Bev Katz Rosenbaum
Profile by Dave Jenkinson.
Born on December 3, 1961, in Toronto, ON, Bev grew up there and, with the exception of a year she spent at Carleton University in Ottawa, she has resided there for her whole life. Bev has an older sister, Paula, who is a dietician, a career choice Bev found quite helpful as she was writing her very first book, What Friends Are For, an adult romance novel in which the heroine was a dietician. "While I could write with experience about what it's like to be the younger sister, the relationship between the two sisters in I Was A Teenage Popsicle is not at all my relationship with my sister. She was very responsible while I was the 'creative' one."
"I remember that, as a child, I kept a list of what I wanted to be. As I was very much into drama, the first thing on the list was always actress, but the second thing was always reporter. That second choice was interesting because, when I finally got to journalism school at Carleton, I realized I really am not at all cut out to be a reporter. You think being a journalist is all about writing when, in fact, it's more about 'getting the story.' You have to have a certain kind of personality for "scrum life," and I had no interest in fighting my way through the crowd to get up there to get the story. While I could learn the craft of journalism and the kind of writing that I would need to do for that field, I realized that I'm essentially an introvert."
"Because I always loved reading and writing stories, I also realized, 'OK, so that's my destiny,' but I still couldn't quite glom on to the idea that you can actually write fiction for a living. Consequently, when I graduated from university, I did the next best thing which was to apply to publishing companies. Because I came to the publishing world with the image of writers as gods and writing as something that real people didn't do, it was only as I was working with authors that I realized, 'Hey, these are real people. I can do this too.'"
"I still have a little regret about not going into acting and following through with that. As I recall, I was very practical, and I think my parents really pushed the practical things even though they encouraged the creativity. They were like, 'Oh, you have to do something that makes you a living,' and so acting was out. Writing, in part, fulfills the desire to be an actor in that you create a whole world which is great, but sometimes part of me still wants to be on stage."
"I did write as a child, and I was the star of my grade six class at Ledbury Public School. My teacher was very encouraging. I specifically remember three stories I wrote that were set in Toronto's Kensington Market where my father ran a fish store. My teacher was just so blown away by the descriptions, and he thought I really got the feel of the place. I remember that being sort of a pivotal moment where I thought, 'I could be a writer.' I was a very good student, but I was very shy, and I read a lot. I wasn't very social, and so there was a lot of at-home reading being done. But everything goes into the mix, all those influences, including everything that you're reading when you're young. It all comes out later."
"I don't want to go too into depth about my teen years, but there were things at home in my personal life I was dealing with. I did have a chronic skin disease (and still do), and so as a kid and as an adolescent that really hugely affects you. I can remember walking around in the summer, covered up from head to toe in 90 F degree weather because I didn't want anyone to see what was going on. Adolescence is all about skin. It was tough, and you always feel like you're the only one going through this and that no one else understands what you're going through."
"In a way, I feel that the young adult world is great place for me to be because I think all teen lit is about being an outsider and about fitting in. That's the underlying theme of every YA book. Even though I Was A Teenage Popsicle is, on the one hand, very light and fun, it's also about being an outsider. Floe Ryan is the ultimate outsider because she is coming into a world from 10 years in the past. Being an outsider and fitting in was something I really wanted to write about. I'm working on something else now which is more serious, a little deeper and a little darker which will explore that theme in a different way."
"After high school, I went directly to Carlton University in Ottawa where I just did the first year of the Bachelor of Journalism program, and then I went to the University of Toronto. One thing I did love at Carleton was working for the campus radio station as the arts reviewer. In that role, I got free tickets to plays and dance performances which was great. I saw everything at the National Arts Centre. When I came back to Toronto, I did an Honours English program, but I don't remember thinking about what I was going to do when I graduated. I believe I was in my fourth year when I finally asked myself, 'What am I going to do with this English degree?' The choices were either teaching or going into publishing."
"I was really tired of school by that point in the year, and so I thought, 'I don't think I'm cut out to go on for an education credential,' and I just decided to apply to publishing companies. Harlequin was really the only one that bit, and so I ended up there, but that was a great experience for me because I had great mentors at Harlequin. I started out as an editorial assistant, and my first boss, Laurie Bauman, really took me under her wing and spent a lot of time with me. I said, 'I just want to let you know that I do have editorial aspirations.' She let me read the slush pile and really helped me with things like what to look for and why, for example, something is cliched. Once I was promoted to assistant editor, I had another boss, Marsha Zinberg, who was also very helpful. It was great having the two mentors."
"A lot of people just automatically pooh-pooh Harlequin, thinking romances are all just crap. Sure, there is some crap because Harlequin puts out so many books that they can't all be great, but just because it's a romance or a love story doesn't mean it has to be a bad book. That's just ridiculous because anyone who's been married for any amount of time or who has been involved in a relationship knows there can be a great story having to do with relationships."
"There were a lot of really fine writers that I'm glad I got to work with, and I learned from working on their books. When you line edit books over and over, you just come to a point where you realize, 'This is extraneous. You don't need this, but this is important, and so let's develop this.' Just by doing, you learn so much. Being an editor helps being a writer, and I'm sure there are a lot of editors who eventually try writing themselves."
Actually, Bev was employed by Harlequin twice. "What happened was that I worked at Harlequin, and then I worked at Homemakers Magazine for a year before going back to Harlequin for a couple of years. It was during my second stint at Harlequin that I wrote What Friends Are For. So first I gave birth to the novel, then I got pregnant with my first child, a daughter, and then I just did not go back to work. At Homemakers, a monthly consumer magazine, I was an assistant editor. It was an odd time to be there as the company that ran it was just about to be taken over by some other company, and everyone could sort of smell change coming. Just after I left, everybody I worked with ended up losing their jobs, but while I was there, I had a good editing experience. At the time, the magazine did not have retail distribution and was just delivered directly to homes and made all its money from advertising."
Post Harlequin II, Bev, along with Patricia Storms, started Slush which was described as "a humour magazine for aspiring authors," a description which Bev asserts reflects the theme of her writing career - "pain wrapped up in humour." Of the experience of producing Slush, Bev says, "We had a lot of fun, but we didn't make any money. We interviewed only debut authors, that is, those who just had their first books out. We interviewed some 'big' debut authors. We got Nino Ricci, Russell Smith and a couple others who ended up being really big. Russell Smith was funny because I remember his first book,How Insensitive, had been nominated for a Governor General's literary award, and he said, 'But editors are still taking like years to read my stuff.' I thought, 'Yah, that's publishing for you.'"
"I was trying to write stuff, and it wasn't getting anywhere. I was also doing Slush, and I was raising my daughter and son. My first romance novel, What Friends Are For, had been a more traditional, serious romance novel, one of Harlequin's 'fat' Superromance books. Around 2003, the company started a line called 'Flipside,' and I thought, 'These are short and funny. I think I'm meant to be writing short, funny books,' and so I tried one, Wanted: An Interesting Life, which got published, but shortly after the line ended up going under. Flipside books had a Chick lit feel to them, but Harlequin found that readers weren't going to the romance racks for the Chick lit style of books. They preferred to buy them from other publishers."
"It was about that point that I saw what my kids were reading. They were all these great short funny YA books. 'I've never thought of YA before. Why don't I give that a shot?' We were trying to think of a fresh idea that would really grab attention. I didn't think that cryonics had been done in mainstream teen lit. We were having brunch with my friends, Valerie and Brett. I had worked with Valerie at Harlequin, and we were brainstorming as to 'What should Bev do in YA? What kind of heroine should she come up with?' I think my husband Brian, who had been following the Ted Williams controversy, mentioned the idea first, but Val and Brett sort of elaborated on it. First it was going to be a funny romance. I think at the time we were talking about it, the Flipside series was possibly still going on because I remember that Valerie came up with the tagline, 'She's not frigid. She's frozen.' It's a shame we couldn't use that with the YA novel."
"I also thought kids would like the idea of an older sister becoming the younger sister. Aside from the cryonics, I think that hook really helped to sell the book to Berkley. We pitched it as a book about a girl who was cryonically preserved and who comes back and has to live with her younger, now older, sister. That idea's what I think really got the attention of the editors."
"I did research cryonics for Popsicle, but the book isn't a science fiction novel. Because I wanted to focus more on the personal aspects of the book, the heroine's character and the relationships, it's very light on the science fiction aspects. However, because I did have to have an understanding of the cryonics process, I looked at websites. Alcor is the big facility in Arizona in the United States, and they have a really intense website that explains the process very well. That was mostly where I found stuff about what's done."
"Beyond that, I just extrapolated because the process is presently so far away from being viable for humans. I had to take some creative license, like creating a fictional disease. The 'future' inventions, such as the hoverblades, were fun, and my son got into those and helped me with them a little bit in terms of refining them. He came up with the idea of comparing the Skedpets to a Tamagotchis which were big at the time. Holographic teachers were fun, and in the sequel, Beyond Cool, I'm having even more fun with the holographic teachers. In I Was A Teenage Popsicle, I had Floe comment about how the holographic teachers were really boring and talked in this monotone way. In Beyond Cool, they are programmed with personalities."
Asked why she set Popsicle in California, Bev replies, "I just thought that Venice, this crazy, wacky place, was the perfect setting in which to have this facility. As well, I didn't want comparisons to Alcor, and I knew there actually wasn't such a facility in Venice."
While Popsicle is quite lighthearted, it also addresses some serious issues. "A friend of mine told me her daughter said I Was A Teenage Popsicle was fun but intelligent. I've received some terrific feedback from kids, including a letter that made me cry. It came from a girl who had just come to the United States from Korea. She basically picked up on the whole being an outsider theme and said, 'It gives me hope. Here's a story about a girl who doesn't fit in, and I'm not fitting in.'"
"While Popsicle is sort of funny and campy, I definitely wanted to address some issues. I can't recall now if I kept this in the book or not, but I remember at one point when I was going to have Floe and Taz go public about their 'unfreezing,' I actually had Floe use the term 'coming out.' My thinking was that you could use this book as a jumping off point to talk about so many things, and not only the technology stuff and the question of 'how far is too far,' but also homosexuality and abortion as I talk about personal choice. These ideas are in the book in a very subtle way, but they're there."
"What's also interesting is that the cryonics people have discovered the book. A woman named Anne Corwin, who is apparently a very big mover and shaker in the whole cryonics movement, has a blog called 'Existence is Wonderful,' and she blogged about Popsicle. At first, she said, "I don't usually read books like this' as she's more into the heavy science fiction, but then she said that I had done my research and got the science right. What she really loved about the book was that the cryonisists were portrayed as the good guys. I guess in all these other books she'd read the cryonisists were the bad guys. She said something like, 'The cryonisists are the good guys and not the mewling deathists.' She ended her blog post by saying, 'So, if you've signed up for cryonics and you have a young person in your life and want that person to understand the process, buy this book.' So, there's been this whole unanticipated group who are buying Popsicle."
One of the Floe's antagonists in Popsicle is Dick Jones, the father of one of Floe's classmates and also a vote-seeking congressman. As a Canadian, Bev was somewhat concerned about her treatment of an American politician. "In fact, I even remember taking to my editor, an American who lives in New York, about my portrayal of the politician father. At the time, the whole stem cell debate was going on in the US, and she said, 'I can see some parallels here. Let's try and 'up' that aspect,' and so I hope people see that in the book."
"In Beyond Cool, the sequel to Popsicle, the parents have been 'defrosted' and are back in Venice, and so Floe's at a new school which is, in fact, her 'old' school. She finds that she's actually romanticized it a bit and that it's not as clique free as she remembers. Taz is back, but all the kids from the other school are replaced by a new crew though a couple of the old characters reappear briefly. Floe's 'younger' sister reappears, and their parents are trying to readjust. The sequel's a bit more about Flo and Taz's relationship too, and it gets a bit more into real issues and high school relationships. There's a new action adventure plotline that I got from the whole cloning thing, Dolly the sheep, and cloned animals dying. Consequently, we have all these medical problems being discovered, and, of course, there's only one doctor who can solve the problem and Floe has to find him."
"I didn't have an agent for the romances because I was very familiar with the romance contracts, but when I started to do YA, I thought, 'I don't know this world at all. I need an agent.' I wasn't familiar with the Canadian agents, and so I went to American agents because I had worked for Harlequin. Although Harlequin is a Canadian company, most of the writers and most of the agents we worked with were Americans. As well, Popsicle is a very commercial book, and I wasn't aware of that much of this kind of funny fiction being published here in Canada, although that now seems to be changing a bit with people like Susan Juby and Teresa Toten. My first agent was out of New York, and, for various reasons, I'm now with a different agent now, also American. You have to pitch with a project, and, if agents don't think they can sell the project, they're still not going to take you on even if you have written two adult romances. The agents I looked for were people who represented both adult and YA."
"Although I did an Honors degree in English, I didn't do any university courses in writing but just studied literature. Since then, I have taken some workshops, including one with Howard Engel, the mystery writer. It was fantastic, and I learned a lot. Just before I wrote Wanted: An Interesting Life, I took an eight week workshop type course with Cary Fagan who writes adult and children's book. He's fantastic, and I was a big admirer of his. Every week, we brought eight pages of our writing, and I work-shopped part of Wanted: An Interesting Life. He was very encouraging, and I recently saw him at a conference and told him, 'Without you, I wouldn't have gone down this road because I think I really found my voice in your course.' I'm still finding it, and I hope I can keep improving. I'm not quite where I want to be yet, but Cary definitely helped me a lot."
In terms of where she wants to be, Bev says, "I have really loved writing the lighter, more fun books. but I also want to do some deeper, darker stuff even. Earlier, I mentioned Teresa Toten. I was very blown away by her book Me and the Blondes. It has a very teen Chick lit kind of cover, and then you read the book. It's hysterically funny, but there is so much going on there, and it's so deep. So I'm trying to do something like that where I use humour, but I address more real issues. The book I'm working on now features a girl who is dealing with a parent's prescription addiction. There's a subplot involving one of the girl's emotionally toxic friends, and the girl's dealing with all these things."
Bev describes herself as a very disciplined writer. "When you're doing it as a full-time job, you have to treat it like a full-time job. The minute my kids leave for school, I'm at the computer. Basically I'm there until the first one comes home. As for my work space, well, we have a house that was built in 1925, and it has what's called a 'summer kitchen.' Supposedly, there's room in it for a table, but there's so not. There's just room for a small computer desk, and so I don't actually have a room where I can a shut the door. Consequently, I don't work at nights or on weekends because it would just be impossible. I only work when everybody's out of the house which is between about 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday to Friday."
Though Bev admits that it doesn't always work out the way she wants, she tries to divide her day into three parts. "I spend a portion of the day working on any freelance editing projects, a portion working on my writing, and a portion on promoting. Because I've noticed that a lot of American authors for adults and adolescents have done things like getting on to MySpace in a big way, I'm now blogging on MySpace and have 1,500 'friends' with a lot of them being teens. It's a way of communicating with them, and it's actually more than promotion because it's fun to get to know these kids and what they're like. It also gives you an insight into what's going on in teenagers' lives. However, it's very time consuming, and you've got to keep it up. I'll blog once or twice a week and talk about a whole bunch of stuff. The teens 'comment' me, and I write them back. It's great to do because it's free, and I don't know why more Canadian authors haven't been doing it."
"Since both my husband and I are techno-dorks, I got my teenage daughter to design my MySpace page. YouTube is the hot new thing for book promotion by American authors. They are making book trailers and putting them on their websites, their MySpace pages and on YouTube. Luckily my daughter is a screen arts major at the Claude Watson School for the Arts. She's going to make me a book trailer for free."
"I mentioned that a third of my day can be spent on freelance editing projects. I do read manuscripts. While I don't make too much on each one, I get a lot, and it does add up. I give the person a report that's about four to six pages long, and it covers all the substantive elements. I don't do picture books, but I'll do any type of commercial novels."
Bev's editorial eye is also cast on her own writing. "Because I'm a mad slasher, I try and do the first quick draft just to get it down. You could kill yourself if you kept stopping and editing along the way. Nonetheless, it's hard for me to that because I do find myself editing as I go. It slows down the process because, with the first draft, really, you should really just get it down and then go back and do the fine-tuning."
Asked where she begins a novel, Bev responds, "In the past, I've actually started with plot. Popsicle is a perfect example with the high concept idea coming first and then having everything grow from there. With this more serious book that I'm working on now, I'm sort of starting from a different place. I'm thinking about the girl, what's she's been through, and what she's like first, and then the plot is developing around that. We'll see how that goes. I'm wanting to take this new one a lot slower. One of the not-so-good things about working in the American market is that everyone's so prolific and they're putting out gazillions of books. You really feel more pressure when you're in that market. My agent and I talked about it, and she said, 'Why don't you slow down and figure out what you really want to write about. We've got high concept ones going on for a while now. You don't have to worry. Just work on something else completely different.'"
"I do have a writer's group. We get together once a month on a Sunday, and everybody usually brings a chapter or a few pages of something. When I was working onWanted : An Interesting Life, I joined this big on-line Yahoo Chick lit group that has thousands of members, mostly American. One day, I posted, 'Hey, if anybody's in the Toronto area, I want to get together on a regular basis,' and so that's how the group came together."
"My daughter is 15, and she's a great audience for me. Part of the reason I went into YA was that I wanted to do something that my kids could read and think their mom was cool. My son is 12, and he read Popsicle while it was still in manuscript form and really liked it. Then, when he saw the cover, he said, 'I can't give this to my friends!' So, I promised to write a guy book for him. At one point, I actually had something in very sketchy form. It was going to be about a school for super hero sidekicks, but then Disney came out with the movie Sky High. Since the movie was essentially about the same thing, I thought, 'I can't do this any more,' and abandoned it. He was very disappointed, and I haven't since come up with another guy idea."
"I've said to my husband, 'I should just go back to work full-time.' He replies, 'No, keep going.' He just read the first chapter for this new thing that I'm working on and said, 'This is going well. Keep at it.' We live in a time now where it helps to have two people bringing in an income, and, as an author, financially it's not been easy all the time. Our house is falling apart, and it's like, 'Oh, my. We can't fix it.'"
"In being a writer, there are things I didn't really anticipate, one being the response to the Popsicle cover with the girl in the bikini. Some teachers below high school are not really thrilled about having it in their schools. The other interesting thing that's come up is the question, 'Well, what age group is the book really geared to?' There's a whole thing in YA now with some of the books being so edgy or geared to an older teen that the question arises, 'What about books that are a little more 'innocent' but aren't really middle grade books? Are they still YA?'"
"Popsicle definitely falls more in the innocent side in terms of there being no sex or swearing and all of that kind of thing, but then the publisher puts this girl in the bikini on the cover. Berkely Jam is obviously trying to attract 14 or 15 to 18-year-olds whereas I feel the people who really would like this book the most are probably 12 or 13. A mother of 12-year-old isn't necessarily going to want to buy Popsicle for her daughter when she sees this cover, but those are the kids who are responding in a big way to the book. I never thought of these things before. You get the courtesy of being asked by the publisher if you have any ideas for the cover, and I remember spending a whole weekend doing a collage and cutting things out from magazines. Of course, it was all ignored."
"I guess having kids around that early adolescent age is also bringing adolescence back to me. Definitely, their experiences brought it all back, and you start remembering, and, on one level, nothing ever changes. Actually, I started another YA book before Popsicle. It was definitely based on something that happened to my daughter in grade 6. That was when I first got the idea about writing YA, and so it was a combination of her experiences and remembering my own teen years."
Postscript: Bev is currently in negotiations with a local television production company interested in optioning rights to I Was a Teenage Popsicle. Bev has finished her 'deeper, darker' novel, and her agent is in the process of submitting it to publishers. She has also returned to and completed the novel she started before I Was a Teenage Popsicle, hopefully the first in another fun, light 'tween' series, which is also in the process of being submitted to publishers.
Books for YAs by Bev Katz Rosenbaum:
This article is based on an interview conducted in Toronto, ON, on February 24, 2007, and revised December, 2007.
Photo by Andie Rosenbaum.
Visit Bevís website at www.bevkatzrosenbaum or her blogs at www.myspace.com/bevkatzrosenbaum or www.teenfictioncafe.blogspot.com.