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Little Willow

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Interview: Micol Ostow

Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa

Micol Ostow is a writer, a student, a runner, a dog owner, a Scrabble enthusiast, and a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Yes, you read that correctly. Now read the interview to find out how she manages to juggle it all.

You drew upon your Puerto Rican and Jewish heritage to write Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa, which comes out in paperback today! Tell us more about the story, and what else you and Emily have in common.

That's a good question! I think that because Emily and I share similar cultural backgrounds, people expect the story to be much more autobiographical than it actually is. Like Emily, I was raised Jewish (my mother converted before she married my father), but I have more contact with my Catholic family than Emily does. My mother's mother passed away a few years ago, and while it was very traumatic and emotional for all of us, as a catalyst, it sort of functioned exactly the opposite of Emily's grandmother's death.

When Emily's grandmother dies, Emily feels a sharp disconnect from her mother's family. When my grandmother was dying, though, our family came from all over (Florida, New York, Puerto Rico, and more) to be with her, and I was truly shocked to see how easily we banded together, despite the fact that some of us had never even met before! So that was very inspiring and comforting, and I think it's an experience that Emily finally comes to by the book's end, but maybe my road was a little more smoothly paved than hers, despite the sad events that set everything in motion.

You contributed a short story entitled First Last Kiss to the anthology First Kiss (Then Tell), which comes out in December. Is it fully autobiographical?

Not at all! Well, maybe a little bit. I definitely drew on the experience of that heartbreaking last kiss with a boyfriend or a crush, which of course, you never know is the going to be the last kiss at the time. Then afterwards, when you're replaying it, you torture yourself with a billion different scenarios of how much more dramatic and important and final you would have been, if only you'd known it was going to be your last chance or last memory.

But I'll leave it to you to identify the places wherein I took some poetic license. ;)

You have ghostwritten many titles. Would you encourage hopeful writers to accept ghostwriting opportunities or to pursue their own original fiction?

Ghostwriting has been very good to me! My first freelance gig was a novelization for the tv tie-in series "American Dreams," and it was a crash course in how to maintain some semblance of creativity when you're literally working straight from a script. Not to mention, the deadlines for mass-market series are brutal! As a former editor, as well, I can speak to the fact that series writing presents the additional challenge of requiring the writer to adhere to a series voice or style. That can be difficult even for the most talented of writers.

Writing for series -- whether it was "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," "Charmed," or "Trollz," has been a fun way to keep my writing skills sharp in between original projects. Not to mention, it's nice to do something productive with my insane pop-culture knowledge!

According to your bio, you are "half student, half writer, half chocolate, half peanut butter." Does this make you a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup?

Exactly. Although I am on a white-chocolate Reese's kick these days.

In all seriousness, how much of your writing and your studies overlap?

I think the only time that they don't directly overlap is when I have a grad school "packet" (monthly chunk of work) due. That's when I hunker down into deadline mode -- no outside contact, no clothing with zippers or buttons, no food or drink that isn't caffeinated. But all of the work that I do at Vermont (Vermont College of the Fine Arts) intersects with my interests and my craft, and my advisers have been kind enough to work with me on some of the projects I have under contract. So I've got some great feedback from some very keen minds going into the work that I've been publishing lately. And the very best thing about grad school is how much I get to READ. As an editor, you're always drowning in manuscripts. But for school, I'm required to submit a monthly bibliography. So I'm finally getting to spend time curled up on the sofa with great YA. How is that "work?" But it is!

How did you get involved in Media Bistro's fall '08 YA Writing Course?

I took the course myself a couple of years ago, when the brilliant and talented Kristen Kemp was the instructor. I wrote the Emily pitch and the first ten pages of the manuscript in the class, and sold it before the semester ended. So I think they considered me to be a "success story" (and eventually they sponsored my launch party, which was great of them). Kristen's had three babies since then (!) and was looking to pass the torch, and now that I'm a full-time freelance, I finally have the time to take on teaching. So far, so good! The students are very talented, so they're keeping me on my toes.

What other works do you have on the horizon?

Right now I'm working on a fall '08 election-themed project for Scholastic that should be a lot of fun. It's about a small-town girl whose father is the town Mayor and whose boyfriend is the student body president. She goes head-to-head with her boyfriend in the school election, and learns that her father may have tenuous connections to her platform. But it's all very chick-lit-y and light. And due in five minutes, which is why my friends and family will tell you that I've dropped off the face of the earth of late.

I also have a hybrid-graphic novel project tentatively called I'M WITH THE TRIBE coming out with Flux in spring '09. It's the story of three yeshiva boys who start a garage band, while one of the bandmates discovers a hidden talent for art. As a former Jewish day school girl, this is a project that's been a long time in the making, and very close to my heart. Also, my brother is working on the illustrations, so I've had a crash course in collaboration. Keep an eye out!

Anything else you care to share?

Support your local libraries and independent booksellers! And read read read!

I agree! Thanks, Micol.

Visit Micol in person today at NYPL's Teen Central Jewish Book Month panel featuring Micol Ostow, Judy Goldschmidt, David Levithan, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lisa Ann Sandell

Thursday, November 8th at 4 PM
Donnell Library Center
20 West 53rd Street
(212) 621-0619

Visit Micol online at her website (I hope you like it!) and blog.

Read my previous interview with Micol.

Check out Gwenda's WBBT interview with Micol.


Today's WBBT Schedule
David Mack at Chasing Ray
Paul Volponi at The Ya Ya Yas
Elizabeth Knox at Shaken & Stirred
Ellen Emerson White at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy
Jack Gantos at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
David Levithan at Not Your Mother's Book Club
Micol Ostow at Bildungsroman
Laura Amy Schlitz at Miss Erin
Kerry Madden at Hip Writer Mama
Sherman Alexie at Interactive Reader

Tags: blog tour, books, interviews, simon pulse, wbbt

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