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A Word With Deb Caletti, Author
Coated with coming of age nuances and memorable characters, author Deb Caletti’s books bring fresh views to world of the Young Adult genre. A National Book Award finalist, Caletti finds herself in homes and book clubs across America, and continues to inspire a generation.
In your novel, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, in your own opinion, what made readers respond so strongly to the idea and characters?
HONEY is about a girl and her mother who both have screwed-up love lives and who embark on a road trip to reunite a pair of geriatric soul mates. I think people loved (and related) to the idea of finally ditching the “bad boy.” I think they also just loved the quirky characters in the book, and the way that Ruby, the main character, gets strong and finds herself through the adventure they all have. It’s a tender and sad story, but funny and hopeful, too. Hmm - maybe people just liked the fact that they all stole an old lady from a rest home. ?
How does it feel to be a National Book Award Finalist for your novel, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, and has that changed your confidence as a writer?
It feels amazing. It’s such a BIG dream that I never even thought to dream it! That medal in my bookcase still seems a little unreal. It was one of the most incredible and life-altering experiences ever. But, writers (all creative people, probably) are funny. We’re usually a mix (mess?) of great confidence and great insecurity. The award did not get rid of the latter, which I think is a really good thing. Feeling too confident about the words you put on the page – not a good idea. To get good stuff – it takes hard work. Being your worst critic is not such a wrong way to go when it comes to writing.
What words of encouragement do you have for aspiring writers?
It’s not an easy business, but I’m living proof that it (publishing, success, whatever the “it” of your dreams is) can happen. It takes a combination of hard work, passion, and talent, but you can get there.
When you were first starting off as a writer, did you face many rejections? Did you want to give up?
I wrote four books before my fifth, The Queen of Everything, finally sold. I wanted it to hurry up and happen but I didn’t want to give up. I had a quote by Nietzsche above my desk that said, “Become who you are.” It was what I knew I was meant to do.
Do you ever come under fire for your subject matter or profanity used in your books?
Yes, mostly for profanity rather than content. The Queen of Everything was banned at a Texas school, and I do get letters on occasion about the other books, as well. I have a hard time understanding this, actually. My job as a writer is to tell the truth. The truth is: some people swear. Some don’t. The characters in my books who would, do. The ones who wouldn’t, don’t. I don’t see it as my job to present a pretty, polished world, or to clap my hands over the ears of delicate, “impressionable young people.” (That phrase always sounds insulting, in my opinion.) Anyway, if I ever get appointed as Morality Police Woman (highly doubtful, but a badge might be cool), I'll erase mean people, before I erase language.
As a child, did you imagine yourself being an accomplished writer? Were you ever discouraged?
As a kid, I just plain loved books. Still do. They helped me figure out the world in the same ways writing would later. Because of that book love, I did always want to be a writer. Yeah, there was that brief period where I wanted to be an F.B. I. agent, but who was I kidding? Do you know what kinds of physical tests those guys have to pass? I could never climb that rope thing. Never.
So, I imagined “writer” but not necessarily “accomplished.” To me, it’s always been about the writing, the attempt to understand life through words, and less about the idea of being an “author” and all the amazing, golden things that can go with that. Writing is my way of grasping and naming the confusing/dark/thrilling/sad/magical parts of life (and it’s cheaper than therapy). While I was sometimes discouraged on the long road to being published, writing and reading were just always… necessary. Regardless of being published or being discouraged, reading and writing were who I was. Now, though? They are still who I am. And, living a life of books? What a privilege.