Welcome to our second author interview! Carmela Martino, author of the wonderful book “Rosa, Sola,” graciously agreed to answer our interview questions.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?
I first became interested in writing when I was in sixth or seventh grade. I started out keeping a journal and writing poetry. My first publication was a poem called “My Sanctuary” that I wrote in high school. It appeared in a book of creative writing by Chicago public school students. While in high school, I also had an essay published in the local newspaper and one of my poems appeared in the school yearbook. But as much as I loved writing poetry, I dreamed of writing a book “some day.”
If you weren’t a writer, what would your job be?
A teacher, which is what I am when I’m not writing. I teach creative writing to both children and adults.
What inspired you to write Rosa Sola?
The novel began as a short story called “Rosa’s Prayer,” which I wrote while working on my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. “Rosa’s Prayer” was my response to a writing assignment from my first advisor, Marion Dane Bauer. Marion asked me to write a short story about an event from my childhood that still aroused emotion in me. Any emotion. I chose to write about fear—the fear I’d felt at age ten, when my mother nearly died in childbirth.
After finishing the story, I submitted “Rosa’s Prayer” to my MFA workshop group for critique. The group provided terrific feedback. They also encouraged me to turn “Rosa’s Prayer” into a novel. I spent most of my remaining time in the MFA program working on the manuscript. The original short story spanned only a few weeks, ending on the day Rosa’s mother comes home from the hospital. The novel encompasses a year in Rosa’s life, and focuses not on Rosa’s fear as much as on her family’s struggle to heal from their loss.
Is the plot of the book autobiographical, or related to something that happened in your childhood?
The story is based on my feelings surrounding the loss of my own baby brother when I was ten years old. However, very few scenes in the book “really happened.” And even then, I’ve changed the scenes significantly from the way they occurred. Rosa is not me, and the other characters are not my family members. But all the characters are made up of bits and pieces of people I know.
How long did it take from starting to write to having the book published? Did you get many rejections?
I wrote the short story “Rosa’s Prayer” in Fall 1998. I spent the next 18 months turning it into a novel that became my creative thesis. When I graduated in July, 2000 though, the manuscript still needed work. After wasting lots of time, I finally finished the revisions in 2002 and started sending the novel out.
The first two editors I sent to rejected the novel. A third editor was interested, but she didn’t get back to me for a long time. Meanwhile, I submitted the manuscript to Candlewick Press in October 2002. Four months later, in January 2003, a Candlewick editor called to say they wanted to buy Rosa, Sola. The other interested editor eventually contacted me about publishing it too, but by then I was under contract with Candlewick. The book was published in Fall 2005, so it took about 7 years from beginning to publication.
Do you find it hard to stop editing/revising, or do you have a definite ending point?
Good question! I think I could keep revising forever, especially with a book. Eventually, though, I start to get tired of a story if I’ve worked on it a long time. If I think it’s in decent shape, that’s when I start sending it out to editors. On the other hand, if I’m not satisfied with it, I may put it away for awhile. When I take it out again, I can see it with a fresh perspective. That often helps me see how to fix problems.
For you, what is the hardest part of writing a book?
I’d say it’s having the discipline to keep plugging away at it day after day. Writing a book is a big investment of time and energy. When you don’t have a contract, there’s no guarantee that someone will want to publish it when you’re done, especially in the current economy. I can’t let myself think about that, though, or I’d never have the discipline to finish. Instead, I try to focus on enjoying the process.
What advice would you give to young writers?
I have four tips posted on the “For Writers” page of my website:
1. Read! Read! Read!
To grow as a writer, it helps to study what works, and what doesn’t, in the work of others.
2. Write! Write! Write!
Like anything else, the only way to improve is with practice, practice, practice.
3. Revise! Revise! Revise!
Let your writing “cool off,” then return to it with a critical eye to see how to make it better. (This is where what you learned in Step 1 pays off.)
4. Submit! Submit! Submit!
Your writing will never get published if it’s sitting in a desk drawer (or on your computer’s hard drive). If you get any “encouraging” rejections, be sure to send the editor a “thank you” along with another manuscript. (If you’ve followed Step 2, you should have plenty of manuscripts to choose from!)
Are you working on a new book right now?
I’m always working on something. I have two picture book manuscripts circulating that I hope to sell. I’m also working on a nonfiction biography, and I have plans to start a historical novel set in 18th-century Italy. I’m pleased to say that I have a poem in the brand new Chicken Soup for the Teen Soul: Teens Talk High School. I also have a humorous short story that will be published in a middle-school anthology coming out from Candlewick Press in 2010.
Who is YOUR favorite author or book?
My favorite authors include Katherine Paterson, Karen Hesse and Lois Lowry. I love too many books to decide on a favorite.
What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?
I love to read. I also enjoy cooking, though I hate cleaning up afterward.
Thank you, Carmela Martino! We hardly need say that we are extremely grateful that she took time away from writing and teaching to answer our questions. For more information on Ms. Martino and her book, check out her website, www.carmelamartino.com.