The cat had the chance to interview the wonderful Cecil Castellucci, who has a new book coming out in May, The Year of the Beasts, which she wrote together with Nate Powell. Enjoy reading the interview!
The cat: The Year of the Beasts is coming out in May. What should readers know before reading it?
C.C.: I think that some people might have a little bit of a learning curve with regards to the alternating chapters of prose and graphic novel. I would say, to hang in there! It will all come together. And if you are not used to reading comic books, think of this as a way in!
The cat: What is it that you find fascinating about the mythological Medusa story?
C.C.: I always thought that it was fascinating that she turned people to stone when they gazed on her. But it captured my imagination that in some stories she was born beautiful and then turned ugly after suffering a trauma by Athena. This duality of her intrigues me. And I think that image of it served this story well. I think that when we are in crisis, or grief or trauma we are hard to look upon.
The cat: Can you tell us something about the collaboration with Nate Powell? How did the two of you decide to work together?
C.C.: Working with Nate Powell was a dream. I was such a big fan of his book Swallow Me Whole and his new books, Any Empire and Silence of Our Friends are amazing as well. Nancy Mercado thought that maybe his art style would go well with my story. I agreed! I’d had the great pleasure of meeting Nate before at the Toronto Comics Art Festival, so we already knew that we liked each other and got along well. The collaborative process was pretty easy. I had written the novel including a script for the comic book elements. For this script I wrote a loose idea of the setting and the mood I was going for along with the dialogue. Nate then broke this down into panels by drawing thumbnails – or loose sketches- of what he thought a good pacing of action would be. We both, along with Nancy Mercado, our editor, talked about what worked and then he drew and inked and lettered the whole thing.
The cat: At a certain point Jasper says to Tessa there’s a monster inside all of us. So what monster is inside of you?
C.C.: I don’t know! Or maybe I do but a lady shouldn’t tell! But I can tell you that I would be afraid that I’d be one of the Graeae. I would really hate to share a tooth and an eye with two other ladies.
The cat: What is your favorite part of the book?
C.C.: I love all of it because it was such a different kind of book for me to write. But I really love chapter nine and chapter ten. I think they flow into each other so nicely.
The cat: Where do you get your inspiration from in general?
C.C.: Every book springs from a different well. I think inspiration comes from paying attention and looking for random threads on how to stitch a story together. I also think you have to be out and about and interested in lots of things. This one came from a time when I was in deep crisis. I felt that I was terrible to look upon and that as I tried to sort through what I was going through, people were frightened away by my violent emotions. I didn’t want to write a book and I didn’t want to write a graphic novel and I just thought well, why not do half and half. I knew I wanted it to be about two very different kind of girls who were somehow twinned. But like I said, every book comes from a different place.
The cat: Can you tell us something about your own creative process? Where do you work? Do you have a certain routine?
C.C.: I like to think of the page as always being open. So I don’t have a specific routine per se. But I will say that I love sunny days. I often sit on my porch. I live in Los Angeles, so that’s pretty much possible to do year round. It depends what part of the process I’m in, I like to revise in cafes or even in bed. I am a big fan of deadlines, in that way I give myself a chunk of time to dream about the book knowing that I have to get things down. For example, right now I am giving myself three weeks to get down a skeleton for my new novel. I’m hoping to get the bones down so I’ll have something to flesh out.
The cat: To say that you are a multi-talent is really an understatement. Have you always been this creative? Were you a creative child?
C.C.: You are too nice! I think the answer to that is yes. I mean, I have always known that I wanted to be a creative person. To live my life as an artist. I never wanted to do anything else. When I was little other kids wanted to play kick ball and I tried to get them to put on an opera. And for me, it’s always been stories. I just love stories. All of the different things that I do seem as though they are all the same to me. A book, a play, a novel, a movie, a performance piece, an opera, a song, they are all ways of telling a story.
The cat: Did you read a lot as a child? Are there any books that you fondly remember?
C.C.: I did read a lot as a child! Favorites were A Wrinkle in Time, The Tripod Trilogy, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, A Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz. Oh! So many!
The cat: What is the best book (YA or other) that you have read in a long time? What are you reading at the moment?
C.C.: The best book I read most recently was The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. The way that he wrote about the West and the two brothers was great!
I am currently reading Grave Mercy by RL LeFevers for the panel I’m moderating at the LA Festival of Books and I’m enjoying it very much.
The cat: You’ve made music, you’ve written (YA) novels, you’ve written graphic novels, contributed to film projects… Is there a certain form of art that you prefer? Where does your heart really lie?
C.C.: My heart lies in storytelling. For me all of these things are the same thing. They are all ways to tell a story.
The cat: What is your attitude towards storytelling? Why do you like to tell stories?
C.C.: I guess what I like about stories is how much exploring you can do. You really become an adventurer of the human condition either by writing a story or by reading them. You can go under the ocean, back in time, to outer space. You can be a mother, a wife, a crone, a witch, a queen, a man. It’s a way spelunking.
The cat: Have you ever experienced writer’s block or just ‘creative block’? How do/did you deal with it?
C.C.: I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think that sometimes you are just not ready to write what you are meant to write. It’s just not coming organically. But if you just breathe, take a walk, read a book, do the dishes, eat some bon bons… you’ll get there. And sometimes you have to just write through it. You just have to sit there and get words down on the page knowing that once they are down you can revise them.
The cat: Do you think you are influenced by other authors? If so, which ones?
C.C.: It’s more that I’m influenced by all kinds of art. I take my influence from all kinds of literature, films, television, paintings, opera, ballet…whatever! All art is trying to understand the human condition and to express a tiny point of it. There is something to be found that is totally right in that expression and is the very color you need to paint with for your own work. When I was writing The Year of the Beasts I was at an artist colony and I had all the artists there draw me a portrait of Medusa and the other beasts. All of them were different, but all captured a different piece of her angst that I needed. So, what I’m saying is that every single artist inspires me.
The cat: What book do you wish you had written?
C.C.: I wish I had written Persuasion by Jane Austen. I love that book so much.
The cat: Is there anyone you’d like to work with for one of your next projects? Who and why?
C.C.: Oh! I feel as though I’ve already worked with such dream people and it’s been such delightful surprises about how those collaborations came together that I don’t dare disturb the machinations of the universe by wishes! Instead I will say who I would have loved to work with. Luis Buñuel. I think we would have cooked up some cool stuff.
The cat: What’s the best and the most frustrating aspect of being a writer?
C.C.: Writing stories. Writing stories.
The cat: Is there anything you regret in your creative career?
C.C.: I regret the moments where I lose a little bit of hope and begin to despair. I wish I would remember to just push that feeling aside and remember that I just need to keep writing.
The cat: I just finished Dear Bully and I noticed that you and Mo Willems contributed the only graphic stories. Why did you decide to add a graphic story and not a ‘regular’ short story or essay?
C.C.: I believe that a story tells you how it wants to be written. When they asked me to write an essay, I couldn’t think of anything. But I did think of writing a little comic book about the silent treatment. I recruited my Mom to draw the pictures. I kind of love that the images are naïve and innocent.
The cat: Did bullying change you as a person?
C.C.: I think it’s more that group dynamics and my struggle to understand that that has changed me as a person. Sadly, I think that group think doesn’t go away just because we aren’t kids anymore.
The cat: In your opinion, what is the most important thing for a person to do when they witness bullying?
C.C.: Speak up. Help out in whatever way you can. But stay safe. Talk about it. Silence is the real trouble.
The cat: What one advice would you give someone who is being bullied?
C.C.: You think that no one knows what you are going through. But you are not alone. And there is definitely an adult in your world who has been there and knows and that you can talk to. So find them and talk about what’s going on.
The cat: Finally, can you tell us anything about new projects you are working on?
C.C.: Yes! My next book comes out in Spring 2013. It’s a comic book for younger readers called Odd Duck and it’s illustrated by Sara Varon. It’s about two ducks named Theodora and Chad. I’m very excited about it. And I’m currently working on YA novel called The Tin Star. It’s book one of a two book sci fi series I’ve got coming out. It takes place on a space station far away from Earth and it’s full of aliens. It’s due out in Fall 2013.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions!