By Leslie Lindsay
I am thrilled to feature National Book Award Finalist Deb Caletti to Write On, Wednesday! When I came across her latest book, HE’S GONE (Bantam, 2013) it was quite honesty by accident. Not the kind of accident that occurs between the covers of the book, but one in which you find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Having a long-standing career writing YA, this is Caletti’s first book intended for an adult audience. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
Leslie Lindsay: Thank you for agreeing to be with us today, Deb. HE’S GONE totally ranks up there as one of my all-time favorite books. I fell in love the gritty manner you crafted sentences, the idea that things aren’t always what they seem, the interplay of memory versus reality and the mystery of what really happened. Can you tell us how you came up with the premise for this book?
Deb Caletti: “The idea for the book came much the same way the book itself begins. I woke up one morning, and my husband wasn’t there. I did that listening you do, where you try to see if the TV is on in the other room, or if there’s the sound of the toaster lever being pushed down. And suddenly there was the What If that often begins a novel. What if you woke up one day to find that your husband had vanished? And while my own was merely out walking the dog, the situation was much more complex for Dani and Ian in He’s Gone.”
“After I had the original premise, I decided to explore the subjects of guilt and wrongdoing, marriage and remarriage, and the way those old, treacherous voices from childhood can continue to haunt us. During that time, I was doing a lot of thinking about regrets and mistakes. The thematic question became this: what do us generally well meaning but all-too-human folks do with the wrongdoings we accumulate in a life? How much guilt should we carry, and why-oh-why do some of us carry so much of it? ”
Leslie Lindsay: You’ve jumped genres from YA to fiction. How is that change treating you? What would you say are the main differences between writing for young adults versus adults? Why is it important to remember your audience?
Deb Caletti: “I haven’t made a permanent jump – my next book is a YA novel called THE LAST FOREVER, which I think is one of my best – a great book for teens and adults alike. After that, I’ll be back to another adult novel. The change in genres just made sense. My previous nine young adult novels are complex and character driven, which meant my readers are already a mixed bag of ages, with a large percentage college-aged and over. The crossover has been great for me creatively and professionally. I think it’s important to shake things up every now and then, to stay fresh and interested in the work you do.”
“The writing process wasn’t all that different from my other books, given their thematic weight. As I writer, what I basically do is put myself in a characters shoes (and mind and heart and bathrobe) and then tell the truth from there. I believe we are more similar than different – the thrill of new love, the crush of loss, the frustration of your car breaking down on an already bad day – the feeling is the same at eighteen or forty-eight. Love is love at any age, and so is joy and so is sadness. The surrounding elements might alter – a teen might be living in her parents’ home, versus Dani, for example, who lives in that gorgeous houseboat in He’s Gone; the loss might be a boyfriend versus a husband; that car might be Dad’s Honda versus Dani’s own old Audi. But the heart, I believe, is age-neutral – knowable, relatable, and understandable always, and heart is what creates a story a reader connects with. As a writer, I use the same tools for both age groups – empathy and honesty.”
“That said, I was aware that my target age range was elevated with He’s Gone, and it allowed me to play with more complex sentence structures and deeper themes. There were no fences for me to stay in or out of. It was very freeing. I could just write. No holding back. For me, writing within those boundaries is actually in many ways more challenging.”
Leslie Lindsay: Speaking of genres, how do you feel about the term ‘women’s fiction?’ Would you consider HE’S GONE women’s fiction?
Deb Caletti: “I’m not fond of any of the genre labels that might keep readers away from a book. “Women’s fiction” puts a fence around the work, which tells a male reader that the book isn’t meant for him. While He’s Gone has a female protagonist and while the story is told from her viewpoint, some of the strongest responses to the book have been from male readers who’ve really related to the corners of marriage and remarriage that are explored in it. The labels feel a little demeaning to readers. I trust they can figure out whether a book is for them or not without instructions.”
Leslie Lindsay: Can you tell us a little about your earlier writing days? Do you have dusty manuscripts under the bed? How long did it take to get your first book accepted/published?
Deb Caletti: “I studied journalism in college, thinking it was a more “practical” form of writing, and because I understood the odds of making it in this profession. But, of course, I was a creative writer, not a journalist, and the lifelong dream kept following me even when I didn’t follow it. I started writing seriously when my children were in preschool. I finally had a hard talk with myself one day and made a vow to “do it,” whatever it took. I actually wrote four unpublished adult novels before my fifth book, THE QUEEN OF EVERYTHING, was published. I had the unusual good fortune of acquiring an agent after the first book I wrote, someone who believed in me so greatly that he stuck with me through those unsold books. We actually thought THE QUEEN OF EVERYTHING was an adult novel. It’s about a young girl who watches her father spiral down to commit a crime of passion, and the content is pretty heavy. When it got bought as a YA novel, my life in YA began. I always call it the luckiest accident. I’ve loved my YA life. But writing adult novels is a coming-full-circle for me. And, yes, my agent and I are STILL together.”
Leslie Lindsay: Do you have any specific writing routines? Things you have to have “in order” before you start? (For me, it’s often a clean house. But if you were to look at my office, you may question my housekeeping skills).
Deb Caletti: “Given that I usually publish a book a year, there are three jobs going on at any one time – writing the newest book, working with the publisher to prepare the one I’ve just finished for publication, and doing the PR for the book that’s just been released. So, generally, I’ve got to get right to it. Step one: fill the coffee cup! Strong, please! I check my mail in the morning for any urgent business from my agent, publishers or publicists, and then I write.”
Leslie Lindsay: Would you consider yourself a ‘pantser’ or a ‘plotter?’ A little of both? How do you typically go about the process of writing from idea to finished book?
Deb Caletti: “I know where I’m starting and where I’m ending up, but not necessarily what’s going to happen along the way. My process is, begin at the beginning and keep going until the end. It’s a lot like life that way, and also in the way that you figure out quite a bit of it as you go. You change your mind, you make discoveries. I start with my basic plot, and then I decide on the themes I want to explore. I decide which characters are going to make the trip. For me, writing a book is a therapeutic act, an attempt to understand both myself and all of us poor old souls doing our best to ride the joys and sorrows of life.”
Leslie Lindsay: What advice might you give to an aspiring author with a completed manuscript?
Deb Caletti: “This business requires boldness, determination, and passion. Make that manuscript the best it can be, and I mean THE BEST. Send out the queries to agents in the way they request, and then send out some more. If the feedback isn’t what you’ve been longing to hear, fix the book and/or move on to the next one, and the next. If that book doesn’t do it, don’t get stuck there. Write an even better book and try again. This is a craft. Some successful writers have written five, eight, thirteen books before writing the one that will finally be published. Too, know what this business really is and isn’t about (key word: business). Know what it can give and what it won’t likely give. With that knowledge, guard your heart and GO. Have the persistence of a dog with a knotted sock.”
Thank you so very much for sharing your insights and musings with us…and most of all, the gift of your literary work.
For more information about Deb Caletti and her books, check out these sites & social media:
- This book trailer, is hands-down on of the best I’ve seen. Ever. It sort of makes me want a movie to follow the book, but we all know movies aren’t nearly as good as the book. ; ) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sz-n4-TSDGA
- Random House Reader’s Circle Guide: http://www.randomhouse.com/rhpg/rc//2013/04/15/readers-guide-hes-gone-by-deb-caletti
- Website: www.debcaletti.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DebCaletti
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/debcaletti
[All images provided courtesy of Deb Caletti and used with permission. Special thanks to Deb for collaborating!]