March 2008


Daphne Grab is the author of Alive and Well in Prague New York, a wonderful debut that will be released  this June.  We are lucky enough to have her here for an interview, and I hope you all enjoy it!

Matisse is a city girl originally who moves to the country. You grew up in upstate New York and eventually moved to the city. How did your opposite experience influence your writing about Matisse’s move? 
I’m in love with New York City but a part of me will always be a country girl (despite my fear of spiders) and I thought it would be fun to write something that explored those two sides of my personality. I do prefer city living but it was pretty easy to draw on my small town love, even though I’ve lived in cities most of my adult life.

Do you and Matisse have a lot in common? In what way? 

Matisse is so the opposite of how I was in high school.  She is confident, outspoken and could care less what anyone thinks of her.  I was always second guessing myself and getting worked up worrying about what other people thought of me.  I’ve gotten a little more assertive as I’ve gotten older and I do worry less what people think of me.  Or so I thought before I wrote a book and had to worry about reviews!
What are you writing right now? Would you ever consider writing a sequel to Alive and Well in Prague, New York? 

I am working on two things now: a middle grade coming of age story that is almost done, and a teen book that is barely started.  The teen book will be about a girl who has the opposite experience of Matisse- she and her family will leave their small town for a summer in the big city.  Like Matisse she has a past she wants to forget and at first hates her new home.
I’d love to visit Matisse again but I kind of like where I’ve left her so I’m not planning a sequel right now.  But I never say never!     

Why did you choose to write about a character whose father is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease? 
My dad had ALS which is similar to Parkinson’s: both are neurological and strip the person of their ability to care for themselves.  I wanted to write about how difficult neurological illnesses are for entire families but not write the story of my own experience, so I chose something similar but different.

Matisse’s mother is a painter, her father a sculptor, and her first friend in Prague, Violet, is a poet. Lots of artsy people! If you could be talented in some other artistic medium (dance, photography, whatever) besides writing novels, what would you choose? 

Good question!  I cannot even draw a good stick figure and I’d love to be able to really make images come alive on paper.

Who are your favorite visual artists? 

Van Gogh is my favorite though I also like the Hudson River painters- I grew up in the Hudson Valley so their work resonates for me.

Why did you choose to write for a young adult audience? Would you want to write for either children or adults? 

For whatever reason the stories I think of are teen and middle grade. Possibly because that tween/teen part of me is still very much alive, but also maybe because in those years books meant the most to me.  All my favorite authors are the ones I read from ages 10-15 and those are the stories I could tell you from memory because I read them so many times.  I should also add that 90% of the books I read now are still YA!

What came to you first when writing Alive and Well in Prague, New York: character, plot, or something else? 

Another good question!  I’d have to say the basic idea of writing about a girl whose dad is ill came first.  I wanted to write about what it’s like to see a parent lose the ability to control their own body because it’s such a profound and life changing thing for everyone involved. But of course the thing about that experience is that it’s grounded in all the other parts of life: friends, social stuff, guys, school. So the story just grew from there.

You’ve done quite a bit of travelling. What is your favorite place in the world that you’ve been to, and favorite that you have yet to see in person? 

China was amazing but I’m going to have to say Colombia was my favorite place to be.  I think it was all the salsa dancing!

Favorite places yet to see: there are a lot!  Top two are Morocco and Egypt.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

Finish what you write.  When I first started writing creatively I got good at writing scenes and chapters, but learning to carry a whole story from beginning to end, with each character having an arc, was a whole different ball game.  And it took a lot of practice, with some really bad manuscripts and a lot of revision along the way!

What’s your writing process like?

I write from an outline.  Most authors I know don’t, but for me thinking out the story ahead of time makes it easier to sit down and write each day.  I’m not sitting down to write a book, I’m just sitting down to write the next scene on my outline.  I also like knowing ahead of time where I am going with the story.

Who are some of your biggest writing influences? 

There are a ton but I’d have to say the number one is Beverly Cleary.  I love that she writes a very specific story about a person so three dimensional you feel you know them, and then through that very individual story touches on profound universal themes, like learning to be true to yourself.  I see myself reflected in her books and I feel reaffirmed in my own life when I read her.

What are your five favorite things besides books and writing? (This can be anything–places, activities, people, whatever.) 

1. my family (including my cats)

2. visiting new places and old friends

3. the beach at Cape Cod

4. movies

5. high quality chocolate chip cookies (dairy free since I’m allergic)

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it). 

Q- How totally psyched are you to be interviewed by the awesome Jocelyn?

A-So very psyched!

Thanks Jocelyn!!

Thanks, Daphne!

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Maximum Ride: The Final Warning is the fourth book in this series about a “flock” of kids who were genetically modified so that their DNA mixed with avian DNA, and they now have wings and can fly (and some of them have other special abilities, too). Fourteen-year-old Max is the leader of the group, and she is also the narrator of the story. In this latest installment in the series, the flock is off to Antarctica to work with scientists to combat global warming, but, of course, as always, there’s an enemy on their trail.

This is a fast-paced, exciting story with an interesting premise. It’s well-written, and I love the character of Max. The Maximum Ride series is great for reluctant readers, and it’s quite entertaining, and at times quite thought-provoking as well. This book was a little heavy-handed with its environmentalist message (a message I do agree with, but a little more subtlety would have been nice). I certainly take issue with some of James Patterson’s recent comments about children’s and YA literature, but this is a review of the book, not the author, and the book itself is certainly worth reading, especially for fans of the series. I think the way this series came about is a little strange (James Patterson apparently got the idea from one of his other books–I guess that’s what happens when you have ghostwriters, which I suspect he does though I have no proof of that, because the similarities are really strange, and couldn’t he at least have changed the main character’s name if they’re not the same people?) , but it’s a quick adventure that I most definitely enjoyed every page of, and I do recommend it.

Deb Caletti is the author of five wonderful YA novels, most recently The Fortunes of Indigo Skye. She’s a very talented author, and if you haven’t read her books yet, what are you waiting for?! I was lucky enough to get to interview Deb, and I hope you enjoy it:

I’ve heard it’s like choosing a favorite child, but do you have a favorite of your books? If so, why?
It is like choosing a favorite child. But my favorite books are actually the ones that remind me most of my own life with my kids. “Honey, Baby, Sweetheart” has a lot of us in it, as does “The Fortunes of Indigo Skye.”

What is the most interesting way in which the inspiration for one of your novels has come to you?

A couple of cups of French Roast are usually my best source of inspiration. But I think the most interesting way one of my novels came about was on a field trip with my son’s orchestra to watch the Seattle Symphony rehearse. I sat in the plush, red seat and watched the white, billowing sleeves of the symphony conductor, and those sleeves became responsible for WILD ROSES. The intensity of their movement made me think about the passion involved in creativity, and the role – good and bad – that passion plays in our lives.

Would you want to unexpectedly acquire two and a half million dollars the way Indigo did? If you did suddenly have that money, what would you do with it?
Could I possibly say no to that? Of course I would want to acquire two and a half million dollars! I don’t know exactly what I would do with it, but I hope I would “have money” in a way that was caring and responsible to others around me.

How did The Fortunes of Indigo Skye change from first draft to final book?

There are always nips and tucks in the editing process, but generally the book remains basically whole. I think the biggest thing I changed was extending the time that Indigo became dissatisfied with Trevor. He leapt on the money a little too eagerly at first.

What is your writing process like? Do you outline, or wing it? Fill things in randomly, or write linearly?

I stand at the literary ledge and let go. In my very early days of writing I used to outline. But then I discovered that if I succumbed to circumstance and the outpourings of my own weird subconscious, some sort of magic happened. It’s the same process of discovery I feel when I read a book – an unfolding.

You are very talented at creating great characters and showing the relationships between them. Do real people inspire any of your characters? Do you have any advice for aspiring writers trying to brush up their characterization skills?

Sure, real people inspire your characters, but we don’t usually like to admit that. We’d rather stay somewhat safe behind the “any resemblance to actual people is unintentional” blurb that comes on the copyright page. That said, someone I know well can inspire a character, but so can someone I just sit behind for an hour at one of my son’s soccer games. It’s all about observation and a curiosity about why people behave the way they do. Human behavior is something I’m desperate to understand, for my work, but also for my life. I study behavior, take it in, and try to convey it as honestly as possible. That’s my most basic but truest “advice.”

Are you like any (or all) of your main characters? In what ways?
I’m probably like all of my characters in some way, even the bad ones. Mostly, though, my characters and I both tend to be flawed but good intentioned, trying to do the best we can in our world. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
Why do you write for teens? Would you ever want to write for children or adults?

I don’t think of my teen readers as TEEN READERS. I think of them as people. I try to address issues we all, adults and teens, face in much the same way – love, identity, fear, what we hunger for and where we find a sense of home. I have a great deal of adult readers, too, I think, because of this blurry line, and I think my teen readers can feel the respect that this lack of differentiation gives. I don’t feel the “You, teen Me, adult” thing, and I this seems to strengthen my relationship with all my readers. We’re all just people doing life.

What are you working on right now?

I just finished my next book, “The Secret Life of Prince Charming.” It’s about a girl who unites with her sister and the step-sister she’s never met to return objects that her father has taken – from all the women he’s ever loved.

Who are your writing influences?

Probably everyone I’ve ever read, from the writers of Little Bear and Curious George, to C.S. Lewis and Carolyn Keene, right on up to Flannery O’Connor and Hemingway. Every book influences.

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it).

Q. What do you want for lunch, Deb?
A. Cheeseburger, onion rings, diet Coke.

Jenny Davidson‘s first YA novel, The Explosionist, takes place in an alternate version of Edinburgh in 1938. Sophie’s world diverges from our own when Napoleon wins at Waterloo in 1815, though there are other discrepancies that cannot be traced back to that battle–most importantly, the paranormal element of this book. Spiritualism is alive and well in this world, and actually real and sometimes state-sponsored. It’s quite possible to speak to the dead here, though not everyone can do it, and there are certainly plenty of frauds and skeptics.

Sophie is a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl who lives with her Great-aunt Tabitha in Edinburgh. Oh, how to explain this book! All of the political intrigue (to which Sophie is privy–often by eavesdropping–because of her great-aunt’s high status) and the ways in which this world differs from our own would take pages to explain properly (which is why you’re lucky there’s a lengthy novel about it). Suffice to say, Sophie and her friend Mikael soon find themselves involved in various mysteries and plots on which the fate of Scotland and the rest of the world hangs. Seances, explosions, terrorist groups, murder, politics, and various other things are involved. This world (like our own in 1938, though for different reasons) is on the brink of a war that will shape the coming years, a war that could be avoidable.

Like I said, this is a difficult book to explain, but not difficult to finish–I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! There’s suspense and intrigue and mystery and adventure and even a bit of romance. I was caught up in it all from the beginning, and now I absolutely cannot wait for a sequel–which is too bad for me, as this book isn’t even out until July, so there’ll be quite some time before any continuation of the adventures of Sophie and Mikael. I admire the way Jenny Davidson ended this in just the right place–readers are anxious to find out what happens next, and there’s no doubt that, barring exceptional circumstances, there will be a sequel, but there’s still a decent enough ending place so that the book actually ends rather than just stopping the way some series books do.

The Explosionist is an amazing book! Jenny Davidson is such a talented writer, able to make more than 450 pages absolutely fly by. The complicated twists and turns of the plot are never overwhelmingly confusing, but just enough to keep your brain busy. I quite enjoyed all of the characters, who were refreshingly real and human. This is an unputdownable, read-it-in-one-sitting kind of book, a remarkable feat for one so long. And remarkable really does describe this novel! I was so impressed and completely in awe of Jenny Davidson’s skill the whole time I was reading it. And when I finished, my first thought was of course a desire for more! Seriously, read this book. If you have any way of doing so, get ahold of a copy now, and if not, well, you’ll just have to wait for July.

As you may know, I think Rachel Cohn is pretty brilliant, and I count Gingerbread as one of my all-time favorite books (and love her other books, too, that’s just my personal favorite). So I was more than a little excited to have the chance to interview her, and you should be equally thrilled to get to read this!

You wrote three unpublished novels before Gingerbread. What were those about? Why do you think they weren’t published? Would you ever re-visit those stories?

The first two novels I wrote were adult fiction. The third eventually was
published — The Steps. (It was bought after Gingerbread.)

As for those first two novels, I am, finally, twelve years (!) after the fact of finishing it, going back and re-writing that first one as a YA. But I loved this book so much, and tried so many times to re-write it, always unsuccessfully, that I finally had to acknowledge that it wasn’t so much that I couldn’t re-write it, but my voice had changed SO MUCH since that first book, that it was no longer even possible to go back to that original book. But the premise of that first book is just irresistible to me as a writer, so what I am doing now, after taking almost a year and a half away from writing at all, is going back to that original premise, and writing a whole new book. New characters, new voice, new situations, but old premise. I’m loving how it’s going so far and really excited about it — the new-old thing has kind of re-energized me!

Do you see any of yourself in any or all of your main characters? In what way?

I’m going to borrow from David Levithan’s response to this question and say that all of them are based on me, and none of them. For me, I don’t consciously model characters on myself (the books would be pretty boring if I did), but certainly pieces of me creep into my characters, whether I try for that or not. Typically, characters end up sounding like me — e.g., the way the Cyd Charisse character talks is sometimes how I sound.

The character Miles in You Know Where to Find Me is probably the first character I’ve ever written that most closely resembles how I think; she’s more articulate than me, but her thought process mirrors my own.

But while voices can tend to mimic my own, the characters themselves are their own people — their own lives, their own hearts, their own situations.

You live in New York City, and some of your stories also take place there. What do you love most about New York?

Truthfully, I most love that I can order anything to be delivered to my apartment any time of the day or night.

Beyond that, I love the energy of NYC. It’s a place that, for better or worse, is so much ALIVE. As a writer, I find that very stimulating. But it helps that I have a nice quiet apartment to retreat to, as well.

Why do you write for a young adult (and slightly younger with The Steps and Two Steps Forward) audience?

Because adults are boring and weird.

You have written books by yourself, and two with David Levithan. What was different about the experience of writing with a partner as opposed to by yourself–the best part, and the most difficult part?

The best and most difficult parts are the same for me — placing your characters in another person’s hands and letting that person determine what happens next with those characters’ hearts and minds. Sometimes that is incredibly exhilarating and inspiring, to see where the other person will go, and other times it’s completely frustrating, if you don’t agree with where the characters have landed. This is why I think the most important component of collaboration is trust — you have to really feel that for the other person in order for the work to succeed. Chemistry between the collaborators is awful helpful, too — in our case it was a complete surprise, but a nice one, for sure!

You love music, as can be seen in your books in various ways. What are some of your favorite songs right now? What songs have a special significance to you?

This is a great question but a hard one, because there are SO MANY songs residing in my heart and soul right now, but the flows change by minute, by hour, by day. Some days I need Dusty Springfield all day long to cope, and other days I shuffle randomly between pop, latin, honky tonk, and disco (always disco).

If you want to know what’s spinning most for me lately, here’s a recap of what I bought recently when I was in Los Angeles and made a trip to Amoeba Records: the Amy Winehouse debut album (I finally gave up on resisting this, although I still hate that Rehab song, but love all the others), an old Arthur Alexander compilation (loves me some Southern soul), the “Halos and Horns” Dolly Parton album because i love her “Stairway to Heaven” cover, the new Erykah Badu, the new Raveonettes and Cat Power albums, and this recently reissued album by Boscoe (70s soul) that I keep hearing on my favorite radio station, KALX-Berkeley (that I listen to on the Internet all the time, including right now).

What songs does Cyd Charisse, of Gingerbread, Shrimp, and Cupcake fame, love?

Um, disco. KC & the Sunshine Band, Abba, Thelma Houston, Saturday Night Fever. Mixed with The Clash and The Jam, of course, some Irish punk-type stuff like Flogging Molly, and any rotation of screamo metal and punk, probably. I don’t think she’d like to be pinned down on musical genres.

Basically, if she can dance or hyper-jump to the beat, I think she’d like the song.

I do have a playlist I made for her when I wrote Cupcake. Should I post it on iTunes?

Definitely!

What are Miles’s (from You Know Where To Find Me) favorite songs?

I think Miles is not a music-obsessed teen at all, the way characters like CC or Norah or Wonder (from Pop Princess) are. I think she feels very closed off from popular culture, and avoids music as a consequence. She just wants to lose herself inside books. (But if you want to see some of the songs I listened to while writing You Know Where to Find Me, I posted a playlist for the book as an iMix on the iTunes Music Store — you can find any of my playlists there by going to the iMix section then doing a search on my name.)

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which you wrote with David Levithan, is being made into a movie! If you had some influence over the process and could choose one of your other books to be made into a movie, which would you choose and why?

I couldn’t choose — sorry! The movie-making process is so random and bizarre, I’d be grateful (and stunned) if anything else actually got made and not just optioned. There are a few more options in progress, but we’ll see…still a long way to go for any of my other books to actually make it to the screen. But here’s hoping!

If Gingerbread (and/or its sequels) were to be made into a movie, who would your dream cast include?

I have no idea! Every time I answer this question, my casting choices rapidly become too old for the parts.

Though funnily enough, when I first saw the girl who plays Norah in the Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist movie, my first thought was, She looks like Cyd Charisse!

But when I picture CC, I most see her as looking like the Faith character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Who would your dream cast for You Know Where To Find Me have in it?

I have no idea whatsoever!

I have heard it’s like trying to choose a favorite child, but do you have a favorite of your books?

Well, like your children, I love them all, but for different reasons. I couldn’t choose. Maybe one day readers will run a poll and decide for me?

To readers who are Rachel Cohn fans: If you have a favorite, leave it in the comments!

What is your writing process like? In what environment do you do your best writing?

My writing process changes with each book so I couldn’t proclaim to actually understand my own process. (Unfortunately.) The one thing I do know about it is the environment in which I write best — a quiet and solitary place like a library, free of cell phone, TV and other distractions, my iPod or KALX in my earphones.

Who are some of your writing influences?

I love any books by David Levithan, Patricia McCormick, Jaclyn Moriarty and Markus Zusack. It’s hard to pin down when there are so many writers, especially YA writers, I admire.

What are you writing right now?

That unpublished first novel, redux.

What would your dream job be if you couldn’t write?

Pastry chef or cupcake baker. Bringer of sugar joy to people everywhere.

Now ask yourself a question (and answer it!).

Rachel: What’s for dinner tonight?
Rachel: Well, going to see Paranoid Park at the Angelika this afternoon, which is a few blocks from yummy Spring Street Natural Foods restaurant in Soho, how about there?
Rachel: Good plan. But popcorn at the movie first, right?
Rachel: Duh.

Thank you so much, Rachel!

Chasing Ray is hosting a One Shot World Tour for Canada, and I’ve decided to post about one of my favorite Canadian writers for the occasion!

Carol Matas is from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and she is the fantastic author of a lot of books! I first discovered her through her World War II fiction when I was, hmm, must have been about nine? I’m not entirely sure. The first book I read was Greater Than Angels, and after that I read all of her WWII fiction I could find (I’m still looking for a couple of the more obscure titles–The Garden in particular– and the newer ones). I also loved Of Two Minds and More Minds, written with Perry Nodelman, but have not yet read the second two books in that series. I’ve not read any of her other historical or contemporary fiction, either, which, from her website, looks like I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

Doing this post makes me want to re-read a lot of her books! Seriously, I loved them, the WWII books in particular. There’s the adventure, the history, the exoticism of a time and place I was unfamiliar with, just everything. And, of course, the tragedy of the Holocaust. I read these when I was a little obsessed with tragedy. I think I found her books first before September 11, 2001, but read most of them right after that time, because after that, my reaction was to read about all sorts of tragedy and watch the news all the time. I’m not really sure why, and it probably wasn’t the most mentally healthy thing to do, but, hey, at least I learned some history and compassion.

If you haven’t read any of Carol Matas’s books, you really should do so. I don’t know if I’d adore them so much if I were to start reading them now, but when I discovered them, I thought they were absolutely amazing, and she’s still one of my favorite authors.

Thank you, Carol Matas for teaching me about history, and for writing wonderful books!

First of all, I’ll be out of town Wednesday thru Saturday without internet access. I’ll still have some posts going up because WordPress lets me forward-date them, and you’ve got some cool things to look forward to–like an interview with Rachel Cohn! So stay tuned.

There are a few links I’d like to share as well. First of all, you can now check my shared items on Google reader page for blog posts I find interesting. Note: not all of these will be book-related. Some will be travel-related or just random. But still interesting

Second of all, Harmony has started the Resolutions Book Challenge, which I will be joining though I haven’t decided on all the details yet. Go check it out!

There’s a couple of blog contests going on right now. Nicole at WORD for Teens is giving away a signed copy of Frenemies, and  The Story Siren is giving away a copy of City of Ashes.

Chelsea at The Page Flipper is starting a book club! Check it out and join if you’re interested.

That’s all for the moment.

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