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Castellucci, Cecil

Castellucci, Cecil

Career
Sidelights
Selected Writings
Sources

Author, filmmaker, and musician

B orn October 25, 1969, in New York, NY; daughter of scientists. Education: Concordia University, B.F.A., 1993; studied theater at École Florent (Paris, France), and with the Groundlings troupe of Los Angeles.

Addresses: HomeLos Angeles, CA. Office—P.O. Box 29095, Los Angeles, CA 90039.

Career

M ember of the rock band Bite after 1990; co-founder of the band Nerdy Girl; has also recorded under the name Cecil Seaskull. Founding member of the Alpha 60 Film Club, 2001; appearance in Starwoids documentary, 2001; field producer, Big Urban Myth Show, MTV Networks, 2002; actor, screenwriter, and director of the film Happy Is Not Hard to Be, 2005. First young-adult novel, Boy Proof, published by Candlewick Press, 2005.

Sidelights

C ecil Castellucci moved from a career as an indie-rock musician and filmmaker to a successful young-adult novelist as the author of Boy Proof and Queen of Cool. In 2007, she wrote her first graphic novel, The P.L.A.I.N. Janes, with DC Comics illustrator Jim Rugg. Seemingly unafraid to tackle new creative challenges throughout her career, Castellucci admitted to being unnerved by having to stay mindful of how her text merged with images. “I had to learn how to write a story all over again,” she confessed to George Gene Gustines in a New York Times interview. “I did have a week or two when I thought I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Castellucci was born in 1969 in New York City to scientist-parents who traveled widely. In 1979, when she was nine years old, the family was in Brussels, Belgium, and witnessed a bomb attack by operatives of the Irish Republican Army—an event she would later adapt for the plot of The P.L.A.I.N. Janes. A self-professed nerd, in middle school Castellucci inexplicably found herself part of the alpha-female clique at her school. Years later, she described the dual life she led for a time in an article she penned for Horn Book titled “My Brother’s Bookshelf,” noting that while she tried hard to fit in, she still remained somewhat of a rebel. “I wore a man’s shirt and tie to school and talked to the boys who liked Star Wars and played Dungeons & Dragons. I realized that my bedroom, where my girlfriends came over and inspected my stuff, had to be just so or I would be turfed from the group. That meant a jewelry box, pretty hair things, girly dolls, and only the right kind of books,” she wrote. “There were books I could never let my popular friends see,” which were her favorite science-fiction and fantasy favorites, and so she kept them in her brother’s room.

Castellucci attended New York City’s LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts, a specialized public high school near Lincoln Center for students hoping for a career in the performing arts. From there, she went on to Montreal’s Concordia University, where she earned a fine-arts degree in film pro duction and played in the rock band Bite in the early 1990s. For a time, they were the only all-female band on the Montreal indie-rock scene. “I didn’t even really want to be in a band,” she told Rupert Bottenberg in an interview for the Montreal Mirror. “Everyone was just afraid to sing, and I was like, ‘I’ve got a big mouth, I’ll sing!’”

After a falling-out with the band, Castellucci went on to found another act she called Nerdy Girl, which issued an eponymous 1994 EP and a 1997 full-length LP titled Twist Her. After the band went through several changes in its lineup, it disbanded and Castellucci moved to Los Angeles, where she took classes with the noted improvisational comedy troupe the Groundlings. She also recorded one more album, Whoever, under the name Cecil Seaskull, and appeared in the 2001 documentary film Starwoids as one of the scores of fans who camped out in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater for tickets to see Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace before its 1999 premiere. “It was a ridiculous thing to do, but at the same time, it was Star Wars, and Star Wars was the reason that I even thought you could become a person who told stories when you grew up,” she told Bottenberg in the Montreal Mirror.

Castellucci’s career as a writer began with the performance-art pieces she wrote, “The Shirt and Other Awkward Stories,” “The Ladies’ Room,” and “My Heart, the Whore.” From there, she wrote a screenplay based on a questionnaire she had sent out to struggling actors, which she made into the feature film Happy Is Not Hard to Be with the help of the Alpha 60 Film Club she co-founded in 2001. As the film neared completion, she decided to use some of her songwriting royalties toward a workshop on writing for children in Banff, Alberta. She needed to submit 40 pages of fiction with the application to the workshop, and visited a friend who worked at a Los Angeles bookstore for advice. As she recalled in an interview with Jennifer M. Brown of Publishers Weekly, her friend Steve told her, “You should write a book called Boy Proof and have a guy in it named Max,” she said. “Steve loves me as a person but he thinks of me as boy proof,” and she admitted that once she heard the phrase “‘boy proof,’ it all came together.”

Boy Proof was published by Candlewick Press in 2005 and marked Castellucci’s debut as a young-adult novelist. The story centers on Victoria, who calls herself Egg, after the heroine of her favorite science-fiction movie Terminal Earth. Egg even sports a shaved head and a white cape like her on-screen role model, which makes her somewhat of a rebel at the Los Angeles private school she attends. Focused on earning top grades, a side career as a photographer for the school paper, and her science-fiction world, Egg is immune to the charms of the opposite sex, which in her mother’s words is “boy proof.” The plot hinges upon a cautious friendship she develops with a new student, Max Garter, who has a similarly iconoclastic streak. Other elements of the story include the disintegration of her parents’ marriage; her mother is an actress whose career has languished since Egg was born, and her father is an award-winning special-effects artist.

Reviews for Boy Proof were largely positive. “As we follow Egg’s adventures (and misadventures) in this honest, amusing novel,” wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Katie Haegele, “we get to watch a hatchling emerge. She doesn’t have to give up her heroines or their postapocalyptic worlds entirely, but she does learn that it’s not the worst thing if your heroes turn out to be creeps.” A contributor to Publishers Weekly commended Egg’s narrative voice, which the writer asserted recounts an “inner struggle and prickly exterior. Castellucci effortlessly paints a picture of Hollywood as a setting that shapes her characters as much as they shape it.”

After Boy Proof was accepted by Candlewick but before it appeared in print, Castellucci attended a Los Angeles-area literary event where she met the novelist Aimee Bender. As Castellucci recalled in an interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith on Smith’s blog, Cynsations, “when I told her that I had sold my first novel, she said ‘Write your second one before your first one comes out.’ I was like, ‘Why?’ and she was like, ‘Because that way you won’t freak out.’” Castellucci took the advice to heart, and began working on her next young-adult novel, Queen of Cool, which was published by Candlewick Press in 2006.

Queen of Cool is another coming-of-age tale, this one centering on 16year-old Libby Brin, whose affluent lifestyle and jaded friends bring on a sense of ennui that culminates in odd behavior: At her private high school’s formal dance, she strips out of her dress, “puts a paper bag over her head, and streaks (in her underwear) through the gym—then asks herself, ‘What is wrong with me?’” noted a Publishers Weekly review. The ensuing ruckus prompts Libby to become a volunteer at the Los Angeles Zoo, where the new friends she meets causes her to reevaluate her idea of who’s cool and who’s not.

Again, Castellucci’s novel won kudos from critics. “Though there’s nothing revolutionary about Libby’s transformation,” noted Christine M. Hep-permann in Horn Book, “her observations are sharp and convincing.” Booklist’s Shelle Rosenfeld also weighed in with laudatory words. “Relayed in Libby’s lively, intimate voice, this story is a quick, engaging read,” she wrote. Asked by Leitich Smith why she had chosen to make the zoo a centerpiece of the story, Castellucci replied that for a period of time “I was just kind of obsessed with the L.A. Zoo. I had gone to visit one day when I was having an emotional freak out,” she recalled, and came across the condor exhibit. None of the majestic birds were on public view, however, which “made me really sad. I got the idea for a scene, in a flash, about this girl who was totally cool who goes on a field trip to the zoo and sees a baby condor die while it’s hatching and her life is changed.”

Castellucci’s next book was Beige, her third for young-adult readers. Here she drew upon part of her Montreal experiences in crafting a protagonist, Katy, who is a straight-arrow French-Canadian teen. Katy has been estranged from her father for much of her life, but her mother’s work as an archaeolo-gist forces her to spend the summer in Southern California with him. A member of notorious early-punk act called Suck that is now on the verge of a comeback, Katy’s father tries to bond with her, but she tells him she is disinterested in music. A bandmate’s daughter, Lake, is recruited to befriend her, but Lake—also a musician—dubs Katy “Beige” for being so boring. “Castellucci gives a fresh spin to the familiar exiled-teen plot,” noted Cindy Do-brez in a Booklist review. A writer for Publishers Weekly noted that the coming-of-age tale rang true as Katy “slowly finds a place in their world, affecting them with her kindness and ‘learning to be loud.’”

Castellucci revisited the terror she experienced as a child in Brussels in recreating the event that launches her first graphic novel, The P.L.A.I.N. Janes. Illustrated by Jim Rugg, the title was published by DC Comics in 2007 as part of its new Minx imprint of graphic novels aimed at female readers. In the fictional “Metro City,” teenaged Jane is injured by bomb that goes off outside of a café. She helps a young man to safety, but he winds up in a coma and lingers unidentified in the hospital. Jane has his sketchbook, however, and writes “John Doe” letters about her new suburban life, because her parents— unnerved by the attack—have chosen to move out of the city.

Jane’s transition to suburban living is aided by her three new friends, also named Jane. There is Jayne, who is instantly dubbed “Brain Jane,” drama-loving Theater Jane, and athletic Sporty Jane, whose real name is Polly Jane. The quartet call themselves P.L. A.I.N., or People Loving Art in Neighborhoods, and stage secret guerrilla art attacks in their neighborhood. “The core of this timely novel, though, is Jane’s struggle to see the beauty of the world rather than its dangers,” noted Claire E. Gross in a Horn Book review. Castellucci’s words and Rugg’s illustrations, noted a contributor to Publishers Weekly, “nimbly make their larger point—that fear is an indulgence we must give ourselves permission to overcome—without ever preaching.”

Castellucci admitted that writing The P.L.A.I.N. Janes was somewhat cathartic for her after her long-ago experience in Brussels. “It seemed like this was a good opportunity to explore those fearful feelings that I had growing up,” she told Gustines in the New York Times interview. “They’ve always been a part of my makeup and fears.” Like any creative type, she remains chained to her worst fear—that she will lose the gift of her imagination. “Sometimes I lay around staring at the ceiling,” she told Smith on the Cynsations blog interview, “thinking, ‘OK that’s it. I’ve had my last idea. I’m done. It’s over. I’m a big fat fraud.’”

Selected Writings

Boy Proof, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005. Queen of Cool, Candlewick Press, 2006.

Beige, Candlewick Press, 2007.

The P.L.A.I.N. Janes (graphic novel; illustrated by Jim Rugg), DC Comics (New York City), 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

Booklist, February 15, 2006, p. 90; September 1, 2007, p. 103.

Horn Book, March-April 2006, p. 182; July-August 2007, p. 390; September-October 2007, p. 528.

New York Times, November 25, 2006.

Philadelphia Inquirer, September 13, 2006.

Publishers Weekly, February 21, 2005, p. 176; June 27, 2005, p. 27; February 20, 2006, p. 158; April 9, 2007, p. 56; June 18, 2007, p. 56.

School Library Journal, April 2005, p. 129; August 2007, p. 112.

Online

“Author Interview: Cecil Castellucci on The Queen of Cool,” Cynsations, http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2006/01/author-interview-cecil-castellucci-on.html (February 6, 2008).

“Wordy Girl,” Montreal Mirror,http://www.montrealmirror.com/2005/102005/watn19.html (February 6, 2008).

—Carol Brennan

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