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!

 

New Releases for February 13th, 2018!

Hello Tuesdays!

And what a Tuesday we have! There are some really cool new releases scheduled to come out today. Two MG and one YA. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at them!

First up in the MG department, we have Russell Ginns’, Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans from Delacorte Books for Young Readers.

For fans of Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and the Secret series, and classics like Holes and The Westing Game, the first book in a hilarious new series about a girl, her brother, and some super-big globe-trotting adventures.
Samantha Spinner’s Uncle Paul disappeared, and here’s what he left:
*  Samantha’s sister got a check for $2,400,000,000.
*  Samantha’s brother got the New York Yankees.
*  And Samantha got a rusty red umbrella with a tag hanging off its worn handle. The tag says “Watch out for the RAIN.”

Thanks a lot, Uncle Paul.
After all the strawberry waffles, stories, and puzzles they’ve shared, how could he just leave without saying goodbye? And what is the meaning of that mysterious message?

The answer is simple. Sam knows in her heart that Uncle Paul is in danger. And if he taught her anything, it’s that not everything is exactly what it seems. Which is why we should pay close attention to that rusty red umbrella.

The RAIN is coming, and Samantha Spinner is about to find herself mixed up in some super-important, super-dangerous, super-secret plans.

This book sounds like a lot of fun, and there’s a sequel coming, called Samantha Spinner and the Spectacular Specs!

 

 

The 11:11 Wish by Kim Tomsic from  Katherine Tegen Books

Megan Meyers has a foolproof plan to reinvent herself at her new school. Good-bye, dorky math nerd; hello, friend magnet! But her first day at Saguaro Prep starts off weird to the tenth power.

When she’s dared to “make something exciting happen,” Megan is thrown into the middle of an epic power struggle between the two seventh-grade Spirit Captains. So with nothing to lose, Megan wishes for “some magic” as her classroom’s cat clock chimes 11:11—and is granted an enchanted teen magazine promising miracle makeovers and sure-fire secrets for winning friends and crushes.

But magic can have dangerous side effects, and as her social life grows exponentially worse, Megan begins to wonder if wishing was ever a purrfect idea.

 

Can’t wait to read this one!

 

Finally, we have one YA novel on our list, The Traitor Prince, by C.J. Redwine, from Balzer + Bray

A dark epic fantasy inspired by The Prince and the Pauper and the fairy tale The False Prince, from bestselling author C.J. Redwine. A thrilling companion book in the Ravenspire series, The Traitor Princeis perfect for fans of A Court of Thorns and Roses series and The Wrath and the Dawn duology.

Javan Najafai, crown prince of Akram, has spent the last ten years at an elite boarding school, far away from his kingdom. But his eagerly awaited return home is cut short when a mysterious impostor takes his place—and no one believes Javan is the true prince.

After barely escaping the impostor’s assassins, Javan is thrown into Maqbara, the kingdom’s most dangerous prison. The only way to gain an audience with the king—and reveal Javan’s identity—is to fight in Maqbara’s yearly tournament. But winning is much harder than facing competitions at school, and soon Javan finds himself beset not just by the terrifying creatures in the arena but also by a band of prisoners allied against him, and even by the warden herself.

The only person who can help him is Sajda, who has been enslaved by Maqbara’s warden since she was a child, and whose guarded demeanor and powerful right hook keep the prisoners in check. Working with Sajda might be the only way Javan can escape alive—but she has dangerous secrets.

Together, Javan and Sajda have to outwit the vicious warden, outfight deadly creatures, and outlast the murderous prisoners intent on killing Javan. If they fail, they’ll be trapped in Maqbara for good—and the secret Sajda’s been hiding will bury them both.

 

All three of these books look fantastic!

Go check them all out, and Happy Reading!

 

Jonathan Rosen is an original member of the Tuesdays. He made sure of this, by telling them that they would have to stop holding meetings at his house unless they included him also. Jonathan is a transplanted New Yorker, who now lives with his family in sunny, South Florida. He spends his “free” time chauffeuring his kids.  Jonathan is proud to be of Mexican-American descent, although neither country is really willing to accept responsibility. Jonathan is represented by Nicole Resciniti of The Seymour Agency and his debut novel, Night of the Living Cuddle-Bunnies, is out now from SkyPony. You can also find him on FromtheMixedUpFiles.Com,  TwitterFacebook and HouseofRosen.com

Tuesday(book release day): Best Day of the Week

Book release days are always special. In the biz, we call them book birthdays. As authors we talk about them, post about them, worry about them for a year or more from the moment the ink dries on that much coveted book contract. No matter how many books you are lucky enough to publish over the years, the day each book comes out is its own special moment of oh hell yeah!

But debuts might be a tiny bit more special.

This week we have a few releases from debut authors that have caught our eye:

The first is a American Panda, a YA book from an MIT grad turned dentist turned author:

Gloria Chao

American Panda is an incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.

If you’re in the mood for MG why not check out Payback on Popular Lane by:

Margaret Mincks

 

Margaret, second oldest of eight children, graduate of University of Virginia, and editor of a Spider, a children’t magazine, makes her MG debut with this book which is billed as: ABC’s Shark Tank meets The Terrible Two when a pair of sixth grade entrepreneurs compete to become top mogul on their block.

 

 

 

Our final new release for this Tuesday is The Unicorn Quest by Kamilla Benko:

Claire Martinson still worries about her older sister Sophie, who battled a mysterious illness last year. But things are back to normal as they move into Windermere Manor . . . until the sisters climb a strange ladder in a fireplace and enter the magical land of Arden.

There, they find a world in turmoil. The four guilds of magic no longer trust each other, the beloved unicorns have disappeared, and terrible wraiths roam freely. Scared, the girls return home. But when Sophie vanishes in the night, it will take all of Claire’s courage to climb back up the ladder, find her sister, and uncover the unicorns’ greatest secret.

See a little something you’d like to read? Have other new releases that you love? Comment below so we can all be in the know! 

 

Two new YA sports releases from giants in the field

A wide receiver who faces off with a bully quarterback. A tough foster kid athlete determined to find a lost nephew.
“Gutless” and “Loser’s Bracket” are the newest books from Carl Deuker and Chris Crutcher, two juggernauts in the world of YA sports who I’ve idolized for as long as I’ve been reading YA (Crutcher’s Ironman was what got me hooked long ago).

Crutcher’s “Loser’s Bracket”, due out this spring, is oozing with his usual emotion and page-turning tension.
And Crutcher, a long-time family therapist, paints an authentic picture of a family in turmoil. When a family argument breaks out at Annie’s swim meet and her nephew goes missing, Annie might be the only one who can get him back. With help from her friends, her foster brother, and her social service worker, Annie puts the pieces of the puzzle together, determined to find her nephew and finally get him into a safe home.
Even more incentive to check this one out, Crutcher’s website says “Loser’s Bracket” hits the sweet spot for fans of Andrew Smith, Marieke Nijkamp, and Matt de la Peña (another huge favorite of mine and Melody of the Tuesdays).
For more information, go to http://www.chriscrutcher.com/. Yes, he’s the author AND loudmouth. But that’s why his fans love him.

As for Deuker, he’s written about football before. His book, “Gym Candy”, won several awards. But that book was about teen steroid use, while “Gutless”, released in 2017, centers on bullying, finding friends, and courage.
Wide receiver Brock Ripley should be a natural for the varsity team, but he shies away from physical contact. When he gets cut from varsity, he also loses his friendship with star quarterback Hunter Gates, who begins lashing out at not only Brock, but also Brock’s friend, the quiet and smart Richie Fang. But when the bullying goes too far, will Brock be able to face his fears, stop being a bystander, and prove to himself that he is brave enough?
Another early book of Deuker’s also spotlights bullying – Painting the Black. It’s about the bond between a pitcher and catcher, and happens to be my favorite Deuker book of all time.
For more information, go to http://members.authorsguild.net/carldeuker/. You’ll see Deuker’s many other YA books about all sorts of sports.

Hope these books score big. What sports books are your favorites?

How to Repeat

Hi Tuesdays!

I think this is actually my first post of the year. Missed all of you! I hope 2018 has gotten off to a great start for everyone. 2017 was a great year for me, personally, since I was able to finally get a book published. While that was a huge relief, now comes another scary part. A book two.

There’s definitely a lot of pressure. Should it be something new? Should it be a sequel? Will it be as good as the first one? Will anyone want it? A million thoughts go through your mind about it.

If it is a sequel, you have to stay true to the characters, while still making the story fresh. It’s a fine line. Even the title is tricky. I happen to have just finished a sequel, but whereas the name Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies came pretty easily for the first, the title for the sequel hasn’t. And of course, that’s caused a lot of anxiety.

All of this really bothered me quite a bit, and I wondered how other writers dealt with it. I knew I couldn’t be the only one thinking and worried about these things, so I started scanning the message boards of other writing groups that I’m in and saw that many people who had their book debuts in 2017, are also now having the same problems. I very quickly realized that I was far from alone. I wasn’t jumping for joy that others were going through it but have to say that I was relieved.

I saw many of the 2017 group already have books scheduled to come out, while some were still in the pondering stage. Wondering what to write about, or having trouble forging ahead. It’s no easy task to have one book come out, but then there is definitely pressure to replicate or better it.

I’m curious to how everyone is dealing with it, while also looking forward to all the second books from everyone in this group.

I’d love to hear from other authors about their experiences coming out with their second books, and how similar and different they find the experiences. Drop me a line, and we’d love to get your thoughts.

Two New Tuesday Books

It’s somebody’s birthday everyday, but on Tuesdays, it Book Birthdays! For anyone who has ever tried to write a book, we know what labor is! I have yet to have my own Book Birthday, but I love celebrating everyone else!

Iowa resident, Eliot Sappingfield’s book, A Problematic Paradox is born today!  Cue the confetti cannons. Strike the drum. Eliot attended the University of Iowa. (For many years, that was where I thought I wanted to go to school!  Out of state tuition was not an option, you understand, I’m sure.)www.tuesdaywriters.com

I love the title, and I love the cover! Jonathan will probably love this one as it is billed as Guardians of the Galaxy meets A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy! Sounds fantastic! It’s a book filled with chemistry, extra terrestials, and quantum physics where main character, Nikola Kross puts not only her school in danger but the entire galaxy. For more information about Eliot, go to https://eliotsappingfield.com/.

The second Book Birthday is for Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk About Love. Bring out the quadruple layer Boston cream cake with a sparkler on top! It’s worth your time to go to Claire’s website just to see the awesome water color crown! https://www.clairekann.com/.

Her book centers on college student Alice who has just broken up with her girlfriend. She didn’t want to. Margot is her roommate. She loves Margot, but Margot is asexual. She only agrees to have sex to please Alice, but it’s not what she wants. Then Alice meets a guy who gives her all the fluttery romance she’s been hoping for. Should she go for it even with Margot still sharing her dorm room?

Purple is the color of today’s releases:  www.tuesdaywriters.com

Happy Book Birthday Eliot and Claire!

No More Million Monkeys

After a nearly three-week writing hiatus for the holidays, I was dreading getting back to writing (just as I was dreading getting back to my exercise routine and my healthy eating routine and my generally disciplined life). So when the day came that I had to park my butt in chair, I told myself I’d re-read the last few chapters of my work-in-progress to re-familiarize myself with the story. You’d think that the person who wrote the book wouldn’t need a refresher, but I forget plot details in my writing the same way that I forget plot details in TV shows. I always need the recap. And even though I felt like I was copping out on a writing day by re-reading chapters instead of actually moving forward, I’m so glad I did.

Having been so long away from it, I was able to read the chapters with a fresh eye, as though someone else had written them. Sometimes when I do that—when I go back to something I’ve written after a long hiatus—I cringe when I’m reading. (This sucks! I tell myself). But not this time. This time I was like, I wrote this? It’s really good! Which tells me a few things I really need to hear.

It tells me first of all that this novel I’m writing—which is in its third rewrite (the other two versions belonging squarely in the “This Sucks” category)—is finally coming together. I wrote and rewrote for years in order to find the plot, to sink into the characters, to create the emotional resonance that all good books must have. But finally, finally, FINALLY, I think I have it.

Notice I used the word think. I’m my own worst critic, but rereading my chapters also told me that I’m actually a pretty good writer. Not pretty good. I’m a very good writer. (See how I do that with the positive reinforcement?) But I have to work at it. I have to write and scrap and write again and revise and step away and re-read and scrap… (You get the picture.) Sometimes I feel like those million monkeys—if you sit a million monkeys before a million typewriters, eventually they’ll turn out something worth reading. But the truth is, even though my early drafts aren’t up to snuff, they’re not horrible, and once I chisel my story from the giant block of stone, I’m kind of in awe of myself.

And I’m not one to toot my own horn (really, I’m not), but sometimes you need an ego boost, even if it’s from yourself, and since I’m usually telling myself how much my writing sucks, it doesn’t hurt, and it actually gives me strength, to congratulate myself once in a while on a job well done.

Because truth be told, I’m going to need all the strength I can get to finish this book.

Go to that Conference!

Whether you are a beginner or have been writing for some time, you should make it a point to go to writing conferences. The first SCBWI Miami Conference I attended was after I had only been writing for a year.

I knew almost nothing.

Maybe it was too early for me to go? I read and re-read the conference brochure thinking about which speakers I would skip in favor of a nap in my hotel room.

I didn’t skip one word.

Napping was for losers!

I learned so much, and I found a group of other newbies to hang with.

So what do you write?

Mystery? Mystery Writers of America is having Sleuthfest in March 2018. http://sleuthfest.com/

Romance? Romance Writers of America will hold their annual conference in Denver this year. https://www.rwa.org/events

If you write for children, like me, you can still register for this weekend’s conference in Miami. (And you still have time to get your costume together for Saturday night!) https://florida.scbwi.org/

No matter what you write, there is a conference for you. Go.  You’ll be surprised how much you learn.

Wrapping up one year and starting another

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve gotten into a habit of allowing myself to get sucked into the news during what is usually my writing time.

I don’t like it. I don’t like that I’ve allowed myself to get off track.

And then I looked at my current rewrite. My circus story, Flying Blind, has had many lives already. I thought I was just fixing a few things here and there. Then I looked at the climax. You know how people can rewrite the beginning of a story a million times? Seems I’ve neglected the ending so far in this rewrite.

It was tough writing in the days running up to Christmas. We had school until December 22nd, but I did get in some great writing on the 26th and 27th – on the end and not the beginning.

What about today? I’m on a little vacay with the family. Won’t really get back to writing until Sunday. I’m back to setting a timer. It’s a guaranteed way to get on track.

How are you managing your writing in the new year?