Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Holly Cupala Visits the Lair!

Hosted by Kirsten Scott

Romance Banditas and BBs, we've got a huge treat for you today: the fabulous Holly Cupala, a brilliant writer and all-round wonderful person is visiting to tell us about her newly-released young adult novel, Tell Me a Secret. I got a chance to read it this weekend and I poured through it in a matter of hours. Couldn't put it down (except to grab a hankie, of course). It's no stretch to say that this is not just a book for teens -- this is a story anyone can love.

After you read our interview, please visit Holly's website at: She's got lots of great things going on there, including giveaways, video trailer, and more!

TELL ME A SECRET is a little bit mystery, a little bit romance, and a little bit family story. Can you tell us about it?

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.

Miranda, the main character, is a seventeen year-old pregnant teen. Are there elements to the story that you think will appeal to adult readers as well as teens?

Many of my readers seem to be adults—or at least, those are the ones who tend to contact me—and I’ve been amazed and grateful at the response. A number have said: “I haven’t stayed up until 2am for years, but I couldn’t put it down!” (I love that one, because I haven’t stayed up until 2am for years, either…at least not on purpose!)

The story has so many layers—the pregnancy, the loss of a sister, a difficult mother relationship, first love, perilous friendships—that I think it resonates on many levels. Every review and blogger response has honed in on something different, which makes me think readers bring so much to this story. I’ve heard it’s an intense emotional roller coaster!

What about your journey to publication? You originally wrote for children, isn't that right? How did you end up writing YA?

I’ve been all over the map, beginning with two teen romances…this, of course, was in eighth grade, before I actually experienced teen romance, but I had every girl in my class reading them page by page! Then there were tragic poems, and short stories, and I intended to write the Great American Novel—all the while working on an epic (ok, yes, you can laugh now) 1,600-word rhyming picture book text. When I got serious about making a career out of writing, I thought I wanted to write for kids. So I joined SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), took classes, attended conferences, wrote a fair amount of dreadful stuff and even started to write some publishable stuff for magazines and anthologies. But none of it really plumbed any depths. Later I realized I was mostly writing for other people’s approval.

All of that changed when a tragedy struck our family—we lost our first daughter at birth. I almost quit writing, but some very good friends wouldn’t let me. A few months later, the idea for TELL ME A SECRET came out of nowhere. It compelled and terrified me. I knew it was something I was meant to write.

I'm so sorry for your loss, Holly. I must say, when I was reading the book it definitely felt like some of Miranda's journey came from somewhere very personal and profound. I'm sure it was emotionally grueling to write, not to mention sending it out for the world to see. After this, it must be hard to start something new -- or perhaps a huge relief. What's next for you?

Speaking of romance…the next YA, tentatively titled STREET CREED (HarperCollins, Fall 2011), is very racy—at least for me! It’s about Joy, a teen girl who runs away from home for secret reasons in the hopes of meeting up with a boy called Creed, who lives on the streets of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. She falls in with a band of homeless teens…including the mysterious Creed. Every one of them has secret reasons for being on the streets, and Joy is forced to make a terrible choice. It’s gritty and tender, about what it means to love. And there’s this one scene…as I was writing it, I sort of panicked. My agent (a guy) is going to read this. Wait a sec, my *husband* is going to read this! But they took it rather well—they both really liked the book, actually! I’m excited to be working on edits now.

So, in the spirit of the Romance Bandits, I will share a little passage from TELL ME A SECRET…Kamran and Miranda’s first date:

“I have a surprise for you. Hop on.” Before I had a chance to ask where we were going, he fitted the helmet onto my head and slung on his own, then strapped our bags to the back. He mounted the bike and I wrapped myself around him, drinking in a musky smell with the faintest hint of sour-sweet.

As we wound our way through the streets, I couldn’t stop thinking about the feel of my body against his or the warmth I felt through every layer. We crested Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, where the past met the present in a violent tumble of brownstones and mansions, transients and transplants, infinite varieties of colors and art and self-expression. We nearly collided with pedestrians, odors exotic and taboo, and a thousand visual feasts.

“That’s my parents’ restaurant,” he shouted, pointing to CafĂ© Shiraz, a hole-in-the-wall place with cinnamon and garlic scents emanating from the open door.

“Is that where we’re going?”

“Later, maybe.”

“Where, then?”

He grasped my hand with his nimble and smooth one. “Ask no questions, I tell no lies.”

Commercial buildings blurred into brownstone apartments then towering evergreens near Cornish College of the Arts. He turned into the campus parking lot and led me through the heavy doors and stained glass to the current art exhibit: Travels through Space and Time.

Later, over kebabs and hummus and his mom’s famous stuffed figs, we talked about light sources and vanishing points, MIT and Baird. He told me about his parents leaving everything to come here and start a restaurant, I told him about my parents disappearing into their work. I asked about physics. He asked about art. I stopped short of telling him about Xanda.

The office and basement were lit when we pulled up to my house—each of my parents in separate domains. Kamran and I sat on the curb under the rhododendrons, exactly the place where Andre parked his green Impala and Xanda disappeared into the night. We watched the sky turn from gray-gold to gray-plum, an echo of the paintings we’d seen at Cornish as we wandered the corridors, hand in hand. He was so close, I could feel the roughness of his jacket brushing up against my skin.

“So you never told me about your poetry.”

“Ah, right.” He grinned. “You mean when I was copying your artwork.”

“Yes, as a matter of fact. So where is this so-called poem, inspired by my labyrinths?”

“Oh, that.” He ran his fingers through rumpled hair, olive eyes squinting through dark, dark lashes. “You don’t really want to see that.”

“Oh, but I do.” I felt out of my depth. Xanda would have pulled him close, felt the skin under his T-shirt, his waistband . . . for me, it was enough to be touching his sleeve.

He rummaged through a folder in his pack for a sheet of graph paper swirled over with that same tight handwriting. Sentences began in one corner and spread out like branches in a tree.

He held it aloft. “I don’t know if I want you to see this—it’s not actually a poem. Well, sort of. It’s more like . . . strings of possibility.” He sat down next to me, tracing his finger over the lines. “It’s all the things that could bring a person to this point—”

“A person?”

“W-well, two people.” Leaning over his shoulder, I caught only fragments: She follows a path, a labyrinth . . . A landscape of mystery beneath her lines . . . A girl seeking shadows, past and future . . . What secret she seeks, answers or lies . . .

The sentences curled away from each other until I reached the top, the one that nearly stretched off the page: . . . paths cross, time stops . . . then she and I would meet.

Those sentences uncloaked me, the same way I felt when he lost himself in my mazes—like he already knew me. The thought both excited and terrified.

“To what point?” I asked, my voice unsteady. I could almost taste the figs lingering on his breath.

Then our lips met in our own mad, messy kiss, tender and fruity, pomegranate fireworks, his hands cupping my face and mine warm under his jacket, noses bumping and chins tilting until he pulled away, the two of us existing in a moment of perfection.
It was then that I knew I could tell him anything—about Xanda, the labyrinths. Someday I might even tell him about Andre.

Thank you, Kirsten and all of the RB ladies, for inviting me to Romance Bandits!

And thank YOU, Holly, for visiting! I'll be mailing a copy of Tell Me A Secret to one lucky commentor today, and Holly's got lots of other giveaways at her blog. So stop in and say hello!


Virginia said...

Is he coming my way!

Virginia said...

Hello Holly, welcome to the lair! Congrats on your new release! I love reading YA book, I usually read them and then pass them on to niece! She has just started reading and I encourage her to read in every way possible. Thanks for sharing your book with us today. It sounds like a wonderful read and I would love to read it!

Kirsten said...

Hey Virginia, way to go! The poor bird was sitting around unattended for about a half an hour. I was starting to worry that he'd get into something naughty. ;-)

Kirsten said...

When I was signing books at BEA, I had a lot of woman come through my line and say they were getting something for a niece or grand daughter, and that they read all the YA and then passed them along. I love that these books are shared between generations. Holly's book is especially good for that.

holly cupala said...

Hey, Romance Bandits! Thank you so much for inviting me, Kirsten! I'm thrilled to be here - was just about to go to bed but had to stop by. you are so kind! It's so amazing to me that loss can turn to hope, and it can be meaningful to others. I look forward to chatting tomorrow - 'night!

barb said...

Congrats Virginia ... hope he isn't too hyped up after the tim tams

Welcome Holly and congrats on the book ... sounds really good .... I have never read any YA books but will have to see if my grandaughter reads them so I have an excuse to buy them LOL ... I think anything that encourages YA's to read is great

Emmanuelle said...

Congrats on your release ! I've been reading YA for almost a year now and it became one of my favorite genres. There is something new and fresh that appeals to everyone, I mean not only the younger crowd. I'm 32 and can get totally sucked in when I read a good book, whatever the characters age. Congrats again !

PJ said...

Congrats, Virginia!

Wow, that excerpt has me hooked already. I don't want to stop reading!

Welcome, Holly and congratulations on your release. I'll definitely be getting a copy. My heart breaks for the tragic death of your baby. I hope the experience of pouring yourself into the creation of this book helped bring you a small measure of peace.

Helen said...

Well done Virginia have fun with him

Hi Holly
Thanks Kirsten for inviting Holly to visit today I do love "meeting" new authors and I gotta say this book sounds fantastic I love reading romance no matter what genre YA any I love them and this one has been added to my must have list and I am sure my daughters although adults now will enjoy it very much as well.

Have Fun

Laurie said...

I hope that this book was cathartic for you as you work through your loss. My daughter teaches 7th, 8th and 9th graders, I'm going to send this web story summary, with your link on to her. I think her students could learn from your book.

I've been hearing so much about the YA line. I'm definitely going to look for your book.

CrystalGB said...

Hi Holly. Great interview. Tell Me a Secret sounds good. You have a beautiful website.

Susan Sey said...

Hi, Holly! WElcome! Tell Me A Secret sounds fantastic! Can't wait to pick this up!

Gillian Layne said...

Holly, congratulations on your release. It's a very powerful cover, too! I love to share books with my older teen daughters; this sounds like a must buy.

Susanna Fraser said...

Ooh, Holly, I love the excerpt!

::Waves hello to what I'm assuming is a fellow Seattle-ite::

I'll definitely pick this one up. I'm 39, but there's too much good YA out there these days to let that keep me from reading it.

holly cupala said...

Morning, everyone! What a fun discussion. Kirsten said there would be lots of chat here at the RB community. Love it!

Thank you for all of the nice comments!

barb, oooh, tim those.

Emmanuelle, thank you! I love to read YA, too--definitely have my faves.

PJ, thank you for the very kind words! It was a very hard time, but we were so surrounded by friends, especially the writing community. They brought us meals for 2 months! It has been six years now and still painful, though we have a little 5 y/o girl who is just a joy and has brought so much into our lives. She now says, "I'm writing a book, Mama. It's called Tell Me a Secret!"

holly cupala said...

Helen, thank you! I hope you and your daughters enjoy the book!

Laurie, yes, it really was. So hard, but at the same time healing. Originally it was supposed to have a very different, much more tragic ending, but then I got there and couldn't write it. I kept going back to write earlier, happier sections. Then a wonderful writer friend of mine, Janet Lee Carey (she writes amazing fantasy novels) said, maybe it doesn't have to be that way? She closed that door, and I started to think about it and dream and pray and shower about it, lol, and suddenly the rest of the story came. That in particular was very hopeful for me. I always wanted it to be a hopeful book.

holly cupala said...

Crystal, thank you! My husband did the design, and since it's in a Blogger template I can update it myself. Though it's getting kind of unweildy with so much going on. We are shifting the novel stuff to its own site,, which is under construction (but cool looking already!).

Susan Sey, thank you! I feel very welcome with you RB gals! I hope you enjoy the book.

Gillian, thank you! I love the cover, too. The day my editor sent the first draft, my niece Molly and parents were visiting. She had glued herself to the couch the day before and read it in one sitting, and I gasped and yelled, "Quick, everybody, come see this!" They all ran in and gasped, and she said, "It's perfect." She did a little tiny cameo appearance in one of our crazy blog tour movies we've made on my youtube channel.

holly cupala said...

Susanna, yes, a fellow Seattle-ite! In fact, we're having a big book bash this weekend - if you're in town, we'd love to invite you! Gorgeous weather today, which is nice...I'm taking said little one to swimming lessons in a half hour, and we've been freezing our swimsuited selves to death!

Susanna Fraser said...

Where/when is the book bash, Holly? I may or may not be able to make it, since this weekend is going to be all about scrambling to get ready for RWA next week, but just in case...

Yes, it IS turning into a beautiful day. I think this is the first time in about a week the sun has appeared before noon. Here's hoping Mr. Fraser remembered to sunscreen our daughter before he dropped her off at day camp...

Hannah S. said...

My aunt lost a child, too, and that really sucked. We were all sad, but it was nothing compared to what she felt... But now, like you, she's pulled through it and has a beautiful daughter. :)
Now you have a beautiful 5-year-old girl. A beautiful daughter who WRITES! Just like you! ;)

You rock!
Love, Hannah

Pat Cochran said...

Welcome, Holly! With me, reading
YA is enjoyable but also a safety procedure. Especially when the
granddaughter I pass them to is
12-almost-13. So far, the YA books
I've read have been suitable.

Thanks, Pat Cochran

holly cupala said...

Susanna, contact me here with your email, and I will send you the invitation!

Hannah, I'm so sorry for your aunt and your whole family. It's really everybody who grieves a loss like that. Hugs. You are such a sweetheart.

Thank you, Pat! I just discovered this fantastic site, Parental Book Reviews, which basically gives the lowdown on YA books (and not in a judgmental way, just very matter of fact about content so parents can decide). I met the gal who runs it at ALA, and she is wonderful. Here's the link, She reviewed TMAS here! (warning, some spoilers on content)

Beth said...

Welcome to the lair, Holly! Thank you so much for sharing your story and for telling us about Tell Me A Secret. My heart goes out to you for your loss.

Loved the excerpt! And one of the things I love most about YA novels is the broad range of stories. From sweet to gritty and everything in between *g*

Congrats on your release! Can't wait to read it :-)

holly cupala said...

Thank you, Beth, and I'm happy to hear you enjoyed the excerpt! I like the sweet to gritty gamut, too. It depends on the character in TMAS, which one you might get...!

Margay said...

Hi, Holly! I just wanted to say that I'm a proud reader of YA books and I often share/borrow them with/from my daughters. And your book is on my list of ones I want to read!

Kim in Hawaii said...

Aloha, Holly! Congrats on your new book! And I'll tell you (or any other Bandita) a secret about a certain Bandita who attended RomCon. Kust say "Aloha" to me at the RWA Literacy Signing - I'm a volunteer and I'll probably be the only one wearing an Aloha shirt!

See ya'll in Orlando!

Lady_Graeye said...

Great interview! It sounds like a wonderful read... a book that comes from straight from the heart.

holly cupala said...

Thank you, Margay! It's so nice to see you here. Thank you for your kind words!

Kim, Aloha! We're headed your way in January...I cannot wait.

Lady_Graeye, Thank you. <3

Christinabean said...

Great interview. I loved the glimpse into the book as well. Coming to Canada anytime soon?

Blueicegal ♥ said...

i really enjoyed the interview, some great answers there, and the excerpt makes you want more!