Thursday, 2 July 2009

Interview with Tanya Lee Stone

Tanya Lee Stone, author of A Bad Boy Can be Good for a Girl, was kind enough to give us a few minutes of her time to discuss her novel and the topic of sex in YA generally.

How did you come up with the idea for A Bad Boy Can be Good for a Girl?

I was listening to Michael Cart talk about a journal called Rush Hour (no longer being published). The previous theme was Bad Boys, and the upcoming issue was Good Girls. The light bulb went off and my title popped into my head. I wrote it down in my notebook and I was off and running.

I found that the novel being a verse novel from each girl’s point of view made it very personal, almost like reading their diaries. Why did you write the novel in this style?

It started out as a short story in just the voice of Josie and it felt natural to write her thoughts in poetry. As I continued, verse was an effective way of helping to make each character distinct.

What was the reason behind making the books seem so personal?

Well, it’s such a personal subject and I wanted every reader to be able to connect and see a piece of themselves in one or more of the girls.

It worked so well that Bad Boy didn’t have a name; to me it felt like he could be Any-bad-boy, or Every-bad-boy at the same time, like he could be someone I know. Was this your intention to reach the readers this way by not giving him a name?

I didn’t give him a name for a few reasons, one of which was that he didn’t deserve one! And yes, as you say, he could be someone you know. Like with the female characters, I wanted readers to recognize pieces of him—he could be someone that any girl might know. The fact that he doesn’t have a name also helped me make him stereotypically bad on purpose—I hope there aren’t too many guys who embody ALL of T.L.’s bad traits! Also, it’s important to remember what type of guy we’re talking about here—he’s not guilty of a crime—there is no date rape involved—but he will take it as far as he can get away with, depending on his present prey.

Although from the title, readers know each girl will get hurt, you didn’t shy away from showing each character’s enjoyment in sexual acts. Was it important to you to show the enjoyment in the sexual acts despite the pain the characters feel later?

Absolutely. Teenage girls have consensual sex and enjoy it. That’s a fact and not something that we should be afraid to admit. I don’t see the point in pretending that teenagers aren’t sexually healthy human beings.

In each case, the girls’ sexual experiences with Bad Boy are all associated with feelings, although Nicolette seems like the type of girl who would enjoy no-strings sex. Did you make a conscious decision to not write about promiscuous sex?

I think Nicolette is pretty promiscuous, actually. Especially in the beginning. It definitely sneaks up on her that she has any feelings for him, and she takes her initial source of power from the fact that she sees herself in charge of her own sexuality and pursuing sex when she wants to.

Your few, subtle mentions of masturbation in the novel don’t involve the girls feeling embarrassed mentioning them. Do you feel the taboos around masturbation should be removed?

Like with sex, I think it’s a fact of life, whether people are comfortable admitting it or not.

I heard your novel was graphic before I read it, yet it wasn’t as graphic as I thought it would be. Was there a line you intentionally didn’t cross? Do you think there is a limit on how far YA authors should go when writing scenes of a sexual nature?

I think every writer has his or her own comfort level. With me, the novel was about sex, so I think I would have been doing a disservice to my readers to turn off the lights when we got to that point. But I was careful not to be gratuitous or include anything for shock value. In writing the sex scenes, it wasn’t that I was thinking about any particular lines I didn’t want to cross, I was simply trying to make them as realistic and believable as possible to be true to the characters and reflect teen life.

What’s your opinion of how YA novels are dealing with the topic of sex?

I think most YA novelists are very brave—we take a lot of flack for it!

What books did you read as a teenager, and how well do you think they dealt with talking about sex?

Well, of course I read Forever, which was just mind-blowing at the time. I also read adult books that were way over my head and kind of shocking. I definitely read things I didn’t understand, which was confusing, so finding books like Forever was really important.

What do you think about parents not allowing their teenagers to read novels with a certain sexual content?

That’s every parent’s choice, and is a discussion between parents and teens. They know their kids, and what they may or may not be ready for. As a parent, I don’t mind voicing my opinion about what books I think are right for my kids. But I don’t think we have a right to tell other kids what they should or shouldn’t read.

Anything else you wish to add/discuss?

Not at the moment, but I’d be happy to pop in and answer any additional questions people might post. Thanks for having me!

Thank you for such a wonderful interview, Tanya! It was great to get some more insight into A Bad Boy. So people, any other questions you wish to ask Tanya? Whether about her novel, the topic, or her article in the introduction post, leave a comment with your question, and Tanya may answer them.


  1. This was a fascinating interview with absolutely great questions and answers. I don't know if I have anything to add except to say thanks to both of you for such interesting and thought-provoking reading.

    I loved the article too. Actually, Tanya, what kind of a response did you get to the article, and to your book in general? Have you taken flack for it, as you suggested in your answers?

  2. Hi Luisa,

    I only got positive responses to the article--but it was published in a journal that is for librarians and teachers. I've gotten tons of positive responses about novel as well, from readers; but I have also received my share of hate mail from people who think it's wrong to discuss sex in books for young readers. I have been called names and told I was "peddling smut." Hard to take, and hard to be accused of hurting readers when it is the opposite of my intent, but everyone is entitled to their opinion!

  3. Thanks a lot for replying, Tanya. It's very interesting. As you know, I found your novel positively inspiring! I'm very sorry to hear you received some hate mail. I'm pleased to hear about the reaction from librarians and teachers, though.

  4. Ooh thanks for that, Jo and Tanya! I always wondered why you chose for him to remain nameless, and now I know!

    May I ask - were you told to tone down any scenes, or did the writing remain exactly as you first wrote it?

  5. Love all the questions and the answers. On reading the book I found some parts which made me a little embarrassed but it was never too much to handle.

    I have a question for Tanya. Have you ever encountered a bad boy? Or ever fallen for one?

  6. Thanks for the interview. The anwsers were really interesting.