With a new book on the shelves and her first graphic novel dropping next week, Cecil Castellucci is a busy woman … but not too busy to drop in on Blog@Newsarama this month. Cecil will blog with us each Friday for the rest of May, talking about her new Minx book, The Plain Janes, and anything else she has on her mind.
To kick off the month, I threw a few questions her way…
JK: First off, thanks for agreeing to chat with us, and thanks even more so for agreeing to join the blog for a few weeks. Typically when someone joins our blogging team, I make them write up a brief bio that I put up on our contributor’s page … usually they write them in the third person, which I guess is standard for these types of bios. What would your bio say?
Cecil: Cecil Castellucci has published three novels for teens: Boy Proof, The Queen of Cool and Beige. Her first graphic novel is The Plain Janes. Aside from writing books, she’s been in a band, appropriately called Nerdy Girl, writes plays, sometimes makes films or does performance pieces. She has lived in New York City, Paris and Montreal, and now resides in Los Angeles. Her first true love was Batman, whom she invited to her fourth birthday party. He came and gave her a pair of bat binoculars.
JK: Where can we find your blog? What do you typically talk about on your blog?
Cecil: My blog is at http://castellucci.livejournal.com and pretty much I talk about everything, like, things that obsess me, or piss me off, the writing life, fun stuff that I am doing or that I see, trouble I get into or cook up, tours and, of course, lots of trumpet blaring for all of my friends’ projects. It’s kind of like hanging out and having a coffee (or three) with me. I also have some side blogs, like for the poems that I write that are on my website www.misscecil.com so you can read the ones that used to be there and a list of my friends’ top ten essential punk songs for my new novel Beige (out this week!). Brian Wood just gave me his top ten!
JK: What are your top ten essential punk songs?
Cecil: There are about a billion more songs that I think are essential, but for a punk primer, I pulled 15 and made an iMix
Adolescents — No Way
Dead Kennedys — Too Drunk to F**k
Blondie — Hanging On the Telephone
Siouxsie and The Banshees — Spellbound
The Germs — Lexicon Devil
NoMeansNo — Body Bag
Minutemen — S**t from an Old Notebook
The Jam — In the City
The Pretenders — Tattooed Love Boys
Scream — U. Suck A. / We’re Fed Up
Bad Religion — F**k Armageddon…This Is Hell
Suicidal Tendencies — Institutionalized
X — Los Angeles
X-Ray Spex — Oh! Bondage, Up Yours!
The Circle Jerks — Live Fast Die Young
Here’s the imix code if you want it:
JK: The Plain Janes comes out on Wednesday. Tell us a little bit about the book.
Cecil: The Plain Janes is about a girl named Jane whose parents move her to the suburbs from Metro City after she’s a victim of a terrorist attack. Jane rejects the advances of the popular girls at school and decides instead to be friends with the reject table, which consists of three other girls named Jane. Trying to find beauty and make sense of a mad world, she starts a guerrilla art girl gang.
JK: The book starts with a pretty powerful scene that echoes what’s going on in the real world. How does that set the stage for the book? And was it tough to write a scene like that?
Cecil: Yes. It was tough to write a scene like that for many reasons. At first it was a bigger incident, and then Jim and I had a long conversation about it, and he thought maybe that it should be a smaller incident. I, myself was in an IRA bombing when I was a very young girl, and I think it was harder for me to write something that was closer to my own personal experience because it frightened me. But I think Jim was totally right by suggesting it be a smaller incident, it makes it much more personal for Jane and her family. It is the reason why Jane feels that it is her mission to make the world surprising and beautiful through art, rather than surprising and terrible like what happened to her.
JK: What was your high school experience like? Did any of it make it into the book?
Cecil: I went to the LaGuardia High School of the Arts in NYC. Yes. The FAME school. If you don’t know what FAME is, may I kindly suggest you rent it? It’s a pretty awesome film. Basically, half the day we would do our art, in my case, Theater, and the other half of the day we would do academics. It was great to be in a school where your art was your priority and everyone else was dead serious about being some kind of artist or living an artistic life. Notable class mates were Jennifer Aniston (no explanation needed), Chastity Bono (Sonny and Cher’s daughter), Eagle Eye Cherry (a musician), and Erez Yakin (Silent City / The Remarkable Worlds of Professor Phineas B. Fuddle – who I had a crush on when he sat next to me in Geometry class and he introduced me to the Dark Knight). In the class two years above me were David Herman (Office Space – who I had a ginormo crush on) and Dean Haspiel (who I didn’t know at all, but I probably thought was a cool senior). That said, Theater Jane is the character that probably is the closest to my own High School experience. But then again, it was “all art, all the time” in High School for me and my friends, so while my friends and I didn’t do any art attacks, we definitely shared the Jane’s point of view about making the world beautiful through artistic expression.
JK: What do you find are the main differences between prose and comics? Was it difficult to make the transition from writing your own novels to working with an artist – the very talented Jim Rugg – on Plain Janes?
Cecil: The difference is that in a prose novel, you have the fluidity of words that can create movement. You aren’t constrained by the panels to move your narrative forward. That was a hard thing for me to figure out at first, how to make the story move forward when I had to come up with visual cues to do that but I felt boxed in by the panels. Also, there are less words! And pictures! I just read an article somewhere where another person who writes novels who is now writing comic books said something like he figured out that his job was to make the text as interesting as possible for the artist to draw. I agree.
I wrote for Jim Rugg, I tried to make it interesting for him. I ADORE JIM RUGG!!!! The great thing about writing a comic is that you can see exactly what the characters look like, so you know immediately what would ring true for that character to do or say, which I think is so neat. I loved collaborating with Jim, and he had my back and taught me how to “see” so I could tell the story in what was a new form for me.
JK: Speaking of Jim Rugg, what did you think of Street Angel? And what did he bring to The Plain Janes?
Cecil: I loved Street Angel. Shelly gave it to me the first time I met her and I read it in one gulp. I thought it was so beautifully drawn, so I was blown away when Jim agreed to do Plain Janes with me. I still pinch myself daily about that. I just love the way he draws. It’s so great and emotional and strong. Jim brought a great sense of pacing and also pizzazz to the Janes. He really brought the girls to life and made them people that could tell me their secrets. We had discussions about the girls emotional life and we sort of would talk, as I was writing and he was drawing, about what the girls would or wouldn’t do. He also, truth be told, was the fashion coordinator! I love Main Jane’s awesome mod style, and that is all Jim! We had talked about her being kind of Edie Sedgwick-y and he ran with it! I love that Jim will suggest sometimes, too, a better way to open up a scene than what I wrote on the page. He’s taught me a lot about pacing.
JK: Now that you have one comic under your belt, do you have plans to do any others?
Cecil: I would love to! The comic book medium is very freeing because you have to be so economical with your words and feelings, you know? Getting right to the gut of the story. Now that I “get it” a bit more, it would be fun to keep improving my game with the writing of more comic books.
JK: You also had a new novel come out this week, Beige. What can you tell us about it?
Cecil: I know, it’s been kind of a banner week! Beige is the story of Katy, a girl from Montreal who has to spend two weeks with her estranged punk rock drummer father, nicknamed The Rat. He is in an infamous band named SUCK that never made it because of drug use. He’s clean now. His whole world is punk rock, and Katy hates music. She’s forced to hang out with Lake, the daughter of The Rat’s band mate, who is in an all-girl band and thinks Katy is boring, so she calls her Beige.
I also had an essay in an anthology called Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys come out this week.
So, you know, I had to drink three glasses of champagne on Monday morning.
JK: Besides writing comics and books, you’re involved in some other creative endeavors as well, right?
Cecil: I like telling stories. So that means in every possible way. I will sing one. Or make a film. Or write one in a poem. Or act it out in a play. I will even dance a story for you if you want, although it will be herky jerky and, most likely, not very graceful. I like them short, long, complicated, easy, spoken, written, dreamed and filmed. I think a story tells you how it wants to be told, and so far, I have just listened and then gotten up and told it in the medium that it wants to be told in. Sometimes it’s just for my mom. Sometimes it’s for the whole wide world.
JK: What do you have planned for our readers this month?
Cecil: I have a lot planned! I am happy to answer any questions so bring it, ask it, sing it, dance it! I also thought that since I am currently obsessed with Superman, I would talk a bit about my Super Crush and other super hero things and super hero crushes. And also, since I write Young Adult, I thought I would gently introduce a bit of that world to the comics world. Like a social mixer. And of course, I know I’m going to be looking out for street art. And talk to Jim. And also my book launches are this month, and my parents are going to be visiting, and I’m on a writing deadline, and there’s the 30th anniversary of Star Wars Celebration, so you know, anything could happen. And, oh, jeez, just whatever tickles my fancy. Just think of me as your gal pal who calls you a few times every Friday to say, “Oh, and another thing I’m dorking out over!” and then at the end of the day, we’ll probably all go out for a beer and have a good laugh.
Cecil is with us on Fridays this month; B.Y.O.B.