Today our blog puts the Spotlight on Award-winning Author Corina Vacco. She is the author of Young Adult novels. She is the Winner of the 30th Annual Delacorte Prize for a First Young Adult Novel.
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Corina Vacco felt compelled to write about toxic towns after reading an article alleging that hundreds of thousands of children and teens throughout the United States attend schools built on or near dangerously polluted sites. She found the inspiration for this book while living in Western New York, where she heard teachers speak out against a landfill adjacent to an elementary school. A city girl, world traveler, and activist, Corina enjoys playing guitar, listening to the blues, and exploring the great outdoors. She lives in Berkeley, California, with her husband, who is a member of the Coast Guard, and their magnificent puddle-splashing, car-loving little boy. They share their home with one slightly neurotic but very lovable Italian greyhound and a growing collection of books. My Chemical Mountain is Corina’s first novel
SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author
Congratulations on your new novel: MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN. What do you have on the drawing board next? Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease?
My second novel is still in progress, so I don’t have a timeline for its release. But here’s a short excerpt from my query letter: When hazmat fashion took the world by storm—sapphire-studded gas masks, platinum rubber boots, vapor-resistant coveralls with faux fur trim—I lost my mother to her skyrocketing fame. Now I’m off to meet my father for the very first time. He lives on Slugvin Island, the only place in the world where plastic trees aren’t bolted to the streets to remind us of beauty, the only place in the world where birds and butterflies still exist. I’ve heard all the rumors. I know I should be afraid. But what I really feel is…loneliness.
How important have your social media relationships been? Do you see a carry over to your writing success?
That’s an interesting question. I spend my days with my preschooler, so I’m guilty of eating peanut butter sandwiches on the beach during peak Twittering hours, and racing Matchbox cars down ramps when I probably should be pinning something important on Pinterest, and studying spiders or cool rocks when it would be in my best interest to write a blog post. My hope is that writing success can be achieved in spite of a quiet life, and that there will not be too steep of a price to be paid for unplugging. And in terms of personal fulfillment, I could not be happier.
With that said, I do spend some time online, mostly at night, prioritizing personal email responses to fans above checking in at social networking sites. In the early days, before I signed my contract, I spent time on a lot of writers’ forums, researching agents, the marketplace, query letter dos and don’ts, etc. These days, I enjoy Facebook, mainly because I’ve been fortunate to network with some of the most talented writers and most influential agents and editors in the publishing world. My favorite thing about social networking sites is that they’re a place for celebration. I love to cheer my friends on as they revise, sell their books, unveil covers, and announce launch parties—and my friends cheer for me too. I suppose this is all my long-winded way of saying, social media has played a small but vital role in my sense of identity and happiness as a writer. I am going to put a little more energy into Twitter in the future, so we’ll see how that goes.
You do a lot of book signing, interviews, speaking and personal appearances? When and where is the next place where your readers can see you? Where can they keep up with your personal contacts online?
I have a lot of exciting events coming up! Early in July, the Left Coast Writers community is hosting a book party for MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN at Book Passage in Corte Madera. At the end of this month, I’ll be speaking at the Green Party National Meeting in Iowa City. In mid-August, I’ll be at a pizza party and multi-author chat hosted by Copperfield’s Book Store in Petaluma. At the end of August, I’ll be speaking on environmental contamination and young adult literature at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. And in October, I’ll be a speaker at the Wordstock Literary Festival in Portland. I’ll also be sitting on a debut author panel at the SCBWI regional conference in Oakland. I keep a running list of all my events and details on the homepage of my website in the left-hand column, so be sure to check back for new additions!
You have a great cover. How did your book cover creation process work? Did you hand over the basic theme or did you have more of a hands-on approach?
Thanks for the compliment on my cover. I love it too! When it came time to design the cover, I got a call from my editor and she asked me what I’d like to see. I wasn’t prepared for the call…or the question, so I didn’t have anything really detailed to contribute. But I did know that I wanted a green and black color scheme, and I did know that I wanted the tone to be dark and gripping, so I talked a little about that. From there, I kept my fingers crossed as Random House’s art department worked their magic. They hired Shane Rebenschied, who is an extremely talented artist, and he took my dreams for my cover to a whole new level. When my editor sent the cover image to me, I was on the BART train heading to San Francisco. I opened the email on my phone, began downloading the image, and then we went down into the tunnel under the bay, so I had to wait about twenty minutes before I was able to see the image, and I was going crazy with nervousness and excitement! Once I finally saw the cover, my eyes filled with happy tears because it was…perfect.
I saw your YouTube interview. Have you created a book trailer for any of your books to promote them online? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdjHuN-geVI
The YouTube video is from the book launch party for MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN at Books Inc. in San Francisco this past June. In the video, I’m speaking in public about my book for the very first time and I’m so nervous! But the more I talked, the easier the words came to me, and I had a great audience—standing room only, lots of family and friends, including some who flew in all the way from the East Coast to celebrate with me, so that was really special.
What writer support groups do you belong too? Do they help with the writing, marketing and the publishing process?
The list is long! I’m a longtime member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and serve as their new member coordinator in my region. I also belong to a critique group in Lafayette, CA that meets once a month; a young adult critique group in East Bay that I co-created with one of my good friends; and the Berkeley Writers Circle, which meets weekly. On top of that, I’m also a member of Left Coast Writers (LCW) and the Red Room Community. Each of these groups brings something special to the table. SCBWI has been a source of much inspiration, professional growth, wisdom, and networking in my writing life. My critique groups are where I’ve developed close friendships with other writers as we all whip our manuscripts into shape. Left Coast Writers puts on the most incredible salons. I just recently got to listen to the mysterious Oksana Marafioti at one of their events, and then a couple of weeks later, the hilarious Carl Hiassen!
What has been your experience in giving your books away free? Have you been involved in any other type of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?
The only experience I have with book giveaways was when I was one of a handful of authors invited to the Northern California Independent Booksellers Spring Gathering in San Francisco this past April. My publisher sent a box of books—we didn’t have any finished books yet, just galleys—and I stood at a designated table in a hallway of windows and talked about my book to some of the coolest indie booksellers you could ever hope to meet. I ran out of galleys in about twenty minutes, but luckily I’d brought along t-shirts and postcards to give away. The best parts of that day for me were the conversations I had with all the booksellers. It was so great to be able to hear about the stores and cities they hailed from, and to connect with people who love books as much as I do, if not more, and to have the opportunity to thank these booksellers for tirelessly turning readers on to great books in the way only indie stores can—with hand-written shelf-talkers, personal conversations, and a spirit of independence. I have no way of measuring whether the book giveaway translated into direct sales, but it felt like a huge success, because there were smiles all around.
Have you ever done a book tour? If so, did it contribute to the success of your book sales? What was your experience after the tour was over with your sales?
No, I haven’t done a book tour, but I’ve had some unique opportunities to spread the word about my book. My husband serves in the U.S. Coast Guard, so we relocate every three years or so, which means we’ve got deep roots and true friends all over the country. I’ve been fortunate to have had many friends and family members offer to distribute my book info postcards to their local indie stores in New York, Florida, Illinois, Washington, and Arizona. Here in the San Francisco Bay area, I try and stop into local bookstores when I can, just to introduce myself. Often, I’ll bring cookies and offer to sign the store’s existing stock of my books. Same goes for travel outside of California—if I stumble upon a cool bookstore while on vacation somewhere, I’ll definitely stop in to say hello.
In my research, I sensed the Midwest (Cubs?) or Eastern US background. Then your bio pointed me to Western New York. How can readers get involved in your environmental activist cause?
I was born and raised in the Chicago area (Go Cubs!), then moved to Florida and lived in the Tampa Bay area and then the Miami area for many years. My husband and I were stationed in Western New York when we found out we were living near the toxic landfill that inspired MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN. The landfill contained chemical sludge dumped by local industry, and radioactive waste leftover from the Manhattan Project, and it was situated in a residential area, adjacent to a school and playground. Residents had received official letters telling them not to eat vegetables out of their gardens and a woman wrote the paper to say her son’s shoe melted when he stepped in a green puddle in the contaminated area. I was terrified and went to a town meeting to learn more. The meeting was a disgrace. City officials and industry “scientists” dismissed all the local residents’ concerns and declared the landfill safe. I knew I had to write about this—the town, the people, all of it. Shortly thereafter, my main character’s voice appeared in my mind and I listened closely as he rattled his cages of revenge. I even drove out to the industrial yards and penned my first outline of the book while parked in my car at the landfill’s base. It was an exhilarating, terrifying writing experience I’ll never forget!
Readers can get involved by visiting my website and clicking on the “Your Chemical Mountain” page, where I’ve listed important groups to join or support. Also, there’s a section where you can search your environment by zip code to find out if there are any rogue polluters making messes near your house or school—always a good thing to know. Last but not least, I hope my book will inspire activism and hope, especially in the hearts of the youth, so please mention MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN to a librarian or teacher in your region.
Author's Book List
My Chemical Mountain
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.
"This gritty debut depicts the reality of a toxic town. . . . Reminiscent of The Outsiders (and not just because of Cornpup's unusual name), the story concentrates on the boys' tight bond and how they both embrace and fight against the danger in their lives. The most stunning part of the story remains the visceral descriptions ("a trail of green puddles that never dry up; a rusty railcar full of weird, smelly rocks; and a perfect square of earth where you can dig for hours without seeing a single insect") that ooze throughout. . . . Dark and unflinching." --Kirkus Reviews
"Plausible and action-packed. From Jason's complex teenage boy perspective, she captures both the disheartening helplessness of the situation (a wealthy, corrupt company versus a dependent town) and the boys' reckless resistance: 'We cross a landfill on our way to school. We swim in creek water that smells like nail polish remover…We are not fools. We are brave and brilliant.' There is power and hope in that kind of statement, and Jason's coming-of-age tale, though dark, is full of both." --The Hornbook Magazine
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