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National Book Award Finalist Deb Caletti–Episode 103–April 14 2016

On episode 103 of the WRITER 2.0 Podcast I spoke with National Book Award Finalist Deb Caletti, who writes fiction for adults and young adults. We discussed:

  • whether she still struggles with self doubt;
  • why so many writers live near Seattle;
  • her latest release, Essential Maps for the Lost;
  • the roots of depression;
  • how her editing process works;
  • the true spark of her books.

Plus, on Today in Writing, the grandfather of Ancient Alien theory.

deb-1About our Guest:

First of all, a confession. I am a literary addict. I read endlessly, voraciously. In lieu of a book, I will read cereal boxes (Cap’N Crunch breakfast jokes, Special K Heart Smart facts), shampoo bottles, pamphlets in doctors’ offices about kidney stones and allergies (neither of which I have), and even those self exam charts with the little arrows going around in circles. My books are multiplying, becoming furniture themselves – end tables, nightstands. On one wall, I have a bookshelf, minus the shelf. I get restless, even sad, when I leave a fictional world I love and am not yet immersed in another. The highest compliment I’ve gotten about one of my books was from a reader who said she read slower as she approached its end, rationed out the remaining pages because she couldn’t bear for it to be finished. Oh, joy. I knew just what she meant.

I was happily hooked at a young age. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and was one of those quiet kids carting home a stack of books. Was? Still am. My mother says there were several years where they never saw me; they just shoved reading material and food under my door (not true, but pretty close). My parents said I’d mess up my eyes reading at night in the back of the car. They were probably right.

Writing, too, was part of my life since I was six or seven. I would get an idea, then bolt off to write it down. A hippie teacher of mine gave encouragement. “Groovy,” he’d scrawl, and I had a sense I was on to something. After we moved to the Seattle area when I was twelve, I continued writing – short stories, bad poetry, and later, lyrics.

Being a writer was the only thing I ever wanted to be, but I didn’t have the courage to study creative writing in college. I pictured rooms full of people wearing berets and dressed in all black, talking about Turgenev, which sounded a lot like the noise that escaped my throat whenever I was in one of those courses where they asked you to read your work aloud. I worried I wouldn’t have the talent, since I didn’t own a beret and never wanted one. So I studied journalism. I worked on the radio station, reading the news. What I learned more than anything was that I wasn’t a journalist. I earned my B.A. degree from the University of Washington, got married, won the Nobel prize (just seeing if you were still awake) and did PR work. I got serious about fiction writing after my children were born. I didn’t want to be one of those people who talked about their dream but never did anything about it. That seemed sad. I worried I would end up sitting alone at the counter at Denny’s eating pie and smoking cigarettes, and I’ve never even smoked. So I made a decision. I would write and keep writing, at least until I was published. No giving up, no going back. I would have the determination and persistence of a dog with a knotted sock.

I read everything on the craft, studied, took notes, wrote and wrote, until finally, finally my fifth book, QUEEN Of EVERYTHING, was published. I would say I’m self-taught, but it isn’t true – all my years as a reader, all of those authors I read, taught me. From Mrs. Piggle Wiggle to Tess of the D’Urbervilles. From Encyclopedia Brown to The World According to Garp. Books are what inspire me to write, and to write better. I believe in their power. Books teach empathy and define our lives and times. Writers are our truth tellers, and I strive for honesty in my writing. I want my readers to recognize their own experiences and to see our shared humanity in my work – our mistakes, our triumphs, our pain, those small moments of rightness. I want my readers to miss my characters when the book is set down. If my reader says, “Oh yes, that’s just how it is. I know – that’s how I feel, too,” then I’ve done my job. I’ve given what I can to my fellow addict, and maybe, just maybe, I’ve added a piece to her nightstand.

 

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