An Interview With Rocky Callen, Debut YA Author of A BREATH TOO LATE
June 26th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

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About A BREATH TOO LATE from Goodreads:

For fans of Girl in Pieces, All the Bright Places, and Girl, Interrupted comes a haunting and breathtaking YA contemporary debut novel that packs a powerful message: hope can be found in the darkness.

Seventeen-year-old Ellie had no hope left. Yet the day after she dies by suicide, she finds herself in the midst of an out-of-body experience. She is a spectator, swaying between past and present, retracing the events that unfolded prior to her death.

But there are gaps in her memory, fractured pieces Ellie is desperate to re-assemble. There’s her mother, a songbird who wanted to break free from her oppressive cage. The boy made of brushstrokes and goofy smiles who brought color into a gray world. Her brooding father, with his sad puppy eyes and clenched fists. Told in epistolary-like style, this deeply moving novel sensitively examines the beautiful and terrible moments that make up a life and the possibilities that live in even the darkest of places. Perfect for fans of the critically-acclaimed SpeakI’ll Give You the Sun, and If I Stay.

Q &A:

1. Share with readers a novel secret—something that readers will never know just from picking up the book. It could be a place you included in the novel, a name you gave to a character inspired by another person, special research you did.

Answer: What a wonderful question! There are lots of little subtle things that are in the book that have significance. Let’s focus on the names! Ellie’s mother’s name (Regina) means Queen. We see Regina’s power get stolen, bit by bit, from her abusive husband. We also see her, bit by bit, take it back. The idea of a throne and crown lost and reclaimed. I think it is important that we always understand that our lives are choices made minute by minute and so many of them are decisions to give our power away or take it back.  Ellie’s name means Light. I gave her a name with that meaning for many reasons. She was a light to her mother. A light to her best friend. A light in her own life. A light in the dark. And ultimately, like the candlelight at a vigil, a person lost who will be remembered. We are all bits of light in this world and I wanted Ellie’s life to be a reminder that even in the darkness, even when we can’t see it, there is hope. 

2. You wrote this book in a unique way. Can you share what inspired you to write it in an epistolary-like style?

Answer: The structure chose me and this story. I really didn’t have much say in it. From the very first page, it tumbled out as letters. Letters to life, to death, to Ellie’s mother and father and best friend, her depression, to so many things/people in her life. I wanted there to be an intimacy with the reader by using “you” and I wanted the reader to understand on a subconscious level that they could be anyone in Ellie’s story–the friend, the bully, the light, the pain–just like they can be anyone in their own. I also feel like last letters embrace all of the words we never get to say. These are Ellie’s final words and even though no one will ever hear them, they matter to us and to her. 

3. Suicide is a tough topic to write about. What message do you want readers to take away?

Answer: Books that grapple with this cannot ever be everything an author wants it to be, but I hope A BREATH TOO LATE is this:a reminder that even on the hardest, most devastating days, there is a life full of possibility worth fighting for. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Type of music: Classical, R&B, hip hop, soft rock, hard rock, punk, jazz, musicals ? ALL of it! Just depends on my mood. 
Banana, orange, kiwi, pomegranate, apple, pineapple, cantaloupe? Toss up between bananas and oranges 🙂
Walking, jogging, ice-skating, sledding, dancing? Walking (it is very meditative to me) and DANCING. I dance every day. In PJs. When no one is looking. 
Potato chips, tortilla chips, popcorn, rice cakes, bean chips? I don’t really eat snack-y things but tortilla chips would be the winner (but only with salsa:).  

A Breath Too Late BOOK CHAT with the Rocky: https://youtu.be/eKzx2OS8oHU

About Rocky Callen:

Rocky Callen, the daughter of an Ecuadorian immigrant, has long lived a life of service ever since she was a 13-year-old advocating for the undocumented immigrants in her community. She interned at NASA at 12 years old, started lobbying congress at 13, and wrote and produced student radio stories at NPR at 14. She was a behavioral therapist for over ten years. She received an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives outside of Washington, DC with her husband, daughter, and baby boy. Rocky founded the Bleed Ink Foundation, a creative hub and resource center for writers, and the HoldOn2Hope Project, which unites creatives in suicide prevention and mental health awareness. A Breath Too Late is her debut novel. Follow her on Twitter and on Instagram or visit her website.

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