Book Nerd Interview
Deb Caletti is an award-winning author and a National Book Award finalist whose books are published and translated worldwide. Her first novel was The Queen of Everything (Simon & Schuster, 2002),of which a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly proclaimed: “This marks Caletti as a writer to watch.” Although written for adults, its coming-of-age themes gained it acclaim as a Y/A book. It made the cover of the esteemed review journal The Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books (the first trade book to do so in the journal’s history), and then was chosen for PSLA’s Top Forty of 2003 and the International Reading Association’s Young Adult Choices for 2004. It is currently in its thirteenth printing.
Deb’s second book, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Kirkus called it, “tender and poetic,” and the book earned other distinguished recognition, including the PNBA Best Book Award, the Washington State Book Award, and School Library Journal’s Best Book award. It was a finalist for the California Young Reader Medal and the PEN USA Literary Award, and was also a 2005 IRA Notable Book, an SSLI Book Awards Honor Book, and made the New York Public Library’s Best Books for the Teen Age, Chicago Library’s Best Books of 2004, and the Texas TAYSHA’s list. Her third book, Wild Roses, won acclaim with starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, which deemed it, “rich,” and School Library Journal, which said the book was “multifaceted and emotionally devastating,” with “profound observations and vivid language.” It was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award and was chosen as a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age and a RT Book Club Magazine’s finalist for Best Y/A Book of 2005. The Nature of Jade was a summer 2007 Booksense pick, a Books A Million Book Club selection, and was a finalist for RT Magazine’s Best Y/A Book of the Year.
Her fifth book, The Fortunes of Indigo Skye, was released April 2008, followed by The Secret Life of Prince Charming in 2009, The Six Rules of Maybe in 2010, Stay in 2011, and The Story of Us in 2012. In addition, several anthologies include work by Deb, including “First Kiss, Then Tell,” a Bloomsbury anthology benefiting NPR Youth Radio, and two collections of non-fiction critical essays developed by Borders Books: “The World of the Golden Compass” and “Through the Wardrobe: Your Favorite Authors on C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.” In 2013, Deb’s first book for adults, He’s Gone, will be released from Random House.
Deb grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and earned her journalism degree from the University of Washington in Seattle. When Deb is not writing books or reading them, she is a painter and a lyricist, and speaks widely to audiences on writing and life as an author. Deb lives with her family in Seattle.
What was your first introduction to YA literature, the one that made you choose that genre to write?
My first introduction to YA? All the novels I read and loved as a teen. They’re the books that really stick with you over time, the ones that provided meaning and understanding when you most needed meaning and understanding. That said, I didn’t actually choose to write YA – it chose me. I wrote a book about a young girl whose father gets involved in a crime of passion (The Queen of Everything), which I thought was an adult novel. To my surprise sold to a YA editor at S&S, and they then contracted me for two more books. I happily settled in. YA has been a wonderful place for me. Because I didn’t know YA or read YA, I wrote only what was honest for me. I think this has led to rather accidentally breaking some YA boundaries, and to having a wide audience of readers of all ages.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
In my senior year of high school, I briefly wanted to be an FBI agent. I actually mailed away for the informational paperwork. If you knew what a non-athletic, book geek girl I was (and am), you would laugh at me for even considering this idea. You would POINT YOUR FINGER AT ME and laugh. Let’s be clear: there’s a physical fitness test involved! I would never have been able to run through those tires or climb that rope wall! I’d cry! But I’ve always been intrigued by crime and criminals, probably from the old cop shows I used to watch with my dad when I was a kid. I loved those. My guilty pleasures are still true crime books and 48 Hours Mystery. Saturday night, ten o’clock, I’m there.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I wrote my first book when I was thirty-two. At that time, I lived in a neighborhood in Issaquah (a suburb of Seattle, the “Nine Mile Falls” of my novels), which was one of those places where the houses all look the same. The houses all look the same, the cars all look the same, the kids and the dogs all look the same. Not a good place for a creative person. Aside from my brief fling with wanting to be an FBI agent, I had only TRULY ever wanted to be a writer, and I felt this dream slipping away when I lived there. So I had a serious talk with myself one day. Either I did what it took to make the dream happen, or it was time to give up thinking about it. I didn’t want to be one of those sad people who said, “I always wanted to be a… (fill in dream here).” I made a vow then, to do whatever it took to follow this dream, and from that day forward I got to work. My kids were small, and I was in an unhappy marriage at the time with a stormy someone who did not support my dream, and I lived in that neighborhood my mother called “Stepford Land.” But I tacked this quote by Nietzsche above my desk: “Become who you are.” I wrote and wrote and held fast to the promise I made myself, and five books later, the dream came true. I am so thankful for the way books and writing have changed and defined my life. I am thankful every single day.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
I learned that there were endless things to learn, and that this realization was incredibly thrilling to me.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Creative, curious, optimistic.
In your book, The Story of Us; can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it and why they should read your novel?
The Story of Us is about a young girl, Cricket Shine, who is experiencing immense change. She’s just graduated from high school; she’s thinking about breaking off with her devoted long-time boyfriend, Janssen Tucker; and her mother, who has a history of ditching men at the Sea-Tac airport, is about to get married. Cricket’s funny, quirky family descends on a small beach town for the wedding week as she reflects on her past and tries to make decisions about her future. There are dueling pieces here – the fast, crazy wedding events forcing change into place, and the slower remembering of what used to be, told through the letters Cricket writes to Janssen back home. The Story of Us is a love story – not just between Cricket and Janssen, but between Cricket and her family, which includes their ailing dog, Jupiter. It’s a contemplative, bittersweet, keep-the-Kleenex-handy book about the unavoidable press of time. It addresses our hardest human-being job – how do we love in the face of inevitable loss?
For those who are unfamiliar with Cricket, how would you introduce her?
Cricket is, in many ways, Every Girl. She’s a good person who loves her family and her friends and her sweet, adorable boyfriend. She’s at that point – high school graduation – where uncertainties loom. Life will be suddenly and hugely different, but she loves her life the way it was. She loves pancakes in the morning and her own room and her own Janssen Tucker, but time is pushing and shoving her forward as time does, like it or not. All at once, she’s hit with the awareness of impermanence. When you’re hit with that awareness as we all are at some point – it’s scary. You want to hang on.
What part of Ash did you enjoy writing the most?
I liked writing his more humorous, everyday elements, like when he was playing the guitar and singing - badly - on the beach.
If you could introduce Cricket to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Cricket might learn a lot from Frances Lee, from my own book, The Secret Life of Prince Charming. Frances Lee is bold and outspoken. She knows her own mind. She’d probably be a good older friend for Cricket, encouraging her to take more risks. In terms of boys? She’d be a terrific match for Indigo’s brother, Severin, in my book, The Fortunes of Indigo Skye. He’s a great guy.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Since I’ve only taken one creative writing class ever, I’ve always considered my teachers and mentors to be every writer I’ve read over the years. I could never choose one, because I’ve learned from Beverly Cleary all the way up to John Cheever, and from everyone in between. I’ve learned from Little Bear and from A Farewell to Arms, from every good book and not-so-good book. The piles of books I’ve hauled home from the library from about the age of six onward taught me to write. But more importantly, they taught me to have an endless, goose-bumpy passion for the written word. I have each of those authors to thank for that.
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
Have the guts to listen to yourself.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
“Do you floss?”
Who was your first boyfriend?
In the sixth grade, I remember “going with” Chris Anderson. I don’t think we even talked to each other in person, and our pairing was arranged through friends. We “broke up” two weeks later. But there was that meaningful hand-holding loop around the floor of Skate King. A disco ball and red shag carpet added to the romantic setting of our ill-fated romance. It all seemed very important at the time.
What's the worst summer job you've ever had?
I was a swimming teacher for several summers. My sister and I both were. We were known to be especially patient, so we were given “the screamers.” This meant toddlers howling and clinging to the chain link fence as we tried to wrench them free and get them into the pool. This also meant toddlers screaming and clinging to us once they were in, and us screaming and clinging to our bathing suit tops in all that grasping and flailing.
Who is the first person you call when you have a bad day?
My sweet beloved husband, who is an A-plus listener. Next, my mother.
When was the last time you cried?
I got choked up seeing Kotuku, the boat my son will be sailing on during The Pacific Cup sailing race from San Francisco to Hawaii this July. Seeing it made it real - the fact that he’ll be crossing the ocean in a 40’ boat with six other (very, very experienced!) people. Mix pride with a dose of sweet memories and a dash of utter terror and you’ll have what I was feeling.
Where can readers stalk you?
Please stalk me at my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/DebCaletti. I’d love to hear from you.
Cricket’s on a self-imposed break from her longtime boyfriend—but she’s picked a bad week to sort out her love life. For one thing, her mother’s romance is taking center stage: After jilting two previous fiancés, her mom is finally marrying Dan Jax, whom Cricket loves. But as wedding attendees arrive for a week of festivities at a guesthouse whose hippie owners have a sweet, sexy son—Ash—complications arise:
Cricket’s future stepsisters make it clear they’re not happy about the marriage. An old friend decides this is the week to declare his love for Cricket. Grandpa chooses to reveal a big secret at a family gathering. Dan’s ex-wife shows up. And even the dogs—Cricket’s old, ill Jupiter and Dan’s young, lively Cruiser—seem to be declaring war.
While Cricket fears that Dan is in danger of becoming ditched husband-to-be number three, she’s also alarmed by her own desires. Because even though her boyfriend looms large in her mind, Ash is right in front of her....
When it comes to telling a story that most will have come to experience, Deb has learned to master that skill that readers will find her characters very likeable and relatable. Cricket is not the average teenager. She is complex dealing with a series of complex relationships. Weeks leading up to the wedding, Deb really shines with how she describes Cricket’s emotions going through it. The plot build up is simply superb and interest levels will be set high in trying to figure out what would be the outcome. The description of Cricket’s family is very real and charming. The Story of Us is a story that often happens too many times but it is rarely voiced. Throughout and even after readers have read this book, it will make them think about their own lives as the book concludes with a very touching end that will hit every inch of human emotions.
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