E.E. Charlton-Trujillo won the prestigious Delacorte Dell Yearling Award and Parents’ Choice Silver Honor for Prizefighter en Mi Casa. Feels Like Home received critical praise, but it was Fat Angie that generated early buzz from Wicked author Gregory Maguire who compared it to Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone. The book tour inspired Charlton-Trujillo to launch the organization Never Counted Out, which bridges the gap between artists and at-risk youth in their community. The feature documentary about the tour titled At-Risk Summer is slated for a May 2014 release. For more info, visit her website.
Would you rather endure a zombie apocalypse or World War III?
The zombie apocalypse if I can co-write the ending with Joss Whedon. A mix of the Walking Dead comic book meets the witty banter and character development of Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV series. Yup. That would be ripe!
Would you rather be deaf in one ear or only be able to use the Internet one hour per week?
Use the Internet one hour per week. Writing for me is about all the senses. It’s about really listening. So I’ll keep the ears.
Would you rather have a free Starbucks for a year or free iTunes forever?
I’m one of the few artists I know who doesn’t have a caffeine drip thrust into their main vein. As a music fiend, free iTunes forever would the ultimate.
Would you rather be considered a total oddball to everyone you meet or be considered completely average with nothing particularly interesting about you?
Oddball hands down. I’ve never been average. While it hasn’t always been easy to be oddball, I would find average well, average.
Would you rather be a one hit wonder or be an average singer for as long as you want?
Depends on the hit.
Would you rather be the richest person alive or immortal?
Here’s the thing. It’s all in how you define rich. For me, being the richest person alive has been my life the last year. I traveled America (see MTV article) because of the generosity of strangers and friends and empowered at-risk youth through writing and discussion at no cost to their programs. I got to show up for these kids and show them they matter. I got young people to think before reacting and doing something that puts them in the way of their potential. I made new friends in the artistic community and beyond. Honestly, I do feel like the richest person alive. By giving inspiration, I’ve been inspired. And that’s not too shabby!
Harry Potter or Twilight? Or neither?
Neither. I’m The Outsiders, The House on Mango Street, Breakfast of Champions and The Perks of Being A Wallflower gal.
Mac or PC?
No question. Mac!
If you could choose to write your next book on a typewriter or with a quill pen, which would you choose?
Gonna go typewriter. It has a retro/newsroom feel of the seventies without the extreme write-by-candle light edge.
Would you rather live in a retirement home or a mental institution?
Mental institution. The conversation would always be imaginative.
In your opinion, is it worse to be ignorant or a know-it-all?
Guess both equally suck. Most know-it-all’s are ignorant to how little they know anyway.
Would you rather always be underdressed or overdressed?
Kids think of me as a hero in a hoodie, so enough said.
What would you do if you found out that your whole life is actually just one long dream?
Wake up and live!
Would you rather have your mind serve as an iPod so you can listen to music any time or be able to watch your dreams on TV?
I can’t unplug my filmmaker mind. When I write novels, I move in 3D space in my mind. But when I sleep, my mind reves into overdrive. Stedicam moves, sweeping jibs and lush color schemes. The narratives groove on soundtracks complete with mariachis, impulsive street performers and cinematic orchestration. I keep a pen and paper wherever I’m sleeping hoping to sketch traces of the vast sleep landscape. So dream TV would be so fantastic1
Would you rather be a miserable genius or a happy moron?
Miserable genius because I’d eventually work my way to a place of happiness. I am a genius in this scenario after all.
If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?
How young people see themselves. Many of them see themselves through such a distorted lens. Which can really suck and ignite difficult and dangerous self-image issues. If my writing can hold up a mirror in someway for kids to see an accurate image of who they are and that it’s okay to be that, then I’ve made a difference. I want young people to know they are not alone.
What made you decide to follow a creative career choice (though possibly risky) rather than something more stable?
I started scribbling on loose leaf paper or the back of receipts at three-years-old. My imagination was vivid and my storytelling elaborate. But … my father was a hard man behind closed doors. He’d mock my writing and thirst for the arts. For a long time, his view kept me submerged in his ideas of who and what I should be. Ultimately I had to decide. Am I gonna live the life my father didn’t or the one I’ve always been meant to? Three books in, over thirty short films, music videos and a feature film, I am who I need to be. Because sometimes you have to take a risk to make a difference. I am that risk in forward motion.
In terms of your writing, how would you like to be remembered?
As the tattooed rockstar Wexcian (whitest Mexican American) YA author/filmmaker who wrote with authenticity and tenacity while inspiring others to show up for those who can’t show up for themselves yet.
How has personal experience influenced your writing?
My books are not my life. I’ve never met a one-eyed prizefighter from Mexico. I was never bullied for being “weird” and/or “fat.” But I know what it feels like to have epilepsy, to experience a great loss and to contemplate suicide. The knowing adds a layer but the narrative is still that … fiction. I think authors who write authentic, realistic novels know how to channel insights into darkness and joy and create tangible narratives.
What do you do to get into your writing zone?
Music. I’ve always built a sound track to my writing. It gets me in the head space of the character or the situation and then becomes white noise.
What is your favorite accomplishment?
Not giving up. Quitting is a really easy thing. Showing up … that’s the hard part.
Do you ever create hidden meanings or messages in your work?
Sometimes. Take Fat Angie. There is Jake and his dog Ryan. That was a send up to eighties classic Sixteen Candles. One of the lead characters is named Jake Ryan.
Do you pay attention to others’ strong reactions to your work? Does that affect what you create?
Not really. I don’t write to please or market a story. What’s popular now could be irrelevant two years from now. As for reactions of others, I’ve developed a fairly tough skin. I go the distance with my characters. I knew there would be haters for Fat Angie. Some people see it as simply a lesbian book. End of story. But that’s not the through line of Fat Angie. There’s so much more than that, but “gay girl gay’ is all some people see and they shut down, shut off and rip on the narrative. The young people who need to read Fat Angie or my other books will. That’s what I have to keep close.
If your writing were edible, what would it taste like?
Potato and egg breakfast taquitos, sweet iced tea, apple gorgonzola salad, Black Jack gum, Pepsi in a can, watermelon slices and fried okra.
Have you ever felt enlightened by an event in the past that has given you a new perspective on life?
My childhood dream was to be the drummer for the band rock band Kiss and win an Oscar. My final semester of film school, I was offered a dream job in Los Angeles … i.e., getting me closer to that Oscar dream. Weeks before my graduation, my best friend Amanda Cunningham was killed in a car accident. Her death shifted my focus of being the best at any cost. I gave up said cool Hollywood job, struggled to figure on the ‘what next’ and even became homeless. My brother and his wife gave me a place to live across the ocean in Belgium. On a dare from author Pat Schmatz (Bluefish, Mousetraps) I finished my first novel, Prizefighter en Mi Casa, in two months. Less than a year later, Prizefighter en Mi Casa won the Delacorte Del Yearling Award through Random House. I’d never attempted to write a novel before, and I still thank Pat for that push because writing that book saved my life!
Has rejection ever affected your desire to continue writing?
Nope. I don’t write to get published. I write because I have to write. Because I can’t rest until that story is on the page.
What was the biggest opposing force that you encountered on your writing journey?
Me. Once I got out of my own way, I was able to accomplish anything.
Meg Rosoff was born in Boston, educated at Harvard and St. Martin’s College of Art in London, and worked in New York City for ten years before moving to England permanently in 1989. She worked in publishing, journalism, politics and advertising before writing How I Live Now (released in 2013 as a feature film directed by Kevin MacDonald and starring Saoirse Ronan). Her books have won or been shortlisted for 19 international book prizes, including the Carnegie medal, the Michael J Printz award, the Orange prize and the National Book Award. Picture Me Gone is her latest novel. She lives in London with her husband and daughter. For more info, visit her website.
What is the most vivid or realistic dream you’ve ever had?
When I was about 2, I dreamt that a gorilla took my sister away. It was terrifying.
If you could make something in life go away, what would it be?
All the writer-y things I do out of obligation not desire.
If you had to be trapped in a TV show for a month, which show would you choose?
The only thing I’ve watched on TV lately was Breaking Bad and I sure wouldn’t want to be trapped in that.
What’s your favorite zoo animal?
I don’t like zoos.
What dead person would you least want to be haunted by?
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen?
I once saw a ghost dog.
What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever been to?
The Home Plate in San Francisco. I have breakfast there every day when I’m visiting.
What is the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen someone do?
I watched my friend leave a bar with a man she’d just met to drive to Coney Island in a convertible in the middle of the night. It turned out fine.
What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done?
I ride slightly crazy horses. That’s pretty dumb.
If you were a cartoon, who would you be?
I’d be Calvin out of Calvin and Hobbes. For obvious reasons.
What’s your motto in life?
I stole it from Napoleon: “If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.”
What’s the funniest prank ever played on you?
I hate practical jokes. I’d kill someone who played a prank on me.
Do you believe in UFOs?
Yes and no.
Define the worst day ever.
The day after being struck by lightning.
What song best describes your work ethic?
Reasons To Be Cheerful by Ian Dury.
If you were a road sign, what would you be?
Diversion. Because I always seem to be on one.
If you were to attend a costume party, who would you be?
I always go as something creative like a cardboard box while all the other women go as Cat Woman.
What food item would you remove from the market altogether?
All meat and fish.
What’s the worst thing you did as a kid?
I didn’t quite dare be friends with the mixed race boy in my class who I liked — it was social suicide to be friends with him.
Have you been told you look like someone famous?
I used to look like Glenn Close, apparently. A long time ago. And I never much liked the way she looked.
If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be?
Cooking. I’d much rather have someone deliver delicious meals to me on a tray.
If you were to get a tattoo, what would it be?
I think I’d have GO AWAY tattooed on my forehead.
How do you deal with creativity blocks?
Can you visualize a finished product before you begin a book?
Absolutely not. And if I do, it’s always wrong.
Do you feel that you chose your passion, or did it choose you?
Most of my passions chose me. Writing and horses, particularly.
Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?
On the coast of East Anglia in England. In my little house on the beach. In a thunder storm.
Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
Panic. My family would starve if I didn’t write for money.
If you were no longer able to write, how else would you express your creativity?
I’d do sudoku and complain all the time.
What has been your greatest sacrifice that has enabled you to become the author you are today?
I worked in advertising for 15 years. It was hell. But I learned a lot about writing.
What words of inspiration were given to you that you would like to pass along to others?
My agent told me to write fiercely.
If you knew that you had only one last opportunity to express yourself creatively, what message would you want to convey to others?
Run away!! Run away!!
When did you realize that you had a gift?
I’ve always known I was a writer. I didn’t know I could write a novel until I wrote one, age 46.
How do you balance your personal life and your creative endeavors?
I neglect my family, friends and everything else when I’m writing.
What is your typical day like?
I walk the dogs for an hour, waste about five hours on the computer, and then (if I’m lucky) do a bit of writing.
How much of your own life is reflected in your work?
All of it, eventually, in some form or another. Usually heavily disguised.
Do you have family members who like to write too?
My sister and mother are both good writers.
What was your childhood like? Did your upbringing influence the way you write today?
My childhood wasn’t exceptional – a typical suburban American upbringing. I thought it ruined my chances ever to be a writer, but it didn’t. I write a lot about running away.
Which of your books gives you the most pride or satisfaction?
Whichever one I’m least sick of.
How do you think you differ from other creative people in your genre?
Secretly, I think I’m a better writer than most. But a worse storyteller. I’m terrible at plot.
Has your creativity changed stylistically as you’ve matured? If so, in what ways?
I can’t tell. You’ll have to ask one of my readers.
When do you feel the most energized?
When the writing is going well, which isn’t very often. Or when I’m riding a horse.
Does your writing reflect your personality?
Of course! Whose personality would it reflect if not mine?
I grew up in San Francisco, but now live in an adobe house on the banks of the Rio Grande with my chaotic, messy family. I think I’ve drunk so much Land of Enchantment water that some of that ancient magic got into my blood and now spurts out my pencil—I mean ergonomic keyboard. I’ve been scribbling stories since I was a kid and it’s a thrilling dream-come-true to see them on the bookstore and library shelves. I make too many cookies when I’m revising and I’ve got the best book trailers for reals! Check them out on my website or YouTube.
I’ve stayed in a haunted castle tower room at Borthwick Castle in Scotland, sailed on the Seine in Paris, walked the beaches of Normandy, ridden a camel in Petra, sunbathed on Waikiki, shopped the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, and spent the night in an old Communist hotel in Bulgaria. For more info, visit my Webpage / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest / Tumblr / Youtube. Also, my just released Book Trailer for FORBIDDEN. It’s truly stunning.
What do you waste time doing?
Making cookies while revising . . . but they are so good.
If you were a professional wrestler, what would your name be?
Shakira. I would be the belly dancing wrestler and mesmerize my opponent with my hip rolls and shimmies.
If you could own a store, what sorts of things would you sell?
Belly dance apparel, jewelry, scarves, plus Aladdin lamps, ancient pottery and coins. You know – cool stuff!
What book (either because of its length or subject) intimidates you?
I used to be intimidated by the full-length Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – a 1200 page tome – but my son kept telling me how good it was and he’d requested an expensive leather bound edition for a Christmas gift (for the home library he’s already building when he gets his own house one day). We obliged him. I finally read his beautiful leather bound edition and absolutely LOVED it. So worth it. And I cried at the end. My new intimidation is The Book Thief . . . but I adored the movie and had a lump in my throat the entire time. It was beautiful and emotionally compelling—just like I hope my book, Forbidden¸will be to readers. Hey, I can wish!
What was your favorite meal when you were growing up?
Strawberry waffles with whip cream.
What do you do every day, without fail?
Eat something sweet or chocolatey. I love it all. Brownies, cake, donuts, Milky Way bars, cinnamon rolls . . caramel/pecan Turtles.
What compliment do you wish someone would give you?
The title of New York Times Award-Winning Author. LOL!
Have you ever felt that your personal expectations have limited your creativity? If so, how have you dealt with this?
I think it’s easy for a writer to get intimidated by their subject matter or trying to figure out *how* to execute this big, sprawling novel. We often play mind games and psyche ourselves out because we fear that we’re not up to the task.
But an interesting thing happens. Every book actually feels like this! Because we’ve never written about that subject or those characters before. The only thing you can do is to love your characters, love their story, and push through and just get the story down on paper—or computer screen.
It’s never as bad as we fear—and never as good as we hoped. Thank goodness there is something called Revision.
Do you ever feel that you have to censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?
When I was first researching and writing Forbidden, I definitely worried about the censorship issue. My story contains a subplot about physical abuse by my main character’s betrothed, a man who should love and protect her, and I write about the prostitution going on at the ancient goddess temples of Mesopotamia.
I worried that the book would never sell, and it took several years, but I also felt strongly that I didn’t want to censor myself or tone things down, because I wanted the story to be true to the time period and characters. The issues were integral to the story I was telling – to be historically accurate—and also because of the conflict my character was in. Eventually, the book did sell to a major publisher, Harpercollins, as a Young Adult trilogy, with crossover adult appeal, and in a significant deal. So all the revisions and all the rejections for years was finally worth it!
Who do you consider a literary genius?
Two of the best YA novels I’ve read in the past two years:
Where things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Chime by Franny Billingsly
I thought they were both brilliant and genius.
What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?
Um, everything. Rejection for decades. Changing agents. Changing publishers. Being orphaned. Books falling into a black hole, not sent out for review, etc. The self-esteem hit can be debilitating. Good writing friends really, really help. Plus chocolate.
How do you know when a book is finished?
That is a really good question and a very difficult question to answer. Newer writers are often deluded by their own enthusiasm and the great achievement it IS to actually sit down and finish an entire book (because more people do not finish at all but get overwhelmed at the halfway point of a draft). But those first drafts are not usually good enough to be published.
I spent YEARS writing The Healing Spell and Forbidden, the two of my 9 published books that each took about 8 years of rewriting, restructuring, and revisions. But I finally got to a point when I *knew* deep down in my gut that I’d finally gotten it. The book “sang”, it made me cry. I got great feedback from other writers. I was pretty sure it was now publishable. So it’s a combination of Instinct, sheer craft and practice, and receiving feedback from professionals. All of those.
What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?
I think creative people are big daydreamers. They see Magic all around them in the world. They love to escape into books, art, music, movies. And they’re always getting “ideas” of something to create.
Betty G. Birney’s According to Humphrey series has been on 24 state lists, won seven state awards, several Children’s Crown Awards and a Christopher Award in the U.S. as well as receiving numerous honors in the U.K. Book 10, Secrets According to Humphrey, comes out January 2, 2014, and there will be more. In addition, Betty has written episodes for numerous children’s television shows, including The Adventures of Madeline, Doug and Bobby’s World as well as after-school specials and a television movie. She has won many awards for her television work, including an Emmy, three Humanitas Prizes and a Writers Guild of America Award. For more info, visit her website.
Is there a story behind your name? What is it?
Kids always want to know what the “G” in Betty G. Birney stands for. It stands for my maiden name, but I won’t tell my fans what it was because I was teased about my name as a child and that hurt. Many tears were shed. So I’m not going to stand in front of a group of elementary school children and have them laugh at me. Maybe I should just say “Gloria” or “Greta.”
If you could have one super human power, what would it be?
The ability to slow down time. There’s just not going to be enough time to write all the books I want to write.
If you could snap your fingers and appear somewhere else right now, where would you be?
On Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, London, in the house across from Charles Dickens, where I stayed recently. I never wanted to leave but I will go back.
Name someone who supported your writing journey outside of family members.
I had many teachers, especially in junior high and high school, who inspired me and validated my dreams. They’re all gone now, but I wonder if they realized the power of the impact they had on me. Mr. Warner, who taught drama and creative writing, once wrote on a paper, “You’ve got it, kid!” Wow! That was better than getting a million dollars! I just wrote something about the head of my college English department, who said that my writing ability was a given but I needed to challenge myself more. I am constantly reminded of her words. So to all teachers everywhere – thank you for all you do!
Was there ever a time in your writing career where you wanted to seriously give up? If so, how did you find the motivation to continue?
There is no way a writer’s life doesn’t have lows. I think you need the lows to kick you in the rear and make you try even harder. For some reason, if I got a rejection, my “down” only lasted a day. I always reacted by rolling up my sleeves and vowing to do better. They say if you fall off a horse, you need to get right back up and ride again. Or is that a bicycle? Anyway, the same thing goes for writing. Don’t waste time on self-indulgence.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
To quote Winston Churchill: Never, never, never give up.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I’ve been told I do. I wrote children’s television for twenty plus years and often people will tell me they’re not surprised to learn that, because my books read like a movie. I use dialogue heavily because that’s really all you have in a script (with a few descriptive notes). Dialogue defines character and no two characters should talk alike. I write as little description as possible but it is necessary, of course. You won’t find long descriptions of sunsets in my writing. From writing television, I learned that it’s imperative to keep things moving. A ticking clock helps create tension. I still talk about my writing as “scenes” because I think in scenes. Each scene should have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing? What comes easily?
Plotting is torture. It’s agony to construct a nice, tightly constructed plot. But I grit my teeth and do it. I’m definitely a character writer and I’d like to think I write good dialogue.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I have dozens and dozens of favorite authors and could never pick one. I love Beverly Cleary – she captures the heart of a child. I love E.B. White for his heart as well. I love Lois Lowry for her brilliant range. I love Laura Ingalls Wilder for letting me experience what it felt like to live her life in her times. My husband and I just spent a week in London across the street from the house where Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. I love his characters, as well. And I love fellow Missourian, Mark Twain, for his slyness. I can’t think of another writer I’d say that about!