Teen author Anna Caltabiano dishes on her first novel
Have you been writing since you were a child?
I definitely have, my parents first started me off with a huge love to read books, and I think that translated into me writing my own short stories, especially with little drawings and crayon. I used to make them into books by stapling them together. That just kept going and All That Is Red started off as a short story and it just grew longer and longer.
What are some of the earliest pieces you remember writing?
I definitely remember going through a huge princess phase, one of the earliest ones I remember was about a really hungry king. I don’t remember the specifics. When I really like something and want to explore it I just start writing about it.
Give us a short summary of what the book addresses?
All That Is Red takes place in a dream like world where ‘red’ and ‘white’ are in a literal battle. ‘Red’ represents human emotion and ‘white’ is the absence of everything. A girl is caught between the two worlds without really knowing which side she belongs to.
What was the inspiration for All That Is Red?
There are a few things. One was being a teenager and always interacting with teenagers around me, like my friends at school. It’s easy to overlook the fact that everyone feels bad sometimes. We don’t talk about it much but we see it. It’s easy to want to make it all go away, to become numb, even if it means losing happy pleasant feelings as well. That was my thought process. Also, I, like most teenagers, like watching Disney movies, and it was interesting for me to see black, green, purple and dark colors show negativity, but growing up in a multicultural family, white in Asia is typically the scarier color because you don’t know what’s there in the emptiness. Those two ideas came together and I started thinking up All That Is Red.
Your book is related to self harm. Did you just write your story then realize the links between your character and cutting, or did you willingly tackle these tough issues?
I think that one thing that causes teenagers to turn to self harm is that isolating feeling, and to some degree I think everyone goes through that. I think some of it is what I intended to write, but the wonderful thing about reading is that the reader inserts their own memories and interpretations into the text. Not all of it is what I was intending.
Do you think anyone can be a writer, or do you think it’s a talent some people have and develop?
I definitely think that everyone can write. It’s just telling a story, and I always listen to my friends tell me stories about their weekends and little things. Everyone ends up telling a story whenever they talk, so I think that it’s something anyone can do.
When it comes to writing a good book like yours, how much of it do you think is attributed to a unique idea and how much of it is attributed to writing ability?
For me, good writing is when someone picks up a book and instantly, just like that, they’re in another world. You don’t notice writing style, when someone picks up a book and is instantly in another world that tells you that you’re a success in writing.
How much of your character comes from you?
Most people think the protagonist is closest to the author, but I see little bits of myself in other characters as well. I see little bits of myself, little bits of my friends and even little bits of people I met on the street. Hopefully the reader sees bits of themselves too.
Was it hard to sit down and write an entire book? How long did it take you?
It was the summer between 8th and 9th grade. I told my parents not to register me for any summer camps because I was going to sit down at the dining room table and write a novel. Of course they laughed and said, “yeah, right,” but I sat down and wrote the first draft in a month. After that it was months and months of revision to polish it up.
How do you know that your writing is worth the effort, how did you resist giving up?
I come up with lots and lots of ideas, I have a whole notebook full of them, but sometimes there’s an idea that really calls out to you, as cliché as it sounds. You start believing in what you want to say, and your characters become real people almost. It becomes worth it. I have started stories and put them down because I said “oh this isn’t worth it” but sometimes there’s a spark that makes you want to follow it through.
Once you finished the book, what was the first thing you did? Did you have your friends and family read it?
I’m not one of those people who let their friends read their writing. I finally gave it to my dad first to read. After that it was sending out letters and tying to get into the publishing process. Generally I tell my friends to read the book if they want to, but not to talk about it with me. It is my writing but it’s separate from me. I’m slightly shy about my work with friends.
Was it hard to find an agent? Was there a lot of rejection?
Definitely. It’s a few months of writing letters and sending them out. I stopped counting after 200 rejections. But when one person finally says yes and you realize they believe in the book as much as you do and they want to give it a shot, it’s worth it. Luckily in the 21st century the Internet is an amazing resource. I got to talk to a few authors and hear advice and just try every route.
Once you had an agent did you find a publisher soon after?
That also took a while. But once you find someone who also believes in your book it’s a much easier road.
What is the next step after you get a publisher? Is there more editing?
There is always more editing, you’re never quite done. As an author I never feel quite finished, I always feel like I can improve. At a certain point I have to stop or else I’ll just be editing small words here and there forever.
Are you happy with the finished product? Is there a point where you want to keep editing and rewriting?
Now that I look at the finished product I am happy with it, part of me can’t believe it’s actually done and sitting on my shelf. It feels like a dream, but I am definitely happy with it.
Do your classmates and teachers treat you any differently? Do they ask for help on assignments and do you think you do better on essays and stories for school?
I adore my friends and they have their own hobbies, they play sports, they’re really talented. I call writing my sport. I support them in what they do and they support me back. I doubt many of my teachers know I have a book, so they don’t treat me any differently. I still struggle with writing essays for English class and spend a lot of time on them and I still procrastinate as a student.
What can you tell us about your next books?
I have two things I’m working on right now. One I’m in the editing stage of. It’s something new that I’m trying. It has a bit of romance, it’s something I love to read but I've never written. It’s about teenagers dealing with things around them. It’s not as much a science fiction book as my first, it’s slightly more realistic. It’s about first love, coping with growing up, realizing that things are changing and that we are becoming adults, slowly, and that we have to start dealing with adult issues. The other book I’m in the first draft stage of, it has more of the same young adult feel. I think lots of things I see around me inspire both of these books.
What do you want to do in the future in terms of school, career, and writing?
School is fun for me, to write at all you have to keep learning or else you run out of things to write. I hope that I get to grow as a writer as I grow up. I’m still a teenager, I haven’t even gotten my driver’s license yet, so I hope to keep exploring things as I grow up.
What advice do you have for other teens who want to write but maybe lack to same drive that you have?
The number one thing is just to keep writing. I can sit and think about it all I want but I have to open my laptop and start writing, to write you actually have to write.
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