Friday, August 13, 2010

Favorite Author Friday: Rita Williams-Garcia

One of the fun parts about being a reader is that you can "discover" great books.  When I first read One Crazy Summer earlier this year, I felt like I had found something wonderful and had to tell EVERYONE I knew.  I wanted everyone to read it, to love it, to feel it.  It is that good.  And for me it got even better because Rita Williams-Garcia answered an email, and then more emails and I got to know an amazing author and teacher (she teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts)!  And because I am having One AMAZING (and a little Crazy) Summer I got to MEET Rita in person at ALA.  So cool!!!  Other readers have known Rita for years because she has written several great books.  But, she is new to me and what a first introduction!  Rita was kind enough to answer a few question for me (what a lucky girl I am), but before you read her answers go right now and get a copy of One Crazy Summer, it is a must read!  And if you are on the Newbery committee here is a hint:  it is THAT good!
And you now can get it as an audio book, so no excuses!
Why do you write for kids?
I began writing for teens because I couldn’t find contemporary books that reflected the lives and experiences of young people of color. I now write for kids because I’ve always been enchanted by story and that enchantment began in my childhood.
What advice do you have for kids who want to be writers?
Be sense alert! Engage the world around you with open eyes and ears. Be curious about taste, textures, and places. Pay attention to detail; how one thing is like another, or how things are very much opposed to each other. Write a little bit every day, and above all, read. Enjoy the music and pulse of words.

What is you current favorite book (can be a kid or adult book) and what was your favorite as a kid?
I’m a fickle book lover. I fall in love with whatever I’m reading. I just finished a re-read of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and am luxuriating in the details of setting. Jackie Woodson’s Feathers stays with me but right now I have a special place for Keeper by Kathi Appelt. As a kid, my list--so hard to choose one--includes a translation of the original Pinnochio, Reba Paeff Mirsky’s Thirty-One Brothers and Sisters and Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet The Spy.

Do you have a favorite Newbery winner?
My favorite Newbery winner would have to be Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins. Karana’s life was dangerous and hard, yet she endured life without her community. I felt like I was watching her grow up. I think that’s why I put her in Delphine’s hands.
When and where do you write?
I get up in the morning, read my Bible then sit at the edge of my bed and write in longhand or I type on my gigantic laptop that sits on a tray in my bedroom. I stop around 2pm, exercise (treadmill or jump rope), get cleaned up, eat and read email. I grab my work (both paper notepad and small netbook) and I hop on the F Train and ride to somewhere to get more work done. I leave my apartment so I can be glad to come home in the evening. But honestly, I go outside because I’m a living being and I need sunlight.

What are you working on now or having coming out soon we can look forward to?
I’m working on a gaming novel set in another time and place called Game On. It’s for readers ages 9-12 who like gaming and adventure. So far, I’ve been told it’s like Russell Hoban’s Ridley Walker, so I’m dying to finish so I can read Hoban’s work. I’m inches away from finishing. Since this story is such a departure from my other work, I know it’ll need a lot of editing so I’m thinking 2012. But you haven’t heard the last of Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern. I do have a sequel in mind and I jot small scenes whenever their voices get rambunctious.

Have you ever gotten rejection letters?
Of course! I began my writing career at 12 receiving rejection letter after rejection letter. Thank goodness I got them early. It wasn’t so shocking when I continued to receive them as an adult. And yep, they still keep a-coming!

Do you feel like a famous author? Has anything fun ever happened because you are famous?
Nope. The biggest difference is I get more email, do more online interviews, schools and libraries are requesting me to do author visits, and I actually see my book in more bookstores. The coolest things so far was going to ALA and running out of books at my signing. The second was, after the conference, my editor (Rosemary Brosnan) and I were about to board the return train but there was a mistake on mistake on my train ticket. My editor told the agents I was an important author, so they held the train in the station while the error was adjusted. Wow!

How many bookcases do you have?
I have four bookcases, several stacks piling in my hallway, and a few African stools stacked with books. That’s fine for a house, but I’m in a small apartment. I’m cozying up to the idea of ebooks.
Have you ever gone to a book store and bought copies of your book just for the fun of it?
Of course! It never gets old. I turn my jacket covers face out. I beg my relatives and friends to go to their local bookstores to ask for my book. My local bookstore is on to me.

One Crazy Summer has raised lots of awareness among kids about The Black Panthers, do you have any suggestions of other books kids can read to learn more?
Kekla Magoon’s most excellent, The Rock and The River springs to mind. Kekla’s novel was the first to introduce the Black Panthers to teen audiences. I’m sure more stories and works of non-fiction will and should follow.
Cecile is hard to like at times, what do you think of her?
I think she was someone who was damaged in her early life. I think she was someone who lost her childhood too soon. She reminds me that not all parents are ready for the job, and that we don’t know everything about our own parents. Even our parents are a mystery.
Which one of the sisters are you most like?
I’m a little like all three. Does that make me schizophrenic? I wasn’t as cute as Fern, but I am the youngest of three and was always off into my own world, daydreaming. Telling myself a story. I had a very responsible nature like Delphine. Like Vonetta, I long to perform but was and am shy--although Vonetta is all ham with a touch of stage fright.

Did the characters names come from particular inspiration?
Delphine came to me in a flash. I had the rhythm of their names before I actually knew them. But once I had Delphine, I heard Vo/net/ta and Fern. Then I began to tell myself the story behind their names. In their names I could see the hope, the heartbreak, and stubborn will. But honestly, I just love saying them out loud. “Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern.”

What is your favorite thing to get for Chinese take-out?
I love scallion pancakes and Peking duck. Well, I’m cheating. It’s hard to get duck for take-out.

1 comment:

  1. Love the Favorite Author Fridays, Laura... keep 'em coming! And good for you - keep spreading the word about this book!
    -Sam B. from Cincinnati