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Friday, November 2, 2007

Poetry Friday: A Poem and Some Books by Cecil Castellucci

There is no nonsense
on a smoke filled day
In a city
with fires raging all around
the sun burns a pretty color
in the sky
orange
there is unruly heat
and the need for umbrellas
to make some shade
I’ll have another glass of water
there is talk of less wind
I’ll toast to no more sparks

by Cecil Castellucci

I'd like to welcome Cecil Castellucci to my blog. This multi-talented dynamo loves to write poetry. She even keeps a blog dedicated to her original poetry. How cool is that? And speaking of poetry, Mentor Texts is hosting Poetry Friday today.

Cecil has been busy since the release of Beige and The Plain Janes earlier this year (May 2007). According to Cecil, "I’ve got a bunch of exciting things on the horizon. I have my first fantasy short story in the (Wizards of the Coast) and an essay about one of my first kisses (bloomsbury). I have a picture book called Grandma’s Gloves (Candlewick) and also an early chapter book series called Odd Duck (Candlewick). I am also working on a sequel to The Plain Janes, called Janes in Love due out in 2008. And don’t you worry, there will be a new YA novel on the horizon!"

This fun-spirited "general troublemaker" as she calls herself in her YouTube podcasts, was named a Flying Start in 2005 by Publisher’s Weekly (along with pal, John Green). She also received an Honorable Mention in PW’s annual cuffie awards as Most Promising New Author in 2005 (check out the other honorable mentions). Boy Proof, Cecil's first novel, was honored as an ALA (American Library Association) Best Books for Young Adults; ALA (American Library Association) Recommended Books for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, Quick Pick; New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age; and a Book Sense Children's Picks List Selection. The Queen of Cool was recognized as a New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age.

I've read two of Cecil's books so far. Boy Proof (from the library) and Beige (from the publisher) both have girl protagonists who are a bit withdrawn from the social environment they live in. Cecil breathes in a fresh voice and lots of heart into her characters. She creates stories of young teens who were comfortable in their own world until they meet people who push their buttons. They reluctantly venture out into the strange territory of self-discovery and find it is possible to change and still be true to themselves. Teens will relate well with these books and find them to be easy reads.

Come and stay awhile to find out what Madeleine L'Engle wrote to Cecil, her writing advice to wannabe writers, and more...

HWM: What made you realize you wanted to write children’s (YA/Graphic) books?
Cecil: I always wanted to write for young adults because I always thought that those were the coolest books. I suppose that it’s for a number of reasons, for example, that was when I fell in love with reading. Also, that was a time where I really felt the potential of a book to transport me to another world, make me lead another life. As I grew older, I think that I just realized that the voice inside of me was that of a young adult. It’s a very charged time, everything is new, everything is raw. Figuring out how you are going to become who you are is an interesting point in a person's life. Perhaps the most interesting. I am concerned with identity, and so writing characters that are moving from childhood to adulthood is very compelling.

HWM:How did you get your “break” into children’s books?
Cecil: A character that really spoke to me as a young girl was Meg in Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME. I was the daughter of scientists with mousy brown hair and glasses and a brilliant younger brother. That character really felt very close to me, so when I was about 25, I wrote Madeleine L’Engle a letter, confessing that I wanted to write for kids as well. She wrote me back and said that if I wanted to write books for kids, I should just do it. That really set me on the path.

A few years later, I enrolled in a writing for kids class at UCLA extension. There I learned about SCBWI and I joined. I went to the So Cal working writers retreat and there I met my agent Barry Goldblatt and Liz Bicknell from Candlewick Press. While she ultimately didn’t become my editor, she took an avid interest in me and my work. Candlewick became my future publisher.

HWM: Tell me what inspired your novels.
Cecil: Different things inspire me. It’s always a question. Like for Beige, I was considering my neighborhood in Los Angeles, where everything is so music, and so punk. Especially when I first moved here. I was wondering how it would be to not be that cool, and not even want to be in that world, and yet have it surround you. I wondered what it would be like if your parents were punks and you weren’t. I wondered what it would be like if you didn’t like music, but everyone around you did. I wondered about feeling bland, boring and beige.

The Plain Janes was a query about fear and how to deal with the madness of the world. I wondered about how a girl might go about trying to save herself through a radical experience and how that would affect her. Perhaps if she were popular, she might seek a different set of people. I wondered about how she would make the world beautiful after being involved in something so ugly. I wondered about outsiders and how they can come together. I wondered about what friendship is.

HWM: When did you know you had the right ending for your books?
Cecil: I always know pretty much how the book is going to end when I start writing it. That ending is like my North Star. It may not end exactly how I thought, but usually it ends right next to where I thought.

HWM: Which character is most like you?
Cecil: They are all like me. I’m not even kidding. Even the boys.

HWM: Who was the toughest character to write about?
Cecil: Katy in Beige was the toughest because she is a withholding person and I’m not. She also doesn’t like, or get, music. And I couldn’t understand that at all.

HWM: Which book, if any, would you change if you had the chance, and why?
Cecil: I would make The Plain Janes longer. It was a bit weird and new for me to have an exact page count. I felt a bit rushed at the end. Luckily, Jim and I are doing a sequel.

HWM: You have such an interesting life and have traveled all around the world. You’re an indie rock musician, film maker, author, instructor. I’m in awe. Is there anything you can’t do?
Cecil: I can’t paint. I can’t dance on pointe. I can’t rub my tummy and pat my head at the same time. Well, OK, I can do that…

HWM: What do you enjoy about your different careers? Is there anything you’d like to try next?
Cecil: I’d like to do something really fantastic in theater. Direct or write an amazing play. I’d like to do more performance pieces. Also, I’ve been doing some kind of stand up-y things. Not telling jokes, but a couple of performances where I tell a story about my life or on a theme for 15 minutes. I’ve really enjoyed doing that and I’d like to do more. I have a performer's heart, I think.

HWM: Do you outline or free form?
Cecil: I am free form all the way! I just plunge in. I do not recommend it. It is not for the faint of heart.

HWM: Where do you like to write?
Cecil: I like to write in my fave café. My sunny porch. And in bed.

HWM: What is your writing process or ritual?
Cecil: I wish I had one. I just write. And then I mull. I take a walk. I think. I try to leave the page open and just arrive at it. Sometimes I binge write.

HWM: How long does it take you to write the first draft?
Cecil: One million years. Also I hate first drafts. So, I just always call it the second draft. That makes me feel slightly better.

HWM: What has been the biggest challenge of your writing career and how did you tackle it?
Cecil: Now that I have four books out, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, which I love. But it seems as though I get home and then have to leave again for a few weeks all the time. This past year I’ve had a bit of unsettledness about me. I get ready to leave, travel, then decompress for a week and then just as I’m settling into my routine at home, I have to get ready to leave again. It makes it hard to focus. It makes it hard to write. It makes it hard to have a real day to day existence at home. I think the way I am sort of tackling it is that I have to try to just plough through and get the stuff done that I need to get done and just grab the writing moments when I can. I’ve been a bit luxurious about it in the past. I also am looking at next year as my-writing-and-not-traveling-so-much year since I only have one book coming out, The Janes in Love.

HWM: What has been the biggest surprise of your writing career?
Cecil: I got an e-mail from a girl whose mom had bought her Boy Proof and she said that it was the first time that her mom really got her and got her something that she liked. She said that they talked about the book and it was the best conversation she had with her mom. That was pretty incredible and it blew me away.

HWM: If you could share any unique writing tip to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Cecil: Don’t be so precious about your work that you never send it out. Learn how to put your best ears on so you can listen to what people are saying about your work and not take it as a personal criticism. Have fun, because you are an artist and you are making up stories.

HWM: What was the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?
Cecil: Relax.
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HipWriterMama's Curiosities
HWM:
Why do you blog?
Cecil: I’ve been blogging since 2000 and have had a website that I updated with little thoughts and poems since 1995. At first it was just for friends and fun, and in a weird way I found a community. I love that my mom and dad read my blog and know what’s going on. I love that I can read about my friends who are far away and keep up with their news. I like to think of it as a way of having a social tea with my far flung friends, strangers and anyone in the world who cares to drop in and get to know me a little bit.

HWM: How much time do you take to write one of your posts?
Cecil: I don’t sweat over it. I just post from my heart. Sometimes I go back and correct it because there are typos and stuff. Maybe I should proof read them better, but, hey, it’s supposed to be fun and light!

HWM: What is your favorite post?
Cecil: Recently of one of my posts...how we let go of who we were and become who we really are now through some fall decluttering.

And this post, by Libba Bray.

HWM: If you found a way to go back to your teen years as one of your characters, what would you do differently?
Cecil: I would try not to take everything so seriously. Also, I might not write all that dark angsty poetry. Or, I might write more of it, because it’s so bad that it makes me laugh buckets now.

Oh, you mean as one of my characters. Hmmm. I think all my characters would pretty much behave the same way that they do in their respective books as they would in my teenage years. I would probably have some classes with them, and I’d probably invite them /go to their parties. And also copy their homework.

HWM: What makes you laugh?
Cecil: Everything. There is something pretty funny in everything. Unless I have my cranky pants on. Then nothing is funny. At all!

HWM: If you were a superhero, what powers would you want and why?
Cecil: I would want to be like Superman, because, you know, faster than, stronger than, leaping, flying, bullet bouncing and also, an Alien.

Thank you, Cecil!
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Other places to find Cecil:
Cecil's website
Cecil's blog
Cecil's Crush Library
Cecil's Poems
MySpace

I Heart YA YouTube Podcasts

An excerpt from Boy Proof
An excerpt from Beige
An excerpt from The Queen of Cool

9 comments:

Sara said...

First drafts torture me, too. I'm going to try that renaming it "second draft" thing. If it works, I'm naming a character Cecil in my next book!

Did you happen to see in my post about returning from the Chicago bloggers conference that my husband read Boy Proof while he was waiting an eternity for my plane to arrive? He loved it.

m. thompson said...

I haven't read any of her books, but am so intrigued now. What a go for it type of gal! I envy the letter from Madeleine L'Engle. Wow.

p dog said...

CANNOT wait for "Janes in Love"!

Kelly Fineman said...

Terrific interview. I heart YA, and Cecil too.

jules said...

Love that L'Engle story! Thanks for a great interview.

TadMack said...

Writers are dreamers and do-ers. Few people would write a letter to an author at twenty-five, outside of being forced to do so for an assignment -- what awesomeness!

And I, too, toast to no more sparks. And I can't wait to read the next Janes book!!!! I can imagine a picture book by her would be made of awesome as well. I hope to have that much range as a writer someday!

Erin said...

Really fantastic interview, Cecil and Vivian! Very inspiring.

Mary Lee said...

Thanks for this great resource! I'm getting ready to review Plain Janes, a Cybils GN nominee, and this info will be so helpful! I'll definitely be linking!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic interview. How does one person get all the talent? Somehow that seems too unfair...