The Happy Writer with Marissa Meyer

Terri Libenson - Surprisingly Sarah (Emmie & Friends)

June 26, 2023 Marissa Meyer Season 2023 Episode 160
The Happy Writer with Marissa Meyer
Terri Libenson - Surprisingly Sarah (Emmie & Friends)
Show Notes Transcript

In this week’s episode, Marissa chats with Terri Libenson, author of the New York Times bestselling Emmie & Friends series, about her latest, SURPRISINGLY SARAH. Also discussed: starting out in cartooning and moving into writing illustrated/graphic novels, outlining a Sliding Doors-type concept, the wonderful, yet rare times when books seem to write themselves, rotating characters through a series, the joy of surprising yourself as a writer and so much more.

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[00:09] Marissa : Hello. Hello, and welcome to the Happy Writer. This is a podcast that aims to bring readers more books to enjoy and to help authors find more joy in their writing. I am your host, Marissa Meyer. Thanks for joining me. We had an absolutely incredible time in France and Spain. It was beyond magical. I cannot express how grateful I am to heedra editorial and saxis my publishers who made the whole trip happen. And I just was blown away by all of the beautiful sights and all of the readers. So many people came out to these fabulous events and fabulous bookstores and festivals, and it just was absolutely spectacular. So I was trying to think of like, okay, but pick one thing, Marissa, one thing to talk about from this trip that made you extra happy. And it was really difficult narrowing it down. But I think the thing that made me happiest from this trip is that, okay, you're in a foreign country. Of course, we are sampling all sorts of delicious food, and the food is always my favorite part of traveling. But traveling with two eight year olds who tend to have pretty picky palates as children often do, I was amazed that by the end of the trip, Sloane and Delaney both were trying foods that I know I could not have convinced them to try beforehand. They even tried octopus one night. And those, like the little teeny tiny squid calamari, the ones where you can actually see that this is a squid. It's a tiny thing with tentacles, and they never would have tried that before. And they both ate one like it was nothing. And I was amazed, and my fingers are crossed that this could be a turning point for my picky little eaters, that I hope they become much, much more adventurous going forward. So that was incredible. It was all incredible. We had a wonderful time. Thank you again to all the readers who came out to see me. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I am, of course, also very, very happy to be talking to today's guest. She is the award winning cartoonist of the syndicated daily comic strip the Pajama Diaries, which has been collected into three different compilations. She is also the New York Times bestselling author of the middle grade graphic novel series Emmie and Friends. The newest Emmy and Friends book, surprisingly Sarah, came out last month. Please welcome Terri Libenson.

[02:57] Terri: Hi. Thank you. So happy to be here.

[03:00] Marissa : So happy to have you. Thank you for joining me. As I was mentioning before we started the recording, this book, surprisingly Sarah, is the first book of yours that I have read, but I know there's a whole bunch more in this series. And I loved this, and I cannot wait to go dive in. It's one of the pleasures of when you find a new author that you really like and they have all of these other books to go enjoy. I'm so excited.

[03:29] Terri: I hope you enjoy them. I hope that your daughters enjoy them, too, your whole family. And they are absolutely not just for kids. They can be for adults as well. Yeah, enjoy.

[03:45] Marissa : No, these are definitely going to be books that my girls are going to love. It's so up their aisle. And as a parent, I'm always looking for things that we can enjoy together. So, yes, I'm really excited to get the whole series and excited to talk to you today. So thanks for joining me.

[04:03] Terri: Thank you.

[04:04] Marissa : So the first question that I always start with is I want to hear your origin story. What happened in your life? When did you know you wanted to be a creator, a comic strip creator, an author, an illustrator? How did this all come about?

[04:23] Terri: Oh, boy. They're asking me to reach far back, but absolutely. Yeah, it's probably a little different from most authors journeys because I started out more as a cartoonist than as an author. So, yeah, I was never quite the avid reader growing up, except for comics. I loved reading comics. I loved creating my own comics. I always had a knack for cartooning for some reason. I'm not quite sure where it came from. My family was very artistic, but not as far as cartooning goes. This was my own thing. So I used to sneak into my brother's room and steal his comic magazines like Mad Magazine and Archie Comics and cartoon compilations and take them into my own room and read them. And I knew there was something there when I took his arches and started I hate to say this, I started to deface them. I would replace some of the cartoon bubbles with my own writing. I'd use white out back in the day, and I changed their wardrobes. I'd kind of add my own embellishments. I don't know what I was doing.

[05:45] Marissa : But I love that.

[05:48] Terri: That's how I started completely with vandalism and theft.

[05:52] Marissa : Did your brother find out? Did he know?

[05:55] Terri: Oh, yeah. You know what? He was a lot older than me. He was a teenager by then, and he probably didn't even realize it half the time. He was always busy with his friends. But this is my own little world. I was shy and quiet, and I just would love to sit in the corner and read comics. And soon enough, I began creating my own. And I think by the time it took a while, but by the time I was in college, that's when I really knew I wanted to be a cartoonist. And by then, I had my site set on syndication, which is just a fancy way of saying being a newspaper cartoonist, someone who writes comics for the funny pages, something that's not as coveted now, but was definitely something most cartoonists wanted to do back at that time. So that's what I did. And it took me a long time. I was actually a greeting card writer and illustrator. First, I worked for American greetings for a long time, and I wrote funny jokes and cartoons and put those on cards. It was great training ground. But while I was there, I would submit things on and off for ten years to newspaper syndicates. And I broken kind of in steps. First with a weekly comic strip called got a Life. And the writing was pretty good. The illustrations were horrible. I don't like to show people that strip just because of that, but I did that for about two years, and it was a great stepping stone for me because it made me realize how much I wanted to have a daily strip. I really liked it, and I got into the rhythm of it. So after two years, I ended the weekly strip. And then by then, I started having kids. I was married, and I realized I wanted to write from the perspective of a working mom, all the challenges and daily juggling that she has to do. And so I created my comic strip, the Pajama diaries, and that finally got the daily syndication that I'd always coveted. And that ran for about 14 years. And along the way this is a long story, by the way.

[08:15] Marissa : No, I'm loving this.

[08:17] Terri: But along the way, I noticed that a lot of not a lot, but a few cartoonist friends were starting to segue into trying their hand at illustrated novels, kind of in the vein of diary of a Wimpy Kid and some graphic novels. And so I tried my hand at that, and lo and behold, it worked. I really enjoyed writing my first book, which was called invisible Emmy. And that did very well, and I had a two big deal, and the second one did even better. And then it had this wonderful domino effect of I kept getting contracts and I was able to keep writing, and I grew to really love this series. And I ended up quitting the comic strip as much as I hated to do that. But something had to give, and that's what gave. And I've been just writing the series ever since.

[09:22] Marissa : So was that a difficult transition, going from comics being such a short format to then, like, a full on novel story?

[09:32] Terri: It was different. Honestly, I found it kind of freeing because you had to write in such an abbreviated way for newspaper comics. I felt like I was constantly editing myself, and I love that about it. And I loved writing short form comics. But at the same time, you know, I kind of wanted to spread my wings a little bit. And when I started writing invisible Emmy, it's really more of a hybrid novel. It's part illustrated novel where you have a lot of text punctuated with little illustrations, and then it's part graphic novel. But when I first wrote invisible Emmy, it was written entirely as an illustrated novel. So much texture. Yeah. And I found it really freeing. I was able to go off on tangents and get really detailed, and I'm like, oh, my gosh, what is this? I'm not used to this. And all my inner thoughts just kind of they were just like, thrown up onto the paper. Word vomit in the best way.

[10:45] Marissa : So then at what point did it turn into that? More kind of the combination of the illustrated novel and the graphic novel. Was that something that you kind of realized in revisions would improve the book or make it stronger? Or was that something that was suggested by a reader or an editor?

[11:04] Terri: Right, it was suggested by my agent, and it was pretty early on. I'm trying to remember. I think it was before he started showing it to publishers because he first saw it in its original form, where it was just an illustrated novel. But because the book was told from the viewpoint of two different characters, he thought having them have two different artistic styles would really differentiate each character. And I agreed. I was kind of mad because that gave me extra work. But in the end, no, I thought it was genius. And I've come to really love that aspect of creating these books. It kind of gives me the best of both worlds because I love writing the illustrated novel portions just because, as I said, I could get very detailed and go off into my own little world and my tangents. But I absolutely adore drawing and coloring the graphic novel portions. I think that's my favorite part of the artistic process.

[12:22] Marissa : All right, I'm going to back up a little bit with one more question about your backstory before we really dive into talking about this new book, because you talked about how you wanted to be a cartoonist, sounds like from a pretty young age, and that was kind of a dream for a long time. And on this podcast, I hear over and over and over again from writers who we knew they wanted to be writers from the time they were really young kids or teenagers. But it's really common that either there's pushback from parents or family telling them, oh, that's too hard, it's not realistic, or something they hear from a teacher. And I'm wondering, did you get any of that? Because it's one thing to say, I want to be an illustrator or something, but a cartoonist seems like such a specific dream. Was there any part of you that, oh, worried, maybe I need to have a plan B? Is this really realistic? Or were you just like, no, this is the path for me, and I'm going to make it happen?

[13:27] Terri: I love that you asked that question. So I was very fortunate because, like I said, I grew up in a pretty creative, artistic family. My mother was very gifted. She went to school for painting. My dad did not but he had an artistic streak as well. He was really into graphic design and architecture. So they all realized early on how much of that artistic gene I got from them. And they were always about nurturing that. So I did not get pushback from my parents, although I know they worried, as most parents would, just being able to support myself. But I think they realized also that I had a lot of drive. Unfortunately, my dad died when I was pretty young, but my mother saw my progression and she saw how much I went after it. And also, I did have a steady job for a while at American Greetings, which was great. And it helped support my poor cartooning career for a while until it grew its legs. But yeah, they were great. I also joke how my brother and sister were probably more pushed into traditional academic roles. So I had a lot more freedom as a little kid who is sort of trailing after them. They're like, oh, we're done parenting now. Do what you want, kid.

[15:13] Marissa : Make your own way.

[15:14] Terri: You're fine. Exactly. All right, well, on that note, here.

[15:19] Marissa : We are very successful cartoonist and now have moved into these wonderful illustrated graphic novels. Would you please tell listeners about your newest, surprisingly Sarah?

[15:33] Terri: Sure. So, surprisingly Sarah is actually quite different in format from my other graphic novels. I wanted to do something a little different this time, and that was to create kind of this I guess you would call it sort of a sliding door scenario. Wow, I'm dating myself there.

[15:56] Marissa : No, that was the reference I was going to use.

[15:59] Terri: Yeah, maybe more like a choose your own adventure type of format. So there are two main characters. There's Sarah, who's already kind of an established side character. That's what I do. I tend to rotate my characters or create new ones. So she's an established side character, and the other main character is her best friend, Leo. He's a completely new, entirely made up character, and I've grown to love him a lot.

[16:29] Marissa : I love him too.

[16:30] Terri: Oh, thanks. Yeah, he's kind of a quirky guy and very loyal. Yes. So, Sarah, let's see. I'm trying to remember, I'm already working on the next book, so I'm sort of backtracking trying to remember the last book. So Sarah wants there's there's two different scenarios in this book, and that creates that that kind of choose your own adventure format. So the two scenarios are Sarah is trying to figure out if she wants to ask this boy to a dance. So the first scenario is she decides to work up the courage and ask him to the school dance. The second scenario is she completely chickens out, and you see how each of those storylines play out throughout the book and how they each get resolved. And it's not just any old boy that she is asking out to the dance. It's this boy she has a crush on. And he happens to be Leo's other good friend named Ben. So it creates this whole kind of complicated, weird little triangle between them. And the one common theme I have throughout my books is I love to present my characters when they get into tricky relationship situations, whether it's usually friendship situations, but it could also be family situations or crushes, things like that, and how the characters really go about navigating these kind of complicated and tricky situations. So this book is a perfect example of that and it really takes you through Sarah's two decisions. And I think she's a perfect character for this as well because she tends to be very diplomatic and look at both sides of things. So I could see her choosing one way or the other. And Leo just kind of comes along for the ride and his friendship with her is kind of tested throughout the story as well.

[18:37] Marissa : Yeah, no, and I like that we get both perspectives because, of course, we get to see Sarah growing and learning but we get to see a fair amount of growth from Leo too. And he is such a fun character that I was really glad we got to spend so much time in his head.

[18:52] Terri: Thank you.

[18:54] Marissa : So my first thing so we talked about we've got this sliding doors aspect where okay, in one plotline, she asks Ben to the dance and in the other plotline she chickens out. Process wise. Did you outline and then write them bounce back and forth in writing the two plot lines, or did you pick one, write it to the end and then move over to the other?

[19:20] Terri: Oh, no. Great question. So I did it simultaneously. I had two outlines, one for each of the characters. It's funny, I always whenever I'm presenting, I tell kids all the time that I wrote my first book completely differently than all my other books. That is, I didn't use any kind of outline or structure at all. I just kind of freestyle it. I wanted to surprise myself. I just wanted to see if I could do it. And it was great because I had no deadlines. I was writing for no one other than myself and it was a complete experiment. But because I'm now on a yearly deadline, all these other books, they each come out in May every year and I have to both write and illustrate everything. These books take up pretty much the entire year. So I have to have a lot of structure. I have to know the beginning, the end and usually what's some major bullet points in the middle before I really even start writing the book. So I definitely do first, I do sort of an overview of the story and I go over it with my.

[20:38] Marissa : Editor.

[20:41] Terri: And we'll talk it through a bit. And then when I'm good to go, I'll create the two outlines for each character. And usually I'll go through another bit of talk through with my editor, although at this point, I think it's becoming less and less. I think she just kind of trusts me to go with it.

[21:02] Marissa : It's a good place to be with your editor.

[21:04] Terri: It's a great place to be. And she has a knack for reaching into the recesses of my mind and bringing out whatever it is that in the back of my mind that for some reason will never come forward, but is always nagging me. And she will pull it out. I don't know how she does it, but she's very talented that way. And she's also really good at brainstorming ideas with me. So it's a mutually respected kind of partnership we have. Does that answer your question?

[21:48] Marissa : So after you've outlined each of the different storylines, and then you said you do write them back and forth, that you don't just write one straight through, right?

[22:01] Terri: Oh, yeah. So when I start the actual storytelling, I do I do it in a very linear fashion. I don't write just one character's chapter and then write the others. I go back and forth because their stories are actually quite intertwined as well. It gets a little complicated because each of them kind of has their own separate side story going on, but then they also have each other's stories that are intertwined as well. Does that make sense?

[22:34] Marissa : Yeah. And I can see how it would be complicated, especially in this book in particular, because the two different storylines, it's not just two different points of views. It's really two different kind of alternate realities. And so you can imagine that it would have been difficult at times when, say, we're in Leo's chapters, and you kind of have to think back, okay, did this thing happen in a Leo chapter? Did it happen in a Sarah chapter? Did you ever get hung up on that sort of thing?

[23:03] Terri: Oh, yeah, completely. That was my biggest fear when I wrote this, was that it was just going to become way too confusing. Yeah. This was the book that I kind of just threw out there and said, okay, we shall see. But I tried my best to make it as simple as possible, if you will, within this very complicated type of pattern.

[23:30] Marissa : No, you did a great job. I mean, as a reader, I never got hung up or confused. It was very easy to follow. But as a creator, my writer brain is in the background thinking, like, I know where all of the challenges for me would have been if I was trying to do this.

[23:48] Terri: Yeah. Honestly, I must have blocked out all of that because I don't remember it being I mean, I do remember trying to keep it from getting too confusing, but it's one of those stories that actually kind of wrote itself, which I love. It doesn't always happen, as we know, so somehow it worked. I think I really had to tie up any kind of loose ends later toward the end, as far as confusion went. But as I was writing, it pretty much spilled out of me, which was wonderful.

[24:26] Marissa : Yeah. No, that's nice when that happens. And you're right, it does not happen every time. No, I feel like we all get to have a couple of those in our career, if we're lucky.

[24:39] Terri: I hope so. I would wish that on every writer to have at least a few.

[24:45] Marissa : So talk to me about you're writing characters who are in this middle grade, age 1213 ish years old. And it felt so relatable. I mean, everything that Sarah was experiencing just put me right back in 7th grade and it's like, yes, I remember those crushes. I remember the internal debate. Do I ask him to the dance? Do I not? There's the friendship conundrums. All of it so universal. So for you, how do you go about getting in the head of your twelve year old characters?

[25:22] Terri: Right. Sometimes I wonder that myself. Honestly, I think that a big part of me is still stuck at that age, and boy, my inner twelve year old. It's funny because I don't remember the day to day things that I did back then, but I remember a lot of the feelings that I had, and they were pretty huge feelings. And that's one of the things that I really try and get across in these books, is that these feelings are real for kids, and it's the first time they're often experiencing them. And I just had this conversation with someone, I can't remember who it was, but we were saying that it's the first time they're experiencing this, and this is huge for them. Sometimes as adults, we forget how huge those firsts are because we've had many times over those experiences since then. Most of us have gone through bigger heartbreaks and more adulty things. But to adolescents, it's almost like there's a spotlight on everything that you do or say, and all your feelings, they're just magnified. I want kids to feel like they're validated that way. These are real. These are real fears, these are real emotions, real friendship issues, because it's what helps us get to adulthood. It's what helps us navigate through this whole time. And so we hopefully come out, on the other hand, semi unscathed.

[27:11] Marissa : Yeah. And I think it's so great to be able to read about that in a book and see characters dealing with the exact same sort of issues and just the empathy and the solidarity with characters to know like, okay, it's not just me. I'm not the only one going through this. Of course. One of the great powers of books.

[27:33] Terri: Yes. And it's interesting because I know this is the same thing that I tried to convey through my comic strip as well. Just more from the adult side, because I felt so much empathy for other parents, especially moms who feel like they're pulled in 20,000 different directions. And I guess I always like to create characters that are super relatable, that are universal in some sense, but still have personalities of their own. So this is just sort of translating it to a younger crowd. And it's too bad I have a terrible memory. But thank goodness I still remember. As I said, I still remember how I felt back then, so I could kind of reach in and pull that out.

[28:24] Marissa : Yeah, no great fodder.

[28:25] Terri: So much inspiration, unfortunately.

[28:29] Marissa : Yeah, right. For better, for worse. That brings up another question. So you mentioned that within this series, you will often take an existing character, maybe a side character, and then they become the protagonist of the next book. Is that hard to decide which characters you're going to turn into a new book? Or do you ever feel like, are you afraid of sounding repetitive with different issues that they're facing? How do you tackle that?

[29:05] Terri: Sure. So it's funny, when I first read invisible Emmy, I just assumed if I was going to do well, I had a too big deal. So I assumed that the second book would be about her again. I never really thought about rotating characters at the time, but after I finished writing Emmy, I realized I think her story is done. Not that I wouldn't approach her again as a character, but for now, I felt like her story was told and I kind of wanted to move on. So I remember there was a lot of trial and error with the second book. I definitely had second book syndrome. I didn't realize that was a thing until after I wrote it, but it was kind of like pulling teeth. Like I was trying to create new characters. Nothing was really working. The plot wasn't working. But then I realized, you know what? What if I bring an existing character to the forefront from Emmy? And that would be Emmy's best friend, Brianna. And Brianna was already a pretty her personality was pretty established, and she ended up being the perfect main character for that book, along with a whole new made up character named Izzy. And that's when I realized I really enjoyed the challenge of writing for different characters, almost making an ensemble. It's definitely challenging because sometimes I really have to do a character profile before and really know them. Other times, though, they almost write themselves. Leo was one of those characters for sure. His personality just kind of flowed out of my hands. I don't know what it was. I know when I wrote my fifth book, truly Tyler, which also happened to be my pandemic book, that was like pulling teeth. And I was trying to figure out Tyler's personality as he went, but eventually he showed up, which was great. Yeah, but I love this. I also love bringing out characters who are just sort of in the margins. Like, for instance, my book from last year called, remarkably, Ruby. Ruby was this sort of humorous, relief character. She would be this character that was always running to the bathroom in the background, shouting out her last meal. Out of my way, I just had a bean burrito. I actually jokingly called her Big Bean girl. She would show up in those earlier books and like I said, she'd just be comic relief. But I thought she would be great to flesh out, to show that she has this vulnerable side of her to be a real flesh and blood kind of person. And as I wrote for her, I really fell in love with her too. Sort of the same way I fell in love with Leah. Like her quirky personality just emerged and I took one aspect of her personality that was just like barely mentioned in my previous book where she had entered a poetry contest and she would be like a very unlikely character to do that. It was just something I wanted to kind of wanted to play up the humor with her character and use it as a surprise. And I kind of rode with that for her book and she ended up being this girl who joins a poetry club and does poetry slam and you never know what's going to come out of this. So she was a wonderful surprise that way. But I also get character suggestions from kids, from readers. I'm getting a very common one now. I notice showing up in all my letters and emails that I think I'm going to have to bring them to the forefront pretty soon.

[32:58] Marissa : Oh, it's got to be Leo, right?

[33:00] Terri: No, not Leo.

[33:02] Marissa : No, because I would love a Leo. I mean, I guess this is kind of a Leo book already, but I would totally read more about Leo.

[33:12] Terri: There's too many characters, that's the problem.

[33:14] Marissa : No, I know. And I was wondering if when you're writing and of course your head's in the book that you're working on, but are you also making notes about possible future books? Are ideas, like, coming to you as like, oh, this character showed up on this page. They could be interesting for later, right?

[33:35] Terri: Not really, but if I'm not working on a book, sometimes something will come to me. Also, I really do take reader suggestions and that's actually what happened with Ruby. She was a character that quite a few readers were clamoring for and I thought she did deserve her own story. But usually the character that is suggested the most is the one that's also in the forefront of my mind as well.

[34:07] Marissa : Interesting. Yeah, I love that. I love taking the feedback from the readers.

[34:12] Terri: They know their stuff, they really do.

[34:15] Marissa : And sometimes they pick up on things that we writers like, maybe we feel it subconsciously, but there's been a lot of times when readers point something out that's like, wow, I was not aware of that. But you are right, and I am going to do something with that now.

[34:28] Terri: Absolutely. Yeah. And it goes to show how much they really care about your work and really get caught up in your own made up world, too. And it's wonderful to share that.

[34:44] Marissa : So I have a question. When I was on tour here a couple of weeks ago, at one point, I can't remember who it was I was talking to now, but someone had said, like, I read your book in 6 hours or something. And you mentioning that these books take a full year for you to create, but being such a heavily illustrated book, they're pretty quick reads. Does that ever irk you at all that you spend entire year creating this thing and then readers roll through it in like two and a half hours?

[35:22] Terri: I knew you were going to ask that at first. It would leave me sort of.

[35:30] Marissa : Torn. You sound uncertain about this question.

[35:33] Terri: No, honestly now, I don't mind because it makes me feel wonderful that they want to devour my book, that they don't want to put it down. No, because I've also learned that most of them will read the book over and over so they can find little details. They could find little Easter eggs, they could find things that were maybe mentioned in previous books.

[35:56] Marissa : Yeah. How often are you going back and reading the previous books?

[36:01] Terri: Oh, I'm sorry, could you read do.

[36:03] Marissa : You go back and reread the previous books? Like, to get ideas for Easter eggs you can put in?

[36:09] Terri: Yes. I don't reread them as often as I used to, but if I need reference for anything, I will go back. I do have to use them sort of as Bibles, as reference markers, because these books all take place in the same year, this one crazy year of 7th grade for these Lakefront Middle School kids. So some of the books take place maybe earlier in the year, some take place later in the year, some in the middle, and everything in between.

[36:45] Marissa : Yeah.

[36:46] Terri: So I do have to go back and check timelines. For instance, there's been some overlap between several books where the characters are in the talent show, which I know takes place in the spring. So I have to make sure my dates line up. I have to make sure I have the right characters in the right places, if that makes sense.

[37:06] Marissa : No, that could get very complicated, for sure.

[37:10] Terri: Oh, for sure.

[37:12] Marissa : All right, my last question before our bonus round. I am really curious. Your background as a daily comic strip creator, how did that impact you now, as a creator who takes a year to write a book, what are some of the things that you learned that you feel have really helped you?

[37:34] Terri: Oh, boy. I've really learned how to self edit, which is very helpful. I've learned not to be too precious when it comes to editing. Which definitely before I started creating the comic strip, I was definitely more precious with my material and my thoughts. Now, I don't mind throwing away certain things. I will fight for certain things, but I have learned not to, I guess, care too much if it's not moving the story forward. I've really learned, I think, how to create a world of characters. Both my comic strip and my books are so character driven, and I've also learned to sort of let myself kind of go with the flow and surprise myself when it comes to my writing, too, which is wonderful. That happens all the time when you're writing a comic strip because that's kind of what brings out the humor. And with these books, which are also, hopefully heavily humorous as well, the writing can really take you places too. That's one of my favorite parts of writing is, is being able to surprise myself whether it's funny or not, really. But the comic strip really helped pave the way for that.

[39:02] Marissa : Yeah, no, I love that too. That's always a special moment when you're riding along and something happens that you didn't see coming. It's like it feels like there's a little magic in the universe that just got sprinkled on you.

[39:15] Terri: Yeah, like an AHA moment. And actually, about half of these books have twist endings, and not all of them I even saw coming in place beforehand. Some of them kind of came to me as I wrote.

[39:34] Marissa : Yeah, I love when that happens.

[39:36] Terri: Oh, absolutely. It's the best feeling.

[39:40] Marissa : All right, going into our bonus round, what book makes you happy?

[39:46] Terri: Oh, boy. So there's a book that I this is not necessarily a happy book, but it's one that I always go back to, even as an adult, that I fell in love with when I was probably a young teenager, and that's a tree grows in Brooklyn.

[40:05] Marissa : Not a book, but not at all resonance.

[40:09] Terri: I don't know why I'm always drawn toward it, and I probably reread it every five years or so.

[40:15] Marissa : Yeah.

[40:16] Terri: But I love it.

[40:17] Marissa : What are you working on next?

[40:19] Terri: Well, I am working on book eight in this series, which I'm pretty excited about.

[40:27] Marissa : Is there anything you can tell us about it?

[40:31] Terri: I can't really tell you who the characters are, but I can tell you that it will star another boy and girl.

[40:38] Marissa : Lastly, where can people find you?

[40:41] Terri: Sure. So probably the easiest place to find me would be through my website, which is just my name. So it's Terryleebenson.com. And you can also find me on Instagram and on Facebook. I'm not on Twitter. Sorry. But I am on the other two.

[41:05] Marissa : I'm not on Twitter anymore either.

[41:07] Terri: Yeah, you're not. Somehow I think that's common these days.

[41:12] Marissa : Awesome. Terry, thank you so much for joining me.

[41:15] Terri: Thank you so much for having me. This is so much fun.

[41:18] Marissa : Readers, be sure to check out, surprisingly, Sarah and the entire Emmy and Friends series. Of course, we encourage you to support your local indie bookstore, but if you don't have one, you can check out our affiliate store@bookshop.org, shop marissamyer. And don't forget to check out our merchandise onspring And Tea Public. You can find the links in our Instagram profile. Next week I will be talking with Ananya Devarajan about her debut. Ya romance kismet connection. If you're enjoying these conversations, please subscribe and follow us on Instagram at Marissa Meyer, author and at Happy Writer podcast. Until next time, stay healthy, stay cozy, and whatever life throws at you today, I hope that now you're feeling a little bit happier.