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Interview: Karen Day

May 19th, 2007 (06:28 pm)
thoughtful

Current Mood: thoughtful
Current Song: Ball of Fire score music

Karen Day has known since the fourth grade that she wanted to be a writer. That year, one of her stories was praised by her teacher, then rejected by Highlights magazine. As she journeyed from childhood to adulthood, she continued to write stories with kids as the main characters. Karen recently made the journey to Bildungsroman to talk about honesty and intentions.

In your story, Meg tries to keep her family troubles secret. If kids that Meg's story hits close to home for them, who should they tell?

Wow, this is a really difficult question to answer. My hope is that kids who recognize themselves and their families in my book will take note of what happens to Meg when she finally talks about the problem. People can help. But how do you know who to trust? Who is safe and what does that mean? Some kids just want to talk but they aren't ready to actually "do" anything. Others need a responsible adult to take over. It's important for kids to know that they have to talk. They need to tell someone. Holding a secret inside is the worst thing they could do. But finding a responsible adult may be very difficult, especially for kids who don't have access to people outside the family. It saddens me to think about these kids.

So true. I want kids to know that it's okay to tell the truth to help protect themselves and their families. What inspired you to write Tall Tales?

My husband grew up in a family like Meg's. When he was 12, he made a best friend, Tom, and began to see what life was like outside his insulated, dysfunctional family. His story stayed with me for years until I twisted it, changed it and made it my own. The part of the story that resonated most with me was this idea that someone, a best friend, could save your life. I guess I want to believe that all of us, no matter what our family background, might have someone out there who could save us.

What advice do you have for a kid whose tall tale gets exposed?

Big lies are scary because once you tell one, you'll need to tell another to support the first and so on. My advice is pretty much the same for all big issues that kids face. Find a trusted adult to tell; someone who will help you brainstorm what to do. It doesn't have to be a parent. Maybe a neighbor, aunt or uncle, teacher. Problems don't seem so daunting when another person is enlisted to help. 

Did you ever tell a tall tale?

Not like the ones Meg tells! I've told plenty of white lies in my life, and every time I've done it I've burned with guilt. I'm also a terrible liar. My mom has told me that she could always tell from my face whenever I lied to her. Which didn't come in very handy when I was rebelling in high school, let me tell you! 

Your main characters have two of my favorite names: Meg and Grace. How particular are you about chosing names for your stories?

That's such an interesting question. I've never thought about this before. But I have to say that the names of my main characters seem to just pop into my head, although I'm fairly conscious of not naming them after people I know. I don't want to confuse myself anymore than I already do!

I don't let myself use names of friends - or even distant acquaintances - for protagonists. I select names that I like but do not relate to anyone I know directly.

I'm more intentional when naming secondary characters. Aunt Jane is a nod to my all-time favorite writer, Jane Austen. Marty Nicklas is my grandfather's name. Several favorite teachers' names also make it into TALL TALES. I guess I do this as a way to recognize people. Thank them, maybe.

What were you like when you were Meg's age?

I [would] write. I've kept a pretty detailed journal since I was 10. As a kid I often locked myself in my room for hours at a time, writing short stories about a brother and sister who solve mysteries. Once I wrote a story about a magic door that opened into another dimension. And of course there were plenty of stories about dead mothers and sick friends. I was quite melodramatic! It wasn't until graduate school (I'm ABD in English Literature from New York University) that I started reading. And reading. And reading. I'm never without a book now.

Your next book comes out in 2008. Tell us more about it.

NO CREAM PUFFS, set it in the 1970s, is about 12-year-old Madison who becomes the first girl in Michigan to play little league baseball with the boys. Madison is a great character - earnest, brave, self conscious. She's also the best player in town.

I love this book because I get to write about things that are very important to me. Lake Michigan. Mother-daughter relationships. What kids do when pressure and expectations are heaped on them. How girls learn to balance the different, often seemingly conflicting sides of their personalities. I also think it's a very important book. Most girls today don't realize that thirty years ago 12-year-old girls didn't have much available to them in terms of sports programs. It was a really big deal for a girl to play little league with the boys back then.

If you could only pick ten books as your all-time favorites, what would you select?

Wow, I love so many books! I'm going to pick favorites based on love and/or because they influenced me in some way:

EMMA by Jane Austen
WALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech
UNLESS by Carol Shields
THE REPRODUCTION OF MOTHERING, Psychoanalysis and Sociology of Gender by Nancy Chodorow
VERONICA by Mary Gaitskill
And finally, my favorite poem, "I Go Back to May 1937," found in THE GOLD CELL by Sharon Olds.

I know this isn't ten, but I want to stop there because these really stand out for me.

Karen's official stomping ground is klday.com

Read my reviews of Tall Tales and No Cream Puffs.