Thursday, August 13, 2009
Author Spotlight on: Michael Ferrari
We now interrupt the nonstop coverage of SCBWI-LA for something completely different, but equally wonderful.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve often thought about entering the annual Delacorte Yearling contest for a first MG or YA novel. So I was really excited when I stumbled across BORN TO FLY by Michael Ferarri. Michael was the MG winner for 2007. BORN TO FLY was released last month. Starring an 11-year-old tomboy and a Japanese American boy, the adventure story touches on themes of friendship and racial intolerance against the backdrop of WWII.
BORN TO FLY has been getting good reviews. If you haven’t heard of Micahel Ferarri or BORN TO FLY, here’s your chance to get the scoop!
From what I’ve read, you decided to write this book after attending a WW II air show and overhearing a boy tell his little sister that girls can never be fighter pilots. Did you have a hard time channeling your feminine side?
Not really. Male or female, the most important thing was to empathize with and understand what my main character loved, hated, wanted and needed. I think I made it a little easier on myself by making my heroine, Bird, be a girl who isn't totally comfortable doing "girly" things, and I could tap into that feeling easy enough.
How many years did you spend working on BORN TO FLY?
The first draft took about a year. I finished that in 2002 I think.
As you edited and refined the story, what do you think was the most important thing you did to make the book submission ready?
Since it's written in 1st person, I had to nail the character's voice immediately. I believe the first page and particularly the first sentence (originally, "Just 'cause I'm a girl, don't think I'm some sissy") were the most important things I wrote.
When you submitted the novel for the contest, were you at all intimidated by the fact that they don’t select a winner each year?
I wasn't really thinking about that. I'd just done some revisions and was racing to submit it. I think I got it in just a day or two before the deadline.
How long did it take for them to respond? What was the call like?
I think the deadline for submissions was in June and they called me in November. I was working in a cubicle proofreading medical litigation 10 hours a day for the past year. The office was quiet as a library. My phone buzzed and it was a NY area code. I tried to think who I knew in NY? Nobody. So I called back and the voice asked, "Is this M.J.?" And I thought, who is MJ? I'd forgotten that when I submitted to the contest I used my initials so I'd appear genderless to avoid any conscious/unconscious bias of having a guy write in a little girl's voice. Wisely I answered, "yes, it was me." and then my editor Stephanie Lane Elliot congratulated me and said my novel had won the Yearling Prize. It was a great day.
How cool! I understand you have a background in the movie industry. What were some of your jobs?
Well, I was a script supervisor and the assistant director on a kids movie called "Ghost Ship", a writer and assistant videographer on a series of WWII airplane videos called Roaring Glory Warbirds, I edited a rather awful Richard Grieco movie called Body Parts, and I was a TV censor for what used to be The WB Network on shows like Smallville, Felicity and Reba.
And you’ve also been a middle school teacher, right? What is your current job (besides being an author!)?
I taught 6-8 grade English and also ESL.
My main job currently is as a stay-at-home dad to my 3 children. I also work part time as a screenwriting and film professor at Cleveland State University. I've had a several feature scripts optioned, but to date none have been sold/produced.
Are you working on a new novel? Will it also be MG?
I am. It's a coming-of-age adventure with a magical element called MALCOLM DEVLIN AND THE SHADOW OF A HERO. It's sort of between MG and YA. The main character is 14 but the subject matter is more MG than YA.
Do you write every day?
I wish (I know I should). But I've only been a stay-at-home dad for a little over a year so I'm still learning time management. It's hard to explain to your 3 year old (and yourself) why you can't play trucks with him because you need to stare at the computer and type. But I'm getting better at structuring 2-3 hour blocks of write time.
I can relate to that! What has been the most surprising thing for you on this journey to becoming a published author?
Besides how long it takes? The most surprising thing to me, is that the difference in wanting to be a writer and being a writer was not some ability or skill that I learned or a talent that was given to me from the gods or Obi Wan Kenobi. My writing was the same before things started to happen with the book as it is now. The difference for me was when I told myself I was a writer, and believed it, and acted like I believed it, and wrote like I believed it. It was the realization that the right attitude was the most important thing needed to reach your goal. That was the most surprising thing for me.
Okay, I have to know the story behind the photo in the airplane. Where was it taken?
The photo was taken at a WWII airshow in Geneseo, NY. I was working for a film production company, making videos on how to fly WWII airplanes. This is the plane I was rigging a camera on when I first got the idea for BORN TO FLY. It's the plane Bird dreams of flying.
Do either of your daughters want to be fighter pilots?
Ha. They haven't said so. But they both told me they want to play Bird in the "movie" (they think every book is made into a movie).
So do my kids! I guess that’s pretty universal. Which character in the book do you identify with the most?
Hmm. The easy answer is Bird, or her dad, but I think for me I most identify with her Mom. I like that she's no saintly Mrs. Cleaver. Her own feelings sometime get in the way. She's teaching Bird how to conform, not because she believes in it so much, but she knows sometimes it's a less painful path. But eventually she realizes maybe that's not always true.
Thanks for such interesting questions, Sherrie.
Thank you, Michael! And good luck with BORN TO FLY.
Keep up with Michael on his blog. BORN TO FLY is available wherever good books are sold =)