Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Holly Cupala's 'Secret' is Out!


Wow. Wow. And again, wow! I snuck in the last 100 pages of Holly Cupala's YA debut Tell Me a Secret before the kids woke up and haven't stopped mulling it over.  It's a transcendent story that explores the fear of speaking the truth and the damage that secrets can cause.

As school begins in Seattle, Miranda (a.k.a Rand) has a secret. She knows she is pregnant, but her list of people to confide is has grown desperately short. After a summer away, she feels distant from her boyfriend and jealous of how close he and her new best friend have become.  Rand's parents are remote and damaged; her mother is sanctimonious and resolutely caught up in appearances. If only her sister Xanda were still alive, Rand might have a confidant. But no one has ever told Rand how Xanda died, and pain from from this secret grows inside Rand just as steadily as her baby.

AB: Holly, congratulations on the publication of Tell Me a Secret! (HarperTeen, 2010) I admire the way you depicted Rand unwittingly using people as crutches to avoid the pain of growth with such emotional honesty.

HC: Thank you for letting me know the book was meaningful to you. One of my favorite things is how each person sees something a little different - readers bring so much to the story.

AB: Amazingly, you made me feel compassion for Rand's mother. She reminded me of Beth Jarrett in Ordinary People - initially cold, pretentious and crippled by fear of revealing emotion and family shame to others. 

HC: Thanks. I loved the mother, too, in the end (though I didn't for much of the time I was writing her!). I was glad to figure out that her causticity was as much internal as external. I think of it as her journey, too.

AB: Could you tell us a bit about how you came to write this particular story?

HC:  I honestly didn’t expect to write suspenseful teen novels about social issues…it took a momentous event in my own life which temporarily derailed my writing hopes. I might not have returned if the entire novel hadn’t come to me in a split second, and I realized it was a story I was meant to write. I wouldn’t want to go through the events that led me here again, but I’m grateful to have found stories meaningful to me and to readers.
 
AB: In Tell Me a Secret, your protagonist Rand comes to terms with her secret as well as her sister's in ways that lead to a shift in some of her preconceived notions about life, family, and even race.  Did you write with the intention of exploring these themes, or did it just evolve that way?

HC: As I was writing, I kept hitting on some deeper layer and think, “Aha! This is the theme!” But then it would happen again…so I do think the ideas evolved as I got to know the characters, their secrets, even things they kept from themselves. Some of the details were there from the very beginning, and others developed over time.
Holly Cupala, lovely in pink.

AB: How long have you been writing? How long did you work on Tell Me a Secret, in particular? 

HC: Tell Me a Secret came very slowly, like drawing a web—just a few thousand words at first, before our daughter was born. Then I picked it up again when she was almost a year old…for one day a week! Precious and precarious time—I worried I was wasting it, and worried for the story, and worried for pretty much everything. So when I received the SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant from Judy Blume, it was a signpost. I nearly finished the story in time for the SCBWI winter conference, where it created some buzz. Then I had to finish it! Luckily a very kind neighbor watched my toddler for a couple of days a week so I could finish. From idea to sale, it was four years.
  
AB: You won a work-in-progress grant from SCBWI for Tell Me a Secret (working title "Brimstone Soup"). When you submitted the WIP, how far along were you in your work?

HC: I think I had around 17K words at that point (but I can’t remember exactly!). I cleaned up and submitted the first 10 pages, about 2500 words, and ended on a gasp! kind of note. I wrote up some tips on applying for the grant here on my blog

AB: Could you tell us the story of how you joined forces with your agent extraordinaire Edward Necarsulmer IV?

I met him at the SCBWI Writer’s Intensive. Several other agents had the full manuscript (and one made an offer), but Edward was just so passionate about the story, and we hit it off right away. He’s been amazing to work with, and I couldn’t have asked for a better fit.

AB: You often mention how delighted you are with your editor at HarperTeen, Catherine Onder. What, in your opinion, makes for a great writer/editor working relationship?

HC:  For me as a writer, having an editor who brings brilliant ideas to the table and is always willing to hear my thoughts makes for a great working relationship. Plus she really loved the story and has championed it. I feel like I’ve been so incredibly lucky in this department— Catherine has been a dream editor, truly. 


AB: You've compiled a gorgeous trip hop playlist for Tell Me a Secret on your website. Were those songs you listened to while writing it? What are you intending by sharing those songs with your readers?
HC: Yes! And thank you! Many of those songs are from our friends’ bands. Splashdown and Symbion Project have been kind enough to let us use some of their music in the TMAS trailer . It’s been amazing to work with them, and I’m really excited to bring their music to a whole different audience. I have even woven secret music references into the novel itself!
 
AB: I understand that you developed your craft by joining SCBWI and forming a critique group. Could you tell us how your critique group has helped you develop your craft?

HC: I could sing the praises of the writers who helped me shape Tell Me a Secret: Janet Lee Carey, Justina Chen, Molly Blaisdell, Peggy King Anderson, Judy Bodmer, Dawn Knight and others who offered thoughtful feedback. They didn’t just see the novel as it was, but as it could be.
 
AB: Are you able to read much current middle grade/ YA  fiction? If so,
what are some books published in the last 5-10 years that you've enjoyed?
What makes you like it/them so much?

HC: I confess, it hasn’t been as much of a year for reading as I would like! But I’ve been privileged to meet and read the work of so many contemporaries: Ellen Hopkins, Deb Caletti (both of whom very kindly endorsed Tell Me a Secret), Laurie Halse Anderson, Sara Zarr, Rachel Cohn, Mitali Perkins…and authors I discovered this year—Beth Kephart, Stephanie Kuehnert, Holly Schindler, L.K. Madigan and others. I’m really looking forward to books by Denise Jaden, Daisy Whitney...so many, really! I wish I could mention them all!


AB: What about writing comes easiest for you? What is most difficult about the craft?

HC: I’m not 100% sure about this (only having completed two novels, unless you count the two I wrote in eighth grade!), but so far the internal dialogue and emotions are vastly easier for me to write than external details and dialogue. But when I’m in the moment, those seem to flow out of the internal.

AB: What "secret" advice would you offer a writer who is just starting out?

HC: Don’t be too hard on yourself! As my friends Kirby Larson and Randy Powell say, “Write through the bad stuff.”

 AB: Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming novel, slated for the fall of 2011, about a runaway who hits the streets of Seattle? What inspired you to tell this story?

HC: I think it was Sid Fleischman who said it takes two ideas to spark a story. I had this idea about a runaway for quite some time (actually, I thought she was going to fake homelessness), and one day I was sitting in church and read in the bulletin that the youth department was collecting toiletries and backpacks for the street teens who hung out one block over. All of a sudden, the entire story hit me—sort of like Tell Me a Secret did, like a movie trailer in my mind. I started writing as fast as I could (with apologies to Pastor James for not listening to the sermon!). When I got home, I wrote out a fifteen page outline. I started researching and writing notes, and the story grew. What was really incredible to me were some of the ways the research corroborated the random ideas I’d had…in some very chilling ways. I can’t wait to show it to you!


AB: Do show it to me, please! What’s next for you? What are you working on currently?

HC: Street Creed is slated for Fall 2011, and we’re working on edits right now. Then I have a couple of other irons in the fire…maybe to be revealed soon!

2 comments:

deowriter said...

I had to read this book in one day because I could not put it down.

Ms. Yingling said...

Congratulations on being on the Cybils' panel!