The next 2011 debut author we’d like you to meet is Danette Vigilante. Her middle grade novel, The Trouble with Half a Moon, was published by Putnam on January 6!
Synopsis: Ever since her brother’s death, Dellie’s life has been quiet and sad. Her mother cries all the time and Dellie lives with the horrible guilt that the accident that killed her brother may have been all her fault. But Dellie’s world begins to change when new neighbors move into her housing project building. Suddenly men are fighting on the stoop and gunfire is sounding off in the night. In the middle of all that trouble is Corey, an abused five-year-old boy, who’s often left home alone and hungry. Dellie strikes up a dangerous friendship with this little boy who reminds her so much of her brother. She wonders if she can do for Corey what she couldn’t do for her brother—save him.
Kirkus says of Trouble, “The first-person, present-tense narration allows readers to feel Dellie’s pain and confusion…Readers cannot help but cheer for Dellie and the little boy who helps pull her family together. Rich secondary characters add depth and dimension to this fast-paced tale of bereavement, forgiveness and healing.”
Lisa Jenn Bigelow: Congratulations, Danette, on the publication of The Trouble with Half a Moon, your new middle grade novel and literary debut!
Like Dellie, you grew up in a Brooklyn housing project. In what ways did your own experiences help bring to life the setting and characters in Trouble? Did you revisit your old neighborhood while writing the book?
Danette Vigilante: I’d say my experiences helped bring Trouble to life in every way possible, from the coolness of the hallway walls to the caring people Dellie came in contact with. Like Dellie, I was lucky. I grew up with grandmas who really weren’t my grandma and friends who felt more like family.
My parents still live in the neighborhood, just not in the projects, so I’m there a lot. I did go back to my old courtyard to take pictures of my building for a presentation though. What I really want to do is knock on the door and walk through my old apartment. Maybe one day I will.
LJB: In your interview at Reading in Color, you said Corey was the spark for Trouble—that he is based a little boy you knew when you were growing up, and that in writing this book you wanted to give him a chance. So, how did Dellie come to star in the story?
DV: I knew where I wanted Corey to end up; I just needed someone to help get him there. It just so happened that Dellie was on the other side of a door Corey had knocked on in search of food. Like everyone else, Dellie had her own story, and I quickly realized the two would be able to help each other.
LJB: In your interview at the Elevensies blog , you said, “I honestly can’t say that becoming a writer was something I decided to be. Writing always seemed to be attached to me somehow.” How has your writing life evolved over time? What was your journey toward publication like?
DV: In my early twenties, I tried breaking into the greeting card market. Tried, yes. Succeeded? No. I let writing go for a couple of years. Then after I had my first child, I began to write articles for the women’s forum in my local newspaper. Then came a home-based business where I basically wrote sentimental greetings, framed them, then sold them to greeting card stores and at local craft fairs. I loved doing that. Somehow I had managed to touch people through my writings, and I was so hooked. But it turned out I didn’t quite have the stomach of a salesperson, so I let that go.
I slowly started writing stories for children in 2004 and while listening to Alicia Keys over and over again; I wrote the first draft of Trouble. After I received some really good, very generous feedback both from editors and agents, I figured I was on to something and just kept pushing through. Then, one afternoon in 2007, I sent off the first ten pages (sealed with a kiss and a prayer of course) to my awesome editor and received an email the next afternoon asking to see more. Well, I almost fell over for two reasons, the first is obvious. A real live editor wanted to see the rest of my story, and second, since when does the Post Office work that fast?
LJB: Trouble has a beautiful cover that was shot specially in Brooklyn. Did you have any say in that part of the publishing process, or was the cover a surprise?
DV: Oh, man. I don’t think writers exhale until they’ve had their first glimpse of their babies. Like most writers, I didn’t have any say in my cover but, oh, my goodness! I’m in absolute love with mine. I think the talented people at Putnam along with the ever talented photographer, Manjari Sharma, did an awesome job of capturing Dellie. Not only that, but they used purple, which just happens to be my favorite color! I don’t think it could get any better than that.
LJB: We Apocalypsies admit a preoccupation with the end of the world as we know it. On your website, you say that “being without a book to read is like being without food, water or toothpaste.” In a post-apocalyptic world, what is one book (okay, three books) you’d want most to have with you, and why?
DV: Hmmm…I’d say, Stephen King's On Writing because it will help remind me of who I am.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains to remind me to be brave and to never lose hope.
And the third would have to be Bruce Wilkinson’s The Dream Giver to remind me to never stop dreaming even when obstacles block my path.
LJB: Quick: zombies are attacking! Using only materials you have at hand, what would you do to fend them off?
DV: A coffee mug, a copy of Trouble, a cordless phone, and a small teddy bear still dressed in his Halloween costume. En garde!
Thank you for sharing with us, Danette, and best wishes as The Trouble with Half a Moon makes its way into the world!