Interview with Award-Winning Author E.E. Charlton-Trujillo
Get to know E.E…
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.
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