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Little Willow

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Interview: Cheryl Klam

One day, a young woman went mountain biking, hit a rock and flew off of her bike. She slammed face-first into a boulder, destroying her face, tearing off most of her nose. She endured surgery after surgery while her family waited anxiously for updates.

"The surgeons not only fixed her nose, they made her beautiful," says her sister Cheryl Klam, author of The Pretty One.

Earlier this week, I asked Cheryl about her new novel and the story behind the story.

Has your sister read the book?

Jenny just read the book last week. Due to the fact that some of the sister and accident scenes are very real, she said it was pretty emotional for her at times, but she said she loved it -- once she started reading, she couldn't put it down.

Did you ever think of writing this as non-fiction?

I did think of writing this as a magazine article, but although it was a terrible accident, it just didn't strike me as something that would make a good book. Part of that was due to the fact that, unlike Megan, my sister was beautiful before her accident, and although she spent a year without a real nose, she eventually became beautiful again. It would've made a much better story if she had stayed ugly and come to some remarkable conclusion about how beauty doesn't matter and gone off to live on an isolated hilltop to take care of abused animals OR found true love with a guy who didn't care whether or not she had a nose. Now that would have been a good story!

Because it was real to begin with, did that make it more or less difficult to write as fiction?

I think it was easier to write the parts that were true to life. The sister scenes were especially easy. My sister is only eleven months younger than me and we've fought about every dumb thing you can imagine, including boys. As I like to remind her, I remember each and every terrible thing she's ever said to me.

Both before and after the accident, Megan turns to food when she's sad or stressed. Many people of all ages do the same thing every day. There's something to be said for moderation, of course, but sometimes, it's easier to eat than to speak, to share, to emote.

If readers recognize themselves during scenes when Megan binges, what can (I stop short of saying "should") they do?

Food used to be a big issue for me. I spent years drowning my emotions in vats of Howard Johnson's pistachio ice cream and cases of Sara Lee coffee cake (almond -- no raspberry unless I was desperate). I finally realized that food only made me feel better when I was eating. I always felt gross after my binges and it just added to the awfulness of my emotional state. I came to the conclusion that it was much more helpful and therapeutic to pound a pillow or go for a run. Something physical.

My favorite line from the book describes Megan "trailing behind Lucy as she practically skips up the stairs like Tinker Bell tiptoeing through a field of fairy dust." In an instant, readers know what it's like to be around Lucy. I'm also a big fan of Tinker Bell, so I liked that mention. If Lucy is Tink, who is Megan?

Hmm. Megan would have to be John Darling, the brother with the glasses who leads the lost boys when Peter Pan can't. Like Megan, he's kind of a background character who's more than capable of being center stage.

I wish I had had the opportunity to attend a performing arts school. Did you base Chesapeake School of the Arts on any of the schools you attended?

No, I didn't go to a school for performing arts. Like you, I really wish I did, though. As part of my research, I visited the Baltimore School for the Arts. It was just like in the movie FAME, with kids singing and dancing down the hallway.

The novel includes the script of a play written by one of the characters. Did you write that specifically for this book?

Yes, I wrote the play specifically for the book. It was really tough because I wanted to write it as the character. I kept trying to jazz it up but I had to honestly think what a seventeen-year-old guy would be capable of and interested in writing.

Tell us about your first novel for teens, Learning to Swim. That book was based on the relationship I have with my own mom, which is much more like a sister-sister relationship than a mother-daughter relationship. My mom has been married a bunch of times and likes to move to "start fresh." She was in the middle of another move when I pitched the idea of Learning to Swim. I like to write about my family. They all know when I dedicate a book to them, they're in trouble. I told my brother he's next.

In Swim, Steffie befriends Alice, a woman in her sixties. Have you ever had a friend who was quite a bit younger or older than you?

Not really, but when I was in high school I loved hanging out with my grandmother (I based the character of Alice on her) and her friends. We'd all go to the Ponderosa and I'd listen as all these old women talked about their boy problems. Some things stay the same no matter how old you are.

What are you currently working on?

I'm working on a chick-lit book. Still funny (um, I hope!) but the characters are all older. I�m also co-writing a movie script for a production company in LA. It's a thriller about two teen girls.

What are your ten favorite books?

My all-time favorite is MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL by John Berendt. I also read a lot of historical fiction, including all of Jane Austen. And when I need to laugh, there's always David Sedaris. But I'm going to stick to contemporary young adult for the remainder of this list. Here they are (in no particular order):

2. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
3. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
4. Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn
5. The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
6. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brasheres
7. Looking for Alaska by John Green
8. Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Dara Snadowsky
9. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
And last, but definitely not least:
10. All the Harry Potter books. I'm totally addicted.

Visit Cheryl Klam's website.

Tags: books, interviews

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