Back in February, I met Selene at the AWP conference in Seattle. She was this smart, sassy chick on one of the countless YA lit panels I sat through. But she stood out with her super rad no-nonsense honesty. I could tell we would click.
After the panel, I went up and asked if she’d mind doing an interview for my blog, which I had to tell her was called Hot Pink Underwear. I never know if that’s going to dissuade would-be interviewees. But she was like, *shrug* “Sure.” and almost immediately sent me an advance reader copy of Melt. The ARC sat around while I was doing who-knows-what stupid MFA stuff until one day I started reading and couldn’t stop. I devoured it. Finished that same day.
This book gets voice so right. Especially the voice of Joey. Melt may be inspired by The Wizard of Oz, but the story is its own thing—gritty and unexpected. Kirkus calls Melt a “fresh, emotionally complex bildungsroman of young American love that looks long and hard at violence, and at what can overcome it.”
Big thanks to Selene for allowing me to “hold the mic” and ask her questions. Melt will be available to buy on November 6, 2014. You must read this book.
INTERVIEW WITH SELENE CASTROVILLA
MM: What a heart-pounding story—several scenes actually had me shaking. The book is based on true events, right? How did writing fiction from real life impact your writing process?
SC: When I’d go work out, my boxing coach would share these horrific scenes from his past—like when his mother had a couch broken over her back. I could feel his pain. So in that respect, true events initiated the story. From that emotional impulse, one of my two main characters, Joey, began to emerge. But the characters took over when I was writing. The sensory details and the actual story came out of the characters themselves. It’s not a conscious thing while you’re in the process. I was sweating as I was typing. You have no control. It’s exhilarating and terrifying.
MM: With all the stuff happening in the media about NFL players and domestic abuse, this story seems particularly timely. Joey’s dad is a respected community leader, yet in his private life, he’s a monster. Why do you think it’s important to take readers “behind the curtain” of domestic abuse and how do you hope this story will impact your readers?
SC: My heart is breaking over all that’s out there right now. When role models are the ones doing these terrible things, it glorifies the behavior. Kids who grow up in abusive homes often think that it’s normal. They don’t know there’s hope beyond their immediate situation. They don’t know who to trust. Kids keep so many things secret.
This isn’t a message book, but I hope my writing conveys this: we’re all hurting in some way, trying to find our way. If something doesn’t feel right to you, it can change and it doesn’t have to change badly. You don’t have to take it alone. You can get help. Even with my other books, I have so many kids who write to me who say they can identify with the characters. Isn’t that what we all want to feel? Like we’re not the only one going through what we’re going through. I’m very basic. I believe we’re all put on this earth to love each other. In every book I write I ask, “Why do people hurt each other?” I never get the answer, but putting the question out there matters.
MM: You tell this story with dual narrators, Joey and Dorothy. Why two narrators? Why the different formats?
SC: No two people experience an event the same way. I like dual narrators for that reason—different perspectives broaden a reader’s perspective. Faulkner’s As I lay Dying really set me off. All the voices. The characters in so much pain. That book opened my eyes to the power of more than one point of view. That book was amazing.
I love first person, but life isn’t narrated by one person. So I let both main characters speak. I just let them do their thing. You’d be surprised what comes out. I don’t outline. I wish I could. I always know the beginning and the end. The characters always have permission to find a different ending, but mostly it’s about them finding their way in between.
MM: Dorothy has a more traditional narrative, while Joey’s reads more like a verse novel. Talk to me about the choices you made.
SC: Melt wasn’t a conscious attempt to write in verse. I’m not a poet; I just try to reflect the way the voices of specific characters speak to me. I wrote another novel, Evolution, that was verse novel. It’s very psychological and dark—darker than Melt—but in that novel the voice took the form that best reflected the character. Joey’s voice isn’t poetic as much as scattered. He came pouring out very primal-like. The words on the page are broken up the way he’s broken up.
Dorothy is more thought-out. She’s wise beyond her years. Her voice and the form it takes on the page reflects her character.
MM: Joey is sort of a unique male lead – he’s not your typical romance novel “bad boy.” Joey really IS incredibly flawed, yet we, like Dorothy, still fall for him. Why do you think this is?
SC: I don’t think anyone’s good or bad. Society likes to label people bad and put them away, but I don’t think that’s how it works. I don’t believe people are born bad. Something has to happen. Kids fall through the cracks. I see it all the time. Things going on in families and nobody does anything. What are the ramifications of that? When no one helps a kid? How could we NOT feel for Joey? He’s not a bad person, he’s in a bad circumstance. All his reactions aren’t great, but what would we do in the same situation? Whenever you step inside a person’s life, you’re going to care. You feel it. I’m not excusing Joey or anybody for doing terrible things, but what brought them to this point? And can there be things that can intervene and change the trajectory of that person. Society needs to take responsibility for what’s happening to its members.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are people born bad. But in my experience, people are more complicated than that. Joey is real and complex and could be any one of us.
MM: Let’s talk about Dorothy. The Wizard of Oz was obviously an inspiration for her character. How is your Dorothy like and unlike L. Frank Baum’s Dorothy?
SC: My Dorothy, Like Baum’s, is completely thrown into a new place and new situation. She’s from a different world and is kind of the voice of reason, like Dorothy was in Oz. She’s trying to meet people, help friends like the Oz Dorothy, and her love has the power to save people. My Dorothy saves Joey in many ways. But at a cost.
I did make a point, however, of having my Dorothy named after Dorothy Parker—having her named after the Oz Dorothy would have been overkill. I think my Dorothy is more savvy than the Oz Dorothy. She would’ve been able to help Joey way more effectively if only she knew his secret.
MM: You characters are smart and often funny. How do you maintain a sense of humor while writing about dark subjects?
SC: I didn’t set out to be humorous. Their words just came out, like I said. They speak for themselves. I had no idea, for example, that when Dorothy gave Joey The Catcher in the Rye, that Joey would get so hung up about Holden and his “cocktails.” I thought it was funny, but never would have thought that myself.
MM: Lots of people have play lists these days. Any songs you listened to while writing the book?
SC: I can’t listen to anything while writing. I need quiet. Sometimes I put on Howard Stern, who I love, because the sound of his voice soothes me. He’s kind of my guru because he’s so honest. But while I’m writing, I don’t really listen. When I actually listen to music, though, I blast it!
MM: What book are you reading now?
MM: What are you working on next?
SC: I’m writing the sequel to Melt! Something I hadn’t planned on. People who’ve read it have asked to know what happens next, but I didn’t think I had anything more to say about them. I think the beauty of fiction is that we can each decide what comes next. But then the characters started talking to me again. What’s a writer to do? Start writing. What happens next will surprise everyone. Joey and Dorothy are surprising me. This is quite an adventure for me!
I’m also writing a sequel to my novel The Girl Next Door, from Jesse’s point of view–the first book was in Samantha’s. If you read The Girl Next Door, this switch may be unsettling for you at first. But again, he started talking to me. And he’s not happy. Plus, I’m working on two nonfiction books, I recently found out I’ll have another Revolutionary War picture book coming out–Yea!–and I just finished two adult novels.
And always marketing. Marketing will kill you. Marketing will eat your life.
MM: Any advice for those of us writing in the contemporary YA space?
SC: Bravo to you! It’s a noble endeavor to present a plot using the real world’s rules. I would suggest getting to know your characters first and let them guide you through the plot. Of course, what works for me may not work for everyone. But I love a story that’s character-driven.
I’m glad people are reading contemporary YA novels. I’m not against dystopian or vampires, but I feel like we have so much to deal with in life. The world is already dystopian. We don’t have all the answers in our novels, but I think it’s important to write about real things. To present the world as it is. Push issues, ask questions. Readers know when the story comes from the writer’s heart, when it’s authentic. When you’re handing teens a bunch of bullshit, they know it.
Selene Castrovilla is an award-winning teen and children’s author who lives and writes by Gandhi’s mantra: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Her new novel, Melt, will be released on November 6, 2014. The e-book is available for pre-order on Amazon, Kobo & iTunes. Cut and paste the pre-order receipt into a message to Selene, and she’ll send you a $2 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card, so you can have a cup o’ Joe while reading about Joe!
For more about Melt and Selene’s other books, visit her at www.SeleneCastrovilla.com where she’s having a Meltdown!, a daily countdown featuring insider information on the writing of Melt. You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and at selenecastrovilla on Instagram.