Thursday, August 5, 2010

Interview and giveaway with Jeanine Cummins, author of The Outside Boy

Author Jeanine Cummins was gracious enough to drop by and answer my questions to her. After you read the review, check out my review of her latest book, The Outside Boy, and then leave a comment to be entered to win one of two copies of her wonderful book.

Which book or books are on your nightstand right now?
I was going to fib and say The Dead Republic by Roddy Doyle because that’s next on my list. But in truth, right now I’m reading a very depressing book called Famine Echoes by Cathal Póirtéir as research for my next novel. It’s a really harrowing collection of first-person folk-memories of the Irish famine, which makes it horrible pre-sleep reading. So I’m also reading Jennifer Belle’s very funny new novel, The Seven Year Bitch.

What was your favourite book when you were a child?
I could never choose just one! Top few were probably Tuck Everlasting, Bridge to Terabithia, all of The Chronicles of Narnia, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

What book would you most want to read again for the first time?
The Hobbit. It really was astonishing, to read that for the first time.

How did you get started writing?
I wrote my first book when I was about seven years old. It was seventy-five looseleaf pages in a blue, three-ring binder with stickers on the front, and it was about a little girl who skateboards across America. I did all kinds of poetry and story contests, too, when I was a teenager, and I never won anything – I didn’t even manage to get published until my college literary magazine.

If you heard someone describing your books (or just the latest book) to a friend out in public, how would you most like to hear them describe them/it?
I would like them to say, “The Outside Boy is the greatest book in the history of the universe.” But I guess that might be a bit of a stretch. So I think I’d just like them to say that my narrator Christy is funny and loveable, that his story is a compelling one. And maybe also that he opened the reader’s mind to an unfamiliar culture.

What's the coolest thing that's happened to you since becoming a published author?
Probably the most gratifying thing has been all the mail I received (and still receive) in response to my memoir, A Rip in Heaven. So many people have written to tell me about their stories, their personal traumas. I’ve heard from sexual assault survivors, homicide survivors, people who have lost children – and in many cases those people found some healing in my book, or a sense of kinship with my family. That always makes me feel like, despite the emotional difficulties of writing and publishing that book, it was a worthwhile endeavor.

What was the first thing you did when you heard that you were going to be published?
I called or wrote to every member of my family to warn them. Publishing my first book wasn’t the unreservedly joyous experience for me that it is for many authors – it was really bittersweet. I mean, I was proud of A Rip in Heaven, both as a love letter to my lost cousins and as a battle cry for victims’ rights. But because that book was about a very personal trauma and my family’s ensuing grief, I knew the publication would be difficult for a lot of people in my life, but I really wasn’t prepared for how hard it was going to be. I never anticipated the publicity that would surround the book, or that it would become a bestseller. So, while I felt pleased that the book surpassed my hopes in those ways, there was also a lot of emotional fallout surrounding that success.

How was writing fiction different emotionally from writing A Rip in Heaven about your cousins' murders?
Oh, writing fiction was so refreshing, after the darkness and terror of that memoir. It was so nice to be writing about made-up characters, people who I could mold and shape, and who would make the choices I wanted them to make. Which isn’t to say that these characters don’t make some questionable choices, or that I don’t grieve for them in their suffering – but it’s the kind of grief that I can leave on the page, and it doesn’t infect my life. However, I did find that it wasn’t as easy to strip my own psychology out of the story as I thought it might be.

Tell us three interesting or offbeat but true things about yourself.
1. I am a HUGE Green Bay Packers football fan. My great uncle was one of the founding members of the team – he worked at the Indian Packing Company in Green Bay, and played football with Curly Lambeau and crew on Sundays before the NFL even existed. My grandpa used to pass the hat on the sidelines to raise money for their team uniforms. I have made pilgrimage to Lambeau Field, and I’m often seen sporting an actual cheesehead on autumn Sundays. I cried when Favre signed with the Vikings. My Irish husband finds this kind of ritual devotion slightly bizarre.

2. When I was nineteen, I participated in an international Irish cultural pageant called The Rose of Tralee, where I won the right to represent the Washington DC Irish Community. I travelled to Ireland where I was interviewed for seventeen minutes on live, Irish national television by Gay Byrne, who’s sort of the Johnny Carson of Ireland. Then I sang a song called Kilkelly,about the Irish American diaspora, in front of an audience of something like three million people. My mom showed the very embarrassing video of said performance to anyone who came within 200 yards of my house for many years. I think even our postman has seen it.

3. Although my legal name is Jeanine, my real name has always been Tink. When I went to my first day of kindergarten, and the teacher called role, afterwards, she asked if anyone hadn’t heard her name on the list, so I put my hand up. She asked my name, and I told her “Tink Cummins.” She said, “Well, I have a Jeanine Cummins here. “ And I replied, “Never heard of her.” To this day, all of my family and friends still call me Tink – I only use Jeanine in my professional life.

Bonus true, offbeat fact: I can make my tongue into the shape of a shamrock. This might actually be the most interesting thing about me.

If you couldn’t be an author, what profession would you choose and why (and no cheating and falling back on your previous life in publishing)?
I would like to do something involving hardhats and heavy machinery.

What’s the hardest thing about writing, besides having to answer goofy interview questions like these?
No question, for me it’s the solitude. I’m an extremely sociable person, and my former position as a sales manager at Penguin took full advantage of my outgoing nature. I feel so lucky to be able to write full-time now, but in the beginning, I found the isolation of that position to be a little daunting. Social networking has been a God-send for me, because I can spend the whole day alone, writing, and still feel like I’m interacting with friends and colleagues on Facebook or Twitter.

Are you working on something new now (besides the baby)? If so, give us a teaser for it.
I just started work on a novel half-set in Irish famine times, and half-set in modern day New York, with a young mother who’s researching her Irish roots. Summing up a book concept in just a sentence is hard! But I hope it will turn into a story about all kinds of physical and spiritual hunger.

Thanks to Angela at NAL/Penguin, I have 2 books to give away. To enter, leave a comment with a valid e-mail address. I will randomly choose winners from all eligible e-mails. The comments will be open for entry until August 19th.

For more about the author, be sure to visit
her author website. You call also follow Jeanine Cummins on Twitter.


  1. Great interview. I would love to read your book. Please enter me in contest.

  2. This sounds like an intriguing book. Thanks for the giveaway.
    mtakala1 AT yahoo DOT com

  3. Sounds like an interesting book.
    Tks for the post.

  4. thanks for the opportunity to read this fabulous novel :)

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  5. Would love to read this.

  6. Thanks for the giveaway.

    glenn_pessano AT yahoo DOT com

  7. Great interview!

    Please enter me!

    bethsbookreviewblog2 AT gmail DOT com


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