Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Meet YA Author/Screenwriter Joe Gazzam

Carpinello's Writing Pages welcomes Joe Gazzam and his debut YA novel Uncaged. I warn you now, Uncaged is not like any other YA novel you've read or heard about.

First, a bit about Joe:

Screenwriter/Novelist Joe Gazzam was born in Baltimore, MD, grew up in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and graduated from the University of Florida. Soon after college he moved to Los Angeles with one script under his arm, never having been to California in his life.

Since then, due to good luck and the support of friends and family, he’s been a working screenwriter for 8 years. Joe has worked on such films as 21 Jump Street,
Step Up: Revolution, 
Disney’s Hawaiian Adventure, 
It Takes a Thief,
 Anubis Tapestry
, and others.

He is represented by Harley Copen of ICM and managed by Ava Jamshidi of Industry Entertainment. His debut novel Uncaged was released on Oct. 22, 2013. He currently lives in Southern California with his wife and son.

Why did you pick to write books for YA?

Well, for one I just think YA fits me the best. I have a hard time reading books that take a long time to get going or that spend inordinate amounts of time describing non-essential stuff. If you take five pages to describe how the sunlight is hitting off a tin can, I’m probably not going to keep reading.

With screenwriting you ALWAYS have to be moving the plot. In fact, if you have a scene that doesn’t forward the plot in some way – you better delete it. YA, in a way, is somewhere between. It’s very much about character, mood, and such, but you better keep it moving.  I love that.

What types of books do you like to read?

I am all over the place. Pretty much every YA bestseller you can think off, but also Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, and a whole lot of biographies. I’m like a moth to light, once something interests me, I totally get sucked in.

But that also means I put down a lot of books. I need to get hooked and hooked quickly or I get impatient. Not my best quality, but what can you do? I just hate wasted movement.

When you are not writing, what do you like to do?

I like to draw and paint and obviously, I love to go to the movies. But probably my main focus right now is my baby boy. He just turned two, and I am utterly obsessed with this kid. I never really had a dad growing up, so I literally can’t stand to be away from him.

Tell us about Uncaged and how the story came to be.

The story came out of my own, unmitigated fear of prison. Prison and sharks pretty much scare the crap out of me. The prison part, stemmed from an old documentary I watched when I was probably way too young to watch it. My dad had it on an old videotape; it was called “Scared Straight.”  Named, obviously, after the program (the same program in my fictional book). It was this program for repeat juvy offenders—kids they couldn’t get to stop committing crimes. They’d put them in a real jail for a day, and these real convicts would explain (in the most terrifying manner ever) what life would be like in prison if they ended up there.

It honestly gave me some of my worst nightmares growing up. And that seed just stuck in my head.  So when I decided I wanted to do a YA thriller—it was already there.

In the documentary, as scary as it was, those convicts were all volunteers. Guys who had a new attitude and wanted to help reform these kids. So there was always an imaginary line you knew they couldn’t cross. No matter how much they threatened these kids, you knew they weren’t really going to hurt them.

But, in my head it was always—what if that imaginary line was gone? What would it be like to be one of those kids in the most terrifying place on the planet with some of the most dangerous people on the planet? And the writing pretty much flowed from that.

Here's a peek at Uncaged:

Jason Holden has been skating on thin ice since his mother died. If there’s a rule to break, he’s broken it. After capping off a burglary and a bar fight with a car wreck, he quickly finds himself on the wrong side of the law. And since his father's the governor, that means his punishment is about as public as it gets. Jason's thrown into the first Scared Straight program Florida has ever run in their updated, state-of-the-art Blackenbush Penitentiary. Along with a documentary crew led by Sasha, a young woman in way over her head, and five other boys a year and a strike away from jail, Jason comes face to face with his inevitable future on the other side of a heavily guarded prison wall.

But that's just the beginning. The tour has barely begun when one of the inmates makes a move. Before long the entire penitentiary is under siege, surrounded by the feds and overrun with prisoners let loose from their cells. Jason slips away with Sasha in the chaos, but they won't be able to escape without help. And the only thing worse than being stuck in prison, is being stuck in a prison run by the inmates.

Have you written other books? If so, tell us a bit about them.
Uncaged is actually my debut.  I’ve probably written thirty screenplays, but this is my first novel.

What’s next for your writing? Are you working on a new story?

I just finished a first draft of a new YA series. Uncaged is pretty much a one-off—a self-contained story. So, I’m really excited about getting a series going where I can take characters on a continually journey.

I don’t want to say too much about them yet, but it’s an attempt to take YA in a slightly different direction. I think there are plenty of vampire and dystopia books out there. Maybe too many. I think YA can do so much more. My idea is to write a YA that feels like a big, action blockbuster. My two protagonists are brother and sister, and let’s say they get into some pretty crazy stuff. The story is heightened somewhat, but still very grounded and real world. No unicorns, no fairies, no zombies.

Big, fun, action, some romance—my goal is to have the reader gripping the next page ready to turn because they are flying through it so fast.

What advice do you have for other authors?

Very simple:  write, write, and write. And don’t be too hard on yourself in the beginning. Writing is a craft that you get better at with practice!

Anything else you want readers to know?

Just how much I appreciate them. You work so hard and just hope people will enjoy what you do.  I’ve been stunned by the overwhelmingly and effusively positive reviews the book has received. Not to mention all the super nice people that have reached out and told me how much they enjoyed it.

That stuff just makes my day and is so appreciated.

Where can readers find you and your books?

My personal website.

As for where to buy Uncaged, I am trying to send most people to Amazon to try and rise up the charts. 


But I'm also on most book sites,including Barnes and Noble.


  1. Thank you Cheryl and Joe for a fascinating interview. Uncaged sounds so unique. Thank you for joining us on the kid lit blog hop.

    1. Jambo, thank so much for having me. Love this site! Hope you dig the book!!

    2. Thanks for stopping by Julie. For whatever reason, Blogger is not cooperating.

      Joe replied to you but Blogger will not show the comment. Here is it:

      Jambo, thank so much for stopping by. Love this site! Hope you dig the book!!

  2. A thriller seems super hard to do if you have standards as high as SKing :) I can see that Joe has put in a lot of his own personal experiences and fears in this book. I would definitely be reading this one... Good Luck to him
    Thanks for the excellent interview Cheryl. I am always looking forward to reading them in detail. Its always been fascinating to me as to what drives writers to write and where they get their ideas from.
    -Reshama @ Stackingbooks

    1. Reshama, thank you! A lot of times it's staring at the wall, trying to think of ideas. But, it was definitely fear that drove this one! lol.
      -- Joe Gazzam

  3. That is one of the creepiest covers I have seen in a while! lol I seem to recall Scared Straight. I don't know why it rings a bell, but I've definitely heard of it and it sounds like I would remember it if I'd seen it. Thanks for another great interview Cheryl and for introducing us to this new author.

    1. Joe must be a jinx for Blogspot. He comments but it doesn't show up! Here's his reply, Renee:

      Thanks for the cover comment! I think. lol. Scared Straight was a documentary -- you can get it on Netflix (dvd). Also there's a "Beyond Scared Straight" reality show that's on A & E that's pretty good. Hope you like the book!
      -- Joe Gazzam