About the Author « Deb Caletti
Deb Caletti
Deb Caletti

About the Author

Click here for a brief bio.
Click here for Deb on Wikipedia.
Q&A with Deb

For all you good people who are looking for more biographical information, this is for you. If you’re doing a report, tell your teacher I said you should get an A.

I was born at a very young age in San Raphael, California. My father was in the optometric field, and my mother worked in the school district, was a painter, and later, a business owner. I had one older sister, my best buddy, even though she wouldn’t let me play Barbies with her and her friends (I would have been Ken, sis), and a cat named Luigi. He was big and tough and kicked the butts of all the neighborhood cats. He would come home all battered up as if he’d had a rough night on the town. We lived in California and moved cities (and schools) every few years. Even then, I loved to read. I loved the summer reading programs at the library, where they’d give you a stamp for every book you read. Now they give prizes, but I was happy with the stamp of the rocket ship. My parents would always tell me to put my book away when we were in the car driving at night, as I would read every few words when we passed streetlights. They may have been right when they said I’d mess up my eyes. My mother says there were several years where they never saw me, they just shoved reading material and food under my door (not really, but pretty close). When I was about eleven, my dad’s job brought us to Washington State.

We lived in Kirkland, Washington, which sits on the banks of Lake Washington. It’s really pretty – you’d like it. I went to Lake Washington High School, and was outwardly involved and inwardly a loner, an observer (I wrote it all down, too, gang. Kidding!!!) I was involved with Girl’s Club, this sorority-ish club called ‘Loyalty” which I was president of and then tried to disband, because it seemed unfairly and wrongly exclusive. In other words, sorority-ish. I was very involved in drama and plays and public speaking. And I was writing, although not too many people knew it. Bad poetry (my first “published” work – about writing my name in the frost on a window and having it disappear. Heavy.) And lyrics. Short stories that only my mother cared about (thanks, Mom).

When I was nineteen, my parents divorced, which was hard, but I survived and you will too, and besides, it gives you something to blame them for later if you end up in therapy. I went to Bellevue Community College for the first two years after high school to save money on my education. I worked on the newspaper there, got my first set of lyrics published with a musician who was a good friend of mine. This sounds cool to say, but our first set was something gag-inducing about happy daydreams, I think. Still, I was really proud to have my words distributed all over the country. Later, it was actually more legitimately cool, and I wrote lyrics for area musicians. While at BCC, I worked in the Writing Lab and made lifelong friends with the English teachers at the school (yeah, you know who you are. You guys are the best). It was there that I wrote my first story of any merit, at least according to my professor, who showed it around to the department and still has it to this day. Writers need lots of people who believe in them, and this encouragement really made me feel writing was a possibility for me.

I didn’t have the courage to study creative writing in college. I pictured classes full of people wearing berets and dressed in all black, talking about Turgenev, which is not a powerful shower cleaner like it sounds. I worried I wouldn’t have the talent, since I didn’t own a beret and never wanted one. So I studied journalism. I worked on the radio station, reading the news. I thought journalism would be an easier way to find work, but what I learned more than anything was that I wasn’t a journalist. I fell in love with playwriting while I was at “The U,” and wrote several plays, one of which gained a bit of recognition in a Staley Kramer playwriting competition. I wrote a few stories, one that a professor thought to be quite accomplished, except that I gave a character the last name of Lupus, a disease, and she said that was a bad idea. She was right.

After I earned my B.A. degree from the University of Washington, I got married, won the Nobel prize (just seeing if you were still awake) and started working for The Learning Annex, which is this fun adult education company that gives classes in everything from river rafting to writing to how to find a lover through the classifieds (find a lover and get a barely used Bow-Flex at a good price). I was there for a few years, until my daughter was born. During her babyhood, and after the birth of my son two and a half years later, I wrote stories, more lyrics, and a few plays. When my son was two, I got serious about writing. I didn’t want to be one of those people who talked about their dream but never did anything about it. That seemed sad. I worried I would end up at the counter at Denny’s eating pie and smoking cigarettes, and I’ve never even smoked. So I made a decision that I would do it until it happened. No giving up, no going back. Since I had studied journalism, I had an education to make up for. I read everything on the craft, read through many classics to see what the big deal was. I read, and took notes and studied. And I started writing. The first book I wrote was 600 pages long, mostly crap. But it gave me a feel for what I was doing. I learned as I went.

The second book I wrote brought me offers from several agents, which was pretty amazing. But it wasn’t until I wrote three more books that THE QUEEN OF EVERYTHING (my fifth) was bought by Simon & Schuster. I’ve run out of fingers long ago to count the number of rejections I’d gotten over the years. After QUEEN was published to (thank goodness) wonderful reviews, it was bought and published in the United Kingdom, and is now available in many countries. It made the cover of The Bulletin For The Center of Children’s Books, and had several starred reviews, as well as other honors. HONEY, BABY, SWEETHEART was published next, and it was only out a few months before it was nominated for a National Book Award. It, too, has received many honors in addition to the NBA finalist citation – it won the PNBA Best Book Award, the Washington State Book Award, and was a PEN award finalist and a finalist for the California Young Readers Medal, among others. Many more titles followed HONEY, including WILD ROSES, THE NATURE OF JADE, THE SECRET LIFE OF PRINCE CHARMING and STAY. 2012 brought THE STORY OF US, and in 2013, my first book for adults, HE’S GONE, was released from Random House, followed by more books for adults and young adults, including THE LAST FOREVER, THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS, and ESSENTIAL MAPS FOR THE LOST. My most recent novel for young adults, A HEART IN A BODY IN THE WORLD, received a Printz Honor in 2019.

People always ask me now what my “secret” is, how I got published, how it is that I write in a way that people seem to appreciate. My only real “secret” is that I was one of those kids who loved books. I still am one of those kids who loves books. I’ll read anything – fiction, non-fiction, biographies, magazines, cereal boxes. I am a reader first, before I am a writer. Books – that’s where my writing education comes from, that’s the origin of my ear for language. Good books are also my inspiration for writing, and for writing as well as I can. I would say I’m self-taught, but it’s not true – all my years as a reader, all of those authors I read, taught me. From Mrs. Piggle Wiggle to Tess of the D’Urbervilles. From Encyclopedia Brown to The World according to Garp.

I’ve recently moved from my longtime home in Issaquah, Washington, the setting (“Nine Mile Falls”) of many of my books, and I now live in Seattle. I’ve gone from a house in the mountain foothills with its salmon-running creek and deer, rabbits, and quail, to the busy city. Instead of the occasional bear or cougar visits that I used to get, we now have grunge band sightings and visiting writers. No paragliders get stuck in trees here, but a university student might. It’s the same change Cricket makes in THE STORY OF US, without the little mishap with the helicopter.

Besides writing, I lecture and do author-related appearances, and in my spare time (ha) I paint, travel, and spend time with my kids (my favorite activity) as much as possible. My daughter, Sam, and I spend a lot of time on the phone, talking about inconsequential-but-terrifically-fun b.s., and — as often as we can — we all love to jump on any sailboat my son, Nick, happens to be captaining in his spare time. Gotta say, Sam and Nick are the BEST. I also like to swim, collect antiquarian books, and hike (even if I may need CPR after), and I love the library, art history, and the Renaissance. I know nothing about fine wines, athletes, or quadratic equations. I also suck at diagramming sentences (ask my kids) and am a lousy speller. My beloved husband and I both hate sushi when it’s cool to love sushi, and, with each other, don’t have to pretend to understand foreign art films. There are a million more reasons why I adore him. He also puts up with my reading addiction, because what I mostly do in my spare time is what I’ve always done, ever since those early days in California: I read – always, always read. I read everything and more, devouring books like the essential life-stuff they are and have always been to me.

And for you, my fan in Indiana, here’s the answer to your question. Thanks for playing my favorite game.

Things I like:

  • Summer
  • Cotton Candy
  • Movie theater popcorn
  • Music – loud
  • Driving at night
  • Sleeping in
  • New pads of paper
  • The smell of a new book
  • Beaches, water, swimming
  • Traveling somewhere new
  • Mandarin oranges in a can
  • Putting the knife in a new jar of peanut butter
  • Convertibles
  • Maps
  • Going barefoot
  • Dogs riding in the passenger seats of cars
  • Mints on a hotel pillow
  • Water slides
  • Sourdough bread and butter
  • Lighthouses
  • Getting something good in the mail
  • Cowboys
  • Thunderstorms
  • Drive through car washes with the big floppy wet noodles
  • Someone making you French toast on a Sunday morning

Things I hate:

  • Running out of coffee
  • When my kids tell me it’s time to go home and the library’s not even closed yet
  • Phoniness and hypocrisy
  • Water chestnuts
  • Jeans that feel too tight
  • Grocery shopping
  • Waiting
  • Lies
  • Missing someone you love
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Being bossed around
  • Seeing photos on the same day they’re taken
  • Losing something on the computer you’ve worked hard on
  • Sore throats
  • When my car starts making a suspicious noise
  • Forgetting where I’ve put something
  • Having to get dressed up and go somewhere when I want to stay at home in my p.j.’s

And finally, to the same fan, the answer to your last question: Blue.