Paula Chase-Hyman doesn’t mind being known as a Jane of all trades, Queen of none.
But a single theme has followed throughout her career in communications—keeping her finger on the pulse of teen culture. From starting her own mentoring group at Annapolis Senior High School in ’94 to coaching her Green Hornet cheerleaders to Grand Champion (ahem, twice), Chase-Hyman refuses to squash her inner teen diva. Luckily, her long memory for all things young led to a career writing young adult novels.
Did you always want to be a writer?
No. I never wanted to be a writer until I showed up at the techie company I was working for and the doors were locked and the lights were off. Luckily I got this lovely little thing called a severance package, which means a company pays you to not come in ever again. Very cool!
I took a year off from “real” jobs and started freelancing full-time. I wrote for Girls Life, Sweet 16, Upscale and Baltimore Magazine. A few months into it I woke up with the characters of So Not The Drama swimming in my head and immediately started banging out the story. Since severance only lasts for so long, I ended up going back to work full-time, eventually. So now, I have two full-time jobs—writing and marketing—three if you count being a wife and mom…oh wait, that’s four.
Do you need to go to college to be a writer?
No. But then where would you do all of your partying if you didn’t go to college? Seriously, some writers have a Masters in writing. I’m not one of them. But I know a few and I try to stand real close hoping their smart rubs off on me.
Me, I have a plain old BS (that’s Bachelor of Science, wiseacres) in Communications with a concentration in Public Relations. It wasn’t enough for me to focus only on writing. I wanted to sharpen all of my skills like running my mouth and creating pretty things on the computer. I’m finding they all come in handy when it comes to promoting my work.
Err, what’s Public Relations?
Fancy term for persuading people to say nice things about you, preferably while a news camera is in their grille. I’ve been in PR since I graduated college. Some of my PR projects were really cool. Like when Polaroid launched an eyewear line, XOOR, and I got lots of free samples. Those babies blocked out the sun like no other shades I’ve ever had. Or when I coordinated an event for Saturn, yuh, the car people, at Camden Yards in Baltimore. I got to hang out with CEOs and call journalists and say things like, “Look, you can have the exclusive if we get top of the fold, in tomorrow’s early edition.”
But on the other hand, like, you’d have to be announcing that your company just named God their CEO to have that kind of pull with a reporter. And you hear NO a lot when you’re trying to get good stories placed about your clients. Gotta have tough skin. But it’s still fun—lots of writing, public speaking and creating pretty things (brochures and stuff).
Don’t writers create their characters based on people around them? And shouldn’t those people be paid for being their inspiration?
Alright, who have you been talking to and whaddya know? Nah, truth is my characters are such a jumbalaya of people I know, my own weirdness, and traits I’d like to see in people that it’s impossible to say they’re based on any one person.
Mina is one part me as a teen, one part my oldest daughter, who was only a ‘tween when I wrote the first book, and many parts every girl who’s ever wanted popularity but realizes now and then that the love she has with her clique is all she really needs. So if anyone should be getting paid it’s me. Oh…I am. Sweet!
So all writers are rich, right? Can I come party at your mansion and hang out with celebs?
Yuh, Jeeves will be waiting for you at the door.
Writing can be a satisfying career. It definitely is for me. But making LOTS of money from it…meh, sometimes it happens and sometimes not. Still, it’s the first and only job I actually use the word “love” when I’m talking about it. And getting paid to do what I love is priceless. Corny, I know, but true. If I ever do become rich, I’ll hol-la.
Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met?
Don’t laugh. Flavor Flav. We hung out once when I was in college. That was back when Public Enemy was the shizz and I could sleep in until 11 a.m. (if I ditched my 8 a.m. Econ class). I haven’t met any others, but I interviewed quite a few R&B music artists when I was freelancing. Jaheim, Vivian Green, Floetry, and Brian McKnight to name a few.
Mina doesn’t have a boyfriend in SO NOT THE DRAMA. What 14 year-old doesn’t have a BF?
Hmmm…ask me that again in a year. The answer will be, my daughter! Kidding. I had a BF or two at fourteen. But, I wanted So Not The Drama to be about Mina kicking it with her girls and getting to know more about her self. That’s kind of hard to do when you’re making puppy eyes at some dude. But, Mina’s crushing mad hard in the sequel, Don’t Get It Twisted. With each book, I aimed to give the readers a peek into the clique’s life at different, what I call key moments in their lives. Storylines weren’t always about popularity or even school.
Just how glamorous is being a writer?
Ooh, let’s see. There’s…no. Oh, but then there’s…shoot, that’s not too glam, either. Look, if you have voices in your head that don’t quiet down until you write what they’re jabbering about, you’ll probably become a writer. They’ll force you to. And if you think staying up until 3 a.m. to meet deadlines, getting marked up copies of what you thought was your best work with a fafillion changes from your eddy, spending half the day doing school visits (well, those are cool) and the other half finishing up a few chapters is glamorous, well then welcome aboard! It’s hard work. But then what isn’t?
So, how do I get started?
Well…write. Every writer will tell you this—writers write. You won’t become a writer by announcing periodically that you’d like to become one. Write. Write all the time. Blog, make your emails and letters wittier, keep a journal, join the school paper, whatever. Just try and write as much as possible. Each time you do, your writing will get better.
What authors do you like? And what did you like reading as a teen?
Honestly, too many to name. But I can confidently point you to The Brown Bookshelf for some great recs. Full disclosure, I helped found the group so I’m bias. But promoting the need for diverse books is a passion of mine. Outside of YA, I happen to love Stephen King. He could publish the McDonald’s menu and I’d lap it up like it was Faulkner. Except I’m not really into the classics. I tend to read lots of mystery, horror and true crime. It really helps keep my mind off the carefree, sunny stuff of my own books. When I do venture into YA, I read authors I’ve met/know.
But when I was younger, I adored anything by Judy Blume. And I loved Mildred D. Taylor’s series on the Logan family. I was so excited when my daughter’s class read Roll Of Thunder Hear My Cry that I gushed about it for like five minutes to her teacher. I’m such a book geek! I also loved the Sweet Valley High series. I once met Francine Pascal (SVH creator) and was all giggly like a school girl. Umm…like I said, total book geek and author groupie.
Are there any books out there that can help me become a better writer?
Honestly, I’m more of a trial and error type of chick. Blame it on my PR background. You just won’t know if something will work until you try it. Still, when asking my writer friends the same question, here are the books they recommended:
What’s Your Story? A Young Person’s Guide to Writing Fiction, Marion Dane Bauer
Writing for Young Adults, Sherry Garland
How to Write and Sell the YA Novel, Lauren Barnholdt & Nadia Cornier.