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Happy Monday! Swim season for the summer is over. Yay! Anna Li did great at championships--2nd in 50 backstroke and 8th in the 50 freestyle and 200 freestyle races. Anna Li and I are looking forward to a slower 2 weeks before high school pre-season starts. I've been really enjoying having more time in the morning. Hoping I'm going to feel like it's a bit more of a lazy summer. July definitely was too busy.

First I have two winners to announce.

The winner of 45 POUNDS is Jemi Fraser!

The winner of THE CIRCLE is Danielle H!

Congrats! E-mail me your addresses so I can send you your books. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I’m excited to have debut author Corina Vacco here to share about her YA book, MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN, which was released on June 11, 2013. I really enjoyed that the story was told from the point of view of Jason and focused on his and his two best friends, Charlie and Cornpup. It was interesting contemplating living in a town like Corina created, full of landfills and other toxic wastes, especially given all our environmental concerns these days.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Rocked by his father's recent death and his mother's sudden compulsion to overeat, Jason lashes out by breaking into the abandoned mills and factories that plague his run-down town. Always by his side are his two best friends, Charlie, a fearless thrill junkie, and Cornpup, a geek inventor whose back is covered with cysts. The boys rage against the noxious pollution that suffocates their town and despise those responsible for it; at the same time, they embrace the danger of their industrial wasteland and boast about living on the edge.

Then on a night the boys vandalize one of the mills, Jason makes a costly mistake--and unwittingly becomes a catalyst for change. In a town like his, change should be a good thing. There's only one problem: change is what Jason fears most of all.

Hi Corina. Thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you for featuring me on your site!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became an author.

When I was a little girl growing up in the Chicago area, my grandma walked me to the library every day and we checked out as many picture books as we could fit into her crazy-looking metal push cart. Once we got home, she would read to me for hours—I was allowed to luxuriate in the joy of books without the confines of time, and I fell in love with words. When I was old enough to read to myself, I stumbled upon THE OUTSIDERS and I was bowled over. It was unlike anything I’d ever read. I loved the edginess and the voice, and from then on, I only wanted to read books that might be categorized as dangerous. In 4th grade, I started reading a copy of IT by Stephen King, only to have it confiscated by my teacher, who said it was written by the devil. I couldn’t believe someone had the audacity to take a book out of my hands when I was in the middle of reading it (how rude!), but that experience certainly made me want to read even more.

I’ve always been a writer. At age 7, I wrote my first novel in pencil, with many misspelled words and some dreadful watercolor illustrations. I loved transferring a story from my mind onto a page—it was intoxicating! Many years later, when the Coast Guard transferred my husband and me from the turquoise waters and sun-kissed beaches of Miami to the cold, polluted city of Buffalo off the shores of Lake Erie, I found the inspiration for MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN. I knew then that the manuscripts I’d been tinkering with over the years were just writing exercises and I’d finally stumbled upon the dangerous story I was meant to tell.

2. I loved to read as a kid too. Wish I’d been a writer as a kid too. How did you come up with the idea for your story?

I was inspired by a teenage boy who raged against pollution and changed the energy of an entire
community. Not long after my husband and I arrived in Buffalo, NY, I realized we were living approximately 12 miles away from one of the most dangerous landfills in the United States. It contained poisonous chemicals dumped by local industry, and it also contained uranium waste left over from the Manhattan Project. This landfill wasn’t out in the middle of nowhere; it was situated in a residential neighborhood, right next to elementary school. To make matters worse, it was leaking! Radiation had been detected in a nearby creek. The people who lived in the area had received official letters telling them not to eat vegetables. I clipped a newspaper article in which a woman claimed her son’s shoe had melted after he stepped in a green puddle near the landfill’s base.

I was really frightened. And I had so many questions. It just so happened there was a special town meeting scheduled to discuss the status of the landfill, particularly whether or not it would be cleaned up. I decided I’d go, just to listen. The meeting was quite sad. Blue-collar, ordinary people up against a panel of industry “scientists” and some chemical company executives who kept insisting the landfill was perfectly safe. I almost went home because I couldn’t bear to listen. Then a boy…I’m guessing he was about seventeen…stepped up to the microphone and raged against the pollution and those responsible. He energized the entire auditorium, and he refused to be silenced. I thought….I have to write about this. The town, the people, all of it.

Weeks later, I was walking my dog in the Buffalo art district when Jason, my main character, first appeared in my head. He had a story to tell, and he was rattling cages, and so I started asking him questions: How does it feel to live near one of the most dangerous landfills in the world? Why do you and your friends swim in the creek when you know it’s contaminated? Are you furious about what happened to your father? And he said, “Of course I’m furious. I’m gonna get revenge.”

3. That’s terrible the landfill is in a residential area. And I have family who lives in Buffalo. Yikes! One of the things you did really well was to create and describe this totally toxic town where the landfill, the creek, and the whole town was basically toxic. It amazed me how Jason, Charlie, and Cornpup saw this as everyday life and had no problem swimming in the completely gross creek they loved. What research did you do into landfills and chemical waste in creating your setting?

Oooh, this is a great question. I did extensive research before I sat down to write. I interviewed steelworkers who worked with uranium during the Manhattan Project. I joined the local fight against a contaminated landfill and attended some incredible town meetings. I collected a box full of articles about various toxic towns scattered all across America. I studied layouts of factories and toured the once-abandoned, toxic neighborhood known as Love Canal. I photographed a radioactive creek. And I may or may not have climbed a fence and trespassed through the terribly polluted industrial yards…I’m going to plead the Fifth on that one. But what interested me most were the stories I gathered from people who’d grown up in the area and who remembered playing on the landfill as children. The toxic town was their home, all of their best memories took place there, and they weren’t repulsed or clambering to flee the area. They wanted the landfill cleaned up so they could stay. I was really moved by how they could love and hate the landfill. Attachment to home—no matter how imperfect home may be—is a deeply human sentiment, and when I fully understood those complexities, I was able to really breathe life into my book.

4. Wow! You did a lot of research. That’s pretty scary that people used to play at the landfill. So many YA books focus on girls as the main character. You chose Jason as your main character and it focused on him and his best friends Charlie and Cornpup. You really portrayed them all realistically and they sounded so much like guys would in the way they interacted. Did you have any challenges getting into the male POV? What made you chose to focus on these characters vs. Jason as the main character and a strong supporting character who was a girl?

I had no trouble at all getting into the male POV, which is surprising now that I look back. I never really planned for Jason. His voice just ambushed me, and it was a distinct, powerful voice that could not be ignored. I’m quite certain he wouldn’t have allowed me to add any feminine touches to this particular story. He needed this one unhinged, dangerous summer to belong to him and his buddies. MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN is the vein of Stephen King’s short story The Body (later adapted into the film STAND BY ME) in the sense that I wanted this to be the boys’ last summer together before life pulls them in different directions, and girls really enter the scene, etc. With that said, I do think Valerie, Jason's love interest, is one of my favorite characters because I know she'll be by his side once the explosive summer is over, and he's going to really need her. She brings him joy and hope and stability.

5. To be eligible for the Delacorte Prize, authors must be unagented. You’ve been navigating the publishing world alone thus far. What has that been like? Tell us a little about your road to publication.

I was fortunate to have had lots of help along the way: a fabulous critique group; lots of advice from my mentor; plus feedback from a very special agent who didn’t offer representation, but who did give me guidance that proved priceless as I revised. I worked for a long time on revisions. When I saw the Delacorte contest posted in an SCBWI bulletin, I decided to mail my manuscript off, but I never dreamed I’d actually win. Many months later, I was in the process of moving from Florida to California when my (soon-to-be) editor left a message on my cell. I was totally confused. I’d forgotten about all about the contest, and she didn’t say why she was calling. When I tried to call her back, I landed in her voicemail. We played phone tag for two whole days before we finally connected, and that’s when she told me Delacorte was going to publish my book. I don’t remember a word of what she said after that. The call shocked me senseless!

6. So awesome you got a book contract from entering the contest. I’ve read a lot of advice that it’s a good idea to take advantage of any niches your book might fit into in marketing your book. Have you found any ways to capitalize on the environmental issues of your story in marketing your book? What?

I’m still looking into this and learning as I go. There are a number of environmental groups out there, but many of them exclusively review nonfiction. I was just invited to speak about pollution in Iowa City at the Green Party National Meeting in July, so I’m really excited about that! If I could go back in time, I’d have started compiling some of niche lists and making some of these connections a year ago at least. But it’s never too late!

7. Do you have any advice on building your writer platform during the year leading up to your debut book’s publication for the rest of us?

Yes! Start building your platform now, before the contract, even before the book is finished. I started later than I should have, and there were days when I felt like I was drowning. It takes time to build your website, your Amazon page, your Goodreads community, your Twitter folowing, a blog following, etc. And time is a gift you must give yourself, the more time the better. I was on vacation 3,000 miles away from home when my publisher asked me to provide a list of possible reviewers by the end of the week. I saw her email on my phone and scrambled to compile the list, all the while thinking, I wish I had more time to think about this. Why on earth didn’t I start compiling this list the day I signed the contract? There are so many things you’ll want to work on in the two or three months leading up to publication—designing your bookmarks, setting up blog tours, rehearsing your book launch speech, etc.—so make sure you knock out whatever you can now. You’ll thank yourself later!

8. That’s great advice to start even before you sign a book contract and to start compiling a list of possible book reviewers. What are you working on now?

A young adult novel about a lonely fashionista, her possibly evil father, a mysterious island, a dark and seedy boardwalk, and a steamy-hot surfer with a scorpion board. Stay tuned!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Corina. You can find Corina at

Corina and her publisher Delacorte have generously offered an ARC of MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on August 10th. I’ll announce the winner on August 12th.

If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. International entries are welcome.

Here’s what’s coming up:

On Wednesday, I’m interviewing debut author Lisa Amowitz and giving away an ARC of BREAKING GLASS, a mystery about a guy who is receiving messages from the dead. It got great reviews on Goodreads so I’m excited to share it with you. And Lisa is also a talented cover designer who designed Lisa Gail Green’s gorgeous cover for DJINN: THE BINDING STONE. We’ll be talking about cover designs as well.

On Thursday, I’m participating in the Summer Hop Giveaway. I have lots of great book choices I hope you'll like.

Next Monday I’ll be interviewing debut author Cristin Terrell and giving away an ARC of ALL OUR YESTERDAYS. It’s a time travel/dystopian story that I loved. I can’t wait to share it with you.

The following Monday I’m interviewing Ellen Boorman and giving away a copy of TEXTING THE UNIVERSE, a middle grade paranormal story told from a boy’s POV. This is Ellen’s third book so I know she’ll have a lot of great advice to share with us.

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday agent spotlights.

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


Old Kitty said...

What a toxic topic to tackle! But seriously - love that this is marketed for young minds - living next to toxic waste is all to real for a lot of communities so yay for Corina and angry Jason and his friends! Yes, don't get mad, get even!

p.s. huge congrats too Corina for your story winning and now getting all published!

Take care

Beth said...

Congratulations to Anna Li - and enjoy your quiet time before it gets busy again! Sounds like you have a great week of posts ahead.

Ashfa said...

Looks like an amazing boo, thanks for the giveaway!
GFC- Ashfa Anwer
Tweeted: https://twitter.com/TopsyTurvy_Ash/status/361804144123723776


Donna K. Weaver said...

Congrats, Corina. Love the premise of your story. Such a pertinent topic for too many people, methinks.

Natalie, enjoy! My July has been insane.

Angela Brown said...

In learning where inspiration comes from for different books, I'm often amazed by the sources. This time, I'm both floored in awe and saddened by the reality that kickstarted this story. I'm glad you allowed Jason to get his story out. Maybe it will rattle a cage or two.

Great interview Natalie and Corina :-)

Stina said...

I know what you mean about having more time in the morning. I'm going to miss that when the kids go back to school.

I love this story of how she got published! And not only start early with the social media, cast your net wide. That way if something happens to one of your social media sites, you're not completely lost and starting from the bottom.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh this book sounds fantastic and one that would be a great book club choice!! And what a great interview. Love seeing the path this story took from inspiration to publication. Thanks!

Kristin Lenz said...

Congrats to Corina on winning the Delacorte contest - what a huge accomplishment! And glad to hear you and Anna Li have some breathing time now that swim is wrapped up.

Barbara Watson said...

I love slow mornings. Enjoy your couple of weeks.

This sounds like a fantastic story. I always wonder about landfills...

Lydia Kang said...

Ooh, this sounds like a book I'd love!

mshatch said...

Wow, what a great story, both Corina's and Jason's!

Vivien said...

Oooo, I hadn't even heard of this one before now. It sounds utterly fabulous!! *adds to tbr shelf*
GFC: Vivien

kellis_amberlee at yahoo dot com

Rachna Chhabria said...

Congrats to Corina, her book title had me intrigued. I am going to read this book for sure :)

cleemckenzie said...

That cover is chilling. I love the concept of the book. Good luck with this one. I look forward to reading it.

Martina Boone said...

What a totally amazing story! And fabulous. It's so great to get interviews like this, because stories like this are so often thought of as overnight successes, when really the author has put years and years into learning the craft. I love that she wrote her first novel at age 7. :)

I just got the book in the mail, and I'm dying to read it after reading this interview. Thanks!

S.P. Bowers said...

Congrats to your daughter on a good swim season.

I liked hearing you got a publishing deal from a contest. It gives hope. Thanks for sharing your journey.

Hart Johnson said...

Oh this sounds like a great book and a fun interview! Thank you for the introduction!!!

Jessie Humphries said...

What a crazy cool publication story!!! I adore it. I adore it all. And I am beyond impressed by the research and devotion put into telling this story. I'm a fan!

nutschell said...

wow. What a cool publishing story! And the premise is intriguing. I love that the book has an environmental theme.

Crystal Collier said...

How awesome. I had to laugh at the landfill and experts bit. We lived in NYC and then Upstate for a bit, and Upstate NY really is the dumping place for NYC--oh and the neck of land they squeeze to fiscal disaster in order to support their city expenditures. (And it's still not enough.) They'll hire anyone to lie in order to keep their dumping ground.

On a brighter note, I love the book blurb, and what a great cause!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's terrible about your landfill. Did they ever clean it up?
With all that research, I'm sure you're a wealth of information now. Hopefully you get more speaking gigs.

Brenda said...

Sounds like a great week of posts are coming up and congratulations to Anna Li on her swim championships.

Danielle H. said...

I have always been passionate about environmental issues. I would love to read this book. Thank you for the giveaway. I will post on Facebook.

CG @ Paper Fury said...

Sounds like an epic book! And I love Corina's journey-to-publication story! WOW. And thanks for the giveaway!! :) I've tweeted this link.
notebooksisters AT gmail DOT com

Leigh Covington said...

Congrats to the winners and congrats to Corina! The book sounds great. Very fun interview!

Anonymous said...

This book sounds riveting, and it's been interesting to take a peek into Corina's research process and inspiration behind the book. I'd love to win an ARC and review the book for teachers and librarians on my blog! Off to tweet this link...

Anonymous said...

What a great interview and sounds like a really interesting book.

Christina Farley said...

Lovely interview and such great advice. It sounds like a fascinating read.

Jocelyn Rish said...

Congrats to Anna Li, and I hope y'all both enjoy the down time.

The inspiration for Corina's book is terrifying. I mean, I see how it makes for an amazing story, but it's truly scary to think about the toxic sludge that can be right in your neighborhood.

Shelley Koon said...

Great interview! I have to say that Corina is one of the most passionate and compassionate people I have ever met when it comes to our environments and well being. Corina is an author who truly believes and participates in the causes she writes about - so humbling!

Just wanted to post my love and support here <3. Please do not include my post into the book giveaway as I want someone who does not already own it to be able to win it!

Tammy Theriault said...

Great to meet you Corina!! Live the story idea. Hope I win!!'

Janhvi said...

My Chemical Mountain looks super interesting! Would love to win this :)
Thanks for the giveaway!

justjanhvi at gmail dot com

Mary Preston said...

Such a great post thank you.

GFC: Mary Preston


Natasha said...

Sounds like a great read!!
Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this interview, Natalie, and thank you everyone for the wonderful comments. I'm so excited that MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN is finally out in the world. I hope you enjoy reading it! Best wishes, Corina

Unknown said...

It was a toxic topic to tackle for sure! Thanks for cheering on angry Jason and his friends! xoxo Corina

Unknown said...

Thank you, Donna!

Unknown said...

Thank you, Angela! I'm definitely hoping to rattle some cages. :)

Unknown said...

Thank you, Kristin!

Unknown said...

Your interview about your book was what was really compelling to me as my family has been arguing for 30 years about run off from a chemical company that has poisoned our water and contaminated the Tonawanda Creek which runs into Lake Erie---We have pictures of the contamination and bright green algae blooms, and NOTHING for 30 years has required the
company to contain their chemicals as we exhaust our time and money to
protect us. Our home is at "ground zero" of pollutant chemical
contaminates. Our family is now getting a Double Whammy--- Mother has to work for no pay as an essential government worker, and our government agencies presently respond they will be "out of the office" until the government shutdown ends----Nothing has to protected us when they were in office!! RICH CHEMICAL COMPANY'S HAVE NO RIGHT TO POISON OUR WATER AND CONTAMINATE OUR LAND! Your book sounds like a required read in our Buffalo schools---now that is education for our future.