BookUp students in Lissette Norman’s group at I.S. 318 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn read Julie Anne Peters’ By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead earlier this year. They sent a few questions to Peters, a 2004 National Book Award Finalist for Luna, which she was happy to answer via email.
BookUp: Did you experience things like bullying when you were young or know kids who attempted suicide that made you want to write about it?
Julie Anne Peters: I can think of times when kids were teased about their weight or athletic (in)abilities or lack of social skills. One time someone told me I had a big nose and that comment haunts me today. Words can be powerful and demeaning. They can impact your self-image for the rest of your life.
JAP: Wow, I’m not very familiar with young actors and actresses. That might be a better question for you to debate.
BU: Where do you find your inspiration to write?
JAP: Inspiration comes from everywhere. Writers are great observers and absorbers of life. I may read an article in the newspaper, or see a story on TV that touches me deeply, and I’ll want to write about it. Sometimes a single snatch of overheard conversation is all it takes. Dreams or nighttime visitations inspire stories, the way Luna did. She came to me as a vision at 3:00 a.m., night after night, demanding that I write about her. For By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead, I was at a conference where bullying was the topic. I’d been receiving so many letters from young people who felt that suicide was their only way out of the harassment and isolation they felt that the book practically wrote itself. As a matter of fact, it did write itself because I woke up one morning to find the entire manuscript on my dining room table.
There are books I’ll write where the inspiration is lost on me until many years later. Between Mom and Jo was one of those books. I knew I wanted to write about a boy with two moms who is forced to choose between them, but it wasn’t until five or six years after the book was published that I figured out its connection to my life. When my parents divorced, I felt that tug, as if being pulled apart by their separation. So that book was more about divorce than same-sex families.
I love to write love stories, even if they don’t always have happy endings. Love is my greatest inspiration.