:: Interview with Deb Caletti
By Dominique McCafferty, Librarian
Deb Caletti's young adult novels have had brilliant success. The Queen of Everything earned a starred review in Publisher's Weekly and was also an ALA/YALSA Best Books of 2004 Finalist. Honey, Baby, Sweetheart was a National Book Award Finalist, a PEN USA Literary Award Finalist, an SLJ Best Book of the Year; a New York Public Library Best Books for the Teen Age 2005, and Kirkus called it, "tender and poetic." Wild Roses also won acclaim with starred reviews in Publisher's Weekly and School Library Journal.
And Deb Caletti has an incredibly kind heart. When I first wrote to ask her if she'd be willing to talk with me, I discovered that I'd hit "send" prematurely. I immediately sent an embarrassed follow-up and figured I’d lost my chance with Deb altogether, but she reassuringly wrote back: "First, let me say that I am one who not only sends e-mails when they are not done, but I also send e-mails to the wrong people, commit all sorts of grammatical crimes in my e-mails, and manage to find all available e-mail mishaps..." She proceeded to tell me a story which involved her accidentally sending an e-mail with her name signed, "Deb Banana."
Deb lives with her family part time on acreage in Issaquah, a Seattle suburb, and part time on a houseboat on Lake Union. Her forthcoming novel, The Nature of Jade, will be released by Simon & Schuster in February 2007.
DM: Do you remember how old you were when you started writing?
DC: I was about six when I started writing. My school used to have these required story-writing contests with a winner per grade level. If you won, you had to read your story in front of the entire school, which seems a bit cruel to me now. Later, my hippie third grade teacher used to write "Groovy!" on my stories, which made me feel I was on to something. I kept writing, and became a published lyricist when I was eighteen. My desire to write came from a love of books and reading. I am a reader before I am a writer.
DM: Did you take any writing classes in college?
DC: I took only one writing class in college, and it was the only writing class I ever took. It was enough for me to know I didn't want
to take writing classes. I felt so awkward amidst what seemed like the self-importance of the students—a self-importance that probably tried to hide a great deal of insecurity, I realize now. I did not want to read my work aloud or talk about it. I am a very private writer, and yet the professor always seemed to choose my work to read from (anonymously) and comment on very positively. I still remember my heart thudding away when I realized that hey, those were my words.
This is not to say that I don't believe in writing classes. It's just that I don't believe in them for me. I go by instinct, but I can count on my instinct. I also realized I had a lot of reading to do on craft when I started writing seriously to make up for the lack of classes, and I read everything. What really taught me were the years of being a reader.
DM: What about the writers you admire?
DC: I admire so many. Going back in time — Hemingway, Flannery O'Connor, Cheever, Updike, all the great playwrights. I also like contemporary greats—Anne Tyler, John Irving, Richard Russo, Richard Ford, Charles Baxter, Barbara Kingsolver. Also Alice Hoffman and so many others. Next on my stack is the new novel (Lost and Found) by Carolyn Parkhurst — author of The Dogs of Babel, which I loved.
DM: You will love Lost and Found. It's one of the very best novels I've read this year.
DC: I am trying to get up my nerve to read Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, but I'm not sure if I can handle it.
DM: And what are you working on now, or would you rather not reveal?
DC: The book that's coming out next is The Nature of Jade. It's about a young girl who struggles with anxiety, and who begins to work at the elephant house of the Woodland Park Zoo. It's a novel about human nature and animal nature, about fear and the ways it can keep us caged. It explores the need to move on, even when that means leaving good things behind. And yeah, I'm shy about talking about what I'm working on. I'm in process, so it's still telling me what it is. I can't define it all the way yet.
DM: Is it safe to say it has something to do with the nature of love?
DC: Surprise — no. Familial love, love amongst the people who are your people, yes. But it's more about money and the things we hunger for. Just another topic I hope writing will help me better understand.
This interview took place via e-mail in spring 2006. The complete interview is scheduled for publication in the March/April 2007 issue of Public Libraries.