Tami Charles is the author of Like Vanessa, a new novel for kids. A former teacher, she is based in New Jersey.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Like Vanessa, and for your main character, Vanessa Martin?
A: This YouTube video will answer the question.
Q: The novel is set in 1983-84. Did you need to do specific research on that period to get the details right?
A: Absolutely! I had to do quite a bit of research, even though I’m an ’80s girl! The slang, the clothes, the music all had to be done right. I had fun reliving some of my favorite childhood memories.
In addition, it was enlightening to research pivotal moments in history such as the crowning of the first black Miss America and early initiatives to make Dr. King Day into a federal holiday.
Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: Oh, I had no clue! That’s the beauty of being a writer. You get to create these worlds, tear them apart, and build them back again to your liking. The original ending for Like Vanessa was totally different in early drafts. Ultimately, I chose an ending that left room for the story to continue, though perhaps through the lens of a secondary character.
Q: How do you see your time as a teacher affecting your writing for kids?
A: I thoroughly enjoyed my 14 years as a teacher. In fact, many of the characters in my books (both main and secondary) are based on the students I taught and the memories we shared together.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m currently revising a YA novel, which will be a companion to Like Vanessa. The story will focus on the bully, Beatriz Mendez, from book #1. Beatriz wasn’t born mean. Once upon a time, she had a dream. We’ll see it reignited in book #2.
Additionally, I have another middle grade novel, Definitely Daphne, publishing with Capstone in October. It tells the story of 13-year-old Annabelle “Daphne” Louis, who is a dork by day and an undercover YouTube star at night. She’s great at entertaining her online fans, yet her classmates don't know she exists. Annabelle has to decide if she should tell the truth or keep up the double life forever.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb