YA Author Interview - Writer Spotlight - Carla Luna Cullen

Carla Luna Cullen
It's been too long since I've had a Writer Spotlight post so I am beyond thrilled today to have aspiring writer, Carla Luna Cullen (no, she's not related to THOSE Cullens) here to tell us about her YA fantasy, PIPER GIRL. 

And for anyone who wonders if agents ever read any of these blogs - the answer is, YES. Two other Writer Spotlight interviewees (that I know of) as well as myself were contacted by an agent who requested partials of our completed manuscripts. So if you're interested in stepping into the spotlight read the guidelines on the Writer Spotlight page and contact me.

Now, back to Carla. WELCOME CARLA!!! 
Carla is a former archaeologist, turned stay-at-home Mom. She's originally from Los Angeles, but grew up in Canada, on Vancouver Island. She now lives in a small town in Wisconsin, along with her husband, two kids, and a feisty cat named Allegro.

What manuscript would you like to tell us about today? (genre, title, word count)

Piper Girl is a 68,000 word YA fantasy, set in the near future, in a walled slum outside downtown Los Angeles. I like to think of it as an ‘urban twist’ on The Pied Piper fairy tale.

Sounds great!!

Can you give us a three to four sentence pitch?

Still reeling from the tragic circus accident that tore her family apart, seventeen-year old Marisa has survived by flying under the radar. But when an explosion at Dyna Corp, a nearby research facility, releases infected lab rats into the slums, Marisa can’t hide her unique talents any longer. While playing her silver flute, she has the ability to charm animals, especially rats. If she agrees to help Dyna Corp, she could earn enough to escape the ghetto forever. But when she learns the truth about the rats—and the deadly disease they carry—she must decide if she should risk helping her community, even if it means taking on Dyna Corp.

How original. Lots of great twists going on – I’m definitely curious to know more.

Would you care to share the opening line or paragraph (up to 250 words)?

The sirens sound like they’re right outside my door.

No chance of going back to sleep. I reach over to turn on the lamp, but nothing happens. The electricity’s out again. Fumbling in the darkness, I grab my flashlight and twist it on. A few roaches skitter away into the shadows.

I slip on flip-flops, but hesitate before unbolting my door. Do I really want to leave the safety of my room? Cops in Brea Village are a rare occurrence. If they’ve ventured into the Dumps, then the situation must be serious. But I haven’t heard any gunfire. Yet.

Maybe just a quick peek.

Before I go, I shine my flashlight around the room. There’s nothing visible worth stealing. The most valuable item I own—my precious silver flute—is tucked behind a loose cinder block in the wall, covered by an old calendar.

I lock the door, pocket the key, and navigate the narrow stairwell to the ground floor. Out on the street, a blast of hot, dry air hits me in the face. The Santa Ana winds have been relentless all week.

Luis, one of the neighborhood sentries, sits on a rusted lawn chair near the end of the block. Across his lap is an automatic rifle. He looks up when I approach. “Evening Marisa. Everything okay?”

“Yeah. What’s up with those sirens?” I glance around. No cop cars. Not even an ambulance.

What!!? You’re leavin’ me hanging here, Carla. Great opening, sets up the tone nicely.

How would your main character describe you? If you entered into a scene in your manuscript, how would you be introduced, how would the MC perceive you? (Give us a scene of 250 words or less : )

When the show ends, Dad and I go out into the audience, for our customary meet and greet. After I pose for a photo with an elderly couple from Texas, a mom approaches me. Next to her are two kids—a teenage girl and a younger boy.

“I was impressed with your Pied Piper act,” the mom says. I like her outfit—a cool embroidered top and silver hoop earrings. Otherwise, she looks like a typical tourist—middle aged, pale, probably from the Midwest.

“Your act was just like the fairy tale,” she says. Then she grins. “Although I’m glad you didn’t lure the children out of the audience and whisk them away.”

I return her smile. Not everyone knows about that part of the fairy tale. Then I wait for her to ask how I did it. Everyone wants to know what my secret is.

The boy speaks up first. “You used magic to attract those rats, didn’t you? Was it a spell or are your flutes magic?”

The girl rolls her eyes. “Duh, James, there’s no such thing as magic.”

“Of course there is,” the mom says. “Magic is everywhere. You never know where you’ll find it.”

Oddly enough, I get the feeling she isn’t saying this to make her son feel better. “So you believe it’s magic?” I ask her.

She shrugs. “Sure. Stranger things have happened. But I’m pretty open. I believe in ghosts, too.”

Ghosts, not so much. But definitely magic. Because there’s no other way to explain my gift.

Haha, that’s great, Carla. I believe in magic, too : )

What is your least and most favorite word? Use each in a sentence, writing in the voice of one of your characters from any of your manuscripts.

My favorite word is archipelago. I love the way it rolls off my tongue. But, sadly, there are no archipelagos in Piper Girl.  So, this quote is from my medieval-set YA, The Fallen Princess (which is mentioned below):

At every turn, I saw musicians, jugglers, and masked performers. Nimble acrobats leapt across the lawns, dazzling the guests with their flips and aerials. In another area of the gardens, veiled dancers from the Archipelago of the Winds held a large audience in their spell.

I don’t have a least favorite word, although my grammatical pet peeve is unnecessary apostrophes. For example, signs that read: “Video’s” or “Hot Dog’s.”

Haha, yes. My favorite (recent) man-made sign I spotted on the side of the road said, “Free firewood for sale.” Hmm.

What else are you working on while you wait?

I have another manuscript that I’ve been querying for about four months, entitled The Fallen Princess. It’s a YA romance, set in a land resembling medieval Persia, about a headstrong young princess who runs from an arranged marriage, only to fall in love with her intended groom when he captures her.

LOL, love it! Good luck!!

What book have you read in the past six mo that’s inspired you and why?

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I’m a total 80s geek, so I loved the pop culture references. What impressed me the most about the book was the great storytelling. Our whole family listened to the audiobook on a road trip and we drove seven hours without a break, just to get to the end of the story!

I drive a lot for work, I’ll have to pick it up (though by the sounds of it, I may drive right past my destination). Thanks for the recommendation.

Do you have (if you were a teen, or had when you were a teen) a literary-character crush?

Hmm . . . definitely not anyone who’s secretly a vampire or a werewolf. Maybe Valek from Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (not a YA book, but a great fantasy). And I really liked Day, from Legend by Marie Lu.

Any random fun-facts you’d like to share about yourself?

As an archaeologist, I’ve had the chance to travel a lot, especially in the Middle East. I’ve worked on projects in Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Cyprus, and Spain. My family also lived in India for five months, in 2009, when my husband was a Fulbright exchange teacher in Chennai.

I love acting, and did children’s theatre when my kids were younger. Most of the plays were fairy tales, so I’ve been a fairy godmother, a shoemaker, a frog prince, and an emperor (mainly guy roles, for some reason!). But I never got a chance to play the Pied Piper.

My maiden name is Carla Luna, and I always thought I’d use that as my pen name, until I found out there’s a famous Flamenco dancer by that name.

Speaking of names, when our family went to visit Forks, WA, three years ago, we got special treatment whenever we mentioned that we were the “Wisconsin” Cullens.

THAT is too funny. And yes, everyone, I did ask Carla if she was related to those Cullens when she first contacted me. You must get that a lot, sorry : /. And wow, you’ve had an interesting life so far. Thanks so much for stepping into the spotlight today and good luck with both manuscripts!!! 

Keep us posted. 

Visit Carla's blog here for contests and great posts. Follow her on Twitter by clicking @casacullen     
or on Facebook by following this link: Carla Luna Cullen


  1. I love the playful darkness of the Pied Piper story, and your twist is really interesting, Carla!
    Nice to meet you!

  2. Such a unique story! I can't wait to pick it up off my bookstore shelf! :) Also, when I saw your full name, I was thinking, "Oh, Carla Luna would be such a pretty pen name!" But you've already been down that route. :/ Great minds think alike! :)

  3. Your book sounds intriguing Carla! Loved the opening!! It sounds like you have lots of real world experience to draw from in your writing! I'll look forward to reading your books one day!

    Best of luck!

  4. What a great opportunity for aspiring writers to get their name out there! Sounds like an awesome book!


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