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Author Interview: Cathleen Davitt Bell!

Staysi and I were lucky enough to meet Ms. Bell at the massive signing in New York, and she agreed to answer some questions for me. Enjoy!

-When did you realize that you wanted to write for a living?
I always knew I wanted to write. I was so little when I started thinking about it that I didn’t so much have a concept of making a living at it. I was more attracted to the idea of the furious scribbling, the hours of sequestering myself, the emergence with something that has been transformed. I really loved the image created by Louisa May Alcott in Little Women of Jo March hiding out in the attic with a bowl of apples and a sheaf of paper, coming downstairs ink stained, with her hair askew, a story in her hands.

-Does anyone really stand out for inspiring you to become an author?
My father was a professor, and I was very impressed that he had a book. And I LOVED seeing my own name in the dedication. But my real inspiration is the experience I had reading. When I finish a good book, I am so excited to get down to writing myself. When a writer is really good, they make it look easy...and that makes me want to give it a try myself. 

- Slipping is a ghost story, so is there any ghost story that truly terrified you?
Many ghost stories have scared me—and I scared myself a little as I was writing Slipping––but the real live ghost story that actually happened to me wasn’t scary at all. It was funny. It involved my father who died, his house, and Roto Rooter. When I’ve done school visits and kids have visited my website, this is the story they ask me to tell. If any of your readers want to check it out, you can get to it here:

-What are you currently reading?
I’m reading a lovely book about a boy who escapes feeling like a loser in eighth grade by stepping out of himself and helping others. It’s by my friend (get ready, she has a big name...) Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovitch (she goes by Gbemi). She and I have kids who are the same age and have been in the same class two years in a row at school. Since I’ve known her, this book, her first, has been in production, and it’s so fun and fantastic to read it now. It’s called 8th Grade Super Zero and you can read more about it at

Before that I’d read Lorrie Moore’s Gate at the Top of the Stairs, about a girl in college who babysits for a family that adopts a baby girl and then has to let her go. It was heartbreaking.

And before that I read Justine Lardbalestier’s LIAR, which was chilling. At one point, I literally threw the book across the room. At another point, I felt like it was inspiring me to write in an entirely new way. By the end I had that fantastic What the Heck? feeling I used to get watching the Twilight Zone, when the nee-nee-nee-nee music came on at the end: totally freaked out.

-Now a tough one, what is your all-time favorite book and who is your favorite author?
I mentioned above that my dad was a professor. Well, we had the entire canon of British Literature in our living room in cheap paperback editions that publishers mail professors for free, hoping they’ll make all their students buy them for class. (My dad had the American canon in his office.) Every time I was looking for a good book, he’d go to the shelf behind the piano and pull down a dusty paperback that would inevitably have yellowing pages and some sort of oil painting on the front, and tell me to get reading. I really can’t say that I’ve found any books in my life that can beat that first reading of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I reread it a few years ago and found the writing alarming and clear and fresh. Jane was such a complicated child — angry, rebellious, full of hope and faith that there can be more. And then when she grows up, she’s tamed, but she never loses her fire.

I don’t know that that’s my favorite book of all time though. When I was sixteen I read my mom’s old edition of the complete works of Jane Austen straight through. I’ve read some of those novels over and over. Persuasion remains my favorite. I go back to them again and again and find something new every time. The love stories are what you remember and then they fade and you’re left with the perfection of pacing, of dialog, of holding back of information, of getting every single motive and emotion just right and in a not-a-big-deal kind of way. 

 -Random: Who is your favorite character(book/tv/movie/comic/cartoon)?
Maybe Sidney Bristow in Alias. How cool was she? I find that when I watch movies or TV shows with really cool characters in them I feel like I am just a little bit cooler myself. Does this happen to everyone?

-What's one thing that the readers don't know about you?
I played Ultimate Frisbee in college and I was horrible. I was team captain and had a great time even though I could barely throw the frisbee in a straight line (everyone else who qualified was away on study abroad). 

-Can you tell us a little about your inspiration for Little Blog on the Prairie, and about the story itself?
When I was nine, I amused myself in a car trip designing a vacation camp I thought would be awesome: you’d go to a farm, get dressed up in old fashioned clothes, and live like you were on the frontier. One day two summers ago, I was walking down the street remembering that idea and I started to laugh thinking about what a modern teenager might think of that experience. Thus, Little Blog on the Prairie was born.

In the book, a 14-year-old girl named Gen is forced by her mom to go to family frontier camp. She has to leave everything she loves behind––the computer, the phone, shorts, her phone. The cabin they’re staying in doesn’t have screens, the bugs are bad, the chickens are on the war path and don’t even get her started on the outhouse.

She maintains her sanity only by texting her friends, and one of them starts a blog...which goes viral. To find out the rest, you’ll have to read the book! And do — it’s fun and funny! (I hope!)

-Any message for your fans?
Read Gen’s blog!! It’s a total experiment and I want to see if it’s fun or builds any kind of momentum. I’m thinking that if it works—if people are reading and commenting––I’ll try more things like it. Maybe a whole book as a blog, or a series of stories.  Gen’s at Happy reading!

A huge thank you to Cathleen for taking the time to answer my questions amidst preparing to release her new book. Little Blog on the Prairie will be released on May 11, 2010; make sure you grab a copy from your local B&N (or bookstore of choice) and follow Gen's journey on her blog linked above! Also, check out her official website here!