Karol Ruth Silverstein: Cursed
Yay June! A beautiful time of year for weather and for books! Dive into these brand new novels and get your summer started right!
by Karol Ruth Silverstein
As if her parents' divorce and sister's departure for college weren't bad enough, fourteen-year-old Ricky Bloom has just been diagnosed with a life-changing chronic illness. Her days consist of cursing everyone out, skipping school--which has become a nightmare--daydreaming about her crush, Julio, and trying to keep her parents from realizing just how bad things are. But she can't keep her ruse up forever.
Ricky's afraid, angry, alone, and one suspension away from repeating ninth grade when she realizes: she can't be held back. She'll do whatever it takes to move forward--even if it means changing the person she's become. Lured out of her funk by a quirky classmate, Oliver, who's been there too, Ricky's porcupine exterior begins to shed some spines. Maybe asking for help isn't the worst thing in the world. Maybe accepting circumstances doesn't mean giving up.
June 25th, 2019
Introduce yourself and your debut novel!
Hi! I’m Karol Ruth Silverstein, a children’s book author and screenwriter, originally from Philadelphia and now living in the Los Angeles area. My YA novel Cursed is an #ownvoices story about Ricky, a young teen newly diagnosed with a painful chronic illness and super pissed off about it. Her family’s a mess, school sucks and the boy she’s crushing on seems clueless, so she copes by cursing (a lot) and cutting school (also a lot). When her truancy is discovered, she faces a far worse horror: possibly having to repeat ninth grade.
Cursed is loosely drawn from my experience with the same diagnosis at 13. The book is funny, frank and full of F-bombs—much like its author!
What’s the most surprising part about your debut journey so far?
The biggest surprise of my debut journey has been the organized chaos of working with an editor, publisher and marketing team. Silly me, going in I thought things would happen in some sort of logical order, but what did I know? Somehow, it all worked out, and we ended up with a book I’m really proud of.
Give a shout-out to a fellow debut!
There are so many #Novel19s books I’ve either read and loved—or can’t wait to read. It’s super hard to choose, so I’ll go with an author I’m doing a joint event with at Vroman’s in Pasadena, CA on July 3, Chris Baron. His incredible upper middle-grade novel-in-verse All Of Me is such an important book! It explores weight and body images issues (and does so from a boy’s POV), which is such a needed subject matter. Like my own book, I wish I’d been able to read this one as a teen.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Cursed took me an embarrassingly long time to write (the exact number of years shall be left to your imagination—whatever number you’re thinking, add some years).
What inspired you to write this book?
The seed for the book was planted back in the mid-90s when I was being mentored as a screenwriter by writer/director and now award-winning middle grade and YA novelist Holly Goldberg Sloan (Counting by 7s, To Night Owl from Dogfish). She encouraged me to write about my experience of getting sick as a teen, but I was hesitant for a variety of reasons. In particular, I wanted to tell a story that felt authentic to me—and that meant a messy, angry, non-heroic protagonist. Ricky is all that—plus snarky, self-conscious and determined AF. It took me a long time to find Ricky’s voice so that I could begin working on the book and then a long, long time to complete a workable first draft (note—I edit as I write).
Describe your writing space.
The bulk of my work on Cursed was done in my “home office”—which is really just an area in my living room. I was blessed to find an affordable-yet-huge one-bedroom apartment 20 years ago (with rent control, so, like, I’m never moving). I used a large lateral filing cabinet to “cordon off” the area that became my office. There’s a large front window so I get a good bit of light and the space feels very open. But the coolest thing about my home office is all the mobiles! I have a huge mobile collection—over 50—and my office boasts more than any other room. The mobiles I chose for my office are especially whimsical and childlike, which make for a fun and cheerful atmosphere in my workspace.
That said, there are a million and one distractions at home (two of them fluffy and very demanding of my attention), so appointment writing with friends outside the house has been extremely helpful. As I was trying to finish up a submission-worthy draft of Cursed, I joined a couple friends at a weekly meeting at a Peet’s Coffee shop we called Write Club. (Note: The first rule of Write Club was not “don’t talk about Write Club;” it was simply . . . write!) More recently, I joined a group of local authors who write at a bakery/café every Monday. I make a point to “reward” myself for a day of dedicated writing with baked goods.
How do you develop your plot and characters?
I’m generally a total “plotser” when it comes to embarking on new projects, meaning I love to plot out the whole story ahead of time. First drafts are the hardest for me, so having a game plan going in is a godsend. For reasons I still don’t understand, I didn’t do that with Cursed. I simply started writing individual scenes as they came to me and wrote the whole thing out of sequence. I’ll likely never do that again because it was so hard to eventually organize the scenes into a liner plot that made sense. But with this particular book, which was so personal and so raw—and with this particular character’s authenticity being so imperative—it was probably a necessary evil. Fun fact: when I told my editor I’d written the book out of sequence, she was amazed because she felt the plot was so strong. I guess that means it all worked out in the end.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’ve been an SCBWI member for over 20 years and have volunteered for my local region for over 8. So I know or have at least met many authors! I’ve been a gushing fangirl of Sonya Sones’ since I first heard her speak at an SCBWI event. Since she’s local to L.A., I get to go to all her signings and see her at events a good bit. My former mentor Holly Goldberg Sloan is also local, though she’s so crazy-busy, I mainly connect with her online. One of my closest author friends, Joseph Taylor, is a frequent Cricket contributor. We’re critique buddies and read virtually all of each other’s work (he’ll be reading this at some point—hi Joe!). He calls me his “secret weapon” since I’m great at giving feedback and I consider him my secret weapon too.
I also have a huge group of pre-published author friends. We all root for and encourage one another. This year, it was my turn to get published, and my friends have been my biggest cheerleaders. I can’t wait for the tables to be turned so I can cheer on their debuts.
What are two of your favorite covers of all time?
Speaking of my local author friends, Sara Wilson Etienne (who’s actually no longer local) had an amazing cover for her debut YA novel, Harbinger. It was gorgeous and intriguing and fit her story perfectly. There must be some sort of cover design luck in the Los Angeles air because fellow Novel 19s Quinn Sosna-Spear’s cover for The Remarkable Inventions of Walter Mortinson—a wild, steampunk marvel—is . . . just . . . insanely amazing! I mean, who wouldn’t want to pick up either of these books? (P.S. I’m totally jazzed about my own cover too!)
Share a favorite recipe!
There’s a lot of food mentioned in Cursed, so I figured sharing a recipe was in order! In Ricky’s family, strawberry shortcake en lieu of birthday cake is the tradition. That wasn’t the case in my own family, but my mom makes a mean strawberry shortcake. Here’s her recipe:
(Note: Bisquick mix provides a completely satisfactory alternative to making biscuits by scratch.)
2 cups of flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 T fat (oleo, margarine, butter)
3/4 to 1 cup milk (can use buttermilk)
Sift flour, B.P. and salt together
Cut in fat (i.e. mix into the dry ingredients little by little) to achieve pea sized lumps
Add milk, all at once
Mix and turn out on a floured board
Knead—20 to 30 strokes
Roll out to about 3/8 inches thickCut (Use a biscuit cutter or a water glass)
Alternative: add another 1/4 cup milk, mix and drop with a tablespoon on a cookie sheet or in muffin pan. (Adding extra liquid makes the whole thing easier--no kneading--but the biscuits are not as uniform and pretty as when you just drop them.)
Bake in pre-heated oven at 450 for 12 minutes
Strawberries (prep ahead of time):
Wash strawberries, remove stems, and cut into bite sized pieces.
Taste for sweetness and add granulated sugar if needed/desired.
Refrigerate in covered bowl and stir every so often. (This will allow the berries to “marinate,” which adds to their deliciousness!)
Take berries out of the fridge and let them reach room temperature before serving.
Split hot biscuits. Put half in an individual bowl, spoon in generous amount of strawberries and put the other biscuit half on top. Pour cream over the top. (Or use whipped cream if you prefer.)
Mom says, “This is the way my Pennsylvania Dutch Grammy made Strawberry Short Cake. She did the same thing with peaches when they were in season.”
Thanks for interviewing, Karol! And for that amazing recipe! I'm probably going to go make that right now. Check out this book on 6/25/19!