We’re Only Human…

… and we have bad habits. What habit would you like to kick? The Tuesdays want to know!

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: I’m a first class worrier. The good news is that I don’t worry about everything, which lets me know that it’s a habit that can be broken. It’s an activity that sucks my energy and accomplishes nothing! I’m open to ideas as to how to stop.

Melody Maysonet

Melody: My husband’s helping me with this one. “Hmm, where should I start?” he says, tapping his chin, but actually he’s having a hard time thinking of something. “Crumbs in the kitchen?” he says (after a few minutes of thinking). Sure! If that’s my worst habit, I must be pretty special. But do I really want to kick this bad habit? I might need those crumbs!

Faran Fagen

Faran: A habit I’d like to kick is finding reasons not to exercise. It seems when I get busy that’s the first thing that goes, but it’s so important to stay healthy. Even stretching once a day can help prevent a pulled muscle.

Jonathan Rosen

Jonathan: The bad habit I need to break is procrastination. Although I don’t really procrastinate in starting a project, I do in finishing it. Takes me a while to fully immerse myself because I overthink things.

Interview with Steven Parlato, author of The Precious Dreadful

Today we’re sitting down with young-adult author Steven Parlato, whose book The Precious Dreadful (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) hit bookstores on Feb 13, 2018. –Melody Maysonet

Author Steven Parlato (Photo credit Jillian Parlato)

MM: Hi, Steven. And welcome to TuesdayWriters.com.

Parlato: Hey, Melody. There’s no place I’d rather be on a Tuesday!

MM: First, can you tell us a little bit about your novel The Precious Dreadful and what inspired you to write it?

Parlato: Sure thing. The Precious Dreadful is sort of a mix: gritty contemporary realistic with paranormal elements. It follows Teddi Alder, a spirited, sarcastic teenager who has a toxic relationship with her trainwreck mom, Brenda. Struggling to define herself over one hot summer, Teddi joins a library writers’ group, and her journaling uncovers more than she ever expected.

Inspiration’s tricky. After my debut, The Namesake (Merit Press, 2013), I knew I couldn’t take five-plus years to finish a second book. That summer, when my semester ended, I dove into a couple different stories—but neither would cooperate. Frustrated, I decided to forego writing for reading. After finishing The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which just about gutted me), I couldn’t sleep. Tossing ’til 5:00 am, I suddenly had this name, Teddi Alder, pop into my head. As I listened, this young woman started telling her story. With nothing to write it down, I typed the first 500 words on my phone. Teddi became real very quickly, and the story flowed pretty easily. I finished the initial manuscript in about a year—lightning speed for me.

MM: Wow, I wish I’d get inspired like that!

But back to you… Unlike your first novel (The Namesake), The Precious Dreadful deals with the paranormal. Why did you make the switch from contemporary YA to something more mystical?

Parlato: Great question! To clarify, rather than a “switch,” I think of the book as a natural blend. As a person of faith, with a belief in an afterlife, I really see life as having these multiple layers, the physical, the spiritual, and—having lived in an apartment where some pretty unexplainable stuff happened—I’m open to exploring those elements even in realistic fiction. In The Namesake, for instance, there are some moments that can’t be explained as anything other than mystical/supernatural. They’re tied into a Catholic belief system, which my character Evan Galloway and I share.

Anyway, I guess I’d describe The Precious Dreadful as a “contemporary realistic novel with supernatural elements, a mystery for Teddi to solve, plenty of humor, a focus on social justice issues—and a strong romantic thread”; sure to have wide appeal to readers of multiple genres, ha ha!

MM: Your protagonist, Teddi Alder, has a sharp wit and a wicked sense of humor, especially when dealing with tragedy. I get the feeling that Teddi is a reflection of you in this regard…

Parlato: Well, humor is definitely one of our best defenses against the darkness of life, and Teddi’s had to hone that skill considering her circumstances. For me, when tragedy happens—and it seems pretty constant lately in this world of ours—my initial response is often one of retreat or full-on blubbering. But since it’s hard to go through life all snoggery, I do tend to suit up with sarcastic armor fairly often.

MM: I understand you’re a professor of English, an artist, and also an actor. Do any of those other occupations play into your writing?

Parlato: For sure. I’m a believer in stealing liberally from life in my fiction. My day job as professor is all-consuming, so it really eats into my writing life; I hardly do any writing until semester breaks. On the other hand, spending months getting to know hundreds of diverse students with amazing stories provides great inspiration. There are shades of students in some of my characters.

My first novel features a protagonist who’s an artist, and Teddi’s friends Willa and Nic are cast in a production of Twelfth Night. (Nic lands the role of Sir Toby Belch, a part I once played.) I’d love to write a novel featuring a theater group (not that it hasn’t been done), because of the intensity of relationships that develop among kids in the arts.

MM: What are you reading now? Do you have an all-time favorite book? (Mine’s Watership Down, by the way.)

Parlato: Right now, I’m mostly reading student essays. I have about 100 students each semester, and I’m faculty advisor to our award-winning student newspaper, The Tamarack, so these take precedence. However, my students and I read ten YA novels last semester in my 200-level YA Lit class. Some favorites in that batch were The Catcher in the Rye, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Charm & Strange, Chinese Handcuffs, and The Hate U Give. Before this semester started, I read MOXIE, which was great. I’m sort of terrible at choosing a favorite anything, but I really love The Book Thief, and one of my first favorites was Animal Farm. So we have that animal story as allegory thing in common!

MM: The Precious Dreadful is your second published novel. Have you written others that are in a drawer somewhere? Are you working on something new?

Parlato: The first novel I completed, really my first attempt at completing one, was The Namesake. In between it and The Precious Dreadful, I started a couple novels that went nowhere. I think they actually have potential; it just wasn’t the right time, I guess. But no drawer full of manuscripts.

One piece, in particular, I’m considering my next project. The protagonist, Dexter, who’s unwittingly sensitive to “the other side,” and his single dad relocate to a seaside town, Cape Point (based on one of our favorite places, Cape May, NJ) for his father’s work as a chef. Dex discovers his great-aunt’s inn, where she holds séances and such—she’s a scam psychic—is actually the hub of activity for the ghosts of Cape Point. No denying this one represents a true shift to a paranormal genre. I’m excited to work on it. It’s got a crew of ghosts from all different eras, battling a nefarious real estate developer bent on wrecking the town’s charm for profit. We’re headed to Cape May over spring break, so, hopefully, I’ll be inspired.

MM: That sounds really cool. Can’t wait to read it. What was the easiest part of The Precious Dreadful to write? What about the hardest?

Parlato: Though I worried about writing an authentic female protagonist, Teddi’s voice came surprisingly easy, and much of the plot fell right into place. I also had fun creating the other characters, including Teddi’s dog, Binks, for whom our cockapoo, Austin, was a total inspiration.

Some of the darker moments—like Teddi’s recollection of terrifying memories involving her childhood best friend Corey—were difficult to write. Those memories surface when Teddi joins a writing group, so on some level, I felt like she was in charge of figuring out her story and sharing it. At times, it seemed neither she nor I could handle the tougher details. Some of it’s pretty brutal, and it took a toll out of us both, facing it, writing it down.

MM: What is the main thing you want readers to take away from your book?

Parlato: When I put my characters through trauma, I try to offer them—and my readers—hope. In her blurb, Stephanie Kuehn, author of Charm & Strange, called The Precious Dreadful “a dark, poignant exploration of friendship, loss, and the very real power of storytelling.” I was thrilled, because I hope readers recognize through Teddi that resilience, our ability to heal, even from unspeakable loss, resides within us and within our friendships.

MM: I love that. Thank you so much for talking about your book with us, Steven!

Parlato: Thanks to you, Melody, and to the other Tuesday Writers, for having me!

 

Themed Thursday: Our Books Picks for Black History Month

February is Black History Month, so what better time to share some of our favorite black history books? Do you have a favorite book that celebrates or commemorates black history? We’d love to hear from you.

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness by Michelle L. Alexander is commentary on the reality of living in America while black. When we study black history in the month of February, it’s important to look at the social construct of how slavery is still affecting people today. Michelle Alexander takes a look at the hard numbers highlighting how many blacks today are still in subordinate status just like their ancestors. This is an eye-opening book for everyone.

Melody Maysonet

Melody: Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge, by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. This nonfiction account was definitely an eye opener. As children, we’re taught to revere our first president, but this book shows George Washington in a new light. It also honors the life of Ona Judge, his runaway slave who—as the title suggests and through her own resourcefulness—was never caught, despite the president’s best efforts.

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: Underground to Canada is a historical novel for young readers by Barbara Smucker. It was first published in Canada in 1977 and published in the United States as Runaway to Freedom: A Story of the Underground Railway. Based partially on a true story, the novel is set in the United States and Canada in the years leading up to the American Civil War and describes the hard lives of slaves in the American South and the people who helped them escape to Canada through the Underground Railroad. The novel is studied in Canadian schools. In it, a young slave called Julilly and her mother, Mammy Sally, are sold apart when their owner, Massa Hensen, falls ill. Julilly is taken to a plantation in Mississippi. There she meets Liza, another slave girl. Pursued by their master, the two girls and their friends, Lester and Adam, begin their escape from slavery. They make their way through the United States to Canada on the Underground Railroad with the help of Alexander Milton Ross, a Canadian abolitionist, eventually arriving safely, apart from Adam who dies of blood poisoning caused by his slave chains.

Faran Fagen

Faran: I’d recommend Walter Dean Myers’ Handbook for Boys. It may not be a historic book, but it takes you on the journey of a confused young African-American male who learns a lot about growing up from the wise workers at a barber shop. Amazing lessons from the barbers and the sharp customers who spend their time at the shop rub off on 16-year-old Jimmy, who narrowly escapes jail.

Jonathan Rosen

Jonathan: Teammates, by Peter Golenbock. This is the moving story of how Jackie Robinson became the first black player on a Major League baseball team when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s. I love baseball and Jackie Robinson, and this story never ceases to fascinate me.

What’s the Dumbest Way You’ve Been Injured?

The Tuesdays want to know!

Jonathan Rosen

Jonathan: The dumbest way that I’ve been injured is one time when playing softball, I ran after a ball in foul territory. I never took my eye off of it. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep my eyes on the fence. I ran straight into it and immediately felt the wetness on my face. I got thirteen stitches that night and still have the scars on my face. My friends took a picture of my bloody face, and I still look at it from time to time, to remind me of my stupidity.

Stacie Ramey

Stacie: This is literally a no-brainer. Over winter break when my son was coming home from college, I went to make him vegan food. Note to self: unplug the immersion blender before using it. Let’s just say the food was no longer vegan and I was pretty chewed up. At least the tip of my finger was. Worst part? Knowing I’d done it to myself.

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: On Christmas Day a year ago I got a new slalom water ski as a gift. I was being wimpy and didn’t want to get in the water in advance because I thought it was too cold. I donned my gear on the swim platform of the boat and prepared to jump sideways into the water. I didn’t want to get my hair wet either, so as I jumped in I brought my arms down as fast as I could to slap the water and prevent my head from going under. Well, I didn’t jump out far enough, so the full force slap hit the swim platform, breaking my wrist. I was going to get wet anyway; if I’d only sucked it up and got in, I would have saved myself a lot of trouble.

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: When I was three, all the neighborhood kids were taking turns in the wagon riding down the hill in our backyard. It was finally my turn. Our neighbor, who was five, was supposed to be steering. As the wagon approached the clothes pole smack dab in the middle of the hill, he bailed, and I hit the pole. Of course I ran inside crying. Turns out my collar bone busted, so I guess I wasn’t being a crybaby that time.

Faran Fagen

Faran: Easily the dumbest way I was injured happened when I was seven. I was at a friend’s house and we were bike riding down a steep  hill. The sunset was brilliant that day and as I stared at it, I plowed right into the back of a parked car. Luckily all I got were scrapes, bruises, and torn shorts. I was lucky.

Melody Maysonet

Melody: The first time I cracked my chin open and had to get stitches, it wasn’t that dumb. I was in first grade. I did a flip from the top rung of the money bars and ended up chin first on the gravel. Hospital, stitches… You’d think I would have learned a lesson. Then in second grade, I did the same exact thing–same monkey bars, same feat of acrobatics (a failed flip), same hospital. I still have the scars.

 

Book Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

I love books that open my eyes, books that tell stories that are outside my experience, especially ones where the characters come to life on the page. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo is one of those books.

I knew when I purchased it that it was written by a transgender woman about a transgender teenage girl. That’s why I chose it. I wanted to better understand. And I’m happy to say that If I Was Your Girl did so much more than that.

Bouncing between Amanda Hardy’s pre-transition life and her post-transition life (where her body caught up to her reality), the story conjured in me an enormous sympathy. At one point, after taking her first hormone treatment, Amanda lets herself “dream of how good life could be every now and then.”

Every now and then?! How heartbreaking that a good life “every now and then” was the most she could hope for. I have no doubt that a lot of people—not just teens—can relate to that, even if they can’t relate to Amanda’s specific experiences.

So, yeah, I felt for Amanda, but I also sympathized with her parents. Their reactions and attitudes felt very real to me, and I understood the fear that influenced all their decisions. As Amanda’s father said to her, “Everything that made you happy, from the way you wanted to walk to the toys you wanted to the way you wanted to dress… it put you in danger.”

If I Was Your Girl is about a girl who doesn’t want to disappear anymore, who takes charge of her life and learns to love herself. That’s the kind of character journey that tugs at my heart and makes the story still resonate long after I’ve finished the book.

Themed Thursday: Our #OwnVoices Picks

The OwnVoices hashtag began last September when author Corinne Duyvis created it “to recommend kidlit about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group.” Since then, the label has evolved and now refers to any book written about diverse or marginalized characters by an author from that same diverse or marginalized group. And because all of us at Tuesday Writers are avid readers, we wanted to recommend some of our favorite #OwnVoices books. As always, we’d love to hear your picks as well.

Melody Maysonet

Melody: I love books that open my eyes, books that tell stories that are outside my experience, especially ones where the characters live and breathe on the page and live on long after I close the book. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo is one of those books. Written by a transgender woman about a transgender experience, If I Was Your Girl tells the story of Amanda Hardy as she tries to find herself and bounces between her pre-transition life and her post-transition life (where her body caught up to her reality). I really felt for this girl. And I highly recommend this book for anyone who’s looking—not only for a good story—but also for a story that resonates long after you finish it.

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: Randi Pink’s novel Into White is a story borne out of her own life, growing up black in an all-white neighborhood. In the novel, main character LaToya prays to Jesus to be “anything but black.” One morning her prayer is granted. Her family can’t see the transformation, but she goes to school and tells the principal she’s an exchange student. Her long blonde hair and white skin seem to be the ingredients of popularity that’s evaded her. What Toya has to figure out is whether or not it’s worth it. You can see Randi’s Ted Talk here: Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone | Randi Pink | TEDxBirmingham. And you can find Randi’s website at The Basics.

Stacie Ramey

Stacie: There are thankfully a sea of #ownvoices books to choose from. The #ownvoices book I’d like to boost is Sarah Nicolas’s Keeping her Secret. Sarah is this awesome library event planner and all around bomb person. Plus her book is unputdownable. Note the tag line: “All is fair in summer camp prank wars…” You want to read that, don’t you? Go ahead. Order it. I’ll wait.

Faran Fagen

Faran: I’m a huge fan of Matt De La Pena’s books, and a big reason is his penchant for marginalized characters. Sticky in Ball Don’t Lie struggles in a foster home, and ace pitcher Danny Lopez is haunted by a broken home and his racial identity in Mexican Whiteboy. In I Will Save You, De La Pena takes on mental illness in a way that will blow you away. His portrayal of these characters is both eye-opening and riveting, and through their journey we are faced with the hard road they face to reach a sense of peace and balance among turmoil. You can follow De La Pena on Twitter: @mattdelapena

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: My favorite #OwnVoices author is Simone Kelly who wrote Like a Fly on the Wall. In the book, Moraccan-born Jacques Berradi has a unique gift as an intuitive counselor. Kylie Collins goes to see him for insight, and a blackout strikes Miami, forcing them to work together. Can Jacques’s intuition reveal the scandalous history of Kylie’s mother and father? Will Kylie’s newfound detective skills uncover evidence about the death of Jacques’s father? And will the chemistry that charges their friendship bubble over into something much, much hotter…?  By the way, Simone is a vivacious personal coach and can be reached at: @ownyourpower.

Themed Thursday: What We Always Wanted to Be

Stacie Ramey

Stacie: I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. It bothered me that I felt I had no particular skill in anything. I was good at most things (except sports!) but not exceptional in anything other than reading. If someone had asked me what I loved to do, then reading would have been top of my list. When I speak with teens now, I don’t ask what do you want to do when you grow up. I ask what do you love to do now.

Jonathan Rosen

Jonathan: I went through so many different career choices as a kid. For years, it was to be a paleontologist. I was fascinated by dinosaurs. After that it turned to acting or writing. I wanted to do something that would entertain people. At least I got to accomplish one of my dreams.

Faran Fagen

Faran: I wanted to be either a sports writer or first baseman in the major leagues. I loved baseball, and first base was my favorite position because I loved catching the ball and also being the one to record most of the outs. I especially liked when the infielder made a bad throw, and I was able to catch it with a scoop or pick to sort of save the day. As for the sports writing, I loved sports and writing, so why not?

Melody Maysonet

Melody: When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a teacher and a writer. I’m happy to say that I became both of those things. A teacher first. (I was certified to teach English, grades 6-12, but ended up teaching at a community college.) And finally, after years of struggle (and a career change where I became a magazine editor for Wizards of the Coast and then a nonfiction book editor), I published my first book in 2015. I still have a hard time calling myself a writer, though. Maybe after I publish my next book…

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: I wanted to be a nun. It used to be my wish when I was blowing out my birthday candles. I think I’m still fascinated with nuns. I was Catholic. I went to Catholic school. It was in the water.

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: 

When I was a child I decided I wanted to be a nurse like my mother. I stuck with it and made nursing my profession. I’m glad I did. Although I am retired now, nursing offered many varied career pathways within the profession, so I never got bored.

 

Themed Thursday: Our Favorite Thing About Writers’ Conferences

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: It’s always wonderful to be at a writing conference with so many like-minded people. I love catching up with old friends and making new ones. My favorite thing about a writing conference is the little gems about craft that I learn. I always find I can’t wait to get back to my work in progress and try them out.

Jonathan Rosen

Jonathan: My favorite thing about writing conferences is getting to spend time with friends and other writers. It’s always fun to get to be with people who have the same interests as you and who know what you’re going through.

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: There are magic moments at writing conferences: when you get that one little tidbit of info that clicks in relation to your novel, when you are back together with your tribe, when the agent wants to see the full, and when two Joan Jetts meet on the dance floor and win the costume contest.

Faran Fagen

Faran: My favorite thing about writers’ conferences is meeting authors and hearing their stories about why they became a writer. Inevitably, the answer is to create more readers among children and make kids feel like they’re part of something special as they turn each page. That’s what I want too–to help kids feel they belong in this world. Meeting other writers with that same mission is beyond empowering.

Melody Maysonet

Melody: My favorite thing about writers’ conferences is the workshops themselves. I love hanging out with other writers–there’s a definite spirt of togetherness at every conference I attend–but the learning part is what stays with me. Almost every workshop I attend, I have an aha! moment, and it’s those yummy little morsels that help me improve my craft.

Tuesday Tips: Dealing with Negativity

It’s getting harder to think of writing tips that I haven’t already shared, so I’m going to talk about something I always struggle with in my writing. My internal editor.

Having been a professional editor, it’s hard to turn off the part of my brain that tells me this word isn’t right or this sentence doesn’t flow or this scene is falling flat.

It makes me a very slow writer.

And it’s frustrating to still be working on my second book when others in my critique group are flying through their third or fourth…

At least it seems like they’re flying. I don’t see their internal struggles. All I see is them coming to group with a thick sheaf of pages to read, and what they read is always so good.

So here I am reminding myself not to compare, reminding myself that we all have different paths and different methods and blah blah blah.

I like to think that my internal editor—while making me a slow writer—also makes me a good writer. And I guess it does, but it’s hard to be happy about that when I’ve been slogging through the same scene for three days. Today I’ll read that scene aloud to my critique group. Hopefully it will be worth all the effort I poured into it.

I have to admit, it usually is.

 

 

Our Writing Resolutions for 2018

Faran Fagen

Faran: My main writing goal for 2018 is to make my pages as exciting as possible so boys will read them. Would like my writing to coax a boy into reading who normally wouldn’t pick up a book. If I can do that, the writing must be strong.

Melody Maysonet

Melody: I happened to look at my last year’s resolution, and this is what it said: “This year I’m determined to finish my next book (with revisions) so my agent can start trying to sell it.” Well, I guess I dropped the ball on that one (pardon the pun), but it’s not like I haven’t made progress. I’m over halfway done and the book is getting better all the time. This year (hopefully!) I’ll finish it.

Cathy Castelli

Cathy: I need to focus on the end of Flying Blind. I’ve gotten into a bad loop by going back to the beginning over and over. It’s time to loop near the end. I know what’s going to happen. I just need to get the words on the page. Once that’s done, I’m going to let the book rest awhile and begin my new book which has been dancing around in my brain for six months.

Joanne Butcher

Joanne: I’m finishing up the revision of a novel that’s about a college freshman who parties like he’s possessed and the girl next door exorcist. My writing resolution is to write my next novel fast, not fretting about whether I’m getting things perfect as I go along. I want to get all my ideas out and let the revision process take care of the details.

Jonathan Rosen

Jonathan: My New Year’s writing resolution is simple. Write more. I do spend a lot of time writing now, but I want to complete more projects. I usually take a lot of time to do each project, but now I want to get more done.

Stacie Ramey

Stacie: Every year since I was first published, I’ve set new writing goals. I write these goals down. I pen easy goals, medium hard goals, and total stretch goals. Last year I wanted to extend my reach to readers by attending book festivals. I attended April is for Authors, the YA Fest in Easton, Pennsylvania, and Trinity Prep Author Fest. A pretty good year all in all. This year I want to continue with author festivals and also work on a picture book and a short story. In addition to having a book come out in March and revising my 2019 release. You gotta keep moving. Right? Comment below and tell us what your goals are for this year. I hope 2018 is a year filled with wonder and success for all of you.