Interview with Debora Allie

“Because I can’t sing,” Deb Allie jokes when asked why she writes. She’s been writing professionally since the day she finished graduate school at Pace University in Manhattan, where she earned an M.S. in Publishing degree. She has written jacket and ad copy for a publishing company, marketing proposals for a medical management company, newsletters, corporate communications, feature articles, Requests for Proposals, software documentation . . . and now a book called The Meanest Girl for 8-12 year old girls.

When Deb was that age, all she did was read. She kept a notebook and looked up any words she didn’t know. She wondered how the book people got all the words to end up at the same place on the side of the page and why there was more space between some words than others. She noticed when commas were used and when they weren’t. When she was in seventh grade at Maple Hill Middle School in Castleton, New York, she entered a read-a-thon but didn’t read too many books because she was reading Gone With the Wind at the time (over 1,000 pages). She won a bicycle anyway.

After high school she went to the State University of New York at Albany and earned a B.A. in English and Psychology. Now that she is “way old,” her favorite pastime is hanging out with her seven-year-old son, Jason. She enjoys rollerblading, but only if Jason is with her to distract her from the monotony of her right leg going in and out. (She doesn’t notice the left leg.) She also likes hiking, but only if it’s not to humid or buggy. She can walk for miles and miles as long as it’s by the sea. She also enjoys playing basketball at the local grocery store and claims she can hit the hoop from down by the squash (“downtown”). Price Chopper has since blocked access to the hoop with cases of soda.

Debora Allie, and her son, Jason, live in East Greenbush, New York. This is her first book.

INTERVIEW WITH DEBORA ALLIE

When did your passion for writing begin?

When I was a little girl. I loved books, but my own creative writing never really took off until I was in college, when I wrote poetry. I never took a writing short stories or novel writing course in college because I thought it would be too difficult to pull off with the course load that I had.

Can you tell us what your typical “writing” day is like?

I don’t have a typical writing day. When I wrote The Meanest Girl, I wrote during down times at work, on my lunch half hour, at 4:00 in the morning (I think that was only once!), on Sunday afternoons if I could get my butt into the chair. I did a major revision on a bus trip to hear Maurice Sendak speak in Boston. That gave me two-and-a-half hours each way to revise. When I was laid off from my last job, I tried to write as much as I could, letting the housework go in order to get the book (Spastic Summer) to my agent as soon as I could. I found that I was more willing to work if I could sit in my big comfy chair with my laptop and feet up on the ottoman than if I had to sit at a desk.

Can you tell us a little about The Meanest Girl?



The title and the first two sentences of The Meanest Girl came to me as a gift, dropping out of the sky when I was really tired one day and the right side of my brain wasn’t working so well:


My name is Maria Alyssa Louisa Elena Fontana. In my family, they say names follow you like curses.

It started as a beginner reader—12 pages, and ended with the character making lemonade out of lemons. (How cliché is that?) An editor actually was interested in the first two lines and wanted it expanded by 85 pages. So I wrote my little heart out and my agent sent it to them. And then I got a generic rejection letter back from the editor’s assistant. I couldn’t believe it. I’d written the book just for them, and they didn’t even have the courtesy to send a personal rejection letter (which was what I had always received).

So then I decided to keep working on it, to make it a good length so that it would be appropriate for middle-grade students.

The story is about Alyssa Fontana, who thinks she has a pretty perfect life in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn until the meanest girl moves to town from Albany and basically ruins it. Hayden Martin sticks gum in her hair, tries to steal her friends . . . even reveals a horrible family secret. Then Alyssa’s best friend Chelsea forms a club, and now that she’s President of the World she doesn’t seem to care about Alyssa at all! And as if that isn’t enough, her mom says it’s time for her to buy a bra, and the only meatloaf she’ll make is vegetarian.

And then there’s all the weirdness with her English teacher . . . like totally major crush, and when Alyssa receives a love note from a secret admirer, her whole world goes into a tizzy. Who’s in love with her? Who sent the note? And what’s the matter with Chelsea? Will life ever be the same again?

Who published your book and how has your experience with them been?

My book was published by Roaring Brook Press. Since this is my first book, I don’t have anything to compare the experience to. But it was difficult because Roaring Brook went bankrupt during the time I was waiting for my contract and my advance. I just kept revising and revising on good faith.

Everyone says Deborah Brodie is a good working editor, but again, I have nothing to compare it to. Her editing wasn’t as extensive as I thought it would be, as far as line by line editing, so it took me a while to catch on to what she wanted. But after a number of revisions, I finally saw a pattern. I cut 28 pages without her telling me to. Deborah took the draft on vacation with her, read it on the plane, and was so thrilled with the revision that she called me as soon as she got off the plane and said she’d tell the company to put my total advance through.

As far as my contract getting held up, Deborah was great to offer me more free books with my contract than I would have gotten otherwise. But I didn’t receive any money for publicity or any printed materials, (other than the ARC and marketing catalogue) which would have helped. For example, I know that some publishers print postcards or bookmarks for the author. I have spent a tremendous amount of money on publicity.

Can you tell us the inspiration behind The Meanest Girl?

None of what happened in the book happened to me in real life, but I did draw on the emotions of similar experience.

Can you tell us ways you are promoting your book? Have they been successful?

I have been flying by the seat of my pants, but it has been going very well. I created a web site, www.deballie.com, which I am very proud of because I don’t have any programming experience and it’s exactly what I dreamed of. I had business cards printed up with the picture of the cover, the release date, and my web address. I called a bunch of local bookstores and lined up signings (eight of them). Once I had the dates pinned down, I printed out labels that were the same size as the business cards and put the dates of the signings on the back of the card. Then everywhere I went I asked people if they knew any girls that were 8-12 years old. They almost always did, so I would tell them about the book and hand them a stack of cards. I hated being so bold, but a lot came out of it. Every time I did that, I would check my website stats and there was a big spike in the number of people looking at the site. I also did e-mail blasts. They are very effective. Got many hits on the site after sending out the e-mails. I’ve also done postcards with all of the signing dates listed and my website address. Also very effective. (I created a mailing list database of everyone I could possibly think of that I knew.) I e-mailed a television station and ended up getting interviewed by an Emmy award winning reporter who reviews films and interviews movie stars. They were interested because of the tie-in between my book and bullying. (I’ve created a bullying program to take into schools.) One newspaper had me and my book as the lead story (the very top of the front page!) on Memorial Day, which happened to be my 40th birthday. They justified it by using spinning it with the emphasis on bullying, just like the TV. news did. I’ve sent press releases and advance readers copies to all of the newspapers. I sent information to the local girl scouts’ chapter and they ran the bullying program/signing that I’m doing at the local library in two newsletters.

One day at work they wanted me to e-mail a logo to a local PBS station, and I had to call to get the e-mail address. So, taking advantage of every opportunity, I asked what the man did for the station, and he was in charge of the upcoming auction they were having. So I told him I’d donate a signed copy of the book, and to make the package more valuable, I created a tote bag with my book cover and initials on it (using iron-on transfers from WalMart), a teddy bear with a t-shirt with the book cover on it, and threw in a limosine ride with me and my friends and a tiara for either the girl or the bear to wear. Then I e-mailed everyone about that, and the package went for $59, which the station said was good. I made up bumper stickers that faded in the sun and ran in the rain, a t-shirt for my son to wear that he thinks is too girly, and even buttons. I made up bumper stickers for my parents. My father’s says my name and the book title and then “Please buy my daughter’s book so she’ll stop borrowing from me.” I put the book cover on the back of my denim jacket. Over the top it says “The TMG Shameless Self-Promotion Publicity Tour.” I even made a TMG necklace. (The matching earrings didn’t work out.) I bought a plastic display and displayed postcards and business cards at a local coffee shop. I’ve done everything except hire that guy in NYC who rents out space his forehead. As of this writing, my website has had over 15,000 requests with 4,000 requests for pages. And I didn’t pay to have traffic driven to it. It all came from my efforts, which I can tell, because they got there by typing in “www.deballie.com.”

Who are your favorite authors and why do they inspire you?

This is really difficult. Adult books: I loved Motherless Brooklyn by Jonatham Lethem. Great voice and characterization. I loved The Quiet Game by Greg Isles. It is the first time that I came across a suspense novel written in a more literary style. I absolutely loved the policeman character in Blinded by Stephen White. And Isabel Wolff’s humor and insight into women’s minds in The Making of Minty Malone and Out of the Blue (lighter chick-lit). I loved Carol Goodman’s book The Seduction of Water so much that I wrote to her. And she wrote back! Her book stays with me to this day, though I read it a few years ago. Years ago I read Beach Music by Pat Conroy and it made me laugh out loud. I also loved In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. I listen to Ann Lamott’s book on writing Bird by Bird every time I take a car trip. And On Writing Well by William Zinsser is absolutely required reading for anyone who wants to be a writer.

As far as children’s books go, I have to say that I’m often disappointed because the writing doesn’t sound like the way kids speak. I really loved Burger Wuss by M.T. Anderson and Stoner and Spaz by Ron Koertge.

I like any author who inspires me, encourages me to be myself—to let it rip, not hold back. Any book with a strong voice and characterization (always the first person) inspires me. And anything that makes me laugh out loud.

I have taught myself how to write by studying the books I read, whether it is fiction or nonfiction. I listen to the rhythms and the voice and try to learn everything I can.

Do you have a mentor?

No, but we have a group here in the Albany, NY area called the Children’s Literature Connection who have been able to help me with some of my questions. Their website is www.childrensliteratureconnection.org.

What future projects do you have in the works?

I am loving the book I am writing right now, but I don’t like to talk about it until it’s done and with my agent. I’m very paranoid. Sorry.

What do you feel are the pros and cons of the publishing industry today?

Budgets are so tight that publishers have to be sure a book will sell and be profitable before they take it on. I was very fortunate that my agent sent my book to Roaring Brook Press, who will publish new authors. Many publishing companies are afraid to take that risk.

And it really bothers me that the publishers will publish any kind of junk written by a celebrity because it will sell. If I hear about one more celebrity writing a children’s book, I will scream!

Can you give aspiring authors words of advice towards getting published?

Read everything you can on writing. Get an agent. Believe in yourself, write for yourself, and never give up. Write what you enjoy and don’t worry about what other people will think, and you’re enthusiasm will come through.

What’s one thing about your life that you think is important, but nobody asks?

About the role of faith in the writing process. One author I met said that writers can be divided up into four groups: extreme plotters, moderate plotters, moderate plungers, and extreme plungers. I am an extreme plunger. I have a vague concept to start with, and then I just plunge in. I have no idea where I’m going. And it’s that way to the very end. One thing leads to another, surprising me all the way. But it’s really scary and it takes a lot of faith in the process that anything of any worth will come out of it. It’s so scary, that many times I can’t get myself to write.

I think there’s more pressure after you publish your first book. You have to prove to yourself (and everyone else) that you’re not a “one-hit wonder.”

Can you tell us where we can go to buy The Meanest Girl?

Anywhere, though they may have to special order for you. Also available online all over the place at tremendous discounts that will kill my royalties.

If you were shipwrecked on a deserted island, what is the one thing you just have to have with you?

My son.

You can visit Debora Allie's website at www.deballie.com.
Powered by Blogger.