Welcome to my blog about books and the classroom.
A teacher's opinions on YA literature and the state of public education in America.

Interview with David Macinnis Gill

First of all, I want you thank you, David, for being one of the first to come to my aid during the censorship battle that raged from 2008-2010 in my former school. Your intense understanding of the infrastructure of public schools, as well as your prowess in the field of YA literature, was such a help and inspiration to me.

And congratulations to you for the success of your first published YA novel: an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, Kirkus Best Book 2009, Bank Street Best Books of the Year 2010, and NYPL Stuff for the Teen Age 2010. That’s quite impressive for a first publication!

My book club ordered Soul Enchilada in October 2009, right after its release, and just in time for Halloween. The ambiance of the season made it a great literary experience for the students!

I hope some of those students find their way to this blog, as I know they’d love to read the answers to some of the very questions they asked me about you (many of my questions are actually theirs;).

1.) Where the devil did you get the idea to write Bug’s story of fighting demons?

The seed of the story that became Soul Enchilada came from a friendly writing contest that some writer friends hold each Halloween. The goal is to tell the most Halloweeny story. To keep one another honest, we swap story seeds meant to inspire new ideas. My seeds included a chocolate crucifix (which became a crossed Twix bar) and bleeding roses. I added the phrase “Repossession is 9/10ths of the law,” which had been kicking around in my head. These seeds coalesced into the story, and when I started writing the first scene, it came out in Bug’s voice.

2.) Call me a lightweight, but the scene with Bug and Beals in the gas station made me sleep with the lamp on. Have any of your readers shared similar stories with you?

Lots of readers! That scene has been a lightning rod for almost everyone. One reader told me about reading the book in the tub and having to get out so that she could check her doors. Interestingly enough, that scene started out as a throw-away paragraph. My editor pushed, pulled, cajoled and coddled me into to expanding it and cranking up the scary.

3.) The inclusion of Hispanic culture in this book is part of what made it so good and different: the language was fun, the food smelled great, and the cultural experiences were so interesting to read. What experiences influenced your decision to write about this scene?

When I decided to set the novel in El Paso, I wanted to take advantage of the fusion of several cultures that exist in the city. While doing research, I learned of a group of Hispanics working to preserve their neighborhoods and their culture. I decided to set most of the action in those neighborhoods, while letting Bug learn about the other half of herself—the part that had been denied her—at the same time the reader was learning about El Paso.

4.) Soul Enchilada was your first published work, but how important has writing been to you over the years?

Soul was my first published novel, but it wasn’t my first novel (it was the 7th I’d written), and I’ve published short stories since the early 1990’s. Writing has been important to me since elementary school, when I told people I wanted to be a writer and not a fireman or football player.

5.) Has your involvement with ALAN (as former president and constant supporter) influenced your career as a writer?

The short stories I’ve published have been for a literary, adult audience, but when I decided to try writing novels, I decided that my audience would be young adult. My dissertation director and mentor was Ted Hipple, one of the founding members of ALAN and its first executive secretary. Ted helped convince me that my teaching background and work with teens made me an natural fit for writing for young adults.

6.) Because of the heavy-yet-humorous spiritual material–Bug’s annoyance with the minions of Hell, Pesto’s witchy Mama conducting a seance, and of course Bug’s grandfather having sold his soul to El Diablo–I’m wondering if you anticipate, or have experienced, any censorship yet? If so, how have you dealt with that?

Soul Enchilada faced censorship before it was published. When ARCs went out, I started getting emails from librarians who enjoyed it but knew they couldn’t order for their conservation communities (the book is far more popular in the West, while southern libraries seem not to stock it). I also received some testy emails from older readers who complained that my bored, corporate devil wasn’t evil enough. Also, there were many letters criticizing me for writing in the voice of a minority teen, since I;m a middle-aged white guy. That disappoints me because one of the themes of Soul was to judge people for who they are, not for what they look like. Honestly, I’ve been through so many censorship cases as an advocate for teens and teachers that I’m looking forward to a true book banning, rather than the self-censorship we’ve seen so far.

7.) One thing I found so interesting–and applaudable–was the lack of stereotypes in Soul Enchilada. One would imagine that a book about Hell would yield a cheesy amount of good versus evil, of traditionally-garbed priests exorcising Bug’s vehicle, of Christian folklore/superstition being predominant; instead, you steered us into the unknown with the tactics of the International Supernatural Immigration Service. How difficult was it to shake your preconceived notions of fighting evil to create a unique plot?

That’s just the way my warped mind works! Thanks for the compliment, but I think the plot turns were more function of wanting to create hairpin turns in the plot, to draw the reader away from expectations, both in characters and in setting. I really wanted to stretch the reader’s imagination, and to push the definition envelope on what a YA novel could be.

8.) What was the most difficult aspect of writing the content of Soul Enchilada?

Making sure that the structure of the novel—it’s a broad farce that intentionally distracts the reader from the serious issues of poverty, race, and loss—didn’t become so outrageous that it lost the reader along the way.

9.) How many revisions did it take to get your first work ready for publishing?

Dozens. Literally, dozens. I did several revisions before submitting to an agent, then more revisions for interested editors, then more revisions for my editors. Then copyedits and proofs. The final version looks almost nothing like the first draft. Except Bug’s voice. That never changed.

10.) What are you currently writing and when can we expect to find it on the shelves?

I just finished final proofs on Black Hole Sun, a future dystopian science fiction story set on Mars due out on August 24th. It’s the same day as Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, who graciously blurbed Black Hole Sun by saying it “Rockets readers to new frontiers .”

Ready for some quick-recall?

Favorite movie? Alien
Favorite food? Pizza
First book that made a difference in your life? A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Colleges and Universities you went to? University of Tennessee
What music is in your vehicle player right now? Dixie Chicks and Foo Fighters
Where do you write best? On my laptop in the middle of a bustling room full of noise that I can ignore while writing. It’s the act of purposely blocking out the sound that helps me concentrate best.

Thank you, David, for a great interview! I can’t wait to read Black Hole Sun!


  1. With the questions you post I personally know authors personal life. Your one great author.

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