Interview with Cal Armistead

Cal Armistead is the debut author of a young adult coming-of-age story, Being Henry David, being published on 1 March 2013. Her debut book is a highly recommended 2013 read as it’s moving, realistic and provides an introduction to the world of Walden by Henry David Thoreau. You can read my review on Being Henry David, HERE.

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Being Henry David Cover“Seventeen-year-old “Hank” has found himself at Penn Station in New York City with no memory of anything –who he is, where he came from, why he’s running away. His only possession is a worn copy of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. And so he becomes Henry David-or “Hank” and takes first to the streets, and then to the only destination he can think of–Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Cal Armistead’s remarkable debut novel is about a teen in search of himself. Hank begins to piece together recollections from his past. The only way Hank can discover his present is to face up to the realities of his grievous memories. He must come to terms with the tragedy of his past, to stop running, and to find his way home.” (Taken from Goodreads)

Interview with Cal Armistead

1. How did you get into writing? What was the first story you wrote?

I have been into writing ever since I could write!  My dad says people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and from the time I was five, I’d say with confidence, “I want to be a famous writer.”  I don’t know about the famous part, but having a debut novel published is very exciting!  As for the first story I wrote, I have no idea.  I wrote and illustrated stories as far back as I can remember, mostly about inanimate objects coming to life and having bizarre adventures.  I do have a vivid memory of a book I wrote when I was nine, called The Poor Macaroni Named Joany, which my art teacher Mrs. Carr actually encouraged me to send to a publisher.  So I did!  And subsequently…I got my first rejection letter at the tender age of nine.  Luckily, this did not deter me from writing even a little bit.

2. Where did you get the idea for Being Henry David? Do you remember the location you were in, what time it was etc., when Hank’s story popped into your head? 

Hmm…interesting question.  I think the seed of the idea was planted in my subconscious the morning I read a newspaper article about a teenage boy in the Boston area who was driving drunk and accidentally hit a female police officer on the side of the road during a traffic stop. The woman was paralyzed, and ended up dying recently.  I saw a picture of this boy in the paper, and he looked so stunned and devastated.  He seemed to be just this regular kid trying to live his regular life, but he made a series of bad choices one night that changed his life—and obviously that woman’s—forever. And I wondered how someone so young could manage to move on with his life from that point forward.  How could he deal with all that guilt and trauma?  Interestingly enough, this young man is now back in the news.  He served a few years in prison, but because the woman subsequently died, he’s facing new charges. It’s heartbreaking, because it sounds like he has really tried to do the right thing, or at least the best he could do under horrible circumstances.

As for the Thoreau and Concord connections, I have lived in and near Concord for much of my life, and because it’s a town so proud of its literary heroes, you can’t help but absorb that pride and enthusiasm. Plus, I love spending time at Walden Pond, and have walked its perimeter more times than I can count. I’m sure the book was also influenced by one of my favorite movies, The Dead Poets Society, with its message that literature can be cool and dangerous!

3. Is Hank’s character/story based on someone you know? 

I didn’t base the character on any one specific person, but his story is, in some ways, my own story.  Not that I had amnesia and ran away, (and I’m not a guy, in spite of my androgynous name), but I was lost, and I found myself in Concord, Massachusetts.  When I was in my early 20’s, just a little older than Hank, a series of sad events triggered by my parents’ divorce left my family scattered and me in upstate New York without a home, so I fled to Concord to stay one summer with my Uncle Ray. He lived right in downtown Concord, within walking distance of all the places in my book. I spent a lot of time that summer walking around Walden Pond and doing job research in that library, (this was before the Internet), and staring at those weird statues that talk to Hank in the book.  My own life came together while I was living in Concord, and in ways that I also found my identity there, so it seemed a logical place to offer the same to Hank.  Oddly enough, I didn’t even realize this subconscious link to my own life until after the book started into the publication process and someone like you asked me about the inspiration for the book!

4. What got you through writing the emotional parts for the book? 

I can’t say I did anything specific to “get me through.”  I just went there, immersed myself in the character and his emotions, let myself feel and cry, and tried my best to transform the emotions into words.

5. Describe your normal writing routine. Is there something specific you have to do/need when you write? 

My normal writing routine?  I’m not sure I have one!  I’m a pretty disorganized person in general, so I do bits of my writing at coffee shops, in the library, in my home office, at the kitchen table, or in front of the TV, half watching my favorite reality shows.  When I’m really into a story, my brain lasers in on it, and it doesn’t really matter where I am.  However, I do love my home office (which is relatively new), and am here as I write this, with soft music in the background and a scented candle lit on the corner of the table. (My daughter got the candle from me at a bookstore, with the Thoreau quote on the side: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined!”)  All of this is very Zen and relaxing, and encourages my creative soul.  If I was more disciplined, I’d live and write in this spot without fail from nine a.m. to noon every single day.  That’s my goal, and I’m working on it.

6. What are your writing plans for the future? 

Well, I’m happy to report I’ve written the first draft of my next young adult novel, which has a working title of Life Shards.  It’s still like a lump of clay right now, but I’m hoping to mold it into something wonderful.  As for other writing plans, I have a long history of non-fiction writing for newspapers and magazines, and am in the midst of trying to get some articles and essays published.  And there’s always some new idea hatching in my brain.  It’s hard to keep it straight in here sometimes, but I’m loving this fun/crazy journey more than I can say!

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Such a wonderful glimpse into the mind and life of a debut author! Thank you Cal for taking the time out to share this with me! It’s been an enlightening experience getting to know you!

For more information on Cal Armistead or her debut novel, Being Henry David, following the links below:

Cal Armistead’s Blog: Read – Write – Eat – Sleep (Repeat)

Goodreads: Being Henry David