Friday, June 6, 2014

Interview with Kerry O'Malley Cerra

I'm SO EXCITED today to be interviewing my fellow Fearless Fifteener/Diversity Leaguer, the remarkably kindhearted Kerry O'Malley Cerra, whose debut MG novel, JUST A DROP OF WATER, comes out September 2, 2014 via Sky Pony Press. Which is--GAH!--right around the corner! 

And I. Cannot. Wait.   :)

*Cue inner fireworks*

Here's a little bit about the story:

Ever since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart—and outrun—the rival cross country team, the Palmetto Bugs. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.

According to Jake’s personal code of conduct, anyone who beats up your best friend is due for a butt kicking, and so Jake goes after Bobby. But soon after, Sam’s father is detained by the FBI and Jake’s mom doubts the innocence of Sam’s family, forcing Jake to choose between his best friend and his parents. When Jake finds out that Sam’s been keeping secrets, too, he doesn’t know who his allies are anymore. But the final blow comes when his grandpa’s real past is revealed to Jake. Suddenly, everything he ever knew to be true feels like one big lie. In the end, he must decide: either walk away from Sam and the revenge that Bobby has planned, or become the hero he’s always aspired to be.

A gripping and intensely touching debut middle grade novel by Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Just a Drop of Water brings the events of September 11, which shook the world, into the lens of a young boy who is desperately trying to understand the ramifications of this life-altering event.

Congratulations on your debut, Kerry! Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to write JUST A DROP OF WATER?

You’ll find a longer—and very personal—version of this answer on my website, but in short, one of my good friends is Muslim and in the days following 9/11, I had some serious doubts about his family’s innocence when I learned that some of the terrorists lived and learned to fly practically in our backyards. The FBI was certain local people had to have helped these guys at some point. All the “what ifs” and “maybes” swarmed my head. Even though I was friends with this family, I doubted them. When the fear subsided and my head cleared, I knew, for certain, that it was crazy to think they’d be involved, and I hated myself for ever being suspicious of them in the first place.

Couple that with the fact that I used to teach social studies and wanted to make sure kids really understood the events leading up to and following that tragic day, well, a story was brewing in my head before I even realized it. Kids are our hope for the future. They need to understand more than what a textbook will ever give them. I hope they find that in Just a Drop of Water—the future is theirs.

Who are some of your favorite authors? 

This one is easy. I have a ton of YA and adult authors that I like, but I’ll stick to middle-grade since that’s what I write. In no particular order, I absolutely love, LoVe, LOVE a story with a rich setting that takes me somewhere I’ve never been. For that, I’d say my favorites are Jo Knowles, Kathryn Fitzmaurice, Jennifer Holm, Linda Mullaly Hunt, RJ Palacio & Christina Diaz Gonzalez. But, I also love stories that make me laugh, so I pretty much bow down to authors like Donna Gephart, Tim Federle, Chris Rylander, and Gennifer Choldenko. Whew, that’s a lot of people and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few. Basically, if a story sticks with me, you’re on my favorites list for life. So in that case, throw in Judy Blume because the first book I ever fell in love with—and surely the one that led me to become a writer myself—is Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Love!!

What advice would you give your younger self?

I had a really great group of friends all through high school. And they were smart—like genius smart. But guess what? I wasn’t. That said, I didn’t have many classes with my best friends because they took all sorts of AP courses and honors and the typical stuff brainiacs do. They never made me feel inadequate, but I certainly made myself feel that way. I’d love to go back and tell myself that even though I would never be the smartest, it turns out life is more about effort and if you can give it your best, you’re gonna be just fine. On a side note: I swear if my older self had told my younger self I’d be a published author someday, I’d have spewed Dr. Pepper out my nose in disbelief.

What was the hardest part about writing this particular book?

I’d have to say it’s super hard to admit—so publicly, mind you—that I doubted my friend and his family. Even though they say they understand, it doesn’t make it easier. But I can’t explain my reasoning without admitting it. Forgiveness is a powerful thing! The research was also difficult. The day I wrote the actual 9/11 scene was gut-wrenching. I watched one YouTube video after another, taking detailed notes so I could describe the scene the way a typical, innocent thirteen-year-old boy would. Then I went for a walk and threw up. I’m not even kidding.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Hands down, the beach is my favorite—and most productive—place to write. It’s soothing, it gets my mind going, and there’s no housework, dogs, or kids to deal with. I get so much done when I go. I went just yesterday and have almost finished outlining a brand new book.

Thanks again for asking me to join you, Marci.

My pleasure, Kerry! I cannot wait to get my hands on this book!

About Kerry:

Kerry O'Malley Cerra's career as an author began at age five when she wrote her first story using crayons on the back wall of her family’s house. She later graduated with a Social Science Education degree from the University of South Florida—GO BULLS!—and taught high school history. After meeting her most awesome critique pals, she joined SCBWI, helped launch Whatcha’ Reading Now?, got an agent, sold a book, and the rest is history—which is her favorite subject ya’ know!

Her middle-grade novel, Just a Drop of Water, debuts on September 2, 2014 from Sky Pony Press. You can best find her on her Website and Twitter.

1 comment:

  1. Kerry, I can't wait to read this even more. Thank you for being so honest and writing a story that addresses so many issues we still face now.