Where do you come from?
I was born and raised in snowy Syracuse, New York — or, as visitors like to call it, Canada. I grew up with my two fabulous parents and an equally fabulous younger sister, plus two disastrous attempts at hamster ownership. (One died. The other lost all its fur, then got all crusty and gross, and then died.)
What was little Gina like?
She did a lot of musical theater. I even played Annie in high school. It was a dream come true, and I'm not even kidding. I really loved Annie. What I didn't love was putting all this goopy makeup on my eyebrows to fool people into thinking I wasn't an uber-Italian girl shoved into a red-haired wig. It didn't work.
How did you get into writing?
Back in the day, I was not much a fan of writing. Reading, yes. I've been reading since I was a fetus. But writing - not so much. I did a bit of creative writing when I was younger (see my debut masterpiece at five years old, published by the Onondaga County Public Library, about rabbits who get shot by hunters), but not much in high school, except for craptastic history papers and whatnot. Fast forward to college, where I joined the Committee for Creative Enactments, the awesomest student-run murder mystery troupe ever. For my first couple of years, I once again wanted nothing to do with the writing. The script magically appeared in my hand, and I proceeded to act like a monkey or pirate or Uzbeckistani pop singer or whatever my part called for (all of those happened). But as time went on, the creative bug began to itch. So I pitched my idea for a show, it got selected, and I headed up the team that wrote it. It was fun. Too fun.
So you immediately began to pursue a career in writing?
Oh heavens no. I wrote some more during college but then graduated, which turned out to be a pretty terrible move. I stopped writing, because who in their right mind would think that would ever develop into something resembling a profession? And so, with my useless degrees in theater and sociology in hand, I decided to pursue neither of those disciplines and instead sample the exciting world of part-time work in Boston.
What kind of jobs did you have?
I'm SO glad you asked. It's not like they're embarrassing to talk about or anything.
Let's see: telemarketer for an uppity old-person travel company, employee at a museum gift shop, tour guide (a very bad tour guide), bread seller, house manager at Blue Man Group, transcriptionist, movie extra (look for a blurry, big-haired me in the background of the subway scene in The Departed), and, in the impossible-to-describe category, a guide at an interactive Egyptian tomb attraction/game. It involved fog and lasers. You had to be there.
Was it at a temp job in the HR department of a large hotel where you got your big break?
It was at a temp job in the HR department of a large hotel where I got my big break. And by big break, I mean that I was asked to file a gigantic stack of papers. It took me a couple days. When I finished, the manager looked at me as if I was a miracle, as if it were impossible for her to believe that a college graduate with a working knowledge of the alphabet could put things in order that quickly. So I was promoted to the front desk.
Weeks at that job turned into months. The managers were impressed by my filing and decided to keep me around. But Solitaire and web surfing began to get boring, so I started writing again. The writings turned into a whole bunch of failed blogs, but eventually a novel began to emerge.
So you got that novel published?
No. In fact, that novel should never see the light of day, ever. It turned into a rambling behemoth in need of a monster edit. And while I did end up querying it to agents, I look back now and am mortified to think I ever had the balls to waste anyone's time with it.
So where did Croak come from?
I had just gotten a bunch of rejection letters from the aforementioned novel (and rightly so), and was gearing up to send out another batch. I was working one very slow Sunday afternoon at the bread store and working on a crossword puzzle, when it hit me - the random idea of a Grim Reaper teaching his niece how to Kill people. I wrote down a few notes and thought about it for the rest of the day. When I got home, I started writing the first chapter. And Lex and Uncle Mort and everyone else was born, springing forth from my loins as if they'd been aching to pop into existence.
How did you get an agent?
I moved to New York City in September of 2008, which, as you may recall, was the worst time in recent history to be throwing your money at anything. And yet I scraped together my last few dollars to attend a truly bitchin' conference, the New York Pitch Conference. It's run by Michael Neff, and gives aspiring writers the opportunity to pitch their novels to real, breathing editors from major publishing houses.
The editors liked my pitch, but none of them handled young adult fiction, unfortunately. Fortunately, Tina Wexler of ICM Partners, who is all about the YA, had stopped by to hear the pitches and was apparently intrigued by mine (must have been my gasping, terrified delivery). Business cards were exchanged - mine being an embarrassing mess that I'd assembled on my crappy printer the night before - and somehow she managed to stop laughing long enough to shoot me an email requesting the manuscript. I sent it, she wrote back with rewrite suggestions, I did said rewrites, she took me on as a client, and then we got married and hightailed it to Mexico or something. It was a dizzying time.
Then what happened?
Rockstar Tina sold Croak to the equally rockstar Julie Tibbott at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in a two-book deal, and I called my parents to inform them that their daughter wasn't completely useless after all! Fun fact: I got this news while standing in line at the TKTS Broadway ticket booth in Times Square with a friend visiting from out of town. The booth was minutes away from opening, and if you've ever gotten tickets there, you know that the ordering process is akin to that of the Soup Nazi's. Tina called and told me what was going down, and I was SO PSYCHED but also really had to get off the phone so that I could assemble the wherewithal required to purchase tickets in a way that wouldn't get me hurled out of the line. So that was awkward.
What do you do when you're not writing?
I read, I watch TV, I torture my cats. I'm also a hardcore crocheter and knitter - badASS, right? In the summer, I go outside, I go camping, I go beaching. Sometimes I seize the Iron Throne.
How do you feel about Utz Cheeseballs?
Utz Cheeseballs are delicious.
How tall are you?
Five feet flat. I'll thank you not to stare.
Where did you get the idea for Croak?
See the above story about the bread store and crossword puzzle. In all honesty, it popped into my head out of nowhere. I hadn't been fixated on death; I wasn't (and still am not) a particularly morbid person. (My mother is fond of asking me: "Did something awful happen to you as a child that you never told me about?") I like dark humor, and I think that once I had the initial kernel of the concept, I realized that the world of grim reapers would be a particularly fun place to juxtapose that morbidity with hilarity.
Is the town of Croak based on a real place?
Sort of. While I grew up a couple of hours away from the Adirondacks (or several hours away--the Adirondacks are HUGE, the largest park in the contiguous US), we often visited there on family vacations in search of new and elusive amusement parks. The mountains are stunning, the landscape is gorgeous, and the little villages scattered around are pleasant and adorable. It seemed like the least-expected place for a town of death to be--and, due to the vastness of the park, the most isolated--and so it became the perfect setting for the town of Croak.
Is Lex you? Is Uncle Mort your uncle? Is Corpp Morgan Freeman?
I often get asked if my characters are based on people in real life. The best way I can think of to answer this is for you to think of all of my characters as miniature versions of Frankenstein's monster. I pick and choose characteristics from friends, family, acquaintances, people I see on the subway, celebrities, fictional characters, plus my own secret blend of eleven herbs and spices, then mash them all up into brand new peoples. Lex is somewhat similar to me--we are both too sarcastic for our own good--but I don't go around punching people. Anymore.
What do Yoricks taste like?
The best chocolate milkshake you've ever had.
What's with the jellyfish?
I think jellyfish are cool.
Do you like Titanic?
I'm with Driggs on this one. I love Titanic. Why did I rag on it so much in the book? BECAUSE SOMETIMES WE MOCK THE THINGS WE LOVE.
So you must love Greyhound buses, then?
Oh, absolutely not. Greyhound can go straight to hell.
Did you have the plot of the entire trilogy planned out from the start?
Yes and no. The twists and turns along the way have changed--some in minor ways, some in major ways--but the overall story and ending has been renting out a room in the ole noggin all along.
When did the books come out?
Croak was released on March 20, 2012. Scorch was released on September 25, 2012. Rogue was released on September 10, 2013.
Any other editions of the books?
Will you be writing any more books set in the Croak universe after the trilogy?
I don't plan to. I dearly, dearly love these characters, but their story is over.
Is there going to be a movie / have you ever thought about making it into a movie / can I make your movie / what is a movie?
Authors rarely have anything to do with whether their books get made into movies, and I am no exception. I wouldn't be opposed to it, but the film rights have not yet been purchased, and my agency handles all of that on my behalf anyway (as in, please don't email me asking if you can write the screenplay--email my agent at TWexler@icmpartners.com). Rest assured, if anything develops further in this area, I will announce it. Until then, you'll just have to picture the warts on Pandora's face via the magic of your own imagination.
Why are the chapter numbers in HELLHOLE all wonky?
Because they are based on the numerical order of clues in a crossword puzzle. You can find all of the clues and their corresponding chapter numbers at the beginning of the book.
Is Burg based on a real person? Like, someone in your own life who you really hate and wanted to exact revenge upon?
What are you working on right now?
A new book called WASTE OF SPACE, coming in 2017. It's about a reality show wherein ten teenagers are stuffed into a rocket space and shot into space.
Where do you get your inspiration?
A lot of times, it comes from nowhere. Much like the first inkling of Croak, ideas like to pop into my head when I least expect them. I'm also influenced by other books I'm reading, movies I see, TV shows I watch, video games I (rarely) play, and people that I watch on the subway.
Do you get writer's block?
Ehhh--I wouldn't call it that exactly. It's more like writer's traffic cone. That's something that gets in the way of your writing--a plot hole, a concept that's not working, a character that's not ringing true--but there is always, always a way around it, whether it involves rewriting, deleting, or starting over. It's not a giant concrete wall. It's a traffic cone, for chrissake. Go around it. Get out of the car and toss it aside. Heck, just drive right over the damn thing. Stupid cone.
If, however, you ever find that you're trying too hard to solve a problem, or trying to force a square concept into a round hole, drop everything and do something else. Go for a walk. Take a shower. Play with the dog. Listen to some music. Throw cheeseballs at an anthill. I promise, the answer will come.
What's your process like?
It's all over the place. I outline a little, but rarely stick to it. Or rather, I stick to it, but add all sorts of extraneous nonsense and unforeseen side trips along the way. Pen-to-paper brainstorms are great too. And that old chestnut about how 99% of writing is rewriting? TRUTH. First drafts are like lumpy, ugly, unidentifiable lumps of clay from Ceramics 101. Revising is the fun part where you get to squish it all up with your fingers until it resembles something cool.
I wrote something. What should I do with it?
Let other people read it. I know, this is really hard - writing is insanely personal, and it can be gut-wrenching to watch your baby fly out of the nest and plummet to the ground in a screeching, flailing display of uncertainty. I myself had written all of Croak - all of it - without even telling another soul its title, let alone its plot. I remember the first time I delivered the synopsis to my husband; I started over about eight times, and peppered it with a lot of "THIS IS REALLY WEIRD, I KNOW"s, and "STOP STARING AT ME WITH YOUR EYES!"
But getting other people's opinions and perspectives is a good thing, as unsettling as it can be. They can often catch things that never would have occurred to you while you were sealed off in your Happy Fun Time Writing Bubble, and they might have ideas that, if properly applied to your vision, can vastly improve your story. This has happened to me MANY a time. You don't have to take every single bit of advice - there is a certain story you want to tell, after all, and you should remain true to it up to a certain point - but you never know where a little bit of futzing and finagling will get you. Try something new. If it doesn't work, chuck it. If it does, congratulations: you've just improved your story.
The point is: it's not all gold, folks. Like raising a child or storming the castle with Gaston to Kill The Beast, it takes a village. Sometimes you need a little help, and you should never be afraid to get it. In fact, you should count yourself infinitely lucky to have people who are willing to read through your crummy first drafts. Saints, they are.
Will you read my crummy first drafts/ self-published work/ unpublished work/ impassioned arguments as to why Raphael is the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle?
Sadly, I cannot. I've got my plate pretty full over here with my own books and small furry animals that require my attention. But I encourage you to find a writing group or a critique partner - someone you trust and know (you don't know me) and can have an honest discussion with (I'm full of lies). And besides, I already know that Raphael is the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. He's COOL, but RUDE.
Any other tips?
I cannot overstate the importance of office supplies. Notebooks, dry erase boards, index cards, post-its, multicolored pens, highlighters - I use them all. My trips to Staples are accompanied by a soundtrack of me cackling with glee.
Can I really email you?
Yes. I like email. And I try my hardest to answer every piece of fan mail I get. Every once in a while my spam filter eats them up, so if you don't hear back from me, I give you permission to try again. BUT NOT A THIRD TIME.
Can I interview you, feature you, or draw a mustache on your picture for my blog?
You're so sweet for asking! And it's entirely possible that the answer is yes. Shoot me an email and we'll chat.
Can I send you fan art?
I LOVE FAN ART. See, I even made a gallery to display it! Yes, send it via mail or email - and I'll send you a free signed bookplate in return, as a thank you.
Can I send you some of my own writing?
No. See five questions above.
I want a signed bookplate too! And some swag! Can you send me some?
Sure! Please send a SASE - that's a self-addressed stamped envelope - to Gina Damico, c/o ICM, 65 East 55th St., New York, NY 10022. If you want the bookplate personalized, please include a note indicating the name that you'd like written. I will send it off to you as soon as I can. OR you can keep an eye on my blog, where I sometimes hold contests and give away swag for free.
How do you feel about fan fiction?
I feel just fine about it, as long as you acknowledge that I am the original creator of the characters and you don't try to make any money off of it. And, you know, plagiarizing ain't cool, either. And I can't read any of it, so don't ask. Otherwise, knock yourself out.
Where else can you be found on the internet?
Oh, all sorts of places - check out my Contact page and behold my nifty collection of social media icons.
I'm a book reviewer--can I have an ARC of your next book?
ARCs - advanced reader copies - are in very limited supply, and my publisher is the one who decides who gets them, not me. I will occasionally hold contests or giveaways on my blog, but your best bet is to submit a request to Childrens_Publicity@hmhco.com.
Will you come visit my school / library / bookstore / conference / book festival?
In a perfect world: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! In the real world: Maybe. There are a lot of factors involved in things like these - scheduling, travel, costs, etc. - so please email me to request more information. Hopefully we can work something out!
Do you do Skype visits?
Yes! Email me to request more information. Please note, however, that I will not do personal, one-on-one Skype visits - only visits for a school, class, book club, library event, etc.
Are you coming to my town / city / planet anytime soon?
You can find my current planned appearances over on the Events page. If your burg isn't there, it doesn't mean I won't ever visit, but unless you have a time machine I can borrow, I won't know when I will. Though I am known to go on random cross country road trips, so it might be sooner than you think.
I have a burning, itching question that is starting to ooze, but you have not answered it on this page. Should I call a doctor?
Try emailing me first. If that doesn't help, then yes, seek medical attention.
Your books are dumb and I hate you.
I'm sorry, all questions must be asked in the form of a question.