You've probably already heard me talk about how amazing Holly Cupala and her new book, DON'T BREATHE A WORD are. If you haven't, check out this blog entry, which pretty much sums it up.
Or you can simply watch Holly's new trailer to learn more about the book:
Because DON'T BREATHE A WORD had such a big impact on me and I think my readers would love it, I decided to invite Holly to talk a bit about it and I bought an extra copy of the book to give away to one lucky reader. Let's meet Holly, shall we?
Q: DBAW is an incredibly book, which I have been saying good things about in as many places as I can because I think it is so important for teens to read. I would have loved to read this book when I was in high school and in fact it probably would have helped me A LOT. What inspired you to write it?
HOLLY: Thank you, Stephanie! (I hope you don’t mind I’ve been quoting you all over the place!)
Years ago, I had an idea for a girl who fakes being homeless (maybe a cheerleader by day and spends time on the streets after school). Silly idea, I know. I'd sort of forgotten about that when
a couple of years ago my friend who was a youth pastor was looking for donations—socks, toiletries, etc., to take to the homeless teens in Seattle.
Quite suddenly, I had this picture of a girl who runs away for real. She meets up with a group of homeless kids and has to make a terrible decision. When I actually started writing, her boyfriend, Asher, came out of nowhere. He was dark and sexy and menacing, and it turns out he's intimately tied to her reasons for running away.
Q: Though the emotional abuse that Joy is dealing with was a really personal part of the story for me, I was also really taken by the tales of these kids on the Seattle streets. I have a friend who worked for a Seattle homeless organization for years (Real Change) and I've of course seen the number of homeless you have there (and that most big cities, Chicago included, have). It's something that we are almost immune to. We become used to seeing homeless people and too often don't pause and think about their situations. You obviously did. Can you tell me what kind of research you did to write as realistically as you have about homeless teenagers?
HOLLY: Yes, there is a huge homeless teen population here in Seattle. When I first started writing, I wasn’t sure if my ideas would fit with the reality, so I did a lot of independent research, talked to people who worked with homeless teens, did some street-level recon, and took a class at New Horizons (the homeless teen org in the book). I asked Pam Longston, board president at NHMin.org, to read an earlier draft for street verisimilitude, and she provided a critical piece to Joy’s story: she told me at some point, homeless teens decide it’s safer to live on the streets than
to live at home. That helped me get to the emotional core of Joy’s story, her breaking point.
Q: What impact do you hope DBAW will have on readers?
HOLLY: Power is a big theme in DBAW—Asher has power over Joy, and she thinks to survive on the streets she must develop a power of her own. She sees that kind of authority (she calls it “street powers”) in the homeless friends she finds—Creed’s power is through his music. Santos can talk his way out of anything. May has the power of disguise. But at some point all of those powers fail, and what is left is survival skills. One thing I learned through my research was that there are three typical outcomes for homeless kids: they go home, they get off the streets, or they die. One better choice can make the difference between a hopeful outcome and a grim one. Joy’s choice is internal—she discovers her words have power. She finds the courage to speak, and that makes all the difference for the survival of her friends. I hope readers will realize they have that kind of internal resource as well.
Q: Getting to a lighter question, there is a lot of music in DBAW. Creed is a musician and that is what draws Joy to him in a way. I'm sure music influenced writing the book in some way, so what are five songs that you would put on the soundtrack to DBAW and please explain how they relate to the characters, theme or story?
HOLLY: I actually created a playlist for DBAW from songs that struck me before and during writing:
(A couple of songs not on that list: “Frontload,” by Freezepop; and “Deserter,” by Splashdown.)
Frontload, Freezepop – On the night Asher shows his true colors, Joy and her friends go to Chop Suey to see Freezepop perform, and they sing this song. It’s a bit of an inside joke, because the Freezepop band members are our friends. They make a cameo appearance in the book. :)
Deserter, Splashdown - I’ve loved Deserter for a long time, and it captures the essence of Joy’s story. I wanted to use it for the trailer soundtrack but it was a bit too melodic so we used Splashdown’s “Need Vs. Want” instead (Splashdown members are also friends, and they generously gave us permission!)
Street Spirit (Fade Out), Radiohead – This is such a deeply painful and hopeless song, reminding me of the plight of many on the street. Joy begins to feel this kind of hopelessness before she meets May, Santos, and Creed.
You’re Not Alone, Saosin – Things change for Joy when she meets Creed, May, and Santos. But there are challenges even in finding a new family, especially when they have secrets of their own.
I Will Follow You into the Dark, Death Cab for Cutie – A song about life, death, loyalty, and love. Joy will find all of them, but in this moment, she finds only happiness.
Q: I've been really analyzing how I work as a writer. In addition to writing you are a mom and are about to have another baby (congrats!). So you have and will have quite the juggling act. Can you talk a bit about your writing routine, how you balance things and maybe what you've learned about what works and doesn't work for you now that you have two published books under your belt?
HOLLY: Thank you! Yes, it’s definitely a juggling act these days. I hired a babysitter one day a week so that I could write Tell Me a Secret. It felt so stressful at the time, but now I realize how easy I had it, with no deadlines or expectations, no agents and editors waiting for the next book…! I find I have to separate and create writing time or else it falls to the wayside. I try to keep family time as sacred as possible. Right now I’m working on a third novel, hoping to finish before the big day.
Q: I know you are still in the thick of promoting DBAW and baby excitement, but can you tell us a little bit about what is next for you as a writer?
HOLLY: There’s this idea that won’t let me go—four voices, four terrible secrets, one explosive murder that will connect them all… It’s a contemporary YA, sort of like TMAS and DBAW on steroids. Very emotionally charged and suspenseful and hopeful. I’ve written about two-thirds of the first draft and have gotten to the place where I’m flying a little bit blind, wondering how it will come together. I know how I want to feel at the end, though, which is a tiny lantern in the darkness.
After hearing more about it, I'm guessing you want DON'T BREATHE A WORD and you are in luck! I've got an extra copy to send out to one lucky person and this contest is open to international entries!
To enter all you have to do is leave a comment. However you can gain additional entries:
+1 for tweeting or posting on facebook about this interview
+1 for tweeting or posting about DON'T BREATHE A WORD
+1 for every place you share the DON'T BREATHE A WORD trailer
+5 for blogging about DON'T BREATHE A WORD
Note your additional entries in your comment as well as giving me an email address or some way to contact you if you win. I will email the winner a week from today.