Barbara Dee is the author of numerous middle-grade realistic fiction novels, including the upcoming Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet and Maybe He Just Likes You, which tells the story of seventh grader Mila, who's beginning to get some odd--and unwanted--attention from boys, which seems to be much worse than the flirting everyone else makes it out to be. We loved the story's characters, realism and deftness, so we were thrilled to interview Barbara Dee about it!
Rapunzel Reads: The characters in Maybe He Just Likes You are all relatable, particularly Mila's friends: even when they're not helping her--or perhaps then specifically--they always feel honest and believable, like someone I could know myself. How do you create your characters? Do you have a favorite among them?
Barbara Dee: Thank you! Of course I relate most strongly to Mila. But I have a special place in my heart for her bratty little sister Hadley, who cracks me up. Also, I’m pleased with Zara, the toxic friend. Everyone has a Zara in their life!
When I’m creating a character, I always try to give them some quirks and inconsistencies—little (and sometimes big) surprises. So for example, Zara is the leader of their friends group--a loud, charismatic, extroverted kid who is also insecure about her body.
RR: Do you have any tips for an aspiring writer?
BD: First, if you want to be a writer, you need to be a reader. Read constantly. Read what you love, and ask yourself: Why do I love this book?
Author photo credit: Carolyn Simpson
Second, get used to sharing your work with others. You can’t grow as a writer if you keep your work locked in a desk drawer. Try to hear readers’ reactions (even the negative ones) without freaking out. Remember, they’re not helping you grow as a writer if all they tell you is that your work is great as is!
And third, fall in love with revision. Most of that you do as a writer is rewrite.
RR: The discussion of sexual harassment feels particularly believable, especially when Mila is confused and unsure, but also never feels like it's the whole point of the story--it's also about friendship, family, and so much more. How did you go about writing this plotline?
BD: I always weave other threads into my books. I never want my stories to be one-note “issue books,” so even when they’re about a “tough topic” (like sexual harassment, mental illness, addiction or the climate crisis), they’re also about family, friends and school. I believe this makes them both more relatable and more realistic, because kids have more than one thing going on in their lives.
RR: What is your favorite thing about being an author?
BD: Two things: writing and meeting readers!