Interview with the Author, Part Deux.

[Since my previous Interview with the Author went so swimmingly, (and I finally warmed up to the questioning-and-answering-myself thing), I decided to continue the dialogue.  This is good practice, to anticipate questions that might be asked of me at some point, like in case my book becomes wildly successful, catapults up the best-seller list, is translated into a hundred foreign languages, made into a Major Motion Picture starring Josh Hutcherson from The Hunger Games, and I end up being interviewed by Matt Lauer on The Today Show.  Or not. (Call me, Matt Lauer!)  Anyway, on to Interview with the Author, Part Deux…]

Q:  So lovely to see you again, Cal.

A:  Likewise, Cal.

Q:  This is dumb.

A:  I know.

Q:  So I’ll move on to the first question.

A:  Yes, that would be best.

Q:  Tell us about the process behind writing the novel Being Henry David.

A:  Well, I wrote the first draft of Being Henry David over the course of a month.  I was doing a writing experiment—trying out National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, to those in the know)—and just letting the story spill out, without any editing or hesitating or thinking too hard.  The goal is just to get 50,000 words on paper—or in the computer—and worry later about making it sound pretty.  It was actually a really cool, organic way to write a story.  Some of what I wrote was total crap, but other parts were surprisingly visceral and real because I was just letting the words flow without a filter.  It took me a couple years after that to polish it into a reasonable manuscript, but it gave me a starting point.  Like the lump of clay on a potter’s wheel that might someday be molded into a nice fruit bowl.  Or something.

Q:  Have you written any other young adult novels?

A:  As a matter of fact, I have.  I started writing Slow Dancing on the Edge of the Roof while I was in grad school, and finished it the summer after I graduated in 2007.  I think of it as my “training “novel.  (Sort of like a training bra, but different.)  I sent it out to a number of agents, and got some lovely rejection letters of the “we like it, but we don’t quite love it” variety.

Q:  What is Slow Dancing on the Edge of the Roof about?

A:  Well, it’s about this 16-year old girl named Cassie whose mother sends her away for the summer to live at her crazy grandmother’s farm.

Q:  That’s it?

A:  No, there’s a whole lot more, but it’s hard to sum up.  It’s mainly about relationships, but there’s no real “hook.” That’s part of the problem.  Maybe I’ll revisit it someday and turn it into something.  Just because you’ve got yourself a training bra doesn’t mean you’ve got something magnificent to put into it yet.  Just saying.

Q:  Profound.  And are you currently working on another young adult novel?

A:  I am.  I’ve got the whole thing percolating in here.  (Points, incorrectly, at frontal cortex.)  About three chapters are written so far.  The working title is Life Shards, but that could change about eighty-five more times before I’m done.  That’s all I’m authorized to reveal at this time.

Q:  Now, last question.  Please tell us about your writing routine.

A:  Back to this, are we?  Do we really have to go there?

Q:  Look you have to be prepared for this question.  People always ask published writers about their routine, like maybe there’s some magic in it.  Admit it, anytime an author you admire reveals his or her writing routine, you write it down like they’re sacred words to live by, and vow to imitate those practices exactly.

A:  Yeah, you’re right.   I do admit to that.

Q:  So?

A:  Okay.  Well, every morning after I take my dog Layla for a walk around the neighborhood, I go into my office, close the door, open my computer, and write from 9 a.m. to noon.  Or longer, if it’s going well.

Q:  You lie.

A:  Yep.  That’s a total lie.  In my defense, it’s what I intend to do every morning.  Sometimes I get distracted by Facebook or emails, or there’s a phone call, or big breaking news on TV, or a spider on the ceiling, or something sparkly.

Q:  In other words, you don’t have much of a writing routine.

A:  It’s a haphazard operation, yes.  But somehow I get the job done in bits and pieces, in my office, at the kitchen table, the local coffee shop, or in front of the TV half-watching America’s Top Model.  It’s in these moments of total obsession when I get lost in my writing and forget to eat or get dressed or put on deodorant that I’m most productive.  (P.S. The part about forgetting to eat is also a lie.)  I’m really good with deadlines too, real or imagined.

Q:  Which is why we’re working on this blog on September 30, the day before our self-imposed deadline of October 1st.

A:  Don’t say we and our.  It sounds way too “Sybil” to me.

Q:  I agree.

A:  Please…stop that.

Q:  And so, another author interview comes to an awkward close.  Thanks for reading!


Filed under BHD Journey

Presenting: An Interview with the Author

[Full disclosure: I am about to interview myself.  Yes, this sounds bizarre. But you’d be surprised how many people–especially authors–create their own versions of Frequently Asked Questions to use for websites and publicity and such.  The difference here is, I’m admitting it.  Plus, for most of my writing career, I’ve worked for magazines and newspapers and have done hundreds of interviews, so in truth, I know way more about being an interviewer than I know about being an interviewee.  In fact, I’m a little nervous about this being-interviewed thing.  I just hope I don’t get annoyed with myself and flounce out of the interview in a huff.  But enough disclaiming.  On to the interview.]

Q:  Well Cal, how are you today?

A:  Fine, thanks for asking.  God, this feels weird.

Q:  Tell me about it.

A:  So let’s get on with it.  Ask the first question already.

Q:  Okay.  Um.  What was your inspiration for your young adult novel, Being Henry David?

A:  Good question.

Q:  Thanks.

A:  It’s hard to pinpoint where inspiration comes from, to be honest.  It wasn’t just one event or one idea that took root, but more like a combination of things.  It started with an article I read in the Boston Globe one morning, about a teenage boy who was driving drunk and accidentally hit a female police officer who was on the side of the road during a traffic stop.  The woman was paralyzed, and ended up dying a few years later.  I saw a picture of this kid in the paper, and he looked so stunned and devastated.  He seemed to be just this regular kid trying to live his regular life, but he made a series of bad choices one night that changed his life—and obviously that woman’s—forever. And I wondered how someone so young could manage to move on with his life from that point forward.  How could he deal with all that guilt and trauma?

Q:  So how did the boy in that news story become the Henry David in your story, a.k.a Hank?

A:  Like that boy, Hank had a devastating trauma occur in his life.  The way his mind dealt with it was to unconsciously close off access to the pain, for his own protection and survival.  But this ended up shutting doors to his memory.  So even though he knew about the world in general, he couldn’t remember who he was or where he came from.  And since the only possession he had on him when he woke up at Penn Station was Walden by Henry David Thoreau, he took the name of the writer and figured the book was a clue to his true identity.

Q:  Why did you choose Walden and Thoreau?

A:  Another excellent question.

Q:  I know.

A:  I think there are several reasons for this.  First, I was born in Boston, and although I’ve lived in many places in my life (including Long Island, NY and the Chicago area), I always seem to come back to the area in and around Concord, Massachusetts.  Something here speaks to me.  When I first spent significant time in Concord, I was in my early 20s (not that much older than Hank) and lived for a summer at my uncle’s house, trying to get my life figured out after weathering a huge amount of chaos (in short, I was striking out on my own to make a new start with no job or home or even roots to speak of).  Uncle Ray’s house was right in town, within walking distance of the places I discuss in the book, including the library and Walden Pond.  I spent many hours at that library researching work options or writing in journals (and staring at those spooky statues who talk to Hank in the book), and I also found a whole lot of comfort in the woods, walking around Walden.  I guess it was a natural leap for me to make, to think of a young person finding clues to his (or her) identity in this particular place.

Q:  That explains the part about Walden and Concord.  What about the Thoreau connection?

A:  When you live in the Concord area, you sort of absorb Thoreau.  It’s hard to explain.  But if you walk around Concord, you’d be surprised how many streets and buildings and schools are named after him.  He’s a local treasure known around the world, and people here are incredibly proud of that.  And let’s face it, if you take the time to read what he’s written (once you get used to the flowery mid-1800s prose), chances are you’ll come to two conclusions:  one, the guy could be incredibly cranky and opinionated.  And two, a whole lot of the things he said then, still apply now, and in some ways more than ever. Like in his essay “Walking”, he wrote: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”  I believe that, one hundred percent.  Nature (“the wild”) is what’s real and simple and good, where things make sense, and we need more of that.  It’s the stuff we’re made of, after all.  It feeds something in us that’s hungry.  Starved, sometimes. That’s the best way I can describe it.

Q: Nice.  And not surprisingly, I agree.

A: Plus, “The Dead Poet’s Society” is one of my favorite movies, and I’m sure there was some influence there as well.  (Live deep and suck out all the marrow of life! Carpe Diem!)

Q:  This might be a good time to end this interview.

A:  But I was just getting warmed up.

Q: Well, we can do this again sometime if you’d like.

A:  I would!  Next time, maybe you can ask me about the inspiration behind the character of Thomas, the tattooed Thoreau interpreter/historian.  Or why music played such an important role in the book.  Or why I chose the town of Naperville, Illinois to be significant in Hank’s life.  Or why Hailey always wore mismatched socks and earrings.  Or even details about my daily writing routine.

Q:  What daily writing routine?

A:  Look, I don’t need to stay here and be insulted.

Q:  So is this where you flounce out of this interview in a huff?

A:  Nah.  Flouncing is so…undignified.  I’ll storm out instead.

Q:  Just say goodnight, Cal.

A:  Goodnight, Cal.


Filed under BHD Journey

The Secret Life of a Bookseller

Books are my life.  I read as much as time allows, which is never enough.  I write them (did I mention that my first young adult novel, Being Henry David, comes out March 1, 2013?).  And I also sell them, working part-time as a bookseller at a fabulous independent bookstore called Willow Books, in Acton, MA.  There, I spend blissful hours shelving new releases, recommending books to customers, writing the weekly newsletter, and chatting about books (and life) with a staff of incredibly smart, funny people. Yes, I love my job.

While working at a bookstore is not the most lucrative career move, it definitely has its perks.  Getting my hands on new books before they hit the shelves, that’s one.  Turning customers on to an author they will ultimately love, that’s another.  And then there’s watching small children who can barely see over the counter buy their first books with handfuls of coins, and older kids whose eyes light up when they discover we have the latest book in the series they adore.  The grown-up reader kids come in too, with that same aura of excited anticipation.   There’s something so gratifying about ringing up a book, tucking in a bookmark, and knowing the person in front of me will soon be immersed in a magical world that exists only on the book’s pages and within the imagination. Did I mention I love my job?

Now, before I reveal the “secret” part of a bookseller’s job, I need to address the elephant in the room.  Let’s just get this out of the way right up front and be done with it.

People are aware—and nobody more than booksellers—that the world of bookstores is dramatically changing.  If we don’t have something in stock and offer to order it, some people like to hurl the word “Amazon” at us, like that’ll show us a thing or two.  Take that, small independent bookstore. Then people come in and ask if we have e-readers or their accessories.  Uh, well, no.  We sell books.  The old fashioned kind.  That’s what we do.

For the record, the folks at my store, including (especially) the owner, don’t have our heads in the sand. We know what’s up, and we honestly recognize the value to customers of Amazon and e-readers.  On occasion, we use them ourselves.  We just believe there’s room for everybody at the table. Sure, the pessimists out there are saying traditional bound books and the bookstores that sell them are marching toward extinction.  I disagree.  Instead, I’d like to quote Mark Twain and say (on behalf of books and bookstores everywhere): “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  Long live books, dammit!

There.  That’s my rant.  Now I’m done.

Back to “The Secret Life of the Bookseller,” and a (somewhat) intimate glimpse-behind-the-scenes.  Sometimes, booksellers are called upon to be freelance therapists-of-sorts.  People come in seeking books on, say, divorce, or strange ailments, or (yep) sexual dysfunction.  It is important to assume a professional demeanor in these instances.  Especially if you suddenly realize you know this person, from the PTA, the neighborhood, or church.  (Yes, this has happened.)  Awkward.

But it’s okay, I promise, because there is a professional code at work among booksellers, a pledge of confidentiality.  Your secret is safe with us.  We will not judge you if you buy graphic novels instead of history books, romances over classics, or Fifty Shades of Grey instead of Doctor Zhivago.

Just come in.  Buy books, read them, and come back.  I’d like to keep my job. Because, did I mention, I love my job?

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Who I Am, What’s This About, Anyway?

Hello, and welcome to my blog/website/whatever-this-morphs-into.  I appreciate you stopping by!

First, introductions:  I’m Cal, and the title of this blog pretty much sums up the world as I see it:  Read, write, eat, sleep.   For me, these are among “the essential facts of life,” (to mess with the famous quote by Henry David Thoreau), right up there with shelter and clothing.  The eating and sleeping parts are self-explanatory.  (For the record, I prefer seven hours a night and am a practicing omnivore.)  As for reading and writing, let’s talk books, let’s talk writing.  And while we’re at it, let’s talk about the book I wrote. (More on that later.)

Now, about this writing thing.  I’m a writer, and to be honest, it’s more like this identity chose me than I chose it.  Before I could write stories, I drew them with crayons, created them with Play-Doh, and acted them out with stuffed animals.  As soon as I could spell, I was writing and illustrating my own little books.  In elementary school I remember raiding the math paper supply to tell my stories instead of doing math.  (Which explains a lot in regard to my math grades.)

I sent my first book to a publisher when I was nine years old.  The title: The Poor Macaroni Named Joany.   It’s goofy story (elbow macaroni characters who talk, make friends with storekeepers, and are reincarnated as noodles), but a wonderful and encouraging art teacher named Mrs. Carr urged me to submit it for publication, and so I did.  Mom typed up the words on our manual typewriter, I carefully created drawings in pen and India ink.  The result?   I received my first official rejection letter from a publisher at age nine.  Sigh.

Facing her own mortality.

Actual art from The Poor Macaroni Named Joany by Cal, age 9.

Yet, I kept writing.  Not because I’m a determined person with tons of initiative, (not at all, I’m a lazy slob), but pretty much because I didn’t have a choice. After getting a BA in English at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, I got a job writing commercials at a radio station while freelancing for local newspapers, then eventually wrote for The Chicago Tribune, and Shape magazine.  Writing feature articles about people and worlds that already existed was safer than fiction, which requires whipping up people and lives and plots from scratch like a master chef.  (And as we have established, I’m more the macaroni-from-a-box type.)

Because I’m a glutton for punishment—or simply don’t know better—I tried fiction again. This time it was a children’s book about a girl, a wishing well, and time travel.  It was, in a word, terrible.  Yet I still couldn’t kill the dream that someday I would, could, had to, write a book.  One that would actually get published.  But I needed help.

So I went off to graduate school at the University of Southern Maine, the Stonecoast MFA program, where I had my writing trashed and encouraged in equal parts by mentors and peers.  Sometimes I hated the process, more often I loved it, and ultimately, I survived and learned.

Fast forward to today, and finally (wait for it—I want to savor these words):  I am about to become a published author.  The official launch date of my young adult novel, Being Henry David, (publisher: Albert Whitman & Company), is March 1, 2013.  That makes it almost nine months away.  (The countdown is on–check the update near the top of this page!)  Kind of like a pregnancy, even though the book-to-be is already a full-term manuscript.  Now to prepare for its long-awaited arrival.

Instead of putting together a crib, I’m creating a website.  Instead of buying him (it’s a boy!) new clothes, I’m discussing cover art and author photos.  I’m also making a list of people who will receive “birth” announcements.  (Let me know if you want to be on it.)

There’s absolutely no way I can pretend not to be thrilled about this.  I am just not cool enough.  It’s winning the lottery, falling in love, finishing a triathlon, climbing Mount Everest.  It’s a lifelong dream come true, and my heart is full.

I welcome you to stop in to visit from time to time, to read my blog and hear about my journey.  If you’re interested, it would be my honor to share it with you.


Filed under BHD Journey