There is a scene where Vanessa essentially says goodbye to her mother and I really labored over that. I wanted to capture the many layers of grief, as well as the unique dynamics of this family. I wanted it to be emotional but not sentimental, and more than anything, I wanted to show Vanessa’s quiet strength. I lost count of the many drafts of that scene, but I’m happy with how it turned out.
My favorite scene is probably one of the least dramatic. In the last part of the novel, all of the family secrets are out in the open and Vanessa is struggling with how to move on, with what’s next. It’s like she’s standing in a bombed out building and wondering how to clean up. Everything feels destroyed and it’s overwhelming, but the structure is still intact. What keeps her going is love, pure and simple. She realizes she’s worthy of it, as are her sisters. It was a turning point for her and I hope readers will feel the same.
What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or vice versa?
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, and Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.
How long did you work on TELL ME SOMETHING REAL?
Tell Me Something Real started as a short story, and I wrote about the characters in that form for a few years, so each one feels very full and real to me. It took a while to determine the form of the book—novel versus short stories—and how I wanted to tell the story. These characters have been with me for a while! I feel like I grew up with them. I took a couple of years off from writing when I had my kids and was balancing work and my family. When I came back to it, the story and form was so much clearer and, with my brilliant agent and editor, I was able to fully realize the story.
What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?
When working on a book, there can be moments of self-doubt when I questioned everything from a word or phrase to large plot points. At some point, I had to learn to trust my voice and instincts and power through a draft. It took a while to get there! I think that is a universal struggle though: finding one’s voice. I didn’t discover my voice while writing Tell Me Something Real, but it gave me the confidence to use it.
What do you hope readers will take away from TELL ME SOMETHING REAL?
Hope and healing and resilience. That even during the most painful moments, we can connect with someone. Love comes from vulnerability.
How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?
It was a long journey writing this book, and I have to pause and acknowledge the patience and support and overall genius of my agent, who was with me every step of the way. I started the novel as I was finishing up my MFA program (I have a terrible MFA thesis filed away somewhere), but that coincided with starting a family and working hard at my job. Writing was an essential part of me, but it didn’t get the majority of time and attention because of day-to-day life.
When I was able take time and focus on the book, I wrote about four full drafts. In the beginning, it was much larger in scope with multiple points of view and following the family well into adulthood. We submitted that version to publishers, and while I came close to publishing it, ultimately all rejected it with the same feedback: choose one point of view and condense the story. It was invaluable feedback. I revised it with that in mind, choosing Vanessa (such an obvious choice!) as the sole narrator and focusing on a childhood summer. I’m very grateful for the interest the novel received when we submitted it again. It really has been a dream come true in every possible way. My editor was a wonderful partner in refining the novel and I feel so supported by my publisher.
Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?
Oh my, I don’t know if I will ever feel like I have the key to writing the novel. If someone does, please email me! I’d love to hear it.
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?
I can work just about anywhere and music is a must! I create long playlists and then listen to the same songs over and over again as I write. It drives my family insane. My children beg me to change the music. I love taking writing retreats and going to someplace quiet and hunkering down to write for days on end, only stopping to take long walks, eat, and hopefully sleep.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
You have a voice and a story. Share it!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a new novel that will come out fall 2017. The story follows Charlotte Lang, whose father, a journalist, is taken hostage when he’s on assignment. Charlotte and her mom are left waiting, and the two of them aren’t as close as they could be. In a time of fear and uncertainty, they get to know each other in a new light.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Tell Me Something Real
by Calla Devlin
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Three sisters struggle with the bonds that hold their family together as they face a darkness settling over their lives in this masterfully written debut novel.
There are three beautiful blond Babcock sisters: gorgeous and foul-mouthed Adrienne, observant and shy Vanessa, and the youngest and best-loved, Marie. Their mother is ill with leukemia and the girls spend a lot of time with her at a Mexican clinic across the border from their San Diego home so she can receive alternative treatments.
Vanessa is the middle child, a talented pianist who is trying to hold her family together despite the painful loss that they all know is inevitable. As she and her sisters navigate first loves and college dreams, they are completely unaware that an illness far more insidious than cancer poisons their home. Their world is about to shatter under the weight of an incomprehensible betrayal…
Purchase Tell Me Something Real at Amazon
Purchase Tell Me Something Real at IndieBound
View Tell Me Something Real on Goodreads
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Calla Devlin is a Pushcart nominee and winner of the Best of Blood and Thunder Award whose stories have been included in numerous literary journals and in anthologies, including Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond, for which she was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Magazine.
Tell Me Something Real is her first book.
Jocelyn, Shelly, Martina, Anisaa, Sam, Erin, Susan, Michelle, Laura, and Kristin