If you read YA Book Shelf regularly, then you’ll know that not only did I post a review of Cecil Castellucci‘s recent release, Rose Sees Red, but also that I really enjoyed this novel. I happen to think that it’ll appeal to a lot of young girls and adults, so if you haven’t read it yet, go out and get it. In the meantime, perhaps this guest post about friendship across political lines during the Cold War by Cecil Castellucci will whet your appetite. Enjoy!
It’s no secret that Rose Sees Red is the closest book to my own high school experience. Rose lives in my actual old house in the Bronx (Riverdale), which faces a white apartment building that in the 80s, was a Soviet Compound. There really was a neighbor that lived next door to me, who was from Kiev, her name was Nastja, but we were not friends. At 11, she was much too young for the 15-year-old me. But I liked that she was different, and it was clear that if we had been the same age, and not from countries that were hating on each other, (her parents were skittish about our acquaintanceship) that we would be friends. She was smart, and she was funny. She was, I think, happy to have an American acquaintance like me, and I was just as happy to have a Soviet acquaintance like her. We’d sit in the yard. I’d ask her about her Barbies. She’d ask me about my high school. I’d tell her about my theater classes. I think she was taking music lesson and math that that was harder than anything.
One day, in summer, we sat in our joint garden with two little boys that were visiting from the compound. The boys only spoke Russian, but I decided that I would make up a fairytale to entertain us. As I weaved the story, Nastja would translate. Looking back, I realize that I myself must have looked like a fairy to the two little boys, sitting there in the back garden, with green hair and most likely wearing a vintage dress. But what I remember most about the moment is that Nastja and I were in it together. We were going to tell a story to these boys that would blow their mind. And for one moment, language didn’t matter, or politics, or age difference. The only thing that mattered was the story. We were four young people in a garden, not caring about the politics of our parents or our government. Back then, I already knew that I wanted to be a storyteller, but it wasn’t yet clear how it would come about. Would I be a filmmaker? Playwright? Author? Actress? Who cared? Not me. But one thing I did know was that the white apartment building, the cold war, the little girl next door and me were all going to inform some kind of narrative that I would tell one day. Eventually, Nastja went back to Kiev, and I moved away from that apartment. I went to college. The Berlin wall fell. The cold war ended. I moved to Canada, then California. I played in a band. I started writing books. And one day, it was time. I took that story out of the box, dusted it off and had a look to see what was there. I thought about my life in NYC in the early 80s.
I quit ballet in 1982
In 1982, on June 12th, the biggest No Nukes rally in American history took place in central park.
I was about to start the High School of Performing Arts, for Theater, which at the time was in Times Square.
The cold war was in full swing.
The doomsday clock had just moved to 2 minutes to midnight.
I thought that in those things, mixed up and thrown around, there was a story that I would like to tell.
The white apartment building is the Soviet Compound mentioned in Rose Sees Red as seen from Cecil's old house.
Recently, a friend of mine from high school read the book. She confided in me that she was happy to see that nothing in the book was real, but that it was all somehow exactly familiar. She had been worried that the book would be a Roman a Clef. You know, where a story describes real life under the façade of being a fiction. That everyone from high school would be there. That it would potentially be embarrassing, or painfully true. That everyone and everything would be immediately recognizable as someone or some situation that was real. But that’s not what Rose Sees Red is at all. It is pure fiction. Sure, Rose lives at my old house and goes to my old high school, but there really is not much more that we have in common. And in a way, it’s almost like because of that it’s more true. And I read it and I think, “Yeah, that is kind of how it felt back then. That’s how I remember it.” Because it is 1980s New York. It’s my love letter to that time, and it hits that nostalgic part inside of me. But this is very much Rose and Yrena’s story. It’s about how you make that one special friend who changes everything and makes you awake to the whole wide world and to your own precious heart.
On September 7, 2010, the first book in a new fantasy trilogy hits stores. Although it’s meant for a middle grade audience, I’ve been excited about this novel ever since I first explored the website for this novel, so I’m really happy to be able to present my first guest post, written by the co-authors Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson to you today. Oh yeah, and the book that they are about to release is called The Familiars. Now, without further ado, I leave you the post by Adam and Andrew. Enjoy!
Back in 2000, when we were writing screenplays into the wee hours at various coffee shops around LA, the two of us decided to try our hand at a spoof of teen movies. As fortuitous timing would have it, that script would become 2001′s “Not Another Teen Movie.” This led to years of writing on the MTV Movie Awards, working with comedic talents such as Jimmy Fallon, Jack Black, and Andy Samberg. For much of the 2000s, we continued to write comedies geared towards the teenage audience. But the funny thing about the two of us becoming comedy writers was that we never really thought of ourselves as writing in that genre. We kind of fell into it. And in Hollywood, once you have success in a particular niche, studios pigeonhole you into a box. After “Step Up” turned out to be a sleeper hit, we got a call on Monday morning from two different producers asking us to write a spoof of dance movies. With the huge success of “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings,” it was inevitable that we would be asked to write a spoof of fantasy movies. And sure enough, we were.
But it wasn’t a spoof of those movies that we wanted to write. It was those movies. Fully aware that no studio or producer was likely to come offering us an adaptation of a fantastical book or property, we decided to create one ourselves. That’s what led us to write The Familiars. Finally, we were creating the kind of material that the two of us really came to Hollywood to create. Something imaginative and adventurous, like the fantasy books we grew up loving and Spielburg films we’ve watched dozens of times.
The moral of the story is simple. We’re writers, which gives us the unique ability to write. Someone puts you in a box, write yourself out of it. You control the way people perceive you. For years, we were the spoof guys and the teen movie guys. Well, now we’re the author guys who wrote that middle grade fantasy trilogy and are adapting it into a 3D animated movie.
You can learn more about The Familiars at www.thefamilars.com and by checking out the brand new book trailer below:
I hope you like the trailer and the guest post, which explores how Jay and Adam went from writing movies like ‘Not Another Teen Movie’ to writing a brand new fantasy adventure novel. I for one think that the hand drawn animation adds a special touch to the book trailer. What do you think? If you like a good middle grade read or know someone who will, then you’ll be able to find it at bookstores everywhere (and online) on September 7th, 2010!
Photo courtesy of Mushon Zer-Aviv
As a book blogger, I am in the privileged position of someone, who can freely talk with a variety of authors and who gets to read some of the best fiction available for the YA market. I find myself openly mulling over and sharing ideas with like-minded individuals on a daily basis, which is an experience that I love. In one such conversation, Mary Osborne, the author of Nonna’s Book Of Mysteries, and I were discussing the possibility that a person or character, who is talented and successful, but whose work fades with the passing of years, may very well influence someone else who becomes known for his or her masterful execution of their work.
To put it succinctly, we were discussing the idea that those who contribute knowledge to our society are merely standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before them. Whether you’ve heard of this concept before or not, its nothing new. It was first conceived in the 12th Century, but the 19th Century lover in me has a preference for the way in which Samuel Taylor Coleridge phrased it in The Friend: “The dwarf sees farther than the giant when he has the giant’s shoulder to mount on.” This idea has me believing that, perhaps, the sphere of one’s influence may be far larger than one might immediately assume, which is, I’d think something really hopeful for aspiring or published writers. One might never know with certainty, but perhaps what you produce over the course of your lifetime could be the stepping stone on which the next Jane Austen or J.K. Rowling is formed.
On another note, this concept suggests that not only does our work have the potential to spark innovation in those who come after us, but also the experiences that we have and the bits of knowledge that we collect over the course of our lives, all help influence the person that we’ll become in adulthood. Although nothing is set in stone, I find this concept a very empowering one because it throws aside other explanations and excuses and at the same time, prohibits regret for the small or large ordeals that we experience in life. Why should we regret anything when we know that the person we become is only possible with all of these obstacles? Take them away, and we may never be able to recognize the person, who we are: s/he would only exist in some alternate universe.
All of these thoughts about influence have got me thinking about what other YA writers think about it. I’d love to know who you consider to be your biggest influences, whether in your personal or professional life. How do you grapple with those who influence you and still be creative and original in your own right? Then my question to anyone who reads this blog, do you believe that the moments you’ve experienced in your life so far – no matter how hard – are worth it because they brought you to where you are now?
On another note, more of these ideas may very well come up on Saturday, June 5th when I post my interview with Mary Osborne. She’ll be around periodically throughout the day to answer your questions AND I’ll be announcing some exciting news as well. If you haven’t yet, please take the time to enter for a chance to win your own copy of Nonna’s Book Of Mysteries, or Book 1 of the Alchemy series.
When you start writing, do you have an outline prepared from which you never stray? Or do your characters have a way of sneaking up on you and force you to rethink the direction you planned to take? Do you fight with them or do accept what they want to do, even if you don’t understand it at first?
Recently, I was tweeting with @MarinaCohen, the author of the novel Ghost Ride about this exact subject. She tweeted, “I have a love/hate relationship with new characters who muscle their way into my manuscript uninvited.” I loved the line, so started a conversation with her asking whether “the plot stayed derailed or does it get back on course?” to which she replied, “The plot takes a new and better direction. Once I stop raging against it and give in to the change!”
My short conversation with Marina has brought up a few questions that I hope all YA writers would like to respond to, do you write from your subconscious brain? Do you accept the changes and plot developments that your characters want to explore, even if you’re unsure about them at first? Or, by contrast, are your YA novels planned completely before you ever begin and never change? Would love to hear your comments on what the writing process is like for you!