Welcome back to my Spotlight series where I shine the spotlight on fabulous authors and their wonderful books! For the first spotlight of 2013, I’m happy to feature Deborah Heiligman and her YA novel, Intentions, which just won the Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teen Readers. Congratulations, Deborah! Stayed tuned below on how you can win a signed copy of this incredible book!
When Rachel discovers that the esteemed Rabbi Cohn is not the person she thought he was, her world starts crashing around her. Her parents fight all the time, her best friend is distant and sometimes mean, and she thinks she might have a boyfriend in Jake who is sweet and kind, but then there’s Adam, the rabbi’s son, who is neither, but hot just the same. Rachel struggles with doing the right thing at a time when she has no one to lean on and all the people she once trusted are changed.
You are a prolific author of many children’s books, as well as a Printz honor winner for your nonfiction book Charles and Emma about Charles Darwin. What was your path to publication like?
My second job out of college was working at Scholastic News, the classroom magazines for elementary school children. (My first job was working at a Jewish magazine, where my main responsibility was to get coffee and lunch and snacks for the editor.) I hadn’t meant to write for kids, but I took the job so I could move to NY and be with my boyfriend. Good move! I learned to write for kids and I married the boyfriend. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and then when I got pregnant I decided to stay home and be a freelance writer. My first son loved to be read to above all else, so after he was born and I left Scholastic I read children’s books all day. I was freelancing at the time, and so I decided to try to write a picturebook. It was beginner’s luck. The second publisher who saw it bought it! My career has taken A LOT of twists and turns, ups and downs, since then.
INTENTIONS is your first YA novel. What was the initial spark behind this story?
I’ve always wanted to write about that moment in a kid’s life when she realizes that someone who adores is flawed. That happened to me a few memorable times when I was growing up and I think it really shaped who I became. But the particular sparks, I think, were some things in real life: from my childhood, the Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, and this rabbi in New Jersey who had his wife murdered. Yes, I have been working on this book since the second Clinton administration.
I felt for Rachel, for her pain and struggle with dealing with betrayed trust and for her confusion following. I rooted for her when it came to her feelings for Jake. I could not put the book down, I wanted to be with her every step of the way. How did you get to know Rachel and were there any challenges you encountered as you were writing this book?
The biggest challenges I had in writing this book were not in figuring out Rachel. She came to me, more or less, fully formed. I thought of her (and I admit, still do) as a real person. I would yell at her while I was writing–whenever she did something stupid I would try to talk her out of it. But she won every time. When I first wrote it, though, it was set in the 1970’s, had a big Holocaust subplot, and many more characters. The challenge was to winnow it down, make it really move, and be not about me or my childhood, but about Rachel’s. I had a lot of help with this book, most especially from my editor.
Rachel volunteers at an elementary school – and the boy she works with loves cars. Were you obsessed with anything in particular when you were a child?
I was not, but I envied kids who had obsessions. I tried to have an obsession, or at least a hobby, but nothing ever stuck.
Deborah Heiligman is the author of almost 30 books for children and teens, including Intentions (Knopf, August 2013), winner of the Sydney Taylor Award for Teen readers. Her book Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith was a National Book Award finalist, Printz Honor, LA Times Book Prize finalist, and the winner of the first YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award. Other titles include From Caterpillar to Butterfly (HarperCollins), the holidays around the world series (National Geographic) and Cool Dog, School Dog (Marshall Cavendish). Forthcoming: The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos (Roaring Brook, June 2012), and Go Dog, Snow Dog (fall 2013). She is currently working on book about Van Gogh for Henry Holt, and on a new novel.
Win a signed copy of Intentions, the winner of the 2013 Sydney Taylor Award for Teen Fiction! I truly loved this book and I’m so happy to be able to share it with a lucky winner!
Please follow the directions below (most of you know the drill)!
1. Comment on this post, and for fun, tell me something you were obsessed with as a child. For me it was miniature dollhouse furniture. My dad built me a dollhouse (he built one for my sister, too) and I loved filling the rooms with furniture and re-decorating. I’d save my allowance so I could walk to the toy store to buy a new desk or bed or table. Maybe this prepared me for my adult life of moving every two years?
2. Leave your comment (and email address) by midnight EST Sunday, January 27th. The lucky winner will be announced on this blog and will be contacted by email on Tuesday, January 29th.
3. Entrants must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address.
Thanks for stopping by, and good luck!