In case you haven’t seen ‘em, there are two new links up on the Interviews page.
Here’s an interesting piece about Chet Baker (a favorite of mine), who, according to his critics, may have been talented, but wasn’t really an innovator. Chet was a pretty boy, playing smooth, listenable, not-particularly intellectual West Coast Jazz while his East Coast counterparts where actually honest-to-god changing music forever.
Frankly, the word “innovative,” when applied to fiction, makes me flinch. It’s my wariness of writers who break the rules before they know how to follow them (or indeed what the rules are). Appearing experimental can be a short-cut to being taken seriously. It’s the emperor’s-new-clothes problem. True innovation make look like crazy crap when it first arrives on the scene, but so does crazy crap. It can be difficult to distinguish brilliance from b.s.
I often gravitate toward more formal pieces of writing– traditional story structures– when I look for new clients or pieces for Armchair/Shotgun (and let it be said there seems to be less room, market-wise, for experimental stuff in children’s literature, though this is changing, I think). It’s so very difficult to tell a compelling story that makes your reader *feel* something– to be able to do that and *also* change the medium? Forget about it.
But amazing, totally new, experimental and innovative stuff *is* out there, recognized or not, and for our medium to thrive and grow, we need it. When I first read Dolan Morgan‘s short piece Infestation (A/S No.1), I was turned off by its odd structure– but the fault was mine for being a poor reader. Morgan truly was innovating. Upon rereading, and deeper reading, I saw he’d found a new way to talk about loss, and the result was strange and beautiful.
So whaddya think, gang? How important is it to innovate, as an artist? Do you try to innovate with your own work, push the boundaries of the medium, or no? Must all artists be innovators, or at least try to be? And what is our responsibility as readers? How far do we allow an author to draw us into uncharted waters?
Guys. I am the *worst* at this blog thing.
Apologies for the long radio silence. It’s been a busy few months! Over at the Greenhouse, there have been deals, new clients, release dates, and all manner of agent-y ass-kickery. Here at my writer’s desk…well, more on that below.
My pal and occasional short-fiction publisher, the fabulous Kerri Majors, “tagged” me in her Writing Process blog post a few days ago. Kerri is the founder of and editor-in-chief at YARN (Young Adult Review Network) and the author of THIS IS NOT A WRITING MANUAL (Writer’s Digest Books, 2013), a guide for young writers. I’m delighted to answer the tour’s four burning questions (and then I get to tag two bloggers much better at blogging than I.)
A’ight let’s do this.
1. What are you working on?
Right now I’m wrapping up the final section of a new young adult novel. It’s a large, sprawling “faux-historical” (which means, I wanted to write a historical but didn’t want to do any research…kidding…sort of). It takes place in a re-imagined turn-of-the-century Manhattan. It’s the story of a girl who rises from an ethnic ghetto to the glamorous rooftops of Central Park while becoming entangled with organized crime and terrorism. Think a steampunky Boardwalk Empire.
I like to explore themes of personhood, gender, and class in my novels (I didn’t know that starting out, I just look back and it seems those ideas keep cropping up), but unlike GIRL PARTS and CHERRY MONEY BABY, this new project is a bit more sprawling in scope. I wanted to write something epic and sweeping, about family and history and culture, like Jeffrey Eugenides’s MIDDLESEX. It’s more ambitious than anything I’ve ever done and I’m very excited about it.
2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?
As far as the current WIP goes, it’s a “steampunk” novel, but not a swashbuckling adventure. This is a character-driven story, though it takes place in a newly-imagined world. There are life and death stakes, but no robots or coal-powered giant spiders.
Generally, I’m a devotee of unreliable narrators, and there are certainly a great host of those in young adult. I also like to write narrators who are unreliable to themselves, who have only so much self-awareness. My protagonists grapple with how society has defined them and how they’ve self-defined. In GIRL PARTS, Rose is built to love one boy, and must forge an identity of her own when he rejects her. In CHERRY, the title character has an image of herself as a small-town girl, and must question that self-image when faced with the opportunity to enter a more glamorous tier of society. The protagonist of this new project, whom we’ll call Vette (because that’s what she’s called), is an infamous historical persona in her world, like Annie Oakley or Patty Hearst. She has a public persona of cruelty and danger that’s separate from who she is, or feels she is.
So, I suppose that’s something unique about my work- the exploration of multiple identities within single characters, personas, self-image, and one’s “true self,” if such a thing exists.
Sorry. I haven’t had my coffee yet…
Okay! Let’s keep going!
3. Why do you write what you do?
I love young adult fiction. I love writing it. It’s honest, and unpretentious, and relies on great story and true characters. You can’t hide behind pretty prose or brilliant metaphors in y.a.; you’ve got to make the reader *feel* something. Though I read a lot across age groups, writing y.a., and exploring that particular formation of identity that happens between 13 and 18, is where my heart is.
I’ve made the switch with my current WIP from a contemporary realistic backdrop to something more fantastical. I’m a sci-fi fan at heart, and I wanted to exercise that part of my brain this go-round. It’s been beyond fun.
4. How does your writing process work?
I go by drafts. I start with an idea, usually a series of images, or a very vague plot arc, and after taking some rough notes, I start with Chapter One, Word One. From the there the story will usually develop away from my initial concept or outline. I sometimes jump around– I like to begin chapters in the middle and then fill in the edges– but I more or less write in chronological order. I’m pushing the protagonist forward, watching her strive for her goals, and at the same time figuring out what the book is *about* as I go. In a sense, I write plot first, theme second. It usually takes a draft or two before I can say, “Ah ha! So *this* is what I’m trying to say!” From there it’s a matter of shaping and developing.
If you enjoyed reading my pre-caffeinated ramblings, and would like more, even *better* ramblings, there shall be new posts on the tour every Monday.
Next week, head on over to Sharon Biggs Waller’s. Sharon is my client and the author of the amazing and critically acclaimed y.a. historical A MAD WICKED FOLLY (Viking, 2014). Sharon does great giveaways on her blog, plus occasionally posts pictures of her beautiful farm (my favorite). Summer Heacock, aka Fizzygrrl, is one of my favorite book-bloggers and posts some of the most insightful and touching stuff about this maddening thing we do. Check ‘em out!
I don’t typically share reviews, but seeing as this one praises my totally fabulous reader, Sarah Elmaleh, I figured I’d spread the love. An excerpt from The Reading Date:
“I listened to the audiobook, performed by Sarah Elmaleh, a new-to-me narrator, and in fact this seems to be her first audiobook. This audiobook just would not work if it weren’t matched with the right performer. There’s Cherry, with the larger than life personality, her family and friends in the trailer park, plus the English accented movie star Ardelia and her entourage. But Elmaleh gives an authentic voice to Cherry and infuses the supporting characters voices with personality. I had a copy of the book, but used a credit on the audiobook based on the audio sample, and I’m really glad I did. Elmaleh has a great throaty voice and nails Cherry’s deadpan humor, and eases seamlessly into Ardelia’s polished accent. This is an audiobook I’d listen to again if I needed a pick-me-up.”
If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing about a month late. This Saturday I’m throwing CHERRY a major to-do at one of my favorite Brooklyn bookstores.
The What: CHERRY MONEY BABY Knock-Down-Drag-Out Baller Book Launch
The When: Saturday, October 12th, at 4pm.
Listen, you’re all invited, so mark your calendars! Come, bring pals, enjoy libations, and watch me get probably way overdressed and maybe read a selection or two.
There will be signings, too. And push-up contests. Maybe. Winner gets a free burrito. Runner-up, an Alpha Romeo.
Hope to see you there!
Basically, this is me today:
It was almost three years ago I had the idea for CHERRY MONEY BABY– while washing dishes, as it happens. After countless drafts (on laptops, notebooks, and index cards) and months of revision, I’m so thrilled Cherry and company have arrived. And I feel such intense gratitude to the many, many people who helped bring this book into being, including Scott Treimel, Deb Wayshak, Lucy Earley, and all the phenomenal folks at Candlewick Press, my friends Evan Simko-Bednarski, Helena Fitzgerald, and Vicki Lame (who kept me sane through most of 2011), my parents Kate and John, and of course my GFF and first reader, Sarah Elmaleh (who voiced the audiobook, people!).
So if’n you like a story about hopes and dreams, glitz and fame, fast-cars, burritos, trailer parks, high heels, Converse All-Stars, Daisy Dukes, Louis Vuitton, British architecture, rented wombs, caviar, orange marshmallow circus peanuts, Italian cinema, Edward Hopper, She Hulk, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Auto-Tune the News, push-up contests, pregnancy tests, Alice in Wonderland, envy, champagne, and Pop Rocks…
…this is the book for you.
Buy It / Read It / Review It:
What folks are saying:
STARRED REVIEW, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY:
Author/literary agent Cusick (Girl Parts) gives Cherry a sarcastic and often profane voice. The supporting cast—Cherry’s blue-collar father, her chill boyfriend, and Ardelia’s caustic manager—round out a plot that continually surprises. Cherry is a highly memorable character, prone to violent outbursts but possessing a strong moral compass, a rare smalltown girl who isn’t consumed by anxiety over getting into college or out of town—even when she has the chance to dip her toe into the pool with some big-time celebrities. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)
“Cherry Money Baby is fabulous in every sense of the word! It’s earthy and smart and moving, laugh-out-loud funny, surprising, inventive, suspenseful, and — Oh, Hell — just gorgeously written!” — Tim Wynne Jones, author of Blink and Caution and The Uninvited
“Smart. Funny. A terrific read. I love that Cherry loves her family and loves that things aren’t perfect. I want to be her friend (though she might beat me up).”— Carol Lynch Williams, author of Waiting and Glimpse
“A witty and wise exploration of living big, living small, and figuring out which size will make you happiest. Unpredictable, smart, and deliciously satisfying.” — Lindsey Ribar, author of The Art of Wishing
“Beautiful, insightful, and unpredictable — just like Cherry herself.” — Leila Sales, author of Past Perfect and Mostly Good Girls
“Cherry Kerrigan–rhymes with “heroine”–will kick you in the teeth with her vim, wit, and homespun charm. John M. Cusick’s sophomore, but never sophomoric, novel captures the thrill of a teen’s unexpected adventure with an adult’s wry eye toward the inevitability of the unexpected. Cusick’s nuanced premise that home is who you are weaves the entangled threads of class, change, and circumstance into a tightly plotted, full-hearted bildungsroman. CHERRY MONEY BABY is better than cherry cola.” — Laura Goode, author of Sister Mischief
So I knew there was going to be a CMB audio book for a few months now, and wondered about the poor sap who’d have to perform the book’s two dozen odd characters and ten-or-so distinct regional accents. Lucky lucky me because the very talented lady (who absolutely nailed every syllable), is none other than Ms. Sarah Elmaleh.*
In addition to being my GFF, Sarah is a phenomenal voice actress of video games, commercials and radio dramas. I couldn’t have asked for a better voice to read for Cherry and company, especially as S has suffered through several years of crummy drafts before getting to read the final aloud. Stay tuned for more news, and maybe a few sample clips.
You guys. You GUYS. I’m so excited.
* And guess what, it’s actually her BIRTHDAY today. You should go wish her happy birthday on Twitter: @selmaleh