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Little Willow

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Interview: Tara Altebrando

I've been reading Tara Altebrando's books since 2006, when The Pursuit of Happiness was first published. I've truly enjoyed every one of her novels to date, especially What Happens Here, which struck such a deep chord within me that I'm fairly sure you'll hear that somber note if you tapped one of my ribs. (Please be advised that if you do that, it will hurt me.) The point is, Tara's books have burrowed into my heart, and I hand them to anyone who asks me for a Sarah Dessen readalike.

Tara recently re-released her first two YA novels, The Pursuit of Happiness and What Happens Here, as e-books, with all proceeds going to Sandy relief. In her own words:

The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara AltebrandoBecause I grew up on Staten Island and spent summers on the New Jersey shore, I am donating all proceeds from the sale of these newly repackaged eBook versions of my first two young adult novels, through the month of November, to Hurricane Sandy disaster relief efforts via Tunnel Towers (for the shore) and a fund set up by my high school on Staten Island for 30 specific displaced families in the St. Joseph Hill Academy community.

The Pursuit of Happiness, my first young adult novel, is actually set on a slightly fictionalized Jersey Shore. I vacationed at my grandparents' Lavallette bungalow for 42 summers, and some of my favorite scenes in Pursuit take place in Lavallette and Seaside Heights, both of which were ravaged by the storm.

My hometown of Staten Island was also hit particularly hard so proceeds from my second young adult novel, What Happens Here, will be focused on the so-called "forgotten borough." While the book is set in Las Vegas and Europe, it is very much about the struggle to come to terms with the randomness of tragic events.

While discussing the relief efforts, we also chatted about her family, her works-in-progress, and the delight of reading a good book at the beach. From the start, you'll catch us mid-conversation:

Was it daunting or exciting to e-pub your books?

Well, the books had basically gone out of print and I was interested in trying to get them in front of readers who are newer to me and my work. (These novels pubbed in 2006 and 2008.) So I got the rights back from my original publisher and set out to learn about the world of DIY e-publishing. I think it's incredibly exciting that books pretty much never have to go "out of print" anymore.

 Who designed the new covers?

My dear friend Peter Lutjen, a book designer by profession conveniently enough, gave the books their new look. He is one of a handful of friends of mine that I know for sure has read all of my novels (Yay! He once told me that The Pursuit of Happiness was just as devastating, if not more so, than Cormac McCarthy's The Road....LOVE that!) and I knew he'd bring just the right aesthetic to the job. I told him I wanted the books to look like vintage classics that were also adorable and he totally delivered.

Did you re-read the books when prepping the new editions?

I did! Several times, in fact. The books had to be scanned from the original paperbacks and then copy-edited and cleared of errors that scanning introduced. I was pleasantly, genuinely surprised by, well, how good the books are, which took some of the edge off of the tediousness of the copy-editing. Are there things I would have done different had I written these books today? Of course. But I resisted editing and generally found I enjoyed them immensely as reads. I hope that doesn't sound obnoxious! I found some funny similarities between the two books that I hadn't been aware of. Little things like references to the board game SORRY! and boys delivering mysterious packages to girls' door.

What Happens Here by Tara Altebrando What do you like most about reading bound books? What do you feel are the benefits of e-books?

Well, I've never read an e-book at the beach. I like to feel the wind and sand in the pages so I like bound books for real pleasure reading. But e-books take up less room and my shelves are already full to bursting so I find that it just makes more sense to go electronic sometimes.

What books have you recently added to your (wooden or digital) bookshelves?

I just read and loved David Levithan's Every Day (paper, on a plane) and I picked up The Monsters of Templeton the last time I was in a bookstore. Most recent ebook purchase: Eliot Shrefer's Endangered. Because I wanted it instantly!

Did you keep any of your favorite books from your childhood and pass them along to your daughters?

There are definitely some, er, relics of my youth hanging around out house. Foremost among them is this totally bizarre set of "Tiny Golden Books" with titles like Uncle Quack (in which a duck's uncle gives him a pack of cigarettes as a present...but it turns out they're CANDY cigarettes, so it's okay) and The Baby Camel and His Naughty Father (in which a father came eats the camel driver's rug so the driver puts a muzzle on him but the father camel only tells his baby, "I'm glad I ate it! It was yummy!"). I also have copies of a few books I loved like Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and The Haunted Pool. My oldest daughter is in kindergarten and is only now just learning to read so it'll be a while before she reads those, but wow is it exciting. We've recently started reading Charlotte's Web to her at bedtime. I'm overjoyed. The world is about to open up to her in amazing ways.

Your most recent novel, The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life, features a scavenger hunt. Have you ever participated in a wacky scavenger hunt?

Yes! In my senior year of high school. That's where the idea for the book came from.

What's the craziest thing you had to do or find?

Two things on the list in the book were on the list for the hunt I did: a lawn ornament (we found a classic pink flamingo) and the largest thing you can take from Mr. Gatti's house. He was the theater director at the local boy's school; my team chickened out on that one.

What are you currently working on?

Well, I JUST finished the final edits on Roomies, the novel I coauthored with Sara Zarr. Really excited about that. And now, I am playing around with a new solo YA idea while waiting for final revision notes on my upcoming middle-grade debut, The Battle of Darcy Lane.

Get Tara Altebrando's eBooks for Sandy Relief.

Visit Tara Altebrando's website.

Related Posts at Bildungsroman
Review: The Pursuit of Happiness by Tara Altebrando
Review: Love Will Tear Us Apart by Tara Altebrando (as Tara McCarthy)
Review: What Happens Here by Tara Altebrando
Review: Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando
Review: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando
Interview: Tara Altebrando (March 2006)
Interview: Tara Altebrando (August 2006)

Tags: books, causes, covers, interviews, mtv

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