Cecil Castellucci has written three novels for young adults–Boy Proof, The Queen of Cool, and Beige–in addition to a brand-new graphic novel, The Plain Janes, that launched DC’s Minx imprint aimed at teenage girls. She’s also a musician, a filmmaker, the creator of I Heart YA, and a bunch of other stuff I’m forgetting, but she’ll say more about in a minute. Cecil is awesome, basically.
GB: First question is always process porn for the writers out there, so tell me about how you write. You can start at whatever part of the process you want–when an idea occurs to you, when you actually start writing, when the deadline’s looming, outlining/not outlining, etcetera. (Note to astute readers deux: I changed the wording just enough to make sure you’re on your toes.)
CC: Well. I get a lot of ideas, but most of them are crap. Or they are used up just by saying something like, "Hey, I want to write a book about a field trip!" That’s it. That is crap. I know that I am going to really write something when in a flash, like Athena bursting out of the head of Zeus, I know the beginning and end of a book. It is very exciting. It’s like the story, the characters, the voice, just bubble up inside of me. Then I live with it. Sort of walking around, like I’m in love, day dreaming, and always kind of pulling the strings together, weaving. Actually, you know how Sabriel does the magic in Garth Nix’s Sabriel? That is exactly the way that it feels when I am writing a story. Or composing it in my head. I like knowing the end, because that is like my north star to aim for. Then, once I know that I am really going to write something, I love a deadline. I give them to myself. Or I tell everyone that I’m doing this by this date, I say it out loud, and tell everyone, so I’ll look like an ass if I don’t actually do it. (With my performance pieces, I often just book a date in a theater and then tell everyone I am doing a show and then have to come up with something.) I also always ask my editors to give me deadlines.
GB: You’re one of those despicably multi-talented types–filmmaker, musician, writer of plays, novels and graphic novels. Are these completely separate types of work for you or do they inform each other and in what ways?
CC: They totally inform each other! I think the nice thing about having so many different types of ways to tell stories or things that I do is that I don’t feel like I have to cram every idea I have or everything I want to say about the WORLD and STUFF and MY HEART into one thing. I can really work on what’s best for that particular story and not be precious about anything. It all keeps and gets put to use in other ways. Also, I think that the different forms of telling stories is good because you have to approach the story in a different way to adapt it to that medium. So hopefully it makes my brain able to see new roads in each medium. I mean, I think it’s a life long craftsman kind of thing. You know, I just keep learning.
GB: What is the secret artform you are a master of that I left off the list? (!)
CC: Crepe maker. Chocolate chip cookie baker. Cheerleader for other people’s creative projects.
GB: Let’s do the time warp, backward. When’s the first time you remember thinking that you either wanted to be or were a writer?
CC: My mom tells this story of finding me crouched in front of the television at 4 years old watching PBS which was showing The Trojan Women in ancient greek. I was weeping and I told my mom it was the best thing I’d ever seen on TV. I think probably a seed was planted that day. (Thank you, Euripides!) I also at that time became obsessed with Verdi’s La Traviata and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. I was uninterested in playing kickball with the kids on my street. I wanted to play Greek Tragedy and Opera. This was not popular with them. Then I saw Star Wars. When that Darth Vader went spinning off at the end of the movie and I understood that there was going to be another movie, I understood that someone was going to make that story up. I wanted that person to me.
GB: One of the things I love about your work is the range in your protagonists to date. There’s a huge difference between Egg, say, and Katy in the new book, Beige. In fact, Katy’s not a character I see a lot of in YA fiction; we don’t get a whole lot of the superior priss type from the inside out in a sympathetic way–did you know right from the start that you wanted to deal with a character like that in contrast to the more chaotic punk scene? Also, how hard was it to write a character who believes she doesn’t like music?
CC: Oh, thanks! I didn’t want to write the same character over and over again! That said, I think all my characters have some similar elements to them. I did know right away that I wanted to write a character who was observing the scene rather than in the punk scene. It seemed to me that it would have been a lot easier to write BEIGE from the pov of Lake. Or Queen of Cool from the point of view of Tina. But with music, I thought it would be interesting to write from a character that I couldn’t understand and whose world view and dislike of music I was uncomfortable with. In a way, she is kin to Egg. Egg is just as closed off.
And it was incredibly hard to write Katy. She was very withholding and because she didn’t come easy to me I was quite frustrated. But I really wanted to tell her story. But the whole music thing was very difficult. I think it made me like music even more that I do. Because the absence of it in her made it all that much more important to me.
GB: A major theme in The Plain Janes is the joy and power behind art for art’s sake. This is actually a thread I think that shows up in your work quite a bit–and seems to be the way you live your life too, creating things and spreading happiness and energy. I know this isn’t truly a question, but can you say a little bit about that and maybe any thoughts on how life and writing amplify each other?
CC: Yeah! I guess it is a truly important thing to me! I mean, I pretty much see everything as artistic. Also, I like happiness! And I like when people are happy! Hopefully my little stories make people really think about the things that they really like. And make them proud to like what they like. And to be happy as clams that they are who they are! And if they are not! To go out and be who they are! I think that creating things and being creative in my work is just part and parcel of the same thing, the characters are all trying to move through the world and find their bliss. They are at the moment of becoming who they are. Not just the main characters, the secondary ones, too. And the parents. The cool thing is that everybody in the world really likes something, whatever it is, sports, science, math, art, sci fi, comics, whatever, I think that’s awesome. I also see being creative as a love letter to the world and to oneself.
I also now officially sound like a hippy. I am going to go burn a patchouli candle. I am not even kidding.
GB: What’s a book or three you’re loving lately?
CC: I just got the ARC for my pal Jo Knowles new YA book Lessons from a Dead Girl. It’s a subtly beautiful look at a fraught friendship and the aftermath of some big stuff that happens.
I also just read Brian Wood/Becky Cloonan’s Demo. Which is pretty friggin’ incredible. It was an ALA 2007 Great Graphic Novel for Teens. It’s about kids and young adults on the edge of big moments in their lives. Beautiful!
Visit today’s other SBBT sites:
Eddie Campbell at Chasing Ray
Sara Zarr at Writing and Ruminating
Brent Hartinger at Interactive Reader
Justine Larbalestier at Big A, little a
Ysabeau Wilce at Bildungsroman
Jordan Sonnenblick at Jen Robinson’s Book Page
Chris Crutcher at Finding Wonderland
Kazu Kibuishi at lectitans
Mitali Perkins at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Laura Ruby at The YA YA YAs