Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Meet Carmela Martino!

Today's guest is Carmela Martino, author of the middle-grade novel Rosa Sola (Candlewick Press, 2005), which is set in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune described Rosa Sola as "a lucid and quiet telling that respects its characters’ historical perspectives."

Carmela is one of six children's authors who offer great ideas and insights in the blog Teaching Authors. To learn more about Carmela and to read an excerpt from Rosa Sola, visit Carmela's web site.

Q: How old were you when you first realized that you wanted to be a writer?

Carmela: As best I can recall, I was in sixth or seventh grade. That’s when I started keeping a journal and writing poetry. I still have a few journal pages and poems from back then. I wish I’d saved them all, though.

Q: Describe one of your earliest works. Who or what inspired you to write it?

Carmela: My first poems were pretty angst-filled, struggling with deep issues ranging from “What is the meaning of life?” to “Will I get asked to prom?” Several were published in my high school yearbook, and one called “My Sanctuary” was published in an anthology of writings by Chicago public school students.

Q: Can you name someone whose encouragement made a significant difference as you developed into a writer?

Carmela: Interestingly, the person who gave me the most encouragement was a history teacher. While I always did well in English, I don’t recall my English teachers as being particularly encouraging. On the other hand, my Advanced Placement U.S. history teacher gave me wonderful feedback about how clear and insightful my essays were. His positive comments meant so much to me that I saved those papers and still have them.

Q: The setting always plays an important role in a book. Can you tell us one thing about Rosa Sola that really says "Chicago"?

Carmela: The most obvious Chicago feature is Wrigley Field. Rosa and her family are all Cubs fans—the story mentions that Rosa’s godfather takes her to a game at Wrigley Field every June to celebrate the end of the school year. There’s also a scene early in the novel set at Fullerton Avenue Beach.

Q: Your book is set in Chicago. What other ties do you have to the city?

Carmela: Like my main character, I was born and raised in Chicago. The first home I remember was in the Austin area. I attended Our Lady Help of Christians elementary school, which used to be on Leamington Ave. Later, we moved farther north and west, near the intersection of Grand and Austin, and I attended Steinmetz High School. I also graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Although I live in the suburbs now, I still enjoy coming into the city periodically (as long as I don’t have to drive in the terrible traffic!).

Q: What was easy about writing Rosa Sola? What was difficult?

Carmela: I don’t recall any of it as being particularly “easy.” The novel began as a short story called “Rosa’s Prayer,” which I wrote while working on my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. The story was in response to an assignment to write about an event from my childhood that still aroused emotion in me. I chose to write about the fear I’d felt at age ten, after my mother nearly died in childbirth. Basing the story on real events helped make it more authentic, but it forced me to relive a painful time in life. In the end, though, the process was very cathartic, and the book turned out to be about finding hope and healing after living through a tragedy.

Q: Of the characters mentioned in Rosa Sola, choose one you would like to meet and tell us why.

Carmela: I think I’d most like to meet Uncle Sal. Both my grandfathers died long before I was born. When I wrote Rosa, Sola, Uncle Sal became the epitome of the grandfather I never had.

Q: Of the real-life places mentioned in Rosa Sola, what is one of your favorites?

Carmela: I’d have to say, Wrigley Field. It has so much history and exudes a special atmosphere. While there’s no actual scene in the novel set there, Rosa loves the tradition of going there every summer. I certainly enjoyed all the times I’ve attended games there.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

Carmela: I have a short story about another Cubs fan (this time a boy) that will be published next spring in an anthology called I Fooled You: Ten Stories of Tricks, Jokes and Switcheroos, edited by Johanna Hurwitz. The story is called “Big Z, Cammi, and Me.”

Also, I’d like to say that my other passion, besides writing, is teaching writing. I teach workshops for children and adults at several locations in the Chicago area. For details, see the “Programs and Classes” page of my website,

And thank you, Scotti, for spotlighting books about (or set in) Chicago.


  1. Great interview. Carmela is so interesting. She has spark and a love of people and family. It is evident in this interview.
    Thanks Carmela. Thanks Scotti.

    Nina Johnson

  2. I learned so much about Carmela and her book--your questions really pulled information out of her. Thanks!