Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tenner Feature: Author CJ Omololu

Today, we have Tenner CJ Omololu with us to discuss her novel, Dirty Little Secret, which comes out in February from Walker. Take a look at what this fascinating novel is about!

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?

So let's get to the interview, because I am DYING to know more.

1. So, CJ, where did you get the idea for DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS?

I actually got the idea from an article in Marie Claire about an adult child of a hoarder and how she grew up. As I read it, I started wondering what a life like that would do to a kid and the ideas just kept coming, although it took a while to figure out what form they would take. I've known some hoarders - when you start talking about it, you find out it's much more common than you'd think - so I was able to get a pretty good feel for the situation. When I wrote it, there wasn't as much attention paid to hoarding as there is now - A&E now has a show on hoarding every week, which helps to put a face on the disorder.

2. Who has been the most inspirational figure in molding you as a writer?

Ooh, an easy question (I actually sat here for 10 minutes thinking about this one). Hmmm. I'd have to say there are two. Writer Karen English (Nikki and Deja, Francie) is really my mentor, and encouraged me when I was just starting out and completely clueless. She really should have run the other way, but took the time to show me how the business works, which was
invaluable. Then, I got to hang out with Ellen Hopkins at a weekend conference last year and she was really amazing both personally and professionally, so I'd have to say in terms of my career, I really look up to Ellen. She started out really slowly with a modest advance for her first book and not too much publicity and...well, I don't have to tell any of you where she is now.

3. Can you describe your writing process for us?

I sit at my kitchen counter with my laptop and hope that everybody leaves me alone:)

Actually, I usually get an idea from pretty much anywhere - a TV show, a magazine article (see above) or just a random thought - and then start "what if"ing it. What if I lived like that? What if my parents did that? From there, I usually do a really rough outline and spend time getting to know the characters. I'm a firm believer that the story and characters are already there, fully formed, and it's up to me to chip away at them until the whole thing is revealed. In an ideal world, I'd probably write from about 10pm to about 2am, but in my real world I have to get up at 7, so I don't get to write in my "zone" very often. I usually find out lots of interesting things about my characters when I'm out walking the dog. I really should start walking with a recorder or something.

4. When you found out DLS sold to Walker, how did you react? Scream? Faint? Jump up and down on your bed? Play it cool?

People who know me know that I hate cell phones. Hate them. I usually don't carry one, and if I do happen to have it on me, it's usually dead. So of course, "the call" came from my agent, on my cell, while I was in the middle of Target with two cranky kids hanging off the cart. I played it cool on the outside, but I was so shaky that we had to leave the store. When I got home, I called my agent back and burst into tears. Not so cool.

5. I know you also write books for children. Can you tell us what that is like? What are the differences between YA and books for younger readers?

The age of the main character and the subject matter usually define what kind of book it is going to be. That, and picture books have about 700 words, where novels usually run about 60k, although that doesn't necessarily make picture books easier to write. When you write a picture book, you sell the words, and the publisher picks the illustrator - you don't usually see
it until it's finished, where writing a novel is a more hands-on collaboration with the editor. My first book is a picture book called When It's Six O'clock in San Francisco and is a multicultural look at kids all over the world. On the other hand, DLS is sort of "edgy" and is for a completely different audience. It can be challenging to put yourself out there as accessible to parents and teachers while offering something meaningful for older readers as well.

6. And, finally, the standard Kody Question. If DLS was a movie, who would play Lucy? (And don't give me the "I have no clue" modest answer. I know you have ideas!)

My son says Kristen Stewart, so I have to defer to his judgement.

Thank you so much, CJ! I know I'm excited to read Dirty Little Secret, and I'm sure everyone else here is too!

Don't miss Dirty LIttle Secret, out from Walker in February!


Raven said...

Great interview CJ and Kody!

I love the premise for this book! The cover is amazing too.

I'll be looking forward to buying this book when it comes out in February.

Ami The Salami said...

Great interview! I love the cover :) I'll totally buy it!

MeganRebekah said...

I had to rush over here and read this interview! I already had this book on pre-order at Amazon because it looked so intriguing. I can't wait for it to come out so I can start reading.

Thanks for sharing the interview!

Emilia Joyce Plater said...

I TOTALLY want to pick up this book. The subject is so interesting! And my house is pretty messy, so I can relate.

Kristin Miller said...

Great interview, Kody! I'm fascinated by this book, since I also know hoarders. Looking forward the to release. :)

Kristin said...

I love Kristen Stewart! Good choice, CJ's son. :D

And I love the sound of DLS. Can't wait to read it!

suzie townsend said...

Great interview CJ and Kody. I've heard about DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS and it sounds awesome. Can't wait for this one :)

Bee said...

Oh perfectly awesome!!
Screams out EDGY!!

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