Friday, January 8, 2010

Launch Contest: Running for President in 2010 with Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Happy 2010 everyone! Here to ring in the new year in Gbeemi, author of 8th Grade Superzero, which is in stores TODAY.

What inspired you to write such a heartwarming story?
Thank you! Hmmm...Well, this story began with an image. I wanted to apply for a writing workshop with kidlit legend Paula Danziger and the application was due the next day (not the first time I’ve worked at the last minute!). I was lying in bed trying to come up with something, anything, and this image of a boy lying in bed with the covers pulled up almost completely over his head, terrified because he though a bug was going to crawl into his mouth if he fell asleep. So initially, it was a younger version of Reggie that I had in mind; the puking was had a lot to do with his fear of bugs (and a prank played by his sister). Even though none of that made it to the final book, that character and his personality were very vivid.

Were any of the incidents in the book modelled after real life? Like say... the puking incident? ;)
Ha! Well, there was an infamous puking incident in one of my 8th grade classes (I was just a bystander). For a long time, Reggie’s puking incident was inspired by a story I heard on the radio programme This American Life. My editor thought that it was just too disgusting, and it was pretty gross. I’ll just say that it involved cafeteria mashed potatoes and that oily butter that comes on top. And Donovan’s evil powers of suggestion! The version that made it into the book is much easier on the reader’s stomach, I guess.

Did you yourself run as President in school?
I did spend quite a few years as class President in different schools, and was school President in high school. I was very into just about any activity I could get involved in, because I was a total school nerd, and because I went to a bunch of different schools as a child, and it was a way to ease into the various communities. The schools changed, the ages changed, but no matter what -- the social scenes were not for the faint of heart!

I don’t remember ever doing much as President, though. It was all about the election process. I have a vivid memory of an opponent who tried to pass out buttons that had my name on them, with a line through it. And we did have this sort of class competition thing that was similar to what I described in the book.

Ouch! That's mean. Will you tell us about your journey all the way to being published?
Well, it took me forever to finish this book. I wrote the first three pages for that workshop I mentioned earlier. It was about four years later that I finished the rest, and the bulk of it I wrote in a feverish one-week period! After ENDLESS research (blog reading, hunting down interviews, quotes, etc.) I queried supereditor Cheryl Klein at Arthur Levine Books. A day after I dropped my query letter in the mail, she updated her submission policies, including a cautionary word about scatological humour which freaked me out because I had something really gross on like, page 2 (see above). But it all worked out. About a year after I first submitted to Cheryl and worked some revisions, I met and signed with my amazing agent Erin Murphy, who took care of all of the business-y stuff and held my hand in a wonderful way.

Are there any projects you are currently working on?
I am working on a YA tentatively titled YOU’RE BREAKING MY HEART, about a girl who wishes her brother dead in an argument...and then he dies that day. I have a multimedia nonfiction proposal that I’m developing called “Global Girls” that involves profiles and features of teen girls around the world. I’ve also started a book featuring Superzero’s Ruthie as the main character.

Who is your favourite character in 8th Grade Superzero? Frankly, mine is Ruthie, so yay for a Ruthie book! She’s a breath of fresh air!
Thank you! Absolutely, Ruthie is my favourite. She was the easiest to write, and will always be very dear to me! Some days I tell myself to be more like her: fearless, innovative, and a believer in the impossible. I do make the wonky needlework projects already.

*hi five* Speaking of 8th Grade Superzero, how did the tile come about?
The book was originally called LONG TIME NO ME. I was asked to come up with something else, so I made a list (that I now see included some real clunkers) and 8th Grade Superzero was the last name I included. I almost left it off, because I figured that my publisher would not like it at all.

I like it. It has a ring to it. Is this a stand alone, or will there be a sequel?
The Ruthie book will not be a sequel, exactly, but I think that you’ll see Reggie, and maybe Joe C. in it as well.

What types of books do you like to read, and do they influence you in any way?
Argh! Is it lame to say everything? Because it’s true! I used to say that I didn’t read much historical fiction (beyond Lois Lenski, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Sydney Taylor. Oh! And I love Noel Streatfeild. Oh! And -- you see what I mean?) but I’ve just read and loved Zetta Elliot’s A WISH BEFORE MIDNIGHT. So I guess I like historical fiction. I love character driven stories, I love mysteries, I love action...I love political biographies...I love tearjerkers...I really do love it all. I have a huge cookbook collection, and I rarely cook from a recipe -- I’m an experimenter in the kitchen. I just like to read cookbooks!

Oh, I get what you mean. Who are your favourite authors and why?
Yikes! Another hard one. Just a FEW: Paula Danziger, Madeleine L’Engle, Maya Angelou, C.S. Lewis (Till We Have Faces is an all-time favourite), Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God), Jane Austen (most everything but Northanger Abbey), Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge...more recently American-Born Chinese, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Maya Angelou anything. Elizabeth Enright, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Agatha Christie, Susan Isaacs, Anne Tyler, I lovelovelove John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany.....I could go on...and on.

Thanks so much for spending time with Reggie & Co., and for the great questions! It's been a pleasure.

No, thank you for being a gracious interviewee, and the first one here in 2010!

Cross-posted at: LiyanaLand! on 1 January 2010.


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