Writing came easily for Thalia Chaltas as a child, but it wasn’t until she was in her 30s that she seriously considered being an author. “Reading was my escape as a kid, but I never thought of it as a career path,” says Chaltas, whose novel-in-verse, Because I Am Furniture (Viking) is narrated by teenager Anke, whose father is abusing her siblings.
Despite her affinity for writing, Chaltas focused on science in college. That, however, didn’t come as easily. “To keep my grade point average up, I would take any class that required writing,” she recalls. “I would take something like art history or architectural history so I could write a paper, because I was really a C and B student in the sciences. Somehow I chose a path that wasn’t natural for me.”
Chaltas, a New Hampshire native, received a degree in physical education and went on to try a number of career possibilities (and time zones, having spent time in New York, Missouri and Arizona) before settling in Santa Barbara, Calif., where she lives with her five-year-old daughter, Kaeva, and runs a medical transcription business.
But “writing kept creeping back in,” Chaltas says. “I had always written poetry, but had done that on the side.” A fan of science fiction and murder mysteries, she initially considered writing an adult novel. She then realized that many of the novels she had loved and collected over the years--Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy--were children’s novels.
Chaltas joined a writing group and began trying to write picture books as a starting point. “I found it unbearably hard,” she says with a laugh. Then one day, she sat down to write some poetry. “Two hours later I had the first 10 poems of what is now Because I Am Furniture.” When she read the poems at a critique, a member suggested that the poems could become a novel, something she hadn’t considered.
In fact, she hadn’t even thought of them as fiction--the poems about abuse were drawn from her own past. “Having an abusive father is so far in the past at this point,” she says. “I’ve had enough therapy to kill a horse and I’m very solid in my self at this point.” Although she chose to fictionalize the poems, writing Because I Am Furniture still had difficult moments. “I was surprised by how much it affected me considering how far I’ve come.”
A friend, children's author Lee Wardlaw, passed a draft of the book to her agent, Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown, who began representing Chaltas a few months later. Knowlton found a home for it with Viking’s Catherine Frank, who bought it in 2007.
Now that the book is out (and into its second printing), Chaltas, who is working on a second novel with Frank, is surprised and humbled by the reality of being published. “It opened a whole different set of experiences I was not anticipating,” she says. “I’m getting e-mails daily from teen readers and adult readers. The outpouring of people I knew from my past was magnificent. It shows me how far-reaching a book can be.” --J.A.S.
From the editor: Catherine Frank: "My interest in Because I Am Furniture started with the writing. While the subject matter is incredibly sensitive, Thalia's poetry was so immediate that it grabbed you from page one. You are inside the story and you have to keep reading, yet Thalia doesn't sensationalize the subject of abuse. A lot of our work together was making sure that the story developed fully, so that events built to a credible climax. We didn't want the ending to tie things up with a bow, but we also wanted to be sure readers felt the family would survive."