This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Catherine will be awarding a $20 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.
What drives me to write for kids and teenagers is the simple fact that I loved being in schools. Every school I’ve been in as a student and later as a teacher/department head taught me much about living my life and loving it. Up until 11th grade I went to Catholic school. I credit the sisters for a superior English education. However, for high school I went to an archaic all-girls school where the nuns (who spoke about us in Lithuanian to each other) made us walk along the black line of tiles in the hallways. Mother Theophila, one of the more scary nuns, gave us hellfire and brimstone sermons every day, proclaiming that we’d go straight to the devil (is there really a devil?) if we held hands or kissed a boy!
That’s why in the 11th grade I changed to public school. That opened up a whole new world to me because I joined the newspaper, drama club, and the literary magazine. After graduating from high school, due to all the inspiring English teachers I was privileged to know, I studied English and Spanish education and became a teacher. When I was teaching, I came across many exciting books for teenagers. As I read them, I began to say to myself, “I’d love to try writing a book myself.”
Because of my demanding job (teacher, then department head of English and world languages) and the fact that I had three children at home, I reluctantly put writing on the back burner. After working in the Philadelphia School System for 31 years, I retired and took another job, this time at Temple University in Philadelphia as a student teaching supervisor. That left me more time to think seriously about becoming a writer.
I started out writing newspaper articles in my local paper’s Guest Opinion column. Then I moved on to writing magazine articles for The Christian Science Monitor and The Writer, among others. What I really wanted to do all along was try writing a book, but like all new writers, I wondered how I would deal with rejection when it came—notice I didn’t say if. I took a chance and asked an educational company if they’d like to see a grammar book for teachers to use with kids. I hadn’t even written the proposal yet and was just testing the waters. The company said that although they didn’t need a grammar book at that time, they were looking for someone to write a book about the works of Cynthia Voigt, a YA author. Of course, I accepted the offer.
I enjoyed reading Voigt’s books and writing the study guide for teachers to use in their classes. It made me feel like I was still doing what I loved most, teaching, even if it was in a different form. After that, I completed a proposal (with non-fiction you don’t have to write the whole book) for Grammar Workout, a writing/grammar book for teachers to use with their classes to teach grammar in conjunction with writing. (I believe that teaching grammar in isolation is counterproductive.) I was overjoyed when the company accepted that book, and I went on to publish many more books on the topics of bullying (five as of this post) and writing. I also published two prayer books for teens. Eventually, the company gave me the e-rights back, and I put it on the Internet.
I decided to self-publish Elliot K. Carnucci is a Big, Fat Loser: A Book About Bullying because it’s controversial in nature. For one thing, it takes place in a funeral home as Elliot lives atop the family business with his dad and quirky grandmother, Nonna. There still seems to be a taboo in some circles about dealing with death, especially with kids, but I felt I had a story to tell and wanted to get it out there. The story also takes place in a high school, and I felt right at home there. I know how schools work and all the red tape involved in getting things done, like helping a bullied child, so I felt that I was writing about something I knew. I believe it’s important to give a sense of authenticity to your writing by writing about something familiar. I didn’t feel that I knew the funeral business, so I had to do some serious research about the industry and people working in it to lend credibility to my story.
I’ve written many non-fiction books (three of my bully prevention books target kids, and the other ones address teachers and parents), but I also enjoy writing fiction. I have to say that Elliot is dear to my heart because I feel that I know the characters. Mr. Boardly, Elliot’s friend and mentor at school, is based on the personality of Scotty, a custodian I worked with at Lincoln High School. He later died in a terrible accident, and everyone was heartbroken. However, I feel that my friend lives on in Elliot’s friend Mr. Boardly.
Nonna, the grandmother, is a lot like me in that she’s brash and out-spoken, sometimes even outrageous. She finds love late in life with a quirky plumber who has a goofy walrus mustache. I mainly love Elliot because I feel I knew him in a past life. Some people may consider him a little nerdy, but I think he’s a pretty cool kid. He’s doesn’t feel sorry for himself, and he’s not afraid to ask for help when he needs it. In the book I also address divorce, a topic a lot of kids have to deal with in real life. Elliot’s mother lives on the west coast (she’s into commercials), so his workaholic dad and grandmother provide most of his care except when his mom pops into town for a brief visit.
I love writing books for middle grade kids, and if this book does well, I plan to write a sequel about Elliot’s plan to stage peer group meetings for bullied kids in the funeral home where he lives. I love this guy and want him to go another round.
I’d love to hear from your readers about any questions and comments they have. Please find me on my website www.catherinedepino.com. I’ll definitely write back.
The kids at Ralph Bunche Middle School love to pick on Elliot Kravitz-Carnucci. He struggles with his weight, looks like a geek, makes top honors, and lives above the Carnucci Home for Funerals in South Philadelphia with his distant, workaholic father and Nonna, his quirky, overbearing grandmother.
Since his parents divorced, he splits spending his time with his funeral director father and his mother Rayna, who dreams of becoming the queen of commercials on the west coast.
At the hands of his peers, Elliot experiences a series of bullying episodes that escalate from entrapment in a school supply closet to a brutal “swirly” (head dunk in the toilet) that lands him in the hospital emergency room.
Elliot has a small circle of loyal friends and a mentor named Duke, an aging school custodian, who root for him to overcome his bullying issues so that he can enjoy his life as a teenager and a budding singer/performer. Can Elliot win his fight against the nasty bullies, or is he doomed forever? Read this funny, sad, and crazy book to find out.
Enjoy an excerpt:
When Nonna, my grandma, and I got home, Dad was standing in the reposing room (that’s where they lay out the dead bodies) admiring his hair and make-up job on his latest customer.
I moved close to the casket and peered in. “Didn’t Mr. Luisi have white hair?”
Nonna frowned. “White, black–he’s dead now. He doesn’t know the difference.”
Dad looked like he was in a trance. He slid Mr. Luisi’s trifocals down low on his nose, like he wore them when he read the sports page on his front porch, and straightened his plaid bow tie.
“Looks like he’s about to pop up and dance the Tarantella like he did at his daughter’s wedding,” Dad said to himself.
Nonna poked Dad’s shoulder with her bony finger. His head spun around like Linda Blair in that movie, “The Exorcist.”
Dad looked at me all teary eyed. I didn’t know if he’d gotten emotional because of what he’d heard happened at school or if he was thrilled with the job he’d done on Mr. Luisi.
“Are you okay, Son?”
Nonna slammed her head with the palm of her hand.
“If you call being abused by a pack of punks okay, he’s fine.”
“I’ll live,” I said.
She motioned for me to follow her upstairs. Dad peeled off his rubber gloves and trudged up after us.
“Sit down,” Nonna said, offering me a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies. “Pour yourself a glass of milk. You’ll feel better.”
About the Author:
Catherine DePino has sold thirteen books for parents, teachers, and children to mainstream publishers. She self-published her fourteenth book, Elliot K. Carnucci is a Big, Fat Loser: A Book About Bullying because she wanted to give it a wider forum. Her background includes a BS in English and Spanish education, a Master’s in English education, and a doctorate in Curriculum Theory and Development and Educational Administration from Temple University. The author worked for many years as an English teacher, department head of English and world languages, disciplinarian, and curriculum writer in the Philadelphia School District. After this, she worked at Temple as an adjunct assistant professor and student teaching supervisor.
Catherine has also written articles for national magazines, including The Christian Science Monitor and The Writer.
For many years she served on the board of The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. She holds membership in the Association of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Her new self-help book, 101 Easy Ways for Women to De-Stress, Reinvent, and Fire Up Your Life in Retirement,appeared on the market in March, 2014.
Buy the book at Amazon.