. I'm very excited.
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