Monday, July 26, 2010

Voices You Should Hear: Holly Cupala and TELL ME A SECRET

As you all know, I just got home from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I graduated with my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. That was a thrill, and already I miss all my friends. More later.
But right now there are new things to explore - among them, my new series on "Reading Like a Writer." That's up at the end of the week. In the meantime, I'm delighted to participate in a blog tour for the radiant Holly Cupala, whom I finally met at BEA, and whose debut novel, TELL ME A SECRET, is truly as special as she is. Here's what Holly has to say about TMAS and more:
Congratulations, Holly, on the publication of TELL ME A SECRET! Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

First, thank you so much, Janet, for having me!
TELL ME A SECRET is a YA novel about a seventeen year-old, Miranda, who has been reeling from the loss five years before of her bad-girl older sister and wondering what happened the night she died. She’s right at the cusp of having everything she wants—a new friend with access to her sister’s world, a ticket to art school, a boyfriend—when she finds she has a secret of her own. It’s a little bit mystery, a little bit suspense, a little bit family story.
I started writing TELL ME A SECRET after two losses—first, a very close friend’s sister died. Then my husband and I lost our first daughter at birth. It was devastating, and I almost stopped writing altogether. A few months later, I went to a writing conference with friends, and Justina Chen (whose latest, NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL, is extraordinary!) took me out to lunch and asked, with utmost kindness, “Are you thinking about writing about Ezri?”
It was like she gave me permission to go there. Right after that we went to Libba Bray’s session, “How to Shut Off Your Brain and Get to the Heart of Your Writing,” and the story came out of nowhere. Literally fell in my lap, and I started writing as fast as I could.  

I love that story and I applaud your desire to write about something so true. How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

Well, I suppose this dates me back to childhood, circa first grade, when I started writing fiction. Then there were the teen romance novels (two of them: Stolen Love and Playing the Field) in eighth grade—that was before I actually experienced teen romance. Tragic poetry followed. I went to college and grad school and was just about to become a professor or something when suddenly I went, Huh? This wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), took classes, joined critique groups, wrote some pretty bad stuff, started writing some fairly decent, publishable stuff. It didn’t have the emotional core, though. I was writing to please other people and avoiding writing what was meaningful to me. When we lost Ezri, it sort of stripped all of that away. I stopped caring about what other people thought and started writing the story that wouldn’t let me go.

Can you describe your path to the publication of TELL ME A SECRET?

I should admit here that it wasn’t an easy book to write. It meant plunging into grief and painful relationships, and an enormous amount of doubt. I might not have started writing if Justina hadn’t called and bugged me (in the nicest way possible, because she is such an encouraging, generous person). Then another friend, unrelated to my writing life, called to tell me he’d had a dream that I was supposed to be working on something, and I’d better get to it!
So for the next year or so, I wrestled the story onto the page. Libba Bray says writing is bloody and brutal, and I definitely felt that. Then I received an SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant—it was a signpost. We had a second daughter, I kept writing, met my awesome agent, Edward Necarsulmer IV, at another writing conference, and he sold it in a preempt to our top choice (she has been amazing to work with!).

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Writing is a process that involves both the mind and the heart. You can’t just decide to write something meaningful one day and pour it out the next—it takes time to hone your skills as well as to unlock a story that is important to you. There are ways to cultivate both—taking writing classes, reading excellent books, finding like-minded peers to journey with you. Most of all, writing. Maybe not every day or even every week, but take time to prioritize putting words on a page. Nothing is wasted in life—you will get there, if it is truly important to you.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I feel like so much of the world is in flux right now. There are so few constants. My goals have become considerably more modest over the last few years—my New Year’s Resolution last year was to give my to-do list to the Higher Power of To-Do Lists (inspired by The Higher Power of Lucky, of course) and to take one speck, one open door at a time.
As for inspirations, I find that in my close relationships—friends I have had since high school and before, my wonderful writing community, my husband who is my favorite person ever (Kamran in TELL ME A SECRET kind of looks like him!), and our daughter. They are my constants. And of course, books!

I know you blog, both personally and with the readergirlz. What do you like best about blogging?

This is probably completely cliché, but I love that it’s connecting to a community. So much about writing is solitary that it’s wonderful to check in with people (my blog roll is a mile long), put thoughts and questions out there, and interact with other book-lovers. readergirlz has been especially wonderful in that way—I have loved being a part of it. 

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

I just handed in my second novel to my editor (code name: CREED)! I’m on pins and needles hoping she likes it. In the meantime, I’m thwarting my anxiety by talking to you!

Thank you, Holly! Here are some other details about Holly's blog tour and ongoing contest:
The full tour schedule is here: Next stop: Wednesday, July 28th at Eve’s Fan Garden

Prizes each week for blog comments – we’re giving away signed books each week, t-shirts, music, journals, gift cards, and more!
TELL ME A SECRET Tour Contest Entry Rules
        Leave comments at any official tour stop or Holly’s blog ( throughout the tour! Each comment counts as an entry (one comment per post*).
        Tweet about the tour (@hollycupala) and tell us what you think!
        Post about the tour, then leave a comment at my blog.
        Prizes available to US/Canadian shipping addresses only.
Each week's prizes will be announced at Holly’s blog the following week - check back to see if you've won and contact us at the contact link at (we will hold prizes for 2 weeks).
* Comment calculation: for instance, during week one you can comment once at every official stop, and once on any of my posts for that week to be entered in that week's prize drawing.

Read a two-chapter preview of TMAS here:


holly cupala said...

Hi, Janet! Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog on this sunny summer day! I'm so excited to be here.

Luckily, that 2nd novel was officially accepted, and I'm just waiting for my editorial notes...and kicking back here with you!


Janet Fox said...

Yay, Holly!! I can't wait to hear more about book #2 - you'll have to come back here!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing the advice Holly for us newer authors. That's great Holly that your 2nd novel was accepted. How exciting.

holly cupala said...

Woohoo, party at Janet's! I'm very happy you had a chance to meet Natalie, another children's writer gal. Thank you again for having me to Through the Wardrobe!