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Thursday, July 31, 2008
DEBUT AUTHOR: Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich
I am delighted to have had the honor of interviewing Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich, fresh-and-green author of SEVENTH GRADE SUPERZERO and someone with whom you can't help but fall in love.
AUTHORESS: Tell us about your book!
GBEMI: SEVENTH GRADE SUPERZERO is scheduled for a Spring 2010 release (just moved) by Arthur A. Levine Books. I was a slush submission to my wonderful editor, Cheryl Klein, and I'm represented by the fabulousness that is Erin Murphy.
Reginald Garvey McKnight created a superhero character in kindergarten; now he dreams of being a real-life leading man: The Guy who's got game and gets The Girl. Instead, he threw up on the first day of school. In front of everyone. Seventh grade has gone downhill ever since.
Now Reggie can't even look The Girl in the eye, and his former best friend is bent on shredding his already tattered reputation. In SEVENTH GRADE SUPERZERO, Reggie just wants to live between the lines and avoid graduating as only "Pukey McKnight". He'll leave the living out loud to his oldest friend Ruthie, who was probably chanting "No justice, no peace!" in the womb, crowd-pleasers like Justin Walker, the guy every girl wants and every boy wants to be, and the "Grin Reaper" Vicky Ross, who has been in relentless pursuit of the rejection-proof college application since 3rd grade. Reggie is grateful for the steady friendship of Joe C. -- though a white best friend who's obsessed with bizarre trivia can make for awkward moments.
Reggie wonders why things are so bad if God is so good; his faith at all levels is challenged by his friendships, his encounters with a homeless man, and his role as a "Big Buddy" to a kindergarten boy. When he finally decides to "be the change he wants to see", Reggie leaves his superhero fantasies behind and values the little heroic acts of daily life; he learns that sometimes winning big means living small.
AUTHORESS: So, you started in Cheryl Klein's slush pile. Can you tell us a little bit of your story? As in, what was Cheryl's first response to your submission, and where did it go from there?
GBEMI: After ENDLESS research (blog reading, hunting down interviews, quotes, etc.) I queried Cheryl (snail mail) because I thought that she'd 'get' my book. A day after I dropped my query letter in the mail, she updated her submission policies, including a cautionary word about scatological humour which freaked me out because I had something really gross on like, page 2. But, I got a very fast response for the first three chapters, and then a request for a full soon after. There was some uh, scrambling, because I wasn't expecting the full request so soon. About three months later it became an exclusive sub. (And now that gross page 2 is gone, by the way.)
AUTHORESS: You mentioned that you have an agent now, but clearly you landed this sale prior to landing the agent. How and when did Ms. Murphy come into the picture?
GBEMI: I did the same sort of research on Erin, and really, really liked what I'd read. Since she's conference or referral only, I had to wait about a year until she was at a conference in the area and registered right away. She was assigned to me as a mentor (huzzah!) and about two days before we were to meet in person, Cheryl also referred me to her. I didn't mention that when we met, since she already had my work, and might not have liked it, but thank goodness she saw something she liked and it all worked out. I had another offer from a great agent who I like a lot, but everything that I'd read and guessed about Erin turned out true and more; we really clicked. I liked her editorial suggestions a lot, and her working style is perfect for me. I signed with her and about a month later we got an offer from Cheryl. (Right after I had some major surgery and right before Christmas!)
AUTHORESS: So, a book deal in between surgery and Christmas! How has the "I've got a book deal" life differ from the "I'm trying to get a book deal" life? Has your perception of yourself as a writer changed?
GBEMI: Well, a lot more book-related periods of jumping up and down. And a lot more book-related "How Am I Going To Do This" anxiety too. I had a lot of ideas about expectations for me, and because sometimes I am not so smart, I didn't ask, just created scenarios in my head and went with them. When I finally did speak up and ask questions, the answers were very different from what I'd imagined. My agent is a fantastic communicator and has been wonderful about this, and she does it without highlighting the fact that I am indeed a crazy person.
For me, there is also less focus on "I've got to sell this book" to "How will I go about building a career as an author", which is a good thing.
Along with that, I've had to learn and re-learn to do justice to the truth of the characters and the story and worry less about what 'they' (readers, friends, enemies, frenemies, etc.) will think of *me* when 'they' read the story. Self-consciousness can be a real story-killer.
I've learned to pretty much ignore the literary snobs who look down on children's or YA literature, or "I would write if I didn't have to work because 1)I wrote a book. (!!!!) and 2) that's just silly.
I also encounter that same kind of thinly veiled hostility when it comes to some of my other craftish pursuits; there's that "I wish I had time to do that" that's supposed to make you feel bad. Whatever, I say. (Not to their faces, because that may not sound so mature. I just smile and act nice, or say nothing. And go on making the time to do the things that I feel I should be doing.) And I've found that my crafty pursuits are wonderful for that "think-writing" that is a large part of my writing process before I write anything down.
Also, I feel less guilty about reading now. Which is silly, because, reading is kind of a good thing. But sometimes, I'm silly.
And I hope that one day I will be able to say more than ".....Um", when people ask "What's your book about?" That hasn't changed, but I live in hope.
AUTHORESS: This process is sounding so...therapeutic. You mentioned focusing on "How will I go about building a career as an author" instead of worrying about selling this first book. This seems like the right focus! So tell me, what does "a career as an author" look like to you?
GBEMI: Yeah, good question. I think that I start with more of an acceptance now, a real idea that "I am a writer", which is something that I was unable to say to myself, much less anyone else, even though I worked as a full-time freelance writer for quite a while. I'm still a little mumbly and awkward saying it to other people, but I'm getting better, and I've stopped answering "nothing" when people asked what I "do".
I think a lot about my growth as a writer, and feel it as I work on other projects. My editor is truly gifted -- I thought that I liked to revise before, but it's a whole new level now, like the 36th Chamber of the Shaolin!
I also think more and differently about school visits, conferences, and the like. I have a lot of teaching in my background and really look forward to returning to classrooms as an author, and am excited about how that will enrich my teaching and learning experiences. And I do pay more attention to issues relating publicity & marketing, bookshops, libraries, etc. and how I hope that my work will be received by these entities. And I'm also paying attention to how much I don't have control over -- much of the issues relating to publicity & marketing, bookshops, libraries, etc. and trying to do my best on the parts that are in 'my' domain. There's so much that's really out of my hands, so I have to just try to 'write good'. :-)
I'm a member of two fantastic online author communities, the 2009 Debutantes and the "10_ers", which have been indescribably precious arenas of support, schooling, savvy, and the occasional sillies. (There are some amazing books coming out in the next two years!) These talented authors really help me to think more "long term"...Oh, and lovely 2009 Debutante author Rhonda Stapleton (STUPID CUPID) has a cool writing career template on her site.
AUTHORESS: Well, it's really encouraging to hear about your growth as a writer, and of your "self acceptance" as such. So aside from all this exciting professional (and personal) growth, what else can you tell us about who you are? What do you do when you're not writing?
GBEMI: I love to walk this great city, especially the bridges. And go out and explore different neighborhoods -- they have such distinct personalities. Sewing, knitting, stitchery are huge hobbies of mine. I love making toys and dolls. Puppetry. Paper crafts and book arts also. Music. I love to cook and bake -- I collect cookbooks, though I rarely follow the recipes. But they're fun to read and be inspired by. Playing with clay -- great for working out a writing problem. Spending time with family and close friends is very important to me, and we have a lot of fun just hanging out. And of course, reading. I cannot explain how much I love a good book.
AUTHORESS: Your passion for life is effusive and palpable; it's been a pleasure learning so much about you. Do you have any words of wisdom, advice, or encouragement for aspiring authors?
GBEMI: You are too kind to me! I don't think I'm qualified on the words of wisdom front, and any advice or encouragement I'd give would probably sound exceedingly trite, even when it's in earnest. Hmmmm....Take risks, laugh at yourself, be kind to others and yourself, keep learning, pay attention, and write what's true.
See what I mean? Sigh.
Thanks so much, this has been a lot of fun. And thanks for the blog -- it's funny, truthful, and enormously helpful. Hey! That makes more sense: read blogs like Miss Snark's First Victim, hang around on Verla Kay's message boards, join SCBWI!
AUTHORESS: Thank you for this wonderful interview, Gbemi. Rest assured I'll be snatching up your book as soon as it hits the shelves!
GBEMI: Thanks so much, I'm honoured.