I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree Pete Tarsi today to talk with me about his young adult book, Flipping the Scaleswrites books that he hopes his daughters will enjoy. Two down, and so far, so good.
Pete graduated from MIT with a degree in Creative Writing and Physics, and he considers himself fortunate that he gets to do both. When he’s not writing, he can be found teaching high school science, directing theatre, or spending time with his three lovely daughters. He grew up in a small town north of Boston and still lives in Massachusetts.
Pete, how did you get into writing Young Adult books?
I’ve been a high school teacher for over twenty years at a school that has a short silent reading period every day. I often ask my students what they’re reading, and some of the stories they like sounded interesting, so I started reading them. I find the plots and themes easier and more fun to relate to because they’re often universal–everyone is a teenager at one point. And I find the characters more compelling because teens aren’t fully formed yet, so they make mistakes, but in good YA fiction, they learn from them. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I’m around teens daily, writing YA books just made sense.
Tell me about your book, Flipping the Scales?
Meredith and Marina’s lives have been flipped upside down.
When the translucent skirt that straight-A-student Meredith finds hidden on the beach gets wet, it transforms her legs into a mermaid tail. Despite the evidence in front of her, she insists that becoming a mythical creature isn’t scientifically possible.
Marina is allowed to experience one day per moon cycle among the humans. After hiding her tail on the beach that morning, she takes her first timid steps on land. When she returns at sunset to find it missing, she is left stranded and alone.
For the first time in her life, Meredith doesn’t have all the answers. As she searches for a way to return to normal before the next full moon, she makes waves among the school of mermaids. Meanwhile, Marina uncovers information about her past, and for the first time in her life, she must stand on her own two feet and take the lead on her own adventure.
As Meredith senses her human side slipping away, a forbidden way to change back entices her. But it comes with a consequence: Marina wouldn’t be able to return to the ocean.
How did you come to write this story?
I have three daughters, and they’re big fans of mermaids. I’m a fan of fantasy stories, particularly contemporary fantasy that takes place in the real world with one extraordinary element added. In my case, it’s the existence of mermaids who can venture onto land once a month. I thought it would be fun to take these two characters and put them literally out of their element. No one wants to read a story about someone just going through his/her daily life; we want to read what they do when they’re faced with something unexpected. In this case, what could be more unexpected than turning into a mermaid? Or learning that you’re a mermaid who’s stranded on land with your tail?
Is there a message in your story you want your readers to grasp?
Open your mind. Step out of your comfort zone every now and then to experience new things.
Who was your book cover designer?
The absolutely fabulous Tatiana Vila
If someone were to get into writing young adult stories, what advice would you give them?
Make sure you understand teens. I’m fortunate because I’ve been a high school teacher for over twenty years, so I’m quite familiar with how they talk and behave. I also enlist a couple of them–ones that are good, trustworthy students–beta read my books, specifically with the intent of telling me where I have teen-speak and attitudes correct or not. Make sure to have teen characters that are smart and can make mistakes, but don’t treat them the way adults often incorrectly interpret them.
How long did it take to work on your story and publish it?
I wrote the first draft of this story in a month and a half during the summer of 2013, while I was participating in Camp NaNoWriMo that July. After revising it, I spent about a year querying literary agents, trying to go the traditionally published route. Though a few agents replied favorably–giving positive comments about the characters, dialogue, and the mysterious set-up in the first chapter–I was told that stories about mermaids were a tough sell at the time. After that year, I explored self-publishing options, and in November 2014, the book was available.
What was your writing process for this story?
I had the story’s main idea about a girl and a mermaid switching places for a few years before I started writing. A friend of mine was participating in NaNoWriMo that summer and coerced me to do it with her so we could motivate each other. At the start of that month, all I had was the basic premise; I really wasn’t sure who the characters were or where the story would end, but I started anyway. I figured that if I gave them some basic personality traits that were exactly opposite the situation they’d find themselves in, it would be more interesting. So Meredith (the girl) is scientifically inclined and not one to believe she could become a fantastic creature, and Marina (the mermaid) was timid about visiting land. I was able to write the first few chapters up to and shortly after their switch, but I still wasn’t sure of the ending.
Then one night, about a week or so later, I woke up in the middle of the night with the ending of the book. I spent a few hours plotting all the events that would need to happen to build to that ending. I typically don’t write without knowing my ending, but this book was an exception to help my friend. Once I had it all plotted, the writing was fast and easy.
The book has dual protagonists who are separated most of the time, and their halves of the story are told mostly in alternating chapters. I’d write three or four with one character, then write three or four with the other, and then I assembled the story. After it was done, I let some trusted friends read it to give me revision advice. I still do that now, but my pool of beta readers has expanded to include other indie writers that I’ve since networked with.
What is up next for you?
I published the sequel, Skipping the Scales, in July 2016, and I’m currently working on the final part of the trilogy, Tripping the Scales. Beyond that, I have many projects in various stages of completion.
Where can readers purchase your book?
Paperback and eBook editions can be purchased at
A message from indieBRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Pete Tarsi who is the author of, FLIPPING THE SCALES, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, FLIPPING THE SCALES, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.