Today, we're celebrating the release of Dessert First, Dean Gloster's new young adult novel (Merit Press). Sweet!
Upbeat--that's Kat, the girl in the family who everyone turns to when things get difficult. Especially now, when her beloved younger brother Beep is in his second leukemia relapse, and a bone marrow transplant from Kat may be his only chance.
But Kat's worried that she and her bone marrow may not be up to the job: She can't even complete homework, and she's facing other rejection--lost friendships, a lost spot on the soccer team, and lots of heartache from her crush on her former best friend, Evan. Kat doesn't know if her bone marrow will save Beep, or whether she can save herself, let alone keep her promise to Beep that she'll enjoy life and always eat dessert first.
Dessert First is a funny, moving story about coping, appreciating sweetness, and learning to forgive.
Welcome, Dean! So, tell us . . .
Who was your favorite character to write? The main character, smart, funny 16-year-old Kat Monroe was the most fun character I've ever written, because she's funny and hurt and perceptive, but only a semi-reliable narrator--there is a lot she doesn't really get at the start of the novel. Her voice came really easily, because she reminds me of how I was at 16. She's a parentified child who's taking care of other people, but underneath she's got some anger, which comes out in her humor and her world view.
What spark ignited the book for you? The two sparks that ignited this book were my wife, who for years worked as a pediatric intensive care nurse at UCSF hospital, where part of the book takes place, and who now works at a children's hospice and respite care facility, the George Mark Children's House in San Leandro, and my daughter, who found the then-only scene of the novel on the family computer when she was a teenager and said it was really good and that I should finish whatever it was part of.
What was it like when you found out you'd sold the book and it was being published? Amazingly wonderful, but it's kind of a funny story. The email that Merit Press wanted to publish Dessert First came while I was at residency. (Yes, really good things do happen at VCFA.) Unfortunately, with all the intensity of residency, my constantly emailing documents to myself to print out in the library, and my mostly using my VCFA email address, I actually missed the message from the editor saying they were buying my book, and only saw it a week later when I got back home and my agent also emailed me. My editor was great about it, because she understood what an MFA residency is like.
What a testament to the intensity of residency! I'm glad you finally got your email.
What's your idea of the coolest swag to go with the book? I have the coolest swag to hand out at book readings already. Late in the story, one of my characters gives the protagonist a tissue, one of "those cute ones called Sniffs that have a cartoon cat on them." After Kirkus Reviews said about my book, "This deeply moving tragedy vastly outpaces typical tissue use," the wonderful people who run the company that makes Sniffs--PaperProducts Design--sent me several cases of them with cat art. I like to joke that Dessert First has such tear-jerking scenes, that it's the only novel in the world with an official tissue sponsor.
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life? I've learned so much, including the habit of being a critical reader of fiction for craft, so I can keep learning. I feel like I have such a better understanding of different ways to write a scene and why. Even more important, I finally found my tribe--other writers passionate about writing for young people. My unbelievably talented classmates are some of my favorite people in the world.
What advice would you give a prospective VCFA student? Do everything you can to get as good as you can and learn as much as you can before you show up, so you can get that much more out of the program. More important than that, if you're passionate about writing for young people, do everything you can to come to the Writing for Children and Young Adults program. I don't know how many places in the world are actually magical, but this is one of them.
Hear, hear! Thanks so much for stopping by, Dean, and welcome to the world, Dessert First!
Dean Gloster is a former stand-up comic, former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court, and former attorney who gave up writing briefs to write fiction. His hobby is downhill ski racing.
Dean is a member of The Dead Post-It Society class of July 2017.