Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A2A Chat: Kurtis Scaletta (or Please Welcome A2A's First Mister!)

Tip of the Day: Get ready to purchase your copy of Kurtis's MUDVILLE on February 24th and gear up for baseball season!

Today's guest on A2A chat is debut author KURTIS SCALETTA. According to his website, he's a writer, baseball fan, and cat guy. Sounds like a winner to me! And so does his middle grade novel, MUDVILLE, to be release in a mere six days!

From Kurtis's website:

Welcome to Moundville, where it’s been raining for longer than Roy McGuire has been alive. Most people say the town is cursed—right in the middle of their biggest baseball game against rival town Sinister Bend, black clouds crept across the sky and it started to rain. That was 22 years ago . . . and it’s still pouring.

Baseball camp is over, and Roy knows he’s in for a dreary, soggy summer. But when he returns home, he finds a foster kid named Sturgis sprawled out on his couch. As if this isn’t weird enough, just a few days after Sturgis’s arrival, the sun comes out. No one can explain why the rain has finally stopped, but as far as Roy’s concerned, it’s time to play some baseball. It’s time to get a Moundville team together and finish what was started 22 years ago. It’s time for a rematch.

I asked Kurtis some questions and he answered:

DL: I am very excited to host our first A2A chat with a Mister rather than a Miss! Thanks for joining us, Kurtis. There's a lot of discussion amongst writers, teachers, and librarians about Boys And Reading. What is your opinion on what/how much tween and teen boys read? Compared to middle grade boys? Do you think your book will appeal to middle grade boys, girls, or both? Did you have any of this in mind when you wrote it?

KS: I am well aware of the gender gap, since I've facilitated Guys Read groups through the public library near my house. Those groups are part of a national initiative started by Jon Scieszka, and promote reading as something guys do. Even though there's a lot books to have to compete with, I think programs like Guys Read and making a range of books that appeal to different kids visible and available will make reading more popular with boys of all ages. I don't know if teens read more or less than younger boys, but I have met passionate readers of all ages and hope there always will be a few.

I gave some advanced copies of my book to the kids in my reading group, and was really happy when one boy told me later he couldn't read it because his female cousin who was visiting started reading it, and wanted to finish it -- so she took it. I was worried girls wouldn't be as likely to read it, but they will find some girls in it who I hope they can connect with.

[DL: Baseball stories seem to have fans of all genders and ages at my library! Go sports books!]

DL: Your book sounds like a sports story with a dose of magical realism. Would that be accurate? How did you come up with the spark for this story?

KS: I love the term magical realism, but I associate it with writers like Calvino and Borges and Marquez, so it sounds like I'm putting on airs when I use it to describe my own work. I really think of MUDVILLE as a tall tale more than a fantasy, which goes well with baseball fiction. There are really two sparks to the story. One is simply watching a game on TV that was in a rain delay and wondering what the longest delay ever was, and what they would do if it never stopped. The other spark is a line in a Robert Frost poem about "Some boy who lived too far from town to learn baseball," which I think is sad and memorable. It sparked the basic idea of kids who can't play baseball, and particularly the lonely character of Sturgis who is at the heart of the story.

[DL: Aha, yes, "tall tale" seems appropriate for sure. And I love hearing how stories were sparked -- what WAS the longest rain delay for a baseball game?]

DL: Tell us about your writing space so we can picture you hard at work! Why do you work where you work? Would you change anything about it? Do you write in long spurts or short bursts or on a regular schedule?

KS: I mostly wrote Mudville in an office that has been turned into a sewing room by my wife. Now I have a laptop, and do most of my writing in the living room, on the couch, with one or more cats hanging around me. Sometimes the cats make it hard, when they bat at the laptop cables or chew on the pages, but I like having them around. I have an office space downstairs, but rarely use it. The living room is just more comfortable.

I write methodically, 300-500 words every evening (after my day job) for months while I am getting through a first, second, or third draft (I find those early drafts are much more re-writing than merely revising).

[DL: Ah yes, I am also a Laptop In The Living Room writer.]

[Kurtis and his cat read his work]

DL: What are you working on next? Where did the idea come for your current WIP?

KS: I've just sent my next manuscript off to my editor. It's about a kid living in West Africa. He's trying to fit in and be cool and nothing works for him, and it's all pretty close to what my life was like when I was his age and moved to Africa. He befriends a black mamba, one of the deadliest snakes in the world. That part, I hope I don't need to clarify, is completely made up! This book really just started as a setting, since I always wanted to write about my time in Africa, but the big aha moment came from an old book about Liberian folklore, where I found about the notion of a "kaseng," the belief that a human can have a profound and inexplicable connection to an animal. It's the kind of thing I love to imagine, and since the title of the book was Mamba Point (which is the name of the neighborhood where I lived, and where the book is set), it all came together.

[DL: Sounds like more "magical realism" to me! Go Kurtis! I bet your editor loves it!]

DL: What is your best and/or favorite advice for writers like me who are agented and not yet sold, but whose agents are Subbing for Pubbing? (How do you keep writing while waiting for News?)

KS: The waiting is terrible and I'm a wreck whenever I have to do it. My only strategy is to badger my wife. "Do you think my editor will be happy with the manuscript? Will she like the revisions? What if she already talked to my agent and she couldn't call me because my cell phone was turned off? Maybe she hated it, and that's why she hasn't emailed. I'm also worried that she took this joke in my last email the wrong way." Etc. I guess that translates to looking to friends and loved ones for support, but the friends and loved ones would probably have other advice, like just do something else and try not to think about it. Best of luck with your manuscript, though!

[DL: I will keep badgering my manpanion with questions like, "Why hasn't anyone bought my book yet? It's really good, right?" since that seemed to work for you!]

Thanks again, Kurtis, for indulging us with your thoughtful answers!

You can contact Kurtis at his webpage where he also blogs -- and has pictures from the January ALA conference in Colorado!

Two more A2A Chats this week -- stay tuned!

Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing


Lisa Schroeder said...

Yay - thanks for being our first "mister" Kurtis! Your book sounds fabulous.

And tell that cat to keep his teeth to himself. :)

Emily Marshall said...

Your book sounds great Kurtis. It actually comes at a great time, since we are about to have baseball fever at our library in March and April (it's for an adult book thing we do county-wide each year, but the theme this year is baseball and we always branch out the theme for kids and teens too.) Anyway, I'm going to order this one for sure now.

Thanks for stopping by.

Kurtis said...

Thanks, Deena, Lisa and Emily. Lisa, I'm glad when it's only paper he's after and not consumer electronics.

Kristina Springer said...

Great interview!! Good luck with your release in six days!

Kate Fall said...

I loved reading this interview! I'll be looking forward to reading MUDVILLE too.