Author Interview: Cal Armistead

I'd like to welcome Cal Armistead, author of Being Henry David, to the blog today for an interview!

About Cal Armistead
Cal Armistead has written extensively for radio, newspapers and magazines, including The Chicago Tribune, Shape Magazine, Body & Soul Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Chicken Soup for Every Mom’s Soul, and others. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine, works at an independent book store, is a voice-over actress, sings semi-professionally, and lives in a Boston suburb with her amazing husband and a dog named Layla. Being Henry David is her first novel.

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List five funny or interesting facts about yourself.
  1. I was in a blues/rock band for 6 ½ years, as lead singer and percussionist (more cowbell!). We were finalists in the Boston Blues Challenge, 2011!
  2. My father is a minister (which makes me a PK—Preacher’s Kid), and he baptized me by immersion at the Shelton Baptist Church in Connecticut when I was 11 years old. One of the things I remember best is that he wore fisherman hip waders in the water under his black robe.
  3. When I was writing for my college newspaper, I met and interviewed Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, who had performed at our school. He was really nice! I have a picture of me interviewing him—it’s one of my prized possessions.
  4. I write and eat left-handed and play all sports right-handed except ping-pong, which I play ambidextrously.
  5. When I was nine, I wrote and illustrated a picture book called The Poor Macaroni Named Joany, which I sent off to a publisher at the urging of a teacher. Subsequently, I also received my first rejection letter at the age of nine. (Sigh…)

What is your favorite drink or snack while writing?

I have a Keurig one-cup coffee maker I recently bought for my office. I’m addicted to the chai lattes.

What scene in Being Henry David was your favorite to write?

I really enjoyed writing the scene where Hank picks up a guitar and discovers that although he has lost his memory, his fingers remember how to make music by heart. And what’s more, he plays really well. It reminds me of Alzheimer’s patients who can’t remember their own names, but can sit down and play entire piano sonatas, or can sing every lyric to songs they knew when they were young. Music is magic to me, so writing all of the music scenes in the book was fun.

I noticed several fun allusions to other writers and works in Being Henry David (the thought of drowning oneself by putting rocks in pockets like Virginia Woolf, wishing a little sister could be young and innocent forever like Holden Caulfield, and a few other things). I loved them! Were there any specific reasons for choosing to include these little things?

I am so thrilled that you picked up on those! The Virginia Woolf reference was half by accident, but I realized—and liked—the connection after I’d written it. The Holden Caulfield allusion was entirely on purpose. Good catch! I didn’t have any specific reasons for including these things, other than the fact that they have always resonated for me, and the emotions of Woolf and Caulfield/Salinger aligned perfectly to my character in those moments. Maybe I was also testing my readers to see if they would pick up on them. (You get an A+!)

What challenges are involved in giving a character depth when that character has amnesia and can't remember who he is?

It was an interesting process for sure. I felt like I was learning a little more about the character on every page, just as Hank and the reader gradually learn about him. I had a general idea of who he was—a good kid who has made some bad decisions and weathered some traumatic experiences—and then I put him into the circumstances of the story. Through the process, he and I discovered together what would happen and what kind of person he was, down deep. In truth, I found that to be more enjoyable than challenging.

If you were to wake up one day with amnesia, which book would you like to be there to accompany you on your journey of self-rediscovery and why?

I would choose the same book—Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. I can’t think of another book that does a better job of zeroing in on what’s truly important in life. I think it’s a book about feeling whole from the inside out, through loving nature and realizing this is the stuff you’re made of, and you belong in it.

Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog! :)
Many thanks to Cal for stopping by my blog today and answering my questions!

You can enter to win your very own signed hardcover copy of Being Henry David below, courtesy of Cal Armistead and Albert Whitman & Company!

Seventeen-year-old "Hank" has found himself at Penn Station in New York City with no memory of anything--who he is, where he came from, why he's running away. His only possession is a worn copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau. And so he becomes Henry David--or "Hank"--and takes first to the streets, and then to the only destination he can think of--Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.

Cal Armistead's remarkable debut novel is about a teen in search of himself. Hank begins to piece together recollections from his past. The only way Hank can discover his present is to face up to the realities of his grievous memories. He must come to terms with the tragedy of his past, to stop running, and to find his way home.

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  • Must be 13 years or older to enter. Under 18 must have permission of parent or guardian.
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  • Prize provided and shipped by Albert Whitman & Company.
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Thanks to Albert Whitman for including me on the tour for Being Henry David. Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour for more fun and more chances to win a copy of the book! Tomorrow's stop is at A Blog About Nothing, where you will find an interview and giveaway!

If you were to wake up one day with amnesia, what book would you want with you? Would you choose a book that might help you remember yourself? Or maybe a book that you would love to reread as though it were the first time?


  1. I think I would want Hunger Games. Just because I would like to reread it without knowing anything about it.

    1. I was thinking that there are a lot of books I wouldn't mind reading again for the first time. :)

  2. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon... my favorite book of all-time. What I wouldn't give to discover it again.

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  3. Harry Potter so I can experience it for the first time again.

  4. I would think if it is a fantasy book I might go around thinking that's real, and that could lead to trouble (or major disappointment once I realize life isn't that exciting). Is there a Chicken Soup for the Amnesia Soul?

    1. lol, I don't think you would forget everything - just details about yourself. That'd be funny, though!

  5. Oh gosh, there's so many I want. I would definitely want to read Pivot Point again!

    1. I haven't read that one yet! I guess that I should, huh? :)

  6. Harry Potter would be fun to read for the first time again. Loved Being Henry David and Cal is such a sweetheart. Great interview!


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