Author of the Month

Gail Giles
[January 2007]
Chosen by reviewer and columnist Beverly Rowe , MyShelf.Com

    I chose Gail Giles as Author of the Month for January because of her contribution to the field of teen literature. Once in a while a writer comes along who really changes the way things are done. Gail Giles writes psychological thrillers for kids that lay bare the emotions and fears that kids harbor in this difficult and troubled world we live in. Some of the books being published today seem frivolous by comparison (the Clique novels, Gossip Girl, Fearless FBI...) Her kids aren't the wealthy, have-everything, spoiled youngsters that you encounter in those books, but average kids that seem real and that teen readers can relate to. Gail's novels don't always have a pat happily-ever-after ending, but neither does life.

I read What Happened to Cass McBride, and it really gave me some things to think about in the field of children's books. They have really changed in so many ways since my own teen years, and even since my children were teenagers. Gail Giles is leading the field in innovation in teen literature.

She graciously agreed to answer some questions that I wanted to ask about her writing. Here is what she had to say.


Bev: Gail, Could you tell us a bit about yourself...what has your life been like up to this point?

Gail: I was a rebellious, fractious child, but kind of an intelligent one so I managed to stay out of major trouble. Made good grades, went to under grad school, taught high school (remedial reading) and then got a graduation degree. I have a grown son, a terrif second husband and two grandsons. I've lived in Texas, Chicago, Indiana, Alaska and am now back in Texas.

Bev: I would have to describe your young adult novels as trend setting. There is a lot more harsh reality in your books than the average run-of-the-mill teen reading material...and the kids love it. Could you talk a bit about this shift in story content and unconventional endings that finds you in the forefront; as a leader in this field?

Gail: When I taught the remedial readers I learned that one reason they didn't like to read was that the books didn't connect with their lives. And frankly I thought having all the books out there being so--soft--and always offering hope--was doing a disservice to teens. The last thing to develop in a person's brain is the sense of consequence, but the legal system decides someone's not old enough to make a good decision about driving, getting married, buying alcohol or joining the military until 18 or 20 but we can put them in jail forever at 12. So, I wanted to write some stories that shows that sometimes it can't be fixed. That reality is harsh. My books let a teen read about the dark path that seems so attractive and follow it all the way to the abyss and experience it--only from this side of the cell bars. The unconventional endings are because I want readers to think. I don't want to wrap it up. Think, discuss, cuss. Whatever. But it you wrap it up neatly, then it's over and it's easy to forget about.


Bev: I was looking at The Ultimate Teen Reading List -- over 250 titles that have been compiled by I'm sure that many of the books on this list will be on the lists that teachers pass out every spring for the kids to choose books from for summer reading, and portions of this list will be assigned reading for classroom credit. What is your opinion on assigned reading for kids?

Gail: I am absolutely not against them. Does that surprise you? However, if a reader finds a prize book and offers that up as a substitute, I think it should be considered. If the list is big enough, varied enough, it gives you a place to start. It's hard to walk into the library or bookstore and say, now ----read a book. Too much to choose from is just as hard as too little.


Bev: When did you begin writing? Could you tell us a bit about your road to publication?

Gail: I started writing stories in the 4th grade and never stopped. I started submitting when I was in my 40's. I had a short story pubbed then stopped writing short stories and started writing novels. Had my first middle grade or maybe even chapter book -- for much younger readers anyway -- published in 97. A gentle book about a girl in Thailand. But I wanted to write the psychological stuff. I worked on Shattering Glass for five years. It sold in 2001 and came out in 02.


Bev: Who are your favorite authors? Did any other writers influence your work?

Gail: Hemingway, Cormeir, Fitzgerald, John Irving, Pat Conroy, James Lee Burke.


Bev: The kids in your books seem to be mostly living on the edge. I'm sure that there are as many story ideas as there are kids out there, but tell us about deciding which story idea will be your next novel, and then developing the idea.

Gail: I just can't do that with a new idea, that's bad hoo-doo. But in Dead Girls Don't Write Letters, I was walking along a street in Chicago. Two women were in front of me and I was, as a writer's duty, eavesdropping. It was clear they were attorneys and talking about who owned a letter. One said that the writer owned the contents and the recipient owned the physical letter. The other speaker said "But she's dead now. A dead girl can't write a letter." (It appears a woman wrote a letter just before her suicide and she meant she can't own the contents now.) I first thought--what a statement. Then what you feel like to get a letter from a dead girl? Then, what if you didn't like the person that sent it? Why wouldn't you want to read it? What would that say about you? What if you found out someone was alive you thought was dead? What if that wasn't a good thing for you? And then I started forming the girl who gets a letter from a sister she thought was dead. One she didn't want back. Then we had to wonder what was so wrong with the family dynamic that a sister would rather have her older sister be dead. Once you are sure you've got your characters as real people you can ask them a few things and you can wonder what damage has been done mentally to your main character. Her mental damage will always lead to the plot complication, etc.


Bev: What is your workday like? How long does it usually take you to develop a book from idea to finished product?

Gail: It depends on the book. It took five years for Glass, but then I shelved it for a whole year. Now I write about a book a year. I write three hours or three hundred USABLE words in first draft, which ever come first every day. In rewrites it's different. There are some days when I don't physically write because I'm puzzling something out, finding a place for a scene, etc.


Bev: Which of your books is your personal favorite, and why?

Gail: Almost every writer will say that their favorite book is the one they are working on now. You always think it will be your best. I will say the one that exhausted me most was Cass McBride.


Bev: I've been an Alaska resident for many years, so I had to read your humor pages about Alaska, and I did laugh out loud. The funny thing about it is, that it's mostly true, Honestly, fans...Check it out...Click here: Alaska Humor and Click here: Dandelion
You had stated that you lived in Alaska when you got the idea for What Happened to Cass McBride. Tell us about that.

Gail: Anchorage had a historical record snow. More than 18 feet. We had a snow pack of 18 feet and had a single story home. I couldn't see out the windows of my house. My dogs had packed down little pathways to go out in the yard and they were way over their heads. I have huge dogs. When you did go out it was through these kind of tunnel things that the snow plow dug for your driveways. I felt entombed. At the same time, something was going on that had me stuck in my writing process. Things said, things not said -- it had put a pressure cap on me and one day I saw a relationship in those two things. I started the book in Anchorage and finished it in Texas. But it was a hard book to write and a harder book to revise.


Bev: What has your reader response been like on What Happened to Cass McBride?

Gail: A little early yet to hear from teens who are my target audience but the reviewers have been great. Lots of nice people have blogged about it.


Bev: How do you see the future of Young Adult books?

Gail: I think they are gaining in respectability and quality.


Bev: What are you working on now?

Gail: Right Behind You is out next. A bit different than my other stuff, but still something teens are going to like I think. It starts with the crime rather than ends with it. Goes through what happens to a person who does commit a horrendous crime and see what happens.


Bev: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share with readers?

Gail: I didn't have a family life that was all warm and fuzzy. I wouldn't say I felt especially safe then. It was emotionally risky there and a few time physically risky. That was in a time when it was considered normal to "discipline" your children with belts and blows and crushing words. I read. And I read. And I think it saved me. If you are angry, scared... whatever, there's a book out there that tells you to hang on not to hang up. Just read and find your way. And if your world is easy and good and safe -- read to understand those that aren't.


Bev: Thank you so much, Gail, for sharing with us at Keep up the good work...


What Happened to Cass McBride?
By Gail Giles

Little, Brown Young Readers
November 1, 2006
Fiction - Teen / Young Adult

Reviewed: 2007
Buy it at Amazon

Reviewed by Beverly Rowe,

Kyle Kirby thinks he has every reason to hate Cass McBride. She is the pretty, popular girl who will likely become the first ever Sophomore homecoming queen. Everyone likes her...except Kyle, who blames Cass for his brother's suicide.
David was a shy, introverted boy with no friends. He is goaded into asking Cass for a date, but she turns him down, gently, she thought. But then she wrote a note to her friend about refusing David's offer of a date, poking fun at him, and left it in the usual place. Unfortunately, David saw her slip the note into the hiding place, and picked it up. It was devastating to his fragile personality...the very last thing that he could tolerate, and he decided to just end it all.

Kyle is bent on revenge against Cass; a cruel and unusual revenge. He manages to get into her bedroom while she is asleep, drugs and kidnaps her, and buries her alive in a wooden box that he has constructed for just that purpose. When Cass regains consciousness and realizes that she has been buried alive, she is terrified. But Cass, ever resourceful, knows that she must keep her captor talking long enough to exploit his fears and figure a way out of her dilemma.

Giles’ skill at characterization and plotting have combined to bring us a complex psychological thriller that you can't put down. It's a story of parental psychological abuse, and the difficulty of being a teen with a fragile psyche. Alternating between points of view, this frightening story will keep the most reluctant reader riveted through the very last page.



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