Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Author Feature: Donald R. Gallo on Owning It: Stories About Teens with Disabilities

Donald R. Gallo on Donald R. Gallo: "I have played a variety of roles in the education and book business during the past 47 years, each role overlapping and reinforcing the other. I have been especially fortunate.

"My professional life began as a junior high school English teacher in Connecticut and expanded into college teaching after I earned a PhD at Syracuse University in 1968.

"S.E. Hinton and Robert Lipsyte had published their milestone YA novels months earlier, with others following shortly. Having discovered children's and adolescent literature during my doctoral program, I immediately understood the value of YA lit to teenage students and latched on to it as something I wanted to be a part of. So I've been linked to YA lit since the beginning, and my career grew as YA lit developed.

"Along the way I published numerous articles about reading literature and teaching writing in professional journals, chapters in several educational texts, a book about author Richard Peck, and From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges Between Young Adult Literature and the Classics with Sarah K. Herz (Greenwood Press, 1996; 2nd ed, 2005), and am about to complete a five-year term as YA literature columnist for the English Journal (see "Bold Books for Teenagers").

"Through colleagues and at conferences I began to meet authors—Richard Peck, Walter Dean Myers, Harry Mazer (author interview) and Norma Fox Mazer (author interview), Paula Danziger, Bette Greene—and attended the first meeting of a group of English educators who formed the Assembly on Literature for Adolescent of the NCTE (ALAN), an organization of which I later became president.

"While teaching in Colorado and then at Central Connecticut State University, I not only championed books for teens but also noticed that while teens were reading and loving novels by YA writers, only a handful of books with YA short stories existed, all of them the collected works of individual authors: Norma Fox Mazer, Robert Cormier, Joan Aiken, Lois Ruby, and Nicholasa Mohr. (All other anthologies were reprints of previously published stories by adult authors, many of them classics most students' grandmothers had to read when they were in school.)

"I approached the now legendary editor at Delacorte Press, George Nicholson, with a proposal for an anthology of original short stories for teens to be written by some of the most famous authors in the business that I would solicit and edit. George bought the idea almost immediately, and in 1984, Sixteen was released into the world.

"That book and subsequent volumes changed the world of literature for teenagers, and for that reason Chris Crowe started referring to me as 'the Godfather of Young Adult Short Stories'. (My Latino amigo René Saldaña, Jr. prefers 'the padrino of the short-story anthology'.)

"However I am addressed, I am delighted to have contributed something significant to the field of literature that I have loved and been a part of for my entire career.

"Nearly eleven years ago I retired from full-time teaching, got married (again), moved from Connecticut to Ohio where I have been writing, editing, interviewing authors for the Authors4Teens website, and speaking to teachers, librarians, and teens about recently published books they will enjoy."

Could you please update us on your back list, highlighting as you see fit?

Short Story Anthologies Edited by Donald R. Gallo:

Connections: Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults (Delacorte, 1989). Out of print.

Destination Unexpected (Candlewick, 2003).

First Crossing: Stories about Teen Immigrants (Candlewick, 2004).

Join In: Multiethnic Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults (Delacorte, 1993).

No Easy Answers: Short Stories about Teenagers Making Tough Choices (Delacorte, 1997).

On the Fringe (Dial, 2001).

Short Circuits: Thirteen Shocking Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults (Delacorte, 1992). Out of print.

Sixteen: Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults (Delacorte, 1984).

Time Capsule: Short Stories about Teenagers throughout the Twentieth Century (Delacorte, 1999). Soon to be out of print.

Ultimate Sports: Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults (Delacorte, 1995).

Visions: Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults (Delacorte, 1987).

What Are You Afraid Of? Stories About Phobias. (Candlewick, 2006).

You are well known for your top-notch anthologies. What about this type of book appeals to you?

Most of the published fiction for teens has been in novel format, with novels in verse and graphic novels emerging in only recent years.

Although short stories have been available for adult readers for dozens of years, short story anthologies written by a variety of authors specifically for teens have existed since only 1984.

Short stories offer readers a number of things that novels never will. First and most important, they are short, so they are ideal for less-able readers and less-motivated teens. For young readers and teachers they provide a way to explore the writings of several authors—ten or more at a time—in the same amount of time it takes to read an average-length novel. For teachers, a single short story can provide a way to introduce the theme of a new unit—perhaps on peer pressure, adventure, war, cultural differences, or almost any teen problem you can imagine.

Unfortunately, short stories do not get the respect they deserve from many librarians because, by nature, librarians are avid readers who prefer longer works, and the kinds of teens who are most attracted to short stories are the ones who enter a library only when forced or attracted by a special program.

Congratulations on the publication of Owning It: Stories about Teens with Disabilities (Candlewick, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about it?

Thank you. The subtitle, of course, explains what the stories are about. What that doesn't indicate are the specific disabilities that the ten stories examine. Written by Chris Crutcher, Alex Flinn (author interview), Ron Koertge (author interview), Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson (author interview), Robert Lipsyte, David Lubar (author interview), Julie Anne Peters (author interview), René Saldaña, Jr., and Brenda Woods, the stories are about a blind boy, a paralyzed girl in a wheelchair, a boy with Tourette's syndrome, a brain-damaged girl, a boy with asthma, another with ADHD, an alcoholic, an obese boy and his skinny friend, a girl with severe migraines, and a hospital ward filled with young men with testicular cancer.

Not every physical and mental problem in the medical books, but a hefty dose of significant problems. But while their disabilities are interesting to read about, more interesting is how they each deal with their condition. Their resiliency is inspirational.

What was the initial inspiration for creating this book?

A teacher friend of mine—Darla Wagner--asked me at the ALAN Workshop a couple years ago what my next anthology was going to be about and I said I had no idea. She later passed me a note that said she needed a book of stories "for Jessica, Cassidy, Eddie ...who deal with serious illnesses/diseases...and for all their teachers and students who are part of their lives." Bam! Perfect idea. And, of course, Darla is now the world's most avid promoter of Owning It.

In the introduction, you write, "...while increased attention has been paid to disabled children and disabled adults, the group that has received the least attention is disabled adolescents." Why do you think this is the case?

I have no proof, but teens generally get less attention than any other age group except for when they cause trouble in their communities. Little children can't take care of themselves; many old people can't take care of themselves; and most adults in their working years have money and know how to handle the necessary systems to get help; but teens are in a kind of no man's land where they try to avoid adults and think they can take care of themselves, but they have neither the resources nor the connections to get authorities to listen to them. And they are generally a healthy segment of the population, so problem areas don't get noticed as much as they should. That's just my guess, as I said.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

From Darla's note to the recent publication took two years and three months. It usually takes about six to eight months from the start to when I deliver the finished manuscript to the publisher. The steps consist of: getting a proposal accepted by my publisher; inviting the right authors; editing their stories and working with the authors on revisions; writing the introduction to the book, the intros to each story, and the author bios; and responding to questions and concerns from the in-house editor. Then Candlewick takes 18 months to prepare it properly for release.

Some other publishers do it in less time—about a year—but Candlewick intentionally takes its time in order to do it right. I value that care...but the wait can seem like years.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing the book to life?

The foremost challenge of putting together any anthology is finding the right people—the most competent and notable authors—to write the stories. And of course it's necessary to find writers who are willing to write a story on the designated theme and can do so by the assigned deadline.

For this theme, I was looking for authors who had either written about a specific disability in one of their novels or who had some close contact with a disability, possibly a personal experience. Once I had those people, I counted on them to provide accurate information about the disability featured in their story.

At the same time, I searched the Internet for information about each of the disabilities my authors chose to write about, so that I could not only confirm that the information in the stories was accurate but could also include some statistics in the information about the disability that each writer provided along with his or her biographical details that I always include after each story.

Speaking of the Internet, contacting a group of authors and corresponding with them about their stories is so much easier and faster than when I did my first anthology in the early 1980s. Back then I typed every piece of correspondence on a standard (i.e., not electric) typewriter, with a carbon copy on onionskin paper, and send it surface mail. That would take days between my residence and an author's home across the country. Mail to and from authors living abroad took even longer. Now correspondence is exchanged within hours—minutes, sometimes--and the whole process moves so much faster.

How did you compile your slate of contributors? What challenges are inherent in working with so many authors, trying to balance so many stories?

As I indicated above, I began by searching for writers who had experiences with some kind of disability. I also always attempt to have a balance of male and female writers, and to be as culturally diverse as possible. That balance has been very difficult to achieve in some anthologies I've done, especially when someone with a special background drops out at the last minute. But that was not a problem with this book. One author did have to withdraw his story late in the process, but I was able to find another author who was able to produce a story in a relatively short period of time so we could still meet our deadline.

Getting the requisite number of good stories was extremely difficult for my first anthology, Sixteen, because very few YA authors were producing short stories in the early 1980s (there was no market then). Chris Crutcher, for example, had never written a short story before I asked him to write something for Connections. The story he turned out has become one of his most famous, as well as the basis for a Disney movie: "A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune."

In addition, few people knew whether or not I was competent and trustworthy as an editor. Once my editorial reputation was established and authors saw that short stories were selling, it became much easier for me to gather the necessary number of star-quality writers who produced first-rate stories.

Now if I need ten stories, I may have to contact between twelve and fifteen people, only ten of whom agree to send me a story. In contrast, I have learned that some other editors of short story anthologies have solicited dozens of stories and then selected for publication the best dozen or so that fit the theme, which I believe alienates all those people whose stories have been rejected. For the thirteen YA anthologies I have edited to date, I have rejected not much more than a handful of stories, and most of those were ones where the author submitted something that did not quite fit the stated theme.

By starting with really top-notch writers, there's little chance that I’m going to have to reject a story. I mean, when you start with the likes of Richard Peck, Chris Crutcher, Joan Bauer, David Lubar, Graham Salisbury (author interview), Jane Yolen (author interview)!...the stories are going to be fantastic, no matter what the subject.

I also spend a lot of time at the start defining the parameters of the theme of each book, suggesting various possible topics for authors to consider, so writers have a good idea of a direction in which they might direct thinking.

For Owning It, I listed several disabilities and invited potential authors to suggest others they might prefer. With a topic like Disabilities—as it was for Phobias—the first respondents got first pick. So when the seventh or eighth person said he/she would like to do a story about a teen with, say, asthma, I could respond: "Sorry, that's already been chosen. How about Down's syndrome, or AIDS, or a prosthetic leg?" As a result, every story I received was on a different topic.

Most importantly, I have been amazingly fortunate that the stories I have received for all of my books have all been different from one another and yet fit smoothly together. And all of the authors have been wonderful to work with.

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

First, I want readers to enjoy the stories. Second, I really want these stories to give recognition and hope to disabled teens who can't possibly see themselves in novels and stories about their non-disabled peers. Third, I hope all readers will learn something about each disability and will become more sensitive to the problems of others.

I also expect that some readers will discover the work of one or more authors whom they haven't known before and will seek out other works by those writers.

Similarly, I also hope that those readers of this book who are unfamiliar with my other short story anthologies will want to read one or more of those—perhaps No Easy Answers (Delacorte, 1997) or On the Fringe (Dial, 2001) or What Are You Afraid Of? Stories about Phobias (Candlewick, 2006).

As a reader, so far what are your favorite YA books of 2008?

I'm still reading a lot of 2007 titles! But for 2008, in no particular order, I'm excited by The Missing Girl by Norma Fox Mazer (HarperTeen, 2008); the second book in David Klass's Caretaker Trilogy called Whirlwind (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008); The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (Holt, 2008); The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt, 2008)(author interview) though I liked its predecessor Life As We Knew It (2006)(author interview) a little better; Hurricane by Terry Trueman (HarperCollins, 2008); and Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers (Scholastic, 2008). My favorite of all of those is The Adoration of Jenna Fox.

What do you do outside the world of books?

I love to travel and do so with my wife as much as I can. I've been to almost every state in the U.S. including Hawaii and Alaska. I've vacationed on several islands in the Caribbean; toured parts of Mexico, parts of Canada, and almost all of Europe (some by car, some by tour bus, some by riverboat); and have spent time in Hong Kong, China, Thailand, and Cambodia. The most memorable trip of all has been a two-week safari in Tanzania and Kenya.

In good weather, I love to garden and be outdoors.

Most recently I have developed a passion for photography. I always liked to take photos, but my first digital camera propelled me into the field with a passion, and being retired from teaching has given me the time to pursue this interest.

Taking close-up photos of flowers in our gardens and returning from our travels with really good shots of what we've seen—a spectacular sunset from the balcony of our cliff-side room on the Greek island of Santorini; the magnificent ancient temple at Angkor Wat in Cambodia; a glimpse of Mount Kilimanjaro through the morning clouds--provides a great deal of pleasure (though we’ve run out of room on our walls on which to display more photos!).

Last week I won my first blue ribbon in a local photography show for a photo of traffic in New York City!

What can your fans look forward to next?

Coming (I think) this fall is a book about author Richard Peck's life and writing, coauthored with Wendy Glenn, from Scarecrow Press. It's supposed to be titled Richard Peck: The Past Is Paramount, but we haven't seen the cover design yet (or heard from the editor!), so we're not sure. I've also been trying to sell a couple of children's book manuscripts, but so far nobody seems to want them. I have sketched out some ideas for a new short story anthology but have not gone beyond the thinking stage to committing myself yet. Stay tuned.

2 comments:

Sheila said...

I did a search on Don's name and located this really interesting interview. Thanks! But I am wondering what Don's doing now.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

My pleasure, and I'm not sure. I haven't seen him in a while, and he doesn't seem to have an official site. You might try the NCTE/ALAN speaker bios for the past couple of years. I believe he goes fairly regularly. And/or you could try him through his publisher(s).

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