Today I am interviewing Cal Armistead. I read Cal's upcoming book Being Henry David and loved it, so I'm thrilled to share some more about her with you all today. Being Henry David will be released March 1st, 2013 and I recommend you all go add it to your pre-order or Goodreads list!
Tell us a little about yourself and the book(s) you've written...
A little about myself? Hmm…let’s see…people always ask how I got my nickname “Cal,” so I guess I’ll start there. I wish my real name was something fascinating like Callista or Calliope or Caledonia, but the true story is way more boring. My name is Carolyn, and when I was a kid, my goofy friends messed with it and called me “Caloryn” which got shortened to “Cal.” It stuck, the end. As for my family, my dad was a Methodist minister, which makes me a PK (preacher’s kid), my mom was a school teacher, and I have an older brother named Steve. I feel like I was marked at birth to be a writer, because I’ve never wanted to be anything else. When I was in elementary school, I never minded when we had indoor recess, because as much as I liked running around outside with my friends, I also loved staying in to write and illustrate my own little books. I still have some of them, mostly stories about dolls and other inanimate objects that come to life and have bizarre adventures. When I was 9, my art teacher, Mrs. Carr, suggested I send one of my little books off to a publisher, so I did. Although The Poor Macaroni Named Joany never made it to print—a wise move on the part of that publisher—I was not so easily deterred. I went on to become an English major (Art minor) in college, and focused on journalism.
I spent a number of years writing commercials for radio stations fulltime while freelancing for newspapers (like The Chicago Tribune) and magazines (like Shape), but when I decided to re-visit fiction writing, I realized my imagination had gotten rusty. Creating worlds and characters and stories out of thin air is (for me anyway) much more challenging than journalism, where you report on events and people that already exist. So I went back to school and got an MFA degree. (Best idea ever!) There, I honed my long-neglected fiction skills, wrote one (unpublished) young adult novel for practice, then wrote a second, Being Henry David, which has gone on to be my first published novel. It was a long wait from age 9, but some of the best things in life are worth waiting for!
Do you have a favourite line or two from one of your book(s)? What is it?
“The last thing I remember is now.”
That’s the first line of the book, and it shows you exactly where my character (who has amnesia) is in his head. He has no idea who he is or where he is. The journey of discovery starts for him, and also for the reader, with that first line.
Another line I like is, “Don’t take more than you need. Don’t need more than you take.” That sums up what I think Henry David Thoreau was trying to get through our thick skulls in his book Walden. My character gets it.
How many finished stories did you write before seeing your first book published? Do you think you'll ever go back to them and try again?
I’ve written a whole boatload of stories, but only one other completed teen novel, called Slow Dancing on the Edge of the Roof. I feel like I learned a lot during the process of writing that work. When I sent it around to agents, there were positive responses but the recurring theme was: “I like it, but don’t quite love it.” I definitely want to revisit that manuscript sometime soon and see if I can make the poor thing more lovable.
What is one thing you'd like your readers to take away from your book(s)?
Hopefully my readers will be touched by my characters and the way they’ve tried to be good people with integrity, even if some of their choices weren’t perfect. I’d like to think readers might take away a better understanding of Thoreau and the amazing things he wrote about nature and simplicity. I’d also love it if readers felt inspired to go outside and take a walk in the woods!
If you had to choose a colour to describe your book, which one would you pick? Why?
Green! The heart of the book is about nature and the woods and things that are healthy and growing and vibrant and alive. Yep, definitely green.
What will your next book be about?
I already have a first draft written of my next book—working title: LifeShards It’s about a girl who finds an antique mirror that breaks into several shards—each of which allows her a glimpse into a life she might have lived if she’d been raised by different people under different circumstances. This will be a real switch for me—my first book’s protagonist has no clue to his identity, while my second book’s protagonist has to figure out how to integrate five different ones.
If you weren't writing what do you think you'd be doing?
Panhandling on the streets of Boston. Just kidding. Possibly, I’d still be working in radio, which I did for about thirteen years. It was writing that got me involved in radio however, so if I was in radio, I’d still be writing. So does that count? Other careers I’ve considered over the years: commercial artist, publicist, and (for about twenty minutes), forest ranger.
Do you have pets? Can you tell us a little about them?
I have a dog and a cat. (“Dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria!” – my favorite line from the first Ghostbusters movie.) My dog is a miniature Australian shepherd named Layla after that fabulous Eric Clapton song, and I am absolutely crazy about her. She’s my first dog ever. I always vowed I needed to have a dog at some point in my life so I could understand that bond people talk about between dogs and people. So I did, and now I do. We also have a tuxedo cat named Jolie, who is very sweet and feminine. She’s my daughter Cori’s cat technically, but when Cori moved out, we kept Jolie because we didn’t want to break up the cat-dog relationship.
Do you have any fun hobbies other than reading and writing? What are they?
Yes, yes, yes! I have too many hobbies and not enough time to keep up with them all. I’m a singer—I was in a blues/rock band for almost six years (we were finalists in the Boston Blues Challenge, 2011!), sing in a fabulous eleven-person a cappella group with my husband, play a little guitar and—for special occasions—cowbell. I’ve always loved making art, especially painting in acrylics, but haven’t had much time for that lately. Writing and music take up a whole lot of time these days. I also like hiking, working out, and (I admit it) watching ridiculous reality TV shows.
If you were to write non-fiction, what subject would you write about? Why does it interest you?
When I was working for Shape magazine, I developed a passion for writing about body-mind-spirit health, and how all three are critical for a person to feel healthy and whole. I even considered getting a masters degree in Integrative Health, so I could have the necessary credentials. Instead, I got my masters in creative writing and never looked back. Someday however, I’d like to revisit that subject.
What advice would you give your teen readers about life?
Wow. Now there’s an interesting and difficult and important question. I have two things I’d like to say to my teen readers. First, I hope my book inspires teens to go outside from time to time, and be immersed in nature. Nature is the stuff we’re made of, and being in it makes life feel real and full and healthy. (There’s that body-mind-spirit stuff again.) Hey, I love my computer and iPhone as much as anybody, but sometimes it’s important to unplug and look at a lake and feel the breeze in your hair and that peace in your soul.
The other thing I’d like to say is, no matter how bad you might feel on any given day, remember this: it gets better. Being a teenager is hard work, making that transition to adulthood is difficult, so hang on and hang in. I had some incredibly awkward and painful experiences myself in high school, (doesn’t everyone?) and it’s hard to put those things in perspective while you’re going through them. But as a teenager, you hold your amazing future self within you like a promise. Be gentle with yourself.
Thank you for sharing with us today, Cal! You can find out more about Cal Armistead and her book Being Henry David below.
Being Henry David:
The last thing he remembers is now. He wakes up in Penn Station with no memory of who he is—only that he’s about seventeen. All he has in his possession is a worn-out paperback of Walden by Henry David Thoreau. All he knows is that he’s on the run. And so he becomes Henry David, “Hank” for short. With the book as his only clue, he sets out for the only destination he can think of: Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. There, while sleeping in the woods and in hiding places around town, it seems like he can begin again, with new friends and a girl he can’t stop thinking about. But when pieces of memories start coming back, Hank realizes the stranger he fears the most is himself. What’s in his past that his mind won’t let him face?
Find it on Amazon.
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About the author:
Cal has been a writer since age 9, when she submitted her first book, The Poor Macaroni Named Joany to a publisher. Sadly, this literary gem did not make it to print. But Cal continued pursuing her lifelong passion, and wrote copiously for radio, newspapers and magazines (Cal has been published in The Chicago Tribune, Shape Magazine, Body & Soul Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Chicken Soup for Every Mom’s Soul and others). Although it took years for Cal to try her hand again at fiction writing, her first young adult novel (Being Henry David) will be published by Albert Whitman & Co. on March 1, 2013. Cal holds an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine, works at an independent book store, is a voice-over actress, sings semi-professionally, and lives in a Boston suburb with her amazing husband and a dog named Layla.