|Notice the helicopter pilot key chain.|
Four talented teenagers are traumatized—coping with grief, surviving trauma, facing the anxiety of standardized tests and the neglect of self-absorbed adults—and they'll do anything to escape the pressure. They'll even build an invisible helicopter, to fly far away to a place where everyone will understand them... until they learn the only way to escape reality is to fly right into it.
And here are her answers to some follow-up interview questions!
I love the beginning of I CRAWL THROUGH IT, especially the part about Gustav's invisible helicopter. What books did you read while you wrote I CRAWL THROUGH IT, and in what ways, if any, did they influence the story?
What a great place to start. Surrealism has always been one of my favorite types of writing and when I started I CRAWL THROUGH IT, I hadn’t read surrealist fiction in more than a decade. So, I pulled out a few classics from my bookshelf (Kafka and Burroughs) and then went looking for contemporary surrealist books. The two I enjoyed the most were Daniel Fights a Hurricane by Shane Jones and The Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg. I still read bits and pieces of Schomburg’s book daily. It’s wonderful and very strange. I also swam inside a Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story collection at the time. Magic realism, I know, but some of those stories were completely awesome and messed up. “Eva Is Inside Her Cat” is just so great.
Marquez is fantastic. I've heard his story "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" is definitely worth reading as well. I CRAWL THROUGH IT also explores the pressure teens face. How were you able to tap into these anxieties, and what do you hope readers will gain from reading about them?
I think we all face very real pressures when it comes to violence in our culture. Whether it’s random gun violence or other types of crime, I think all humans no matter their age can relate to feeling anxious at certain times or in certain situations. As for the pressures of standardized testing, I tap into that by talking to teenagers who have to take too many tests—or more saddening, who have to prep for those tests all year long rather than explore education in a a more organic way led by trained and enthusiastic teachers. I guarantee you those teachers do not want to be teaching to tests any more than the students want to be learning to them.
I meet many students who ask me what the answers are to my books—as if there are clear answers to any piece of fiction. They need the answers. It’s for the test. This is a great way to learn about many things. As a math nerd, I fully support trying to find the right answers. But in fiction, which is art, “right” answers are often fleeting, varied, or just not there. I suppose I hope that readers of I CRAWL THROUGH IT realize that if they are in school, stuck doing these tests, they can crawl through it and come out the other side knowing they can be free to think what they want when they are done. They are free to be what they want when they are done. They can finally realize that maybe no one was asking the right questions, especially in a real-world arena where violence and fear are very real…and yet never on the test.
Exactly. I'm reminded of REALITY BOY, and how Gerald's TV life isn't a reality at all. It shows how all your books offer an opportunity to discover the beauty of painting outside the lines. In our last interview, you mentioned that the opening of GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE was inspired by an example of your own writing during a revision workshop. In what other ways, if any, does teaching writing inspire your creativity?
Teaching is fantastic inspiration. Conducting workshops in high schools brings me closer to my teen self because even though I’m well past my teen years, I can see clearly that students today face similar challenges to what I did…and so much more. Interacting with students is always helpful because it reminds me about why I write books with teens in them. I want them to have a voice. I want them to be taken seriously. I had neither of these things as a teen and I think our culture of condescension toward teens is really damaging. So I like to inspire students when I see them in schools, and they, in turn, inspire me.
I recently taught three semesters of grad school at Vermont College of Fine Arts and the effect it had on me was mind-blowing. Not only did I get to interact with other writers for two-week-long residencies twice a year but I got to work with some very talented students who made me realize that I could do things I’ve never tried before. For example, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to write a middle grade book had it not been for my time at VCFA. Also, my 2016 YA book was inspired by a student lecture at VCFA—by a writing exercise. Soon after that exercise, I got the idea for the book and the exercise (an expanded version) is one of the main working parts of the book. That book wouldn’t exist if it were not for that student’s lecture. Teaching opens my mind. I think that in itself is a big plus for any writer.
Indeed it is! Thanks so much for yet another excellent interview!
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