Zibby Owens: Iva-Marie Palmer is the author of the middle-grade series Gabby Garcia’s Ultimate Playbook and the young adult novels The End of the World As We Know It; Romeo, Juliet & Jim; The Summer; and Gimmie Everything You Got. She currently lives in Burbank, California, with her husband and two sons.

Welcome, Iva. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Iva-Marie Palmer: Thanks for having me.

Zibby: I’m sorry we didn’t meet in person. I know we were supposed to be at the same event at some point. Because of the pandemic we have yet to meet face to face, so eventually.

Iva: I know. I think it was at Sarah Mlynowski’s house. I was so excited to go, and as we know…

Zibby: Sarah Mlynowski is the one who suggested that I start a podcast. Without her, I would not even have this podcast.

Iva: How amazing is she? I have been reading her since she did her Red Dress Ink books, which I adored. When I got invited to an event at her home, it was like, .

Zibby: My kids had read Upside Down Magic not even knowing who she was. It’s so cool. Anyway, your book, now that we’ve talked about other middle grade books, tell me about Gimmie Everything You Got.

Iva: Gimmie Everything You Got, it’s my first young adult in a while. I had a middle-grade series. It’s set in 1979 in a high school just outside Chicago in a Chicago suburb similar to where I grew up. It’s post-Title IX and during the women’s, the ERA and everything. Although, the ERA doesn’t get mentioned in the book. It centers on a girl named Susan Klintock who is just full of lust and lusty daydreams and normal teen girl sexual fantasies, but she has no outlet for them until Bobby McMann comes to her school. He’s going to be the coach of the first ever girls’ soccer team. She focuses all of that energy on him because she’s never seen a boy in real life that was worth her focus or her lusty thoughts. She decides to try out for the soccer team purely based on this crush, which it seems like everyone else who tries out for the soccer team is similarly inclined to do. She finds out she’s good at it and she likes it. There’s no horrific moment where he’s into it or even really realizes what she’s doing. I will do that spoiler. She tries to get his attention in a lot of ways. Ultimately, the story is about her finding out that even though she did something for the wrong reasons, the result is really empowering and amazing for her between the friendships and just figuring out that she’s good at something. A lot of times in YA — I wanted to write a character who didn’t have a plan in place. There’s often characters who are very achievement focused. In the late seventies, she’s not sure what she’s going to do after she graduates and stuff like that or even who she is or what she really wants. That’s really what this is about, just figuring out what you really want.

Zibby: Awesome. I’m sorry at the beginning I said middle grade. This is one area I’m really bad at. I am constantly miscategorizing YA and middle grade.

Iva: I get it.

Zibby: The delineation seems sort of ambiguous for me sometimes. I don’t know at what age you can go in. I have two kids who are going to be seventh graders. Are they supposed to be reading YA? Are they still middle grade? I don’t know. What do you think about the category?

Iva: It’s very weird. There’s middle grade where it’s firmly, this is definitely for eight to nine, ten, eleven-year-olds. Then as you get to age twelve or so, you have young YA. Those are harder to find in general. If you go to the young adult section, everything is about older characters. In my book, she’s seventeen. My book is definitely, I think it’s categorized as fourteen and up because of some of the content. I think it is hard. There’s almost like a middle ground between tween and teen. It’s like you’re sort of a teenager, so you don’t want to be reading maybe as much the stuff for littler kids. Even though it’s great, you’re kind of ready for something bigger, but you’re not quite at the YA where it’s dealing with kids who are about to graduate high school or are really exploring some near-adult topics. Part of why I thought the book might be good for moms and your audience is because it is on the upper end of the age group. I did hear from a number of my peers who were like, “God, this is a book I needed when I was in my teens.” Hopefully, it will get to those teens too.

Zibby: When I was eleven, twelve, all I wanted to read about was teenagers and people graduating from college and adults. I didn’t want to necessarily read about people my age.

Iva: Totally. I think that’s one of the keys too. Big readers, they’re always probably reading a little older than them. My son is nine. Since he was about seven, he’s been reading about kids in middle school. I imagine when he’s in middle school, he’s not going to be as into still reading about kids in middle school. I think it all depends on where you are on the reading spectrum and when you started and how much you read and maybe what your interests are. I was the same way. I read everything. By the time I was entering high school or in junior high, I was scouring the library for people who were on their way to college because I just wanted to skip over everything to that.

Zibby: Right? Me too. I was the same way. I feel like that’s why now I’m starting to read all these books about aging. Now that the pandemic has made me confront how much gray is in my hair, I feel like, okay, I am certainly aging in some ways. Now I’m finding myself reading about eighty-year-olds or something like that. I’m always looking for a guide for what’s coming next.

Iva: I know. Totally. I can’t remember the last book I read, but it was similar to that where I was like, that sounds nice. Look at all this wisdom in the peaceful side. Not peaceful, the books still have conflict and stuff, but the characters seem more self-possessed in the way they approach them. That’s what I guess I look forward to about aging. Yeah, the gray, pandemic gray .

Zibby: That can be a new crayon color or something, pandemic gray. So how did you get into this? How did you start writing for whoever-age people? I won’t even call it anything.

Iva: I did not write books or fiction so much. In college, I was very practical. I was like, I will get a journalism degree because you can get a job in journalism and have a career, which as we know is not the stable-est place to reside. I took some short story writing classes and stuff in college, but nothing that was like, oh, this is going to be my career, because I always talked myself out of it. I always tell this story at school visits. I loved books so much. Someone like Judy Blume, I assumed she had to be anointed somehow, and magical. Not everyone can do that. I’m from this Chicago suburb. People from here don’t write books. It was bizarre how it was not even a consideration. Then as I was reporting, I actually did a story on a screenwriting class that was taking place. Then I really thought the class sounded cool. I took the class. I wrote a screenplay. I entered some contests and won a few prizes. Then I moved out to LA thinking — for a variety of reasons, not off one prize. There were a variety of reasons.

As I was working on scripts and stuff, I realized I always really loved books. I loved movies, but why was I writing movies, or trying to? I didn’t have to be out here, in other words. Why was I trying to write movies if books were my home, where I felt the most at home? Then I did a National Novel Writing Month. I think it was when I was working — I was a web editor at Disney. A friend had worked with a book packing company. She knew I wrote. She hooked me up with people there. I did some ghostwriting of young adult fiction. The books I had written for Novel Writing Month were totally chick-lit. They’re still not published and in a drawer and very weird. Maybe someday I’ll take them out, but I think they were just there to get me started and probably really embarrassing if I read them now. I did the ghostwriting. Then I had a YA book come out in 2012 called The End of the World As We Know It. That’s where we are right now. I wrote another teen romance. Then I did jump over to middle grade. I met an editor when I was pitching a different book. That one didn’t work out at the time. It’s a YA that was comedic. That was when everything was Twilight and whatever. She liked my writing. She asked me if I would ever be interested in creating middle grade, so I did middle grade.

Then I found I really wanted to get back into YA and started hashing this idea out just kind of based on — I was thinking about that scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High where Phoebe Cates comes out of the pool and Judge Reinhold is watching her, and that gaze, that sexual moment that he has, mine’s not quite as explicit, but trying to picture the female version of that, so this idea of this coach walking through the cafeteria for the first time and Susan, who is underwhelmed by all of the boys she goes to school with, seeing this guy and just literally dropping her Yoo-hoo. It was just so much fun to me. It started from there. YA is where I’ve been. I’m tinkering with adult stuff now too, but I’m really excited about this book. So far, everyone who’s read it has really responded. A few people who are older are like, “I didn’t know you could do that in YA.” We talk about big things. It’s just definitely for, it’s for teenagers. I did recently hear from a teenager who wrote and said she loved it. I was so glad because I think the worry when you write something set in 1979 is, do any kids in 2020 want to read about the seventies? It was really gratifying. That was a long and crazy answer.

Zibby: No, that’s fine. That was great. Why did you set it in 1979?

Iva: Because of Title IX.

Zibby: Oh, of course. Duh. Sorry, stupid question. Of course.

Iva: No, not at all. Also, they call it historical fiction now, but I think what I like about going into the past is that you’re free a little bit from some of the stuff like phones and social media and stuff. It was nice to think kind of purely about someone who isn’t dealing — the story doesn’t have to be as entwined with all of those things, which can sometimes make it harder for me to tell a story anyway. I’m a terrible texter. I’m like, what if these people don’t text? That’s not to say that I’ll only write historical. I can definitely do text in books, and I have. It was really refreshing to do that time period and to literally think, what did this person do when she went home from school? There’s twelve TV channels and listens to records and just waits for her mom to get home or whatever. There were fewer options for girls. I wanted to write something with that bit of empowerment message going on.

Zibby: Did you play sports growing up? Were you on the soccer team?

Iva: I was not. My school did not have a soccer team. That was one of the interesting things about telling this story set in a neighborhood like mine because soccer was sort of — we were football. Even the boys on the soccer team, and I hope if they’re listening they don’t feel bad, but soccer was sort of like, you play soccer? It’s European. It was a more working-class suburb. We had a soccer team and they were really good, but for boys. We did not have one for girls. Some of the schools in other areas did. I didn’t play soccer. I did swim. I say I’m good at sports without equipment. Soccer, though, I chose because I wanted a team. I think for me, writing sports — what’s good about me having not played soccer is the sports scenes don’t feel overwhelming to someone who’s not a sports person. I try to not make it feel like a play-by-play where the language is like, I don’t understand. For me, if I read a football book that’s really, not that I’d ever probably read one, but that’s really detailed with yard lines and stuff, I’d be like, I don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s authentic. I definitely watched a lot of the Women’s World Cup and learned a lot more about soccer, but I was leveraging my experiences with competition and being on a team. That’s what I layered into the story here, and just that sense of what being competitive does for you as a person, or getting that chance to be competitive which I thought was a big deal for a girl who really hadn’t had a lot of goals to suddenly figure out that she felt good doing this, that she wanted something, that she actually wanted to win or be great, was fun. That was kind of me too because I was not coordinated as a younger kid. When I got to high school and suddenly I’m joining sports teams and actually pretty okay, it was great. It was actually kind of a . What about you? Did you play sports in high school?

Zibby: In high school, I played tennis and lacrosse. I did play in a little soccer league when I was growing up starting when I was six just in the summers. We used to have these games after dinner because we’d spend the summers out on Long Island. The head of the shoe store coached my team. It was very suburban-esque. I really liked lacrosse. I was super into that.

Iva: It’s a similar thing with the team. I know different moves and playing, but being on a team and whatever, I think it’s just great. Even that the games get a little rougher, you learn so much about yourself and what you can do when you play a sport. I think it’s just great for everybody. I’m not telling readers that they must go out and play a sport.

Zibby: It’s great. It’s great to be part of a team. It’s great to be part of a team in any way. Sports are one of the only ways to really be on a team at that age. Now you can do it through work or you can do it through some sort of community. I think sports teams are great. It’s really neat to share goals with people and share victories and losses and all that bonding stuff. Going back to the crush aspect of this book — that’s so funny that the Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold, they’re blast from the past actors and actresses. What’s the last time you had that feeling? Is there a time in your life that you hearken back to when you think about having such a mad crush like that?

Iva: Teacher-wise, I did not have one on a teacher. I’m sorry to disappoint. I didn’t have one like that where there was a teacher in school that I desperately wanted to impress. That’s not some moral high ground. Our teachers, we didn’t really have anyone exceedingly cute. There was one guy I remember everyone thought was super cute. He was nice and cute, but not a teacher crush. I did have, in high school — this is where Susan’s feelings track, is where you’re thinking about the person just all the time and kind of irrationally. I had a crush on a guy from a neighboring school. He sort of liked me for a week. That week, I spread out over the course of a year. We both worked at the same mall. Every so often, he’d drop in my store. You would create this whole mythology. Everything he said had so many more meanings. You were definitely going to wind up together even though he would give no indication of that and literally bring his girlfriend into the store. I remember one time my friend asked for a ride to the concert and said, “John is coming too.” I thought, oh, we’re going to the concert together. It’s going to be the moment we get together.

Then I picked them up and he had — I shouldn’t say this because I want to save it for a book someday. He had brought his girlfriend with and she was holding balloons because it was their anniversary. They got into my little hatchback with all these balloons. I’m driving my crush to the concert with his girlfriend of three months. They’re celebrating their anniversary. I was still kind of like, well, he likes me better. It was this delusional — you can’t believe that you would’ve picked someone who isn’t into it. I think for a while, Susan’s cruising on those feelings, like, he’s only three years older. I think he’s five years older in the book. She’s like, maybe not now, but there’s definitely — any time he complements her, it means something. At one point, he tells her, “You have amazing potential.” She takes that to mean, he’s going to ask me to marry him as soon as school is over.

I’ve been there. I think everyone gets there. Some people actually end up dating their crushes. That whole obsession where you’re weaving stories — maybe that’s part of being a writer. You can weave this story about anyone. Maybe writer crushes are actually worse. If you have any imaginative talent, you could really waste a lot of time just puzzling over every little move they make. I think everyone does it. That was my big one, was that guy. I finally got a boyfriend and got over it. Even for a while after I got a boyfriend and we would be in the same place, I’d be like, he’s so jealous. He wasn’t paying any attention to me at all. It was like, he’s ignoring me because he’s jealous I have a boyfriend now.

Zibby: That’s so funny.

Iva: I probably sound delusional.

Zibby: No, I love it. It’s really funny. It’s also so nice to — everything feels very heavy. Everything’s very heavy right now in the world, so to have a minute to laugh about our old crushes —

Iva: — Do you have one?

Zibby: Oh, gosh. I had so many crushes. My first crush was in seventh grade. I was so obvious about it because I was so shy then. I would just stare at him at dances and things like this. I don’t know if someone dared him or one of my friends who was more outgoing begged him to ask me to dance, but he asked me to dance at this one dance. I have, in my diary at the time, I slow danced with this guy Chris, it was the most amazing thing in my entire life. After that, maybe a smile or two the rest of my life. I should really look him up at this point. Anyway, you obviously have kids. I can kind of hear them in the background sometimes, which is totally fine.

Iva: I have the door closed.

Zibby: No, I can just hear the happy hum of kids. When you find the time to write? When do you do your writing? Do you do it at home or do you leave?

Iva: I mostly do it at home. I’ve tried leaving. I have one who is in transitional kindergarten, so he gets home earlier. The other one was in fourth grade this year. Obviously, this year everything went a little haywire. I’ve been writing, but it’s not to the same extent. I used to get up before work and write with my first books. Since I’ve had kids, I haven’t been able to maintain that. I did have a full-time job up until about 2014. I still freelance. My day, I usually try to write when they’re at school. Now that they’re not at school, I tell myself and I tell other people this too if they say they want to write and they just can’t find the time, I sometimes have to do things in fits and starts. I would love a perfectly calm routine where it’s like, this is my writing time. I do get that sometimes. Especially if I’m in the heat of a project, I have to do that. When I’m just starting something or whatever and if it’s just me with the kids — it’s much better, obviously, if they are at school or in an activity. I’m starting a new project now, so we’re going to see how this works.

Fits and starts is kind of how I do it. I’ll sit down and I’ll work a little bit. If it’s a hundred words there, I have to come back to it. The thing that stinks is it’s always lingering in your brain. You haven’t hit that target that you want. You do chip away at the work. Then you have something on the page even if you have to do a lot of revision. Definitely when I’m deep into either, I have to finish this draft or I have to get this revision done, that is when my dad helps with our kids a little. My husband is home now, so we take turns a little bit, like, I need two solid hours to do with some uninterrupted work. I leverage any time they have to watch a movie or do their screen time stuff. That’s when I have to ignore that I want to deal with the mess in the house. I can’t look at that stuff. I just have to sit down and force some words out. Certainly, I work at home for the time being. I do think after the pandemic, maybe I’m going to finally be a writer who goes to coffee shops because after being at home for a while, it sounds really desirable to mix it up. I wish I could pledge to a certain routine. My thing is mostly that I just try to look at whatever I’m working on every day for as much time as I can. I try to get a solid, at least, hour in there. I do have a really supportive husband. Before the pandemic, on weekends he would take the kids on a field trip so I could have a solid day or whatever, or he’d deal with all their activities and stuff so I could stay home and work. With this going on, it’s sort of different. It’s just like, I’ll be in the other room with them while you do that.

Zibby: I know. It’s so crazy.

Iva: It’s a process of whatever I can do. It’s all frenzied and always anxious. It’s not perfect at all.

Zibby: Such is life.

Iva: It is what it is. It’s getting written, so I’m just going with it for now. Maybe when they’re older I’ll have something more clear cut. That would be great.

Zibby: What is your parting advice to aspiring authors? What advice would you give?

Iva: That was one of the pieces. Don’t wait for that perfect moment. I think I will go with that because we are in such an imperfect moment with the pandemic and the economic crisis and the protests, which are great and I support, but we all are kind of like, what is happening? What’s going to go on? Where are we headed? What might come down the road next? Even though it can be really hard to write, if you have that idea that you’re just dying to get out, I’d say to sit down and just try it. This is what I actually told kids in school presentations. Write down one line a day if you have to until you have something going. Tell yourself, I’m going to do this for fifteen minutes. Then maybe if it’s flowing, you’ll find out that fifteen minutes turns into a half hour, turns into an hour, or whatever. I think it’s just about not waiting for that perfect, I’m going to go to a beach house and have a view of the ocean, and no interruptions, and I’m going to feel perfect before I sit down and set pen to paper. I think starting is so important. I get stuck in middles, so I don’t have great advice for the middle. Starting is so important. From there, as you go, you can get more advice or figure things out. I also think outlines are really helpful if you feel like you do get stuck. As someone who gets stuck sometimes or has a bunch of things that I’ve started and stopped, to pause and say, what is my outline? I know it sort of de-romanticizes the writing life that you’re just going to sit down and it’s going to flow and be beautiful, but having a map even if you don’t follow it perfectly, for me, it’s really helpful. I would recommend that too. I’m sorry. I’m a rambler. I hope I didn’t ramble too much.

Zibby: No, this was great. It was totally great. Thank you so much for coming on my show and talking about your book and making the time work and all the stuff. Thank you.

Iva: Thank you for making the time work. I am so sorry.

Zibby: No, it was great. It was totally great. Bye.

Iva: Thank you so much.

Zibby: Bye, thanks.