Author Spotlight: Deb Caletti
|© Susan Doupé
Feb. 28, 2020
We are excited to feature award-winning and multi-published YA and adult author Deb Caletti and her first middle grade novel, A FLICKER OF COURAGE (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, Jan. 2020). Enter to win a copy!
|designer © Theresa Evangelista
You're a well-known adult and YA author. Tell us about yourself and how you decided to write a middle grade novel.
As you’ve said, I’ve written many books for teens and adults. Actually, I’ve written nearly a book a year for the past twenty years. And while my novels have a lot of humor and tenderness, they also often deal with heavier subjects - the complicated layers of life and relationships. I really needed to connect back up with my creative joy. A number of author friends kept telling me I should write middle grade, but I wasn’t sure it was right for me.
One day, though, I wandered over to that section in the library. I still go to the library several times a month, but I hadn’t really explored those particular shelves since my children were that age. And, I swear, when I did, it just hit me – the way those books made me feel when I was a kid. It was like a sense memory – the smell, the look of those spines. I remembered how thrilling those books were. When I was that age, books were specifically and uniquely magical. Standing there in the library, I decided I wanted to try to write something that might make a child feel the way I did about the books I loved then. And I have to say, I found my creative joy again, times a hundred. Every morning, I couldn’t wait to work on it. FLICKER is different from anything I’ve written before. But in many ways, it’s more like the real me than any of my other books.
Congrats on your middle grade novel, A FLICKER OF COURAGE. Tell us about it and what inspired you.
A FLICKER OF COURAGE is about a very kind boy named Henry Every, whose home is not a safe place. He’s often anxious and afraid and lonely. His biggest joy is watching the wonderful, happy Dante family next door. One day, though, Vlad Luxor, the vain, terrifying ruler of their land turns little Rocco Dante into a lizard, and Henry -with his classmates Apollo Dante, Pirate Girl, and Jo (and with help from his Grandfather Every and the Beautiful Librarian) – embarks on a quest to break the spell and turn Rocco back into a boy. It’s about courage, and self-esteem, and friendship; finding your voice, and hanging in there when things look bleak.
I wanted to write about a child in Henry’s situation because I don’t think we see that very often in books - the unsafe home. I wanted to give a hopeful, loving message to kids living with parents who make them scared or anxious, and to kids who feel lonely or worried for any reason. Stylistically, though – I wanted to create something that felt both classic and contemporary, retro but fresh, tender, but with an eccentric, tongue-in-cheek humor. I also wanted to use classic and contemporary images, all from the public domain - drawings from old medical texts, botany books, advertising from the 1970’s, quirky photos. I’d never seen this done before in a children’s book. I tried to think of all the things that would have inspired wonder in me when I was ten: planets and creatures and volcanoes; yucky food and how to tie knots, and shocking magic tricks. Images that I (as a kid, or even now), might find weird or astonishing or intriguing. Again – stuff full of wonder.
What are some of your favorite middle grade novels (classic or recent)?\
Some of my favorite books of all time are middle grade novels - The Chronicles of Narnia, particularly The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (featured in my book, Essential Maps for the Lost); Charlotte’s Web; The Incredible Journey. More recently: The Golden Compass; The Thing About Luck; Far, Far, Away; Brown Girl Dreaming; The One and Only Ivan; The House on Mango Street; Maybe He Just Likes You; The Lost Rainforest (and other books by Eliot Schrefer)… I could go on and on.
What projects are you working on now?
My second book in the Tales of Triumph and Disaster series, THE WEIRD IN THE WILDS, will be coming out in the fall. I also have a new YA releasing in the spring, GIRL, UNFRAMED. I’m also currently working on my new YA for 2021.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Read everything you can. That’s the best way to learn – reading the bad stuff, reading the great stuff, figuring out what works and doesn’t. Write, write, and write some more. Submit your work and be open to criticism. Be willing to work hard to learn and improve. Understand that writing is a craft that takes time. Try to focus on your own truth, spoken in your own voice. That’s where your power is.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
Most people probably don’t know that I love doing visually creative things as well as written ones. I used to paint when I had more time, and I still love photography. The images in A FLICKER OF COURAGE allowed me to use this piece of myself in ways I’ve never been able to before in my work. SO fun.
Where can people find you online?
You can find out more about me, FLICKER, and all of my books, at www.debcaletti.com. You can also find me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/DebCaletti), as well as on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/debcaletti), and (less often) Twitter (@debcaletti).
Deb Caletti is the award-winning and critically acclaimed author of over sixteen books for adults and young adults, including Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, a finalist for the National Book Award, and A Heart in a Body in the World, a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Her books have also won the Josette Frank Award, the Washington State Book Award, and numerous other state awards and honors, and she was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Award. She lives with her family in Seattle.