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Why YA (or Middle Grade) fiction? What draws you to it?
I’ve always loved writing about schools because I enjoyed my school years immensely: the teachers (most of them), the camaraderie, and the activities like drama, newspaper, and the literary magazine. I switched from Catholic to public school in the eleventh grade, and that opened up a whole new world to me.
I loved my school days so much that I became a high school teacher, and later a department head and disciplinarian, in the Philadelphia city high schools. There’s always something exciting going on in schools, and that excitement brought me a great sense of fulfillment in life. Every day brought new challenges, and it excited me to meet them.
I set Elliot K. Carnucci is a Big, Fat Loser: A Book About Bullying in a city school because I wanted to write about issues and themes I knew about. I love talking to kids and listening to their problems. I have to say that throughout the years they taught me more than I could ever teach them.
Pretend your protagonist is at school and opens his/her locker – what will we see inside?
You’ll find these things inside Elliot’s locker: a musical score for “Man of La Mancha,” the play he’s auditioning for; a tattered book of poems he bought at a library book sale; a scrawled note on the back of a 3/5 card to Rosalie, the girl he has his eye on, asking her to go to a movie; ticket stubs from the basketball game he attended with his best friends, Roy and LeBron; and a curt note from Nonna, his grandmother, to clean up his room, “pronto buster,” or be grounded.
What books were your favorite as a youth and why?
I’ve always loved Shakespeare’s plays, especially the tragedies. I also enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye because it delved deeply into the psychology of the protagonist, Holden Caulfield. Reading that book brought home the importance of looking deeply into a character before fleshing out the person on paper. People want to know what’s going on in characters’ heads and hearts.
Most of all, I loved poetry and still do. I love reading Pablo Neruda and Cummings for the rhythm in their poetry. I believe that poetic language should permeate all kinds of writing, even fiction and non-fiction books. I feel that people want writing to sound pleasant and melodious to the ear, no matter what kind of writing it is.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?
I wanted to be a writer from the time I was a small child. I also pretended I was a teacher and had an imaginary class that I’d regale with poems and stories. I remember reading my stories in installments to my friends on the school bus.
I started out majoring in radio/tv, but then decided to go into teaching. It’s a good thing because back in the day there were hardly any women broadcasters. However, all along I kept my dream of becoming a writer in mind. Throughout the years, when I was working and raising my children, I had little time to write. However, I began by taking small steps. I wrote “Guest Opinion” columns for my local paper and then wrote a few magazine articles.
When I retired from teaching, I worked as a student teaching supervisor and finally found more time to write. My first book was a study guide for the works of YA author, Cynthia Voigt. Then I went on to write many books on the topics of bullying and language arts. Elliot K. Carnucci is a Big, Fat Loser is my first venture in self-publishing except for a girls’ prayer book that I received the rights back for. All of my other books are traditionally published. I’ve found that there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of publishing.
What superpower would you love to have? Why?
I would like to improve my psychic ability. I love studying metaphysics and am an experienced Tarot card reader and also enjoy psychometry (gaining information by handling objects). These modalities give me insights into people and help me understand the world around me better. I read every book I can find on this topic and recently found The Afterlife of Billy Fingers a fascinating read. Before that I read My Son and the Afterlife, written by a medical doctor and an atheist before she had this experience talking with her son through channelers.
Sum up your book for Twitter: 140 characters or less.
Elliot K. Carnucci faces non-stop bullying, including a brutal head-dunk in the toilet, by a few ruthless classmates. Will he buckle under the pressure or fight back to come out a winner? Read this wild story with quirky characters to find out.
Ideal summer vacation?
All my life I’ve loved the Jersey shore. My family and I made weekly trips there when I was a child. I love the ocean, the boardwalk, the sound of the gulls, and the wonderful food (Crab Trap, Smitty’s Clam Bar, for instance). I feel more alive and joyful at the shore and would live there all year if I could. Many years ago we bought a condo in Ocean City and love to go there whenever we can. I will never tire of the Jersey Shore. One of my favorite poems is Sea Fever by John Masefield: “I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky...”
Which of your characters would you most like to meet? Why?
I’d most like to meet Elliot, but then, I feel like I’ve already known him in a past life. Maybe he was a long lost son. He’s a deep-thinking kid who is vulnerable in some ways, but he definitely knows what he wants and tries his best to get it. I like the fact that he’s not afraid to express his opinions even if they rub someone the wrong way. He’s never rude, but he’s always honest, especially with his dad, mom, and grandmother, Nonna, who is “a piece of work.”
I have already met Elliot’s friend and mentor, Walker Boardly. I knew the man the character was based on when I taught at Lincoln High School in Philadelphia. Scotty was a custodian whom the entire school community befriended and loved. Like Mr. Boardly, he would do anything to help students and staff alike. Once he waited with me in an empty school building until my husband came to pick me up even though his work day was long over. Tragically, he died while crossing a highway because of his disabled vehicle. I felt that including him in my novel was a way of honoring his memory. I will never forget him.
What four literary characters would you most like to have over for dinner? I’d like to meet my favorite character of all time, Holden Caulfied, from The Catcher in the Rye. He’s bold, brassy, and brazen and talks like a fresh kid, but I love him for his honesty and total innocence in the face of evil in our world.
I’d also love to meet Janie, the protagonist Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. She’s bright, beautiful, and courageous, and makes you want to read on. Of course, I’d like to dine with “The Bard of Avon,” Shakespeare. I’d ask him how he found his endless ideas for his captivating plays. I’d also love to meet Amy, the wife in the story Gone Girl. I’d ask her what really happened at the end of the book because although I enjoyed most of the story, the end was a real downer and left me hanging.
You’re stranded on a desert island—which character from your book do you want with you? Why? I want Nonna, the grandmother, because she’s a wild and wooly like me. We’d have a lot to talk about when the lights out: her plumber boyfriend with a ridiculous walrus mustache; her concerns about Elliot’s bouts with bullying; her annoyance with her funeral director son who’s always bugging her to do some dirty work around the parlor like styling the dead bodies’ hair; and her outrage over the divorce between her ex daughter-in-law Rayna and her son. Nonna and I could talk for hours way into the night, probably because the old girl is my alter-ego.
Since his parents divorced, he splits spending his time with his funeral director father and his mother Rayna, who dreams of becoming the queen of commercials on the west coast.
At the hands of his peers, Elliot experiences a series of bullying episodes that escalate from entrapment in a school supply closet to a brutal “swirly” (head dunk in the toilet) that lands him in the hospital emergency room.
Elliot has a small circle of loyal friends and a mentor named Duke, an aging school custodian, who root for him to overcome his bullying issues so that he can enjoy his life as a teenager and a budding singer/performer. Can Elliot win his fight against the nasty bullies, or is he doomed forever? Read this funny, sad, and crazy book to find out.
“Help–I can’t breathe–let me out. Somebody help...”
I pounded the inside of the musty supply closet until my knuckles turned blue. Did anybody even have the key?
What if they don’t come? What if I’m trapped here all night?
I could hear loud voices and laughing, so I knew Kyle Canfield and one of his friends from the basketball team were there, waiting to see if I would cave in and plead for mercy.
The bell blared. Classes changed. Kids stampeded through the halls. Then, silence. Finally I heard someone shout, “I’ve got the key, Doc.”
“Thanks, Duke,” Doc Greely, the assistant principal, said to Mr. Boardly, the man who’d sprung me loose.
Mr. Boardly, the head custodian, better known as Duke, offered me his arm, and I stumbled out of the closet. He was as thin as his mop handle, but all muscle–no flab like me. A scruffy white beard covered half his face.
He slammed the closet door shut and bolted the lock. “One of the hall guards reported noise coming from this area. We came as soon as we heard.”
Duke patted my shoulder. “Let me know if I can help, Elliot.” I could hear his keys clanging as he walked down the hall humming “Duke of Earl,” that old sixties song he loved. That’s where he got his nickname.
“Up to their old tricks again, Elliot?” Doc asked on the way to his office.
Her background includes a BS in English and Spanish education, a Master’s in English education, and a doctorate in Curriculum Theory and Development and Educational Administration from Temple University. The author worked for many years as an English teacher, department head of English and world languages, disciplinarian, and curriculum writer in the Philadelphia School District.
After this, she worked at Temple as an adjunct assistant professor and student teaching supervisor. Catherine has also written articles for national magazines, including The Christian Science Monitor and The Writer. For many years she served on the board of The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. She holds membership in the Association of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Her new self-help book, 101 Easy Ways for Women to De-Stress, Reinvent, and Fire Up Your Life in Retirement,appeared on the market in March, 2014.
Visit her website at www.catherinedepino.com Links Website: www.catherinedepino.com
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/C.Spinelli.
DePino Fire Up Your Life: 101 Ways for Women to Reinvent Themselves http://www.paragonhouse.com/product.php?productid=508&cat=0&page=&featured=Y
Elliot K. Carnucci is a Big, Fat Loser: A Book About Bullying http://www.amazon.com/Elliot-Carnucci-Big-Fat-Loser-ebook/dp/B00G3IUEDG/ref=sr_1_1?
Excuse Me, Your Participle’s Dangling: How to Use Grammar to Make Your Writing Powers Soar http://www.amazon.com/Excuse-Me-Your-Participles-Dangling/dp/1475802773/ref=sr_1_1
Who Says Bullies Rule?: Common Sense Tips to Help Your Child Cope http://www.amazon.com/Who-Says-Bullies-Rule-Common/dp/161048469X/ref=sr_1_1
Hi, God, It’s Me: e-prayers for teenage girls http://www.amazon.com/God-Its--prayers-teenage-girls-ebook/dp/B0062F6FVK/
Real Life Bully Prevention for Real Kids http://www.amazon.com/Real-Life-Bully-Prevention-Kids/dp/157886965X/ref=sr_1_1
In Your Face, Pizza Face: A Girl’s Bully-Busting Book http://www.amazon.com/Your-Face-Pizza-Girls-Bully-Busting/dp/1878076930/ref=sr_1_1?
101 Ways to Help Preschoolers Excel in Reading, Writing, and Speaking http://www.amazon.com/Preschoolers-Excel-Reading-Writing-Speaking/
Quick and Easy Grammar Games to Boost Writing Power http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field
Blue Cheese Breath and Stinky Feet: How to Deal with Bullies http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Cheese-Breath-Stinky-Feet/dp/1591471125
Hi, God, It’s Me: e-prayers for Teenage Boys http://www.amazon.com/Hi-God-Its-Me-E-Prayers/dp/1585952117/ref=sr_1_1
Ready, Get Set, Go, Grammar! http://www.amazon.com/Ready-Get-Set-Go-Grammar/dp/1931334188/ref=sr_1_1
Grammar Workout: Twenty-Eight Lessons, Exercises, and Activities to Jumpstart Your Writing http://www.amazon.com/Grammar-Workout-Exercises-Activities-Jump