This week we are delighted to have an interview with
It’s tough, living in the shadow of a dead girl. It’s like living at the foot of a mountain blocking out the sun, and no one ever thinks to say, “Damn, that mountain is big.” Or, “Wonder what’s on the other side?” It’s just something we live with, so big we hardly notice it’s there. Not even when it’s crushing us under its terrible weight.
A powerful opening, but first-time YA writer Holly Cupala, TELL ME A SECRET was released by HarperCollins in June, and has stormed up the Amazon charts with rave reviews.
Hi Holly, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Thanks for inviting me to Authors on Show! Let’s see…I’ve been writing since I could pick up a pen, wrote teen romances before actually experiencing them (after I did, it was all tragic poetry and short stories), contribute to http://www.readergirlz.com/, and now write contemporary young adult novels. Tell Me a Secret is my first.
TMAS is defined in reviews as traumatic and heart-rending. Have you put some of your own personal experiences into the book?
Before I started Tell Me a Secret, I was mostly writing dreadful picture books. I’d had a short story published in a Chicken Soup book and a few stories and articles in Spider and Cricket magazines, and I’d begun a middle grade novel. However, all of that took a sharp turn when a personal tragedy struck our family. None of those projects had any meaning for me anymore, and I almost quit writing. A few months later, the idea for Tell Me a Secret struck. It took a few months to get my bearings—it was way beyond the scope of anything I’d written before, and it involved delving into those personal experiences. My good writing friends cheered me on, and the book—and the writing of it—turned out to be very hopeful.
How long have you been writing before Harper Collins took you on?
I wrote much of the first draft one day a week, when I would hire a babysitter and take off for the library for eight hours straight—as you can imagine, it took a while to get the entire book on paper. I wrote and revised for about three years before I signed with an agent, then we worked on one more revision before he sent out the manuscript to a select group of publishers. HarperCollins made a pre-emptive two-book offer within a couple of weeks, which couldn’t have surprised anyone more than me!
Can you define “YA”, because the cover and content of TMAS seems a little racy?
I’ll take that as a compliment! Though I have to say I’m surprised because my book is actually pretty tame compared to a lot of books in the YA genre. Generally speaking, there are two categories of young adult books: 12 and up, and 14 and up. These are determined by the publisher (something like PG versus PG-13 in the movie industry). Mine is in the second category, dealing with mature subject matter—there’s actually a really fantastic site, Parental Book Reviews, which gives a content overview of many teen books. The Tell Me a Secret review is here. I highly recommend them.
How is your second book, DON’T BREATHE A WORD, coming along? Still revising?
It’s finished, revised, waiting for copyedits, and we are discussing fun things like flap copy and cover possibilities. The book is slated for Fall 2011. I’m at that exhilarating and terrifying point of starting a third novel right now.
Is DON’T BREATHE A WORD as tear-jerking as TMAS?
I think it’s equally intense and explores some similar themes, but where TMAS is a very internal kind of book, this one is much more outward. It’s about a suburban girl who runs away from home for secret reasons, and finds safety with a group of homeless teens in Seattle. It’s gritty and romantic and just a tiny bit racy, about what it means to love.
Obviously you’ll have a favourite character, but was there one that you struggled with?
My favorite character may not be the one you think… But the one I struggled with most is probably the mother. I didn’t really understand who she was until I realized she had a secret, too, one that was driving her in ways she doesn’t even realize. Once I understood her, I could see why her behavior could be so caustic, and yet she was dealing with a mountain of internal shame.
Tell us about Kamran. Secretly, would you like to date him if you could?
When I first started writing, I thought Kamran was going to be a jerk. He was going to dump Miranda at the first sign of trouble and disappear. But as I wrote, I started to get to know him. He’s smart, driven, and scared of the situation he and Miranda are in. And yet he wants to do the right thing. He still makes bad decisions, and he believes a lie about Miranda, but at heart he’s very honorable. As for dating him…Kamran has a few things in common with my husband (devastatingly handsome, half-Persian, for example)!
If TMAS was made into a movie, who would you like to play the lead parts?
Thank goodness I’m not a casting director, let’s just start there! For Miranda, I would love an actor who could portray a lot of depth of emotion without so many words, someone who has a weighty presence, like a young Natalie Portman or someone like that. For Xanda, I could see someone like Taylor Momsen, kind of an early Courtney Love. Delaney would have that edge, but also a bit more polish. Kamran…hmm. He’d have to be devastatingly handsome, of course. And serious, with a bit of a mysterious side.
If you met Delaney in the street (Delaney - a vicious character who back-stabbed your main character, Miranda), or someone like her, how would you react?
That’s the insidious thing about villains—you can’t always identify them on the street. More likely than not, I would just smile…and watch carefully.
Any advice for writers struggling to hook an agent/publisher?
This is such a slow process. Don’t let yourself be discouraged. It’s part talent, part timing, part sweat, and part luck—and don’t forget, an agent and publisher are looking for your work, too. Make it the best it can possibly be by learning the craft, writing whenever possible, reading excellent writing, and getting feedback from peers you trust. Keep going!
Thank you Holly, you’ve been amazing. Any last words?
Simply to say thank you for inviting me to Authors on Show! I am honored to visit.
The link to the Tell Me A Secret video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqzUuoAmTJs.