Sunday, January 31, 2010

Interview with C. J. Omololu

C. J. Omololu

author of the upcoming YA novel
(due February 2, 2010)

Everyone has secrets. Some are just bigger and dirtier than others.

For sixteen years, Lucy has kept her mother's hoarding a secret. She's had to—nobody would understand the stacks of newspapers and mounds of garbage so high they touch the ceiling and the rotting smell that she's always worried would follow her out the house. After years of keeping people at a distance, she finally has a best friend and maybe even a boyfriend if she can play it right. As long as she can make them think she's normal.

When Lucy arrives home from a sleepover to find her mother dead under a stack of National Geographics, she starts to dial 911 in a panic, but pauses before she can connect. She barely notices the filth and trash anymore, but she knows the paramedics will. First the fire trucks, and then news cameras that will surely follow. No longer will they be remembered as the nice oncology nurse with the lovely children—they'll turn into that garbage-hoarding freak family on Collier Avenue.

With a normal life finally within reach, Lucy has only minutes to make a critical decision. How far will she go to keep the family secrets safe?

Here is the INTERVIEW:

What do you think is the most important thing readers will take away from your book?

That secrets can only get big and dirty if you keep them to yourself, and that no matter what the issue, you're not as alone as you think.

Dirty Little Secrets is about a girl whose mother hoards everything--garbage, junk, all sorts of stuff. Why did you decide to write about this kind of life?

I actually read about a similar situation in a magazine and started wondering what it would be like to grow up like that. My parents weren't hoarders, but I've known some during my lifetime so I felt that I could write about it accurately. Once you start talking about it, almost everyone has known someone with the disorder, although it's always very hush hush.

Where have you lived in your lifetime, and how have these places inspired you or impacted your writing?

I grew up in San Diego, lived in Santa Barbara, Scotland and San Francisco. The last two places in particular allowed me to meet many different kinds of people and take down many stereotypes. I highly recommend living in a big city at least once in your lifetime.

What is your writing process like?

I usually get an idea from somewhere - a magazine article, a show on TV or just out of the blue and start "what iffing" it. What if I were that person? What if I grew up in that situation? It usually has to percolate for awhile as I get to know the characters and they reveal themselves to me little by little. Once they've really started speaking to me and tossing out great lines, I usually do a loose, 9 step plot outline and then start writing. For me, I get into a zone where it is almost like a movie is playing in my head and I'm just writing down what happens. I'm a firm believer in the fact that the stories are already there, and it's my job to chip away at them until they are revealed.

What do you think is most unique about your writing or, specifically, Dirty Little Secrets?

I think DLS gives a unique perspective on what it is like to live with someone who has a serious mental disorder. I had a lot of help from adults who had grown up in hoarded homes and they gave me some great advice while I was writing the book. I've had adult children of hoarders tell me that they couldn't read it all at once because it touched too many raw nerves.

What was the experience of getting published like for you?

I write picture books too, and had one come out in July of 2009, but publishing a YA is a completely different animal. Dirty Little Secrets was actually the third novel that I'd written, but it was the easiest to write once I'd figured out the format - about three months from start to finish. My agent loved it, and we both knew it was a matter of time before we found the right editor. A few houses thought the subject matter was too difficult to publish, but my editor Mary Kate ran with it from the start.

What is the most exciting thing about being a published (or almost published) YA author?

That other people are going to read Lucy's story. That's the most terrifying part too.

How do you choose the names for your characters?

They choose themselves really. I just picture the character and the name seems to come along with it. Sometimes for secondary characters, I'll grab my son's school directory and look through it to see what fits. If you try to force a name on a character that they don't want, you'll usually lose.

What are some of your favorite YA books?

Usually the one I'm reading at the moment. I just started Liar by Justine Larbalestier and it's really good so far. I just finished fellow Tenner author Jen Nadol's The Mark and really loved it. Of course, John Green's Looking For Alaska will always be a favorite and I love Maureen Johnson and E. Lockhart. I don't read a lot of fantasy or paranormal in general. My TBR pile is towering with all of the great stuff that is coming out these days.

And, because I've always wondered, who writes the jacket flap synopses for books? Does the author get a say in what they do or don't reveal?

No ;) Actually, it depends on the house. In my case, my editor wrote the first draft, I edited it a bit, sent it back and we came to a happy compromise. The publisher asked us not to reveal certain aspects of the book in the copy and that was fine with me.

CYNTHIA JAYNES OMOLOLU was interviewed by READING ROCKS on September 27, 2009.

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