Monday, September 23, 2013

GCC Presents: Debbie Rigaud

Debbie Rigaud, one of my amazing writer buds from the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit has a new story, "Viola," in an incredible anthology called OPEN MIC. Here's the lowdown!


Listen in as ten YA authors use their own brand of humor to share their stories about growing up between cultures. Edited by acclaimed author and speaker Mitali Perkins, this collection of fiction and nonfiction embraces a mix of styles as diverse as their authors, from laugh-out-loud funny to wry, ironic, or poignant, in prose, poetry and comic form.

About “Voila” by Debbie Rigaud:

Thanks to overprotective parenting, Simone’s elderly great aunt Ma Tante has more of a social life than she does. But one afternoon, Ma Tante’s social scene awkwardly intersects with Simone’s in the unlikeliest of places.

About Debbie Rigaud:

Debbie Rigaud began her writing career covering news and entertainment for popular magazines. Her YA fiction debut, HALLWAY DIARIES/Kimani Tru was followed by the fish-out-of-water romantic comedy PERFECT SHOT/Simon Pulse. Since then, Debbie’s non-fiction essays have been published in anthologies IT’S ALL LOVE/Broadway Books and DEAR BULLY/HarperTeen. Her short story “Voila!” is featured in OPEN MIC/Candlewick Press, and TURFQUAKE, her first YA e-book will be released late 2013.

The Interview:

Q: What inspired you to write this book?
DEBBIE: OPEN MIC editor Mitali Dave is known for her passion for multicultural stories. When I found out about her plans for a humor-driven anthology about growing up between cultures, I was all over it. For me, life as a first-generation American teen included countless culture clashes with my parents and even some friends—perfect material for a humorous short story! How could I not be inspired?
Q: Is your main character someone you wish you could be, someone a lot like you, or your total opposite?DEBBIE: My main character Simone and I share cultural backgrounds (Haitian-American), but she is a lot less trusting and much snarkier than I was at that age. Her healthy skepticism keeps her a step ahead of awkward situations, which she handles a whole lot better than I would.
Q: If there was a soundtrack or your book, what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate to the story?DEBBIE: Because I picture the doctor’s office setting in the story to take place in an urban Latino/Caribbean community, I’d say you’d hear something by Pit Bull like “International Love” and Wyclef Jean’s “Party By the Sea” featuring Buju Banton. And although the lyrics are a bit—ahem, raunchy, I’d go with J. Cole’s “Can’t Get Enough” for the dope West African music sample he uses. Because the story is about so many clashes (cultural, social personal), we need to include The Clash’s music. A perfect selection would be “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” Finally, something the seniors in the story probably listened to when they were young, like Al Green’s “For the Good Times.”
Q: In your opinion, what is “Literally The Best Thing Ever”?
DEBBIE: This may sound greedy, but turkey bacon is the best thing ever. I’m not a pork or red meat eater, but I will throw down on some turkey bacon. My husband thinks I’m deluding myself with this pretentious turkey version of tasty bacon strips, but I swear it’s different, yet close enough to the real thing. Waiters at diners and breakfast spots have been good about not rolling their eyes when I ask if they have turkey bacon (the answer is often, NO). But some eateries have caught on that people like me demand the option of gobble-gobbling up (pun intended) this just-as yummy bacon substitute.
Q: What are you working on for us next?DEBBIE: I’m preparing to release my first YA e-book. It’s titled TURFQUAKE and it follows one city girl’s reluctant (and awkward) switch to an urban school at the same time her cousin from earthquake-ravaged Haiti moves in and faces greater challenges adjusting to life in the US.

Monday, September 9, 2013

On Important Anniversaries and *the* Importance of Making Yourself Happy

Last Thursday, September 5 marked two important anniversaries: it was the two-year anniversary of Rookie Magazine, which I've had the honor of writing for since the beginning (in case you want to revisit it, here's my excited post about Rookie's launch) and the two-month anniversary of my arrival in Seattle.

Actually scratch that. It marked three important anniversaries. It was also the two-day anniversary of me feeling that happiest I've been since 2009.

I haven't been wholly and completely miserable since 2009. Some really wonderful things have happened. Like this:

 And this:

And even this:

But that last thing was kind of where the trouble began. About three weeks before Ballads was to be released, during a horrible week when I'm guessing but can't be bothered to check that Mercury was in retrograde because we were having the kind of killer heat wave that made me hate Chicago, my air conditioner was broken, and I was having so many problems with my home internet that I'm surprised I didn't bomb Comcast, my then-agent called to tell me to STOP EVERYTHING and promote Ballads because the publisher wasn't really doing anything for it and the print run and sell-through numbers were half of what they'd been for I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.

Since they are sorta like children, I don't think you are supposed to love one book more than another, but I did love Ballads more. It was the book I felt like I was born to write--or that I'd survived my teenage years to write. I'd poured so much of myself into it that the ulcer problems that I'd had at sixteen resurfaced and were worse than they'd ever been.

And with the way my agent was talking it sounded like that book had failed before it even hit stores because my publisher had already written it off. I don't know how much of that is true and how much of that was my emotional response. What I do know is that I did everything I could. I was actually already doing everything I could. I mean, if high school had majors, mine would have been "Punk Rock D.I.Y." I'd taken everything I knew to support both of my books. With Ballads, I'd even hired a publicist.

But, to this day, it's sold only a third of what I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone sold. I don't know why. It's the better book. Up until I finished The Grief Book in May, I was pretty sure it was always going to be the best thing I'd ever written. I think that it is always harder for second books, even when the publisher is giving them a big a push, and when the publisher isn't, well... But I don't want to play any sort of blame game. I still have nothing but love for my editor and the people I worked with at MTV Books. I honestly don't really know what happened. All I do know is this:

It was out of my control.

But it has taken me four long years to come to grips with that.

I'm a perfectionist. An overachiever. Even when I was a stoner fuck-up, I was a straight-A student (aside from gym which doesn't count toward your G.P.A., so um, it doesn't count). I couldn't shake the idea that I had failed somehow. I had this big dream of "making it" as a writer, but instead I was (barely) supporting myself on bartending income, which was not at all where I envisioned myself with my fancy MFA degree at the age of 30. I beat myself up for months, for years thinking I wasn't good enough, my writing wasn't good enough.

My writing suffered as a result. There was the whole saga of The Bartender Book. I spent two years on that book, going through paralyzing periods of writer's block, ignoring so many people's gentle advice to just let it go--advice that maybe I should have taken because it hasn't sold--because I felt like I needed to prove that I could finish a book. I thought things would get easier after that, but then there was The Modern Myth YA that I couldn't finished and my biggest crisis of faith about my writing, which came in the middle of writing The Grief Book.

Other Hard Things were happening too. I had friends who were going through Terrible Awful Things. I was still reeling from the death of my friend Marcel in 2008. My house kept flooding because the weather in Chicago was pretty much constantly wretched. My beloved cat, Sid, who'd been my best friend and companion since my awful junior year of high school got really sick and then last November, he passed away.

Out of his death came the decision to move, though. I felt like he was setting me free. Like he knew I wouldn't go anywhere with him sick  because it was too risky to be away from our trusted caregivers. But when we were saying goodbye, I felt like he was telling me to make myself happy.

My therapist definitely was. I went back to therapy in July of last year because I knew my depression was the worst it had been in fifteen years. I was thinking about cutting. I was even sometimes thinking about suicide. I felt very much like I had at sixteen, but I knew more. I knew I didn't want to hurt the people I loved and that I didn't want to keep hurting. I knew that I could help myself. So I did.

In therapy I quickly had a bunch of revelations, especially about control--what I could control, what I couldn't and why I was so obsessed with it (the still-lingering effects of the controlling/abusive relationship I was in as a teenager).

There are many things about my writing career that I can't control, namely who buys my books, meaning both publishers and then how many people buy them after they come out. I can only write the very best book I can, promote it in the ways I know how, and hope for the best. I can't base my happiness on this. So I needed to be proactive and do the things I knew would make me happy. That thing was moving to Seattle and starting fresh in a city that I love.

It was absolutely petrifying because it meant relinquishing a lot of control, which I wrote about in part two of my series on making the move for Ms. Fit Magazine here. I came out here without a job aside from the work I do for Rookie and Ms. Fit and an online teaching gig, which all together would pay maybe a month's worth of bills. I had savings and a credit card with a high limit. I have a very supportive mother. I had to trust that this would be enough and that finding my own happiness would be worth the gamble.

My friend Marcel wrote his Instructions for Life on a paper towel and after his death, another friend had them printed on paper towels for a bunch of us. I keep mine in a shadow box above my desk. This is his first instruction:

"Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk." My friend, the one who had the paper towels printed for us, reminded me of this before I set off. I insisted that the shadow box with the paper towel accompany us in the car, that it be the first thing in my new home because I believed that knowing me as well as he did, Marcel would know that for me, a person who has struggled with depression for most of her life, a greater achievement than publishing a book would be learning how to make myself happy. In fact, I'm sure if I'd been able to call or write him during my struggles in the past four years, he would have said something like that. I know that he would have been proud that I finally figured it out on my own.

 My third piece for Ms. Fit, which I hope will be published soon, was written a month after we arrived in Seattle. When I was mostly happy because,um, well, I live in a place where I regularly see views like these:


But I was also freaked because I still hadn't found a job and/or sold a book, which I thought would click right into place if this whole moving thing was meant to be.

Deep breaths.
Great Risk.
It'll be worth it.
You can do it.

Job hunting is a slow process, especially in this economy. But much like when my husband and I found the right apartment, when I found the right job, everything sped up and it happened fast. I started last Tuesday as the administrative assistant in the English Department of a local university, one that is only a 15 minute bus ride or a a half an hour walk from my house. It's a gorgeous campus in one of my favorite parts of the city. Yes, it's office work. Yes it's full-time. Yes, this is a huge change from the past four years or so of my life. But it is an English Department and the people I've met so far are inspiring and amazing. For the first time in a long time, I feel stable, secure, hopeful, happy. 

I know there will still be challenges, the biggest being how to fit writing into my life. I know for sure that I will keep writing for Rookie because that is writing that has brought me nothing but joy for the past two years. I've always written fiction, but I've been writing essays and rants and zines since high school and I take just as much pleasure from that. Also, the Rookie staff has become my best support network. Even though it is an online publication and we work from all over the world, we take good care of each other. It really is one of the best parts of my life.

Of the two projects I mentioned in my last blog, I'll probably focus on the essay collection/zine thing because Rookie has given me the most joy as of late and because it will be the easiest to piece together while I'm learning to juggle writing and a full-time job. However, The Grief Book is the best thing I've written. It's better than Ballads. It's what I survived my teens and twenties and early thirties to write. I believe in it with all of my heart and soul. I'm finally ready to set free all of the old guilt and pain and stress I've felt about my writing career for the past four years and I hope that will unlock the universe somehow and the right editor will read it and want it and you all will get to read it soon. That would definitely take my happiness to the next level, but right now I'm just happy being here, in my heart city with the love of my life, the support of incredible friends all over the place, and knowing that I've done some damn fine work for the coolest magazine on the planet and I've written books both published and unpublished that I'm very proud of.

Friday, September 6, 2013

GCC Presents: Diana Wallach

So Diana Wallach has a SUPER cool new project--a trilogy of short stories called Mirror, Mirror. The first one, "Reflecting Emmy" is out now. Here are the details:

Background About REFLECTING EMMY and the MIRROR, MIRROR Trilogy

Diana Rodriguez Wallach, author of the award-winning YA series Amor and Summer Secrets, has created a modern take on the myths of Narcissus and Nemesis in a contemporary teen setting.
Her Mirror, Mirror trilogy debuts September 3rd with “Reflecting Emmy,” followed by “Nara Gazing” in October, and “Shattering GiGi” in November. Each title will be a $0.99 short story sold in digital ebook format for Kindle, nook, and kobo. The titles will be combined to create the complete Mirror, Mirror trilogy, along with bonus materials and a prequel short story, in December 2013.
In early 2014, Diana’s Mirror, Mirror trilogy will be combined with the works of YA authors Jammie Kern and Magda Knight to create the Mythology High anthology, available in ebook and paperback through Buzz Books.

Eighteen-year-old Emmy is in the family business-trapping vapid narcissistic souls into her silver compact mirror for all eternity. It’s what the Rhamnusia family has been doing for thousands of years, all under the direction of Great Grandmother. Only Emmy’s latest assignment, Nara, is about to prove more challenging than she ever expected.Gorgeous and self-absorbed, Nara is unflinchingly cruel to her classmates. Even her boyfriend, Luke, can no longer tolerate her actions–much to Emmy’s relief since she finds Luke a little more than intriguing. But when Emmy tricks Nara into gazing into her mystical mirror, what she finds there is not what she’s expecting.

About the Author
Diana Rodriguez Wallach is the author of Mirror, Mirror, a short-story collection based on the Narcissus myth, that includes Reflecting Emmy, Nara Gazing, and Shattering GiGi (Buzz Books 2013). She is also the author of three award-winning YA novels: Amor and Summer Secrets, Amigas and School Scandals, and Adios to All The Drama (Kensington Books).

In 2011, she published a highly regarded essay in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories (HarperCollins), and in 2013, she will be featured in the anthology Latina Authors and Their Muses (Twilight Times Books). In 2010 Diana was named one of the Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch by, and she placed second in the International Latino Book Awards. She hold a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University, and currently lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter.

The Interview:

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

DIANA: Reflecting Emmy is the first short story in my Mirror, Mirror trilogy, which is based on the myth of Narcissus. I wanted to reimagine a myth that most people, and teens, would know very well. And honestly, within seconds of my brain contemplating Narcissus, I came up with the idea of a paranormal organization that traps Narcissistic souls by judging their reflections in mirrors. I wish I could pinpoint what part of my brain came up with this idea and how it happened so quickly, because there are times when I’m slugging through a revision and would love to manually click that switch.

Q: The main character of my first book, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, is the kind of girl I wanted to be (a rock star!), the MC of my second book has a lot more in common with teenage me. Is your main character someone you wish you could be, someone a lot like you, or your total opposite? How so?

DIANA: Emmy is the total opposite of me. For starters, she’s the decent of a Greek Goddess who’s tasked with trapping Narcissistic teen souls in her silver compact mirror. So it’s hard for teen me to relate to her job. Also, she’s immortal and she’s never been given the chance to be a “normal” girl. She had to become an agent, she had to follow in her family’s footsteps, and she moves around constantly never getting the chance to make friends or fall in love. Reflecting Emmy, the first short story in my Mirror, Mirror trilogy, shows how much Emmy struggles with her identity. And by the final short story in the collection, Shattering GiGi, Emmy gets to really think about who she wants to be.

Q: If there was a soundtrack for your book what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate the story?

DIANA: You’re So Vain, Cary Simon—Reflecting Emmy, and all three of the Mirror, Mirror stories, are based on the myth of Narcissus. And falling so in love with your own image that you die staring at your beautiful face qualifies as vain. Nara, the reimagining of Narcissus, would definitely think this song was about her.
Mirrors, Justin Timberlake—Emmy’s job is wiping narcissistic teenage souls from the planet by using her shiny silver compact mirror. I’d say JT nails some of that imagery in this song.
Stupid Girls, Pink—This song is about girls becoming obsessed with the paparazzi culture and losing site of things that really matter, essentially choosing to focus on outer beauty rather than inner. It really fits my theme.
“Mirror Mirror” by Lord KraVen—I just discovered this song on an episode of So You Think You Can Dance (yes, I watch this show religiously). It fits perfectly. It’s a little Euro Techno sounding for my taste, but the beat and “mirror, mirror on the wall” refrain, would really fit well with the conclusion. I could almost imagine it playing as the credits roll in the movie adaptation. Dream big, right?

Q: In addition to writing books, I also write for a website for teens called Rookie, which has a regular feature called "Literally The Best Thing Ever," wherein we write about a thing that we think is super mega awesome (even if it is the type of thing that others might call a guilty pleasure, we believe there is nothing guilty about pleasure!) and explain why we think it is literally the best thing ever. It's generally a kind of unexpected thing, for example I wrote one about the soap opera, One Life To Live. I don't expect you to write a whole essay obviously, but can you briefly tell us what either you or your character (or both!) would say is "Literally The Best Thing Ever" and why?

DIANA: I don’t know if I can call this a “guilty” pleasure anymore because I’ve come out publicly and admitted that Literally The Best Thing Ever is General Hospital. I was raised on soap operas. Growing up, my Puerto Rican grandmother babysat me daily, and she learned to speak English from watching soap operas. So while other kids were watching Mr. Rogers, I was watching the Young and the Restless and Guiding Light. Indoctrination like that sticks. And when I went off to college, my roommates introduced me to General Hospital—this was the late ‘90s, the height of the Sonny & Brenda and Robin & Stone drama. To cheer my roommate up, I used to tell she looked like Brenda (Vanessa Marcil). I still watch the show daily. I even voted once for Kelly Monaco when she was on DWTS—that’s how much I love soaps, they actually got me to vote for a reality TV competition. But more than anything they remind me of my grandma, which is why they are literally the best thing ever.

Q: What are you working on for us next?

DIANA: I am revising, revising, revising a manuscript I started writing five years ago. It’s my first crack at a YA mystery, and I’m still learning how to properly craft a good mystery/thriller. Thankfully, right now, I have a generous editor/beta reader who is offering support as I muddle through this learning process. Hopefully, one day I will finish this book and see it in print.