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Interview: Holly Cupala

June 24th, 2010 (07:00 am)
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Tell Me a Secret - Worldwide Blog Tour


When I first met Holly Cupala, she was wearing a dress the color of a green apple and an ear-to-ear grin. She had just sold her first YA novel, a story that would eventually be called Tell Me a Secret - a book that has now gone from a germ of an idea to a file on Holly's computer to a manuscript anxiously awaiting approval to a published work now available in bookstores and libraries.

Our aforementioned initial meeting was two summers ago. With similar tastes in books (especially The NeverEnding Story) and optimistic outlooks, it's no wonder we get along so well! We also work together for readergirlz. Lately, we've been sharing secrets - Have you been eavesdropping?

Holly's here again today as she travels along on her blog tour for Tell Me a Secret, which was published this past Tuesday. Tell Me A Secret is the story of two sisters, each of whom is lost in her own way. The story begins years after the elder of the two girls, Xanda, has died, but Miranda is still searching for someone in which she may confide. (Read an excerpt of Tell Me a Secret.)

After reading our interview, please leave a comment below the piece for a chance to win a signed copy of the book + additional swag from the author herself! You may comment here or at Holly's blog.

Tell Me a Secret touches (and tightly grabs hold) on the bonds of sisters, of families, of first loves, and of life-long friends. Did anyone in your family or childhood inspire any of your characters? Have you ever drifted away from a friend or relative, but reconnected later in life? Was that bond stronger then?

I think the Tell Me a Secret characters are a little bit me, and a little bit everyone I’ve ever known or met or imagined. Some of them were sparked by people I have known, but through the course of writing, they became entirely their own. Though my very closest and oldest friends will tell you they recognize certain traits, or emotions, or events—they know the secrets, but they’re not telling! Speaking of whom, they are my dearest circle, my strongest bonds of friendship. We’ve known each other since junior high and high school, and they are as close to me as my own sister.

The relationship between Rand and Xanda was quite different than the relationship each of them had with their parents. Why do you think siblings can grow up in the same household, yet come away with such different experiences?

Family dynamics are really fascinating to me. I think we all have a unique lens on the world, compounded by interactions among different personalities and the patterns that develop. There’s this continuum of personalities in the book, with the mom at one extreme, Xanda at the other, and Miranda navigating her own identity between them. There are the sacred and profane, the emotional and intellectual, the concrete and abstract—and secrets playing into the appearance and the actual. Where they are in the continuum may be different than they first appear, and they may be more alike (or different) than they realize. In a way, they are all dealing with the same cluster of family secrets and sins…Miranda’s secret is what blows everything apart.

Rand is an artist, and her works mainly involve labyrinths. Why labyrinths? Do you like them yourself, either as drawings or as actual let's-go-through-them field mazes?

I did actually draw a few labyrinths when I was in high school! Miranda’s labyrinths are a symbol of the twists and turns and dead ends she must navigate to free herself from the crushing memory of her sister and to find her way into the future. I admire a good labyrinth piece immensely, because it takes such precision. In a way, drawing labyrinths are the complete opposite of drawing faces, which are part of her journey.

Do you consider yourself to be an artist? Do you have abilities or interests in fine arts or the performing arts?

Both Miranda and Xanda are artists - Miranda a visual artist and Xanda a DIY girl - and that’s all me! I almost double-majored in literature and art. At one point I thought I wanted to be an author/illustrator (as in, picture books), but then I realized plotting 32 pages of illustrations would be absolute torture -- I like the spontaneity of making art in the moment. Not to mention, the stories were horrifyingly awful. Thank goodness YA found me! I still paint and collage and make clothing and do all kinds of crafty stuff. Writing is a draining process for me, and art fills me - so they balance each other out. I post a DIY Friday column on my blog with all kinds of projects.

Do you share any character traits with Xanda?

I think Xanda represents all of the outrageous, sparkling, fearless things I’ve always wanted to do (and maybe might have occasionally actually done). Xanda is still fascinating to me -- I could probably write another book about her, or at least a cameo in another story. There are still many things I don’t know about her.

How did you name your characters? They have such interesting names.

Thank you! They kind of came from all over. One of my friends has a daughter named Xanda (though she couldn’t be more different from my Xanda!). Essence came from these crazy stories another friend used to tell of growing up in a remote mountain town. Kamran is a Persian name (pronounced Kom-ron, if you want to be authentic), and his last name, Ziyal, is from Star Trek! There’s another sci-fi name, but to tell you would be a spoiler.

Of all of the names, Miranda (the main character), was the hardest. I didn’t really know it until Xanda says it in the first chapter:
She studied my face with one eye closed, like an artist sizing up a canvas. “You know what?” she said. “I don’t think you should be Mandy anymore.”

“Should I be Miranda now?” I asked.

“No, I was thinking more like . . . Rand. Rand is so much cooler than Mandy. Kind of edgy. Don’t you think?”

I tested the name in my mouth. Rand. Rand would wear a safety-pin dress. Rand could probably go without underpants now and then. Rand sounded almost like Xanda. I liked it.

I’m not sure why, but names are very symbolic to me. Mandy and Rand represented the extremities of who she could be, and Miranda who she is. She has to stop looking for herself in other people, and discover who she’s meant to be.

Prior to publication, this book was called Brimstone Soup, then A Light That Never Goes Out, the latter inspired by a song by The Smiths. Who thought of the title Tell Me a Secret, and when did you settle upon it?

At the last...possible...minute! Everyone thought Brimstone Soup sounded paranormal (and I had to admit, they were right). We always knew ALTNGO would be a temporary title - too long, too nebulous - but I had no idea we would go through literally hundreds of possibilities. I asked other authors and friends (including you, Little Willow!), people I knew, people I didn’t know...

The catalog deadline was coming up, and there’s no going back once it’s printed in the catalog. As I was falling asleep, a conversation between the sisters from the very first chapter flashed through my mind: Do you want to know a secret? Tell me, and I’ll tell you one. That was it! I sat up in bed. Shook my husband (it was something like 2 a.m.). Said, “Honey. Tell me a secret. Tell Me a Secret!” He said, “Hmmmn.” So the next morning, I sent it to my editor and she loved it, too!

As a writer and as one of the readergirlz divas, you are actively involved in and aware of the YA market. What do you think of the envelopes that are being opened or pushed in children's literature nowadays that were not even mentioned when you were a kid or teenager? What or who do you feel is still overlooked which (or who) ought to be included, or what is still taboo when it shouldn't be?

I think it’s extraordinary, the number of young adult books being published now -- truly, it seems wide open, with so many possibilities for readers and doors opening for writers. I think the where and what of literature have been cracked open, and now we are moving through the who. Books reflects the culture to some degree, so I hope that means we are moving into a place, both in lit and in real life, of examining the depths -- the truths behind the label, or the skin color, or the situation. Personally, I don’t believe in pushing the envelope just for the sake of pushing the envelope. I believe in writing about those deep things in the most honest way I can.

Which authors have inspired your own writing?

I studied literature, and that was part of the great fun of it -- unraveling who influenced who, what elements referenced other works, what plots and characters were thinly veiled reflections of the author’s real world. So I couldn’t help but include references to many of my favorite books, shows, and music in Tell Me a Secret - there are a million hidden things throughout! Xanda’s favorite band is Splashdown, which happens to be one of my favorite real bands. They were kind enough to let me use some lyrics. The time and space and labyrinth ideas are the influence of some of my favorite authors, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, and Marcel Proust. The titles of two of my favorite Calvino novels made it into the story (hint: one of them is The Castle of Crossed Destinies. Then there are the sci-fi references, stage references, music...I hope readers enjoy discovering them!

How goes your work-in-progress?

My editor just accepted my second YA novel, tentatively titled Street Creed - I was a little nervous, because they gave me a two-book deal on Tell Me a Secret, but she could have easily read the second manuscript and said, “Nah. What else do you have?” But she didn’t. Her response was, Wow. Which was both a relief and a thrill. It’s another stand-alone novel (though a number of TMAS characters make cameo appearances), about a girl from the suburbs who runs away from home and hooks up with a group of homeless teens in Seattle. It’s gritty and romantic, with a lot of secrets—the central one being her reasons for running away. Then there is the breathtaking boy, who has secrets of his own. At its core, it’s about what it means to love. It will hit the shelves in Fall 2011.

I can't wait to read it! What are your ten favorite books of all time?

My ten favorites (in order of memory rather than preference!):
The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (no fair, I know – it’s a series)
Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
The Bible

But honestly, this list could go on and on! Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland... One Hundred Years of Solitude... Ulysses... Feed... I love books. I wish I had more curl-up-with-a-book time.

So do I, my friend. So do I.



Don't Forget!
Leave a comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of the book + additional TMAS swag.

Following in Her Footsteps
Follow Holly Cupala's blog tour.
Read an excerpt of Tell Me a Secret.
Visit Holly's website.

Did You Hear?
I am sharing surprising secrets about your favorite YA authors all month long here at Bildungsroman. Want to find out who cried at the end of King Kong? Want to know is secretly afraid of the dark? Click through to discover the secrets.

Comments

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: June 25th, 2010 08:25 pm (UTC)

:)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: June 29th, 2010 01:19 am (UTC)
Hi

Very nice interview! What first caught my eye was the title of the book. I can't wait to read it... Thanks for this contest! (I hope I win—doesn't everyone?)
—Jennifer L.

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: June 29th, 2010 01:36 am (UTC)
Re: Hi

Thanks for posting!

16 Read Comments