Best-selling young adult author clicks with Troy High students

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published October 12, 2011

 Teen romance author Simone Elkeles, center, hangs out with some fans Oct. 5 at Troy High School.

Teen romance author Simone Elkeles, center, hangs out with some fans Oct. 5 at Troy High School.


As a teen, best-selling young adult fiction author Simone Elkeles did not like to read or write.

An interest survey she completed in high school indicated she’d be best suited working as a bus driver or farmer.

She told about 350 students at Troy High School when she visited Oct. 5 that she couldn’t get into Illinois State University because of her grades, so she initially attended Purdue University in Indiana. She later transferred to the University of Illinois where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology; she then earned a Master of Science in industrial relations from Loyola University Chicago, all without taking any creative writing classes.

As “a bored housewife,” she would take her children to libraries in her native Chicago to kill some time and read some “depressing” Oprah Book Club books and then some romance novels.

“I read 100 romances,” she said.

She loved the happy endings so much she took a stab at writing one, what she described as “a Native American young adult romance.”

“I couldn’t get it published,” she said.

She joined her local chapter of Romance Writers of America and heard that an author got a six-figure advance for a young adult Latino novel, so Elkeles wrote a book based on her rival high school, Highland Park High, which had a large Hispanic population, as well as “rich kids who lived on the lake,” she said.

“I taught myself to write,” she said.

She landed an agent and got that book, and the others that followed, published. She currently has eight books for sale at bookstores, including three books based on the Fuentes brothers: “Perfect Chemistry,” “Rules of Attraction” and “Chain Reaction.”

She described the books as edgy.

“I love writing jerks (characters),” Elkeles said. “They are so easy to write and funny.”

What’s not so great about being a published author, Elkeles told the students, is that her publisher, Walker and Co., an imprint of Bloomsbury, designs the book covers, and not her.

Her covers have featured an “ugly dog with jowl disease” and a girl with dirty gym shoes, she said.

She told the Troy High students she’s been locked in a juvenile detention facility, hung out with former gang members in “rough towns” in New Jersey, wore a bullet-proof vest to ride along with a police detective who arrest gang members, and went white-water rafting in Colorado, all to research her books.

She’s also authored another series that included “How to Ruin a Summer Vacation,” which she based on her visit with her father to Israel when she was a teen, which included a stint training with the military.

Elkeles has garnered the RITA Award from RWA for “Perfect Chemistry” and was named Author of the Year by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English.

Troy High librarian Toni Isaac explained that Elkeles’ visit to the school came about because of the school’s connection to Barnes & Noble publicist Mackenzie Vansteenkiste, and Elkeles’ visit didn’t cost the district any money. Elkeles planned to speak at Stevenson High School in Sterling Heights later that day and sign her books at the Barnes & Noble store in Rochester Hills that evening.

Bringing authors to speak at schools is usually very time consuming and costly, and with the cuts to library staff in the district, the visits stopped, Isaac said.

“It’s usually a lot of work and very expensive,” she said. She said that author Todd Strasser was very popular with students when he visited a few years ago.

She noted that Elkeles’ books are popular with students and would likely be more popular following the author’s visit.

“I already have a hard time keeping her books in the library,” Isaac said.

Elkeles showed a book trailer, similar to a movie trailer, which drew applause from male and female students. She said she was inspired by the introduction of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” TV show to make a “cheesy and dorky” rap video book trailer for “Perfect Chemistry.”

Elkeles’ advice for those students who aspire to write books was simple — just finish it.

“Ninety percent of those who start writing books never finish them. I learned there are slow parts. You trudge through the molasses, and then it gets faster and faster. I had to rewrite the last Fuentes brothers book three times,” she said.