Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Interview with Holly Cupala, author of Tell Me a Secret

Marlene: Tell us about your book:

Holly: It’s been five years since Miranda’s bad-girl sister disappeared into the night and died in a mysterious crash. Five years of holding her family together – her drama-obsessed mother, her disappearing father. In just one year, she will escape to college on the arm of her boyfriend, Kamran, and disappear herself. Until then, she has a new best friend with the keys to unlock her sister’s secret world.
But now Miranda has a secret of her own…two lines on the pregnancy test that will shatter everything she hopes for—and may even show a way into her own future.

Marlene: What was your inspiration for this story?

Holly: A very hard year—two losses that changed my life. After that, my writing didn’t have much meaning. Then one day, the idea for Tell Me a Secret landed in my lap, and I just started writing. Notes, at first. With the encouragement of many writing friends, I got up the courage to write the book.

Marlene: Do you remember writing the first words? Are they still the same?

Holly: Vividly! Only because it was 3 a.m. I had a tiny baby who had just fallen asleep, and at that point I was so sleep-deprived that I should definitely not have been operating machinery…when the first line hit me. It’s tough, living in the shadow of a dead girl. I knew if I didn’t get up to write it down, Miranda might never speak to me again! So I got up and wrote the passage that in now the first few pages in the novel.

Marlene: What kind of research did you have to do for this story?

Holly: Much of it was experiential. Beyond that, I talked to friends, professionals, rocket scientists…
Even in a contemporary story, there are a million details that must be investigated. The hospital scenes were crucial, and I had some terrific consultants on those. I’ve heard from readers who have had similar experiences—it means a great deal to me that they thought I captured her story in a true and meaningful way.

Marlene: What is your favorite line, passage, chapter from this book?

Holly: Line: probably the first.

Passage, from Chapter 10, after the breakup:
Nothing I knew about Xanda prepared me for this. She left no roadmap for rejection…I had tried to pour Kamran into myself, filling those tunnels of despair left over from Xanda with tendrils of hopefulness, the way being with Andre seemed to fill my sister with a kind of tempered steel. Now that Kamran had forcibly ripped them out, I was reeling from emptiness.

Chapter: the Halloween party. I love love love the Q-tips scene! That was a lot of fun to write. Plus I was able to include my favorite word, palimpsest.

Marlene: Was there any part that you struggled with or avoided writing?

Holly: Me, avoid?? Uh, yes. The ultimate showdown chapter. In fact I pretty much skipped it through the first draft, only writing notes. I knew it would be a critical convergence of secrets and reality, and that we had to come out of it with some kind of resolution. Dialogue is probably the hardest ingredient for me, so I had to really wrestle with what Miranda and the primary villain would say…and in the process, realized the villain had so many secret reasons for her behavior throughout the novel. I hated every minute of it until the pieces finally fell into place!

Marlene:What's on your nightstand right now?

Holly: A giant pile. But I’ll give you the ones at the top: The Clearing, by Heather Davis; Stolen, by Lucy Christopher; Forget-Her-Nots, by Amy Brecount White. So little time, so much to read…

Marlene: Besides writing, do you have any other passions?

Holly: Like Miranda, I am an artist—though I love to paint and collage (labyrinths are way too exacting for me). The engraving of a medieval pregnant girl which Miranda avoids in Chapter 5 is actually from one of my paintings. I also love to do all kinds of crafty stuff and have a running DIY Friday series on my blog.

Marlene: Have you ever wanted to quit writing? Why?

Holly: Absolutely. After our loss, I honestly couldn’t see the purpose in writing. Much of what I’d written up to that point had been to please other people, not really delving into anything true. But many encouraging friends wouldn’t let me quit, and they were a tide that lifted me and the story all along the way. And that experience stripped away all of the fears I had about writing something deep and scary. I wonder now if that was part of the process, to get to the story I was meant to write.

Thank you so much, Marlene and Melissa and Mary, for inviting me to YA Authors Café! I have such admiration for all of you and am very excited to be here.

For more information about Holly and her books visit her website at

Readers, now it’s your turn. Ask a question! Leave a comment. Holly will pop back in for one week to respond. You’re up!