I met Corina via facebook. I checked out her book and then reached out for an interview. I believe this type of book is something we all should read. It'll make you think about where your kids go to school and what might be next door to your home too.
Corina gives tons of great advice and inside information about herself and her writing. She even lets us see her query that got her the YES!
Thank you Corina! You rocked it out.
Below are the questions I asked her:
1. You chose to write about toxic school sites in the US for your first novel. This topic is a scary and very serious one. Why did you choose this to be your debut?
This book chose me. My characters demanded that their voices be heard. They were brilliant and angry and strong, and I couldn’t escape them.
2. Why should readers read this book?
You should read MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN because it’s dangerous and thought-provoking. And because it will usher you into a world you may never experience first-hand. And because it’s story about finding your voice when the powers that be want to silence you.
3. Describe your writing style:
I’m a brooder. I do a lot of thinking before I actually sit down to write. Some people might call this procrastination, but to me, it’s the important work of laying a compelling foundation.
I’ll usually converse with my characters (inside my head) until they feel so real I have dreams about them. And I’ll spend a lot of time imagining my setting until I feel it’s the perfect, intoxicating mixture of ugliness and beauty—I especially love to write settings that become characters.
Once all those essentials are in place, I write everything else pretty feverishly.
4. Where do you go for a great cup of Joe/Tea in your town?
Guerilla Café in Berkeley.
5. What interesting fact did you find during your research that is not in the book?
There’s lots of stuff about the history behind the landfills that never made it into the book. In particular, facts about Love Canal, like how a company called Hooker Chemical dumped 21,000 tons of toxic waste in the ground and then sold the land to the Niagara Falls School District for $1.00, and how a school and neighborhood were then built on top of the contaminated land—you’d like to think things like that would never happen today, but readers send me similar stories of present-day pollution from all over the country. I just read an article about a New Jersey daycare that was built inside an old thermometer factory contaminated with mercury. It boggles the mind.
6. Give a few words of advice to newbie writers:
Revise, set the book aside, and repeat.
For years, if that’s what it takes.
Every moment of work, every scene you write and then cut, every rejection letter, every critique group meeting, every line edit, every conference keynote speech you've witnessed, every bit of interesting dialogue you overhear on the train, every hour you spend thinking through a plot issue—it all coalesces into something magical when the time is right. You will know when your book is ready. You will feel it.
7. What is your writing process like? Do you outline? How many hours are you butt in chair? Etc…
I do write outlines, but I rarely stick to them. My characters always end up taking the story to places I wasn’t expecting. I mostly write at night for long stretches. A minimum of two hours, sometimes six. But I don’t write every single day. I need breather days to think and rejuvenate.
8. How many rejections did you get before you got a yes for this manuscript?
Ten (or thereabouts) over a period of three years. With MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN, I was very fortunate. Almost every query I sent was met with a request for a full. And yes, rejection letters followed, but many of the agents were kind enough to offer extensive feedback that helped me take my book to a whole new level. I took their feedback very seriously. I always paused my query process until I’d made the recommended improvements.
9. Do you have an agent? If yes, why? If no, will you query one for your next book?
No, I don’t have an agent at the moment. My book won the Delacorte Prize, and eligibility requirements stated that authors must be unagented.
I’ve been quite satisfied in my dealings with Random House, and I’ve had the generous support of two fabulous editors, so I’m very happy.
But trust me when I say I now have a profound understanding of what agents do for their clients each and every day. I will be querying agents in the hopes of finding representation for my new manuscript!
10. What do you think of query letters? And may we see yours?
I really enjoy writing query letters. It’s the waiting for response part that gets to me! Below is the query I used for MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN. Please note, I left off the last paragraph, since I tailored that to specific agents.
We live by the best landfill ever. I flipped my dirt bike there once. Plus I’ve got a sketchbook full of uranium monsters. My friend Cornpup likes to show off the weird bumps on his back for a dollar. And Charlie, he’ll drink red creek water on a dare.
What is it like to live near one of the most dangerous landfills in the world? I spent a year interviewing residents of a small, polluted town outside Buffalo, New York. I recorded what you might expect: a good deal of fear and resentment. But the most fascinating voices, the images that still haunt me, belonged to a group of children who defended their mysterious “mountain” as a beloved source of lore and adventure. These voices inspired MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN, a YA novel that has uncovered magic in a most unusual setting. Imagine an industrial wonderland filled with crumbling factories, tumor-covered frogs, dark buried objects, and dead zones where even rodents won’t tread. Imagine this place not from Erin Brockovich’s point of view, but as seen through the eyes of a boy who is addicted to the thrill of landfill culture.
Rocked by his father’s recent death and his mother’s sudden eating compulsion, Jason Hammond spends his nights breaking into abandoned steel mills and walking barefoot through green sludge with his two best friends. The boys eagerly embrace pollution and it feels good to live on the edge, at least until Jason makes a devastating mistake on a night of spontaneous vandalism. Later, when contamination rumors suggest closure of the boys’ favorite swimming hole, Jason channels his frustration into pencil sketches of ice goblins, mutant birds, and chemical wars. His complex collection of landfill mythology, inspired by strange phenomena at a nearby toxic dump, is a powerful weapon in his battle against a rogue chemical facility. But there is a problem: Jason has become a catalyst for change, and change is the only thing he really fears.
11. What time do you get up and what do you eat for breakfast?
7am. Banana bread.
12. How many revisions did this book go through?
About eight big ones, and lots of tinkering in between. Most notably, I threw my first draft in the garbage and started over, which was painful, but necessary.
Then I decided I didn’t like third person omniscient anymore, so I rewrote the whole thing in first person.
Then I decided the book was too episodic—it was broken into sections for winter, spring, summer, and fall—so I condensed the story into a single summer.
The hard work was well-worth it, and the evolution my book was exciting to witness.
13. How can my blog readers help you to become an even bigger success?
For me, success is knowing that my book has found an audience and that my readers enjoyed the story. Reviews on Goodreads or Amazon are always appreciated, but I especially love it when readers contact me directly through my website...and if you do, don't forget to ask me for a signed book plate sticker!
I’ll be on the debut author panel for the SCBWI San Francisco North and East Bay Region’s annual conference in Oakland this October. I was also invited to speak at the Green Party National Meeting in Iowa City at the end of July.
16. Any big news?
I just found out I was selected to do a reading and sit on a YA panel at Wordstock in Portland, Oregon this October. It’s the Pacific Northwest’s largest literary event, so I’m super excited!