It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Sarah Moon, the author of
Thirteen-year-old Eli likes baggy clothes, baseball caps, and one girl in particular. Her seventeen-year-old sister Anna is more traditionally feminine; she loves boys and staying out late. They are sisters, and they are also the only family each can count on. Their dad has long been out of the picture, and their mom lives at the mercy of her next drink. When their mom lands herself in enforced rehab, Anna and Eli are left to fend for themselves. With no legal guardian to keep them out of foster care, they take matters into their own hands: Anna masquerades as Aunt Lisa, and together she and Eli hoard whatever money they can find. But their plans begin to unravel as quickly as they were made, and they are always way too close to getting caught.
Eli and Anna have each gotten used to telling lies as a means of survival, but as they navigate a world without their mother, they must learn how to accept help, and let other people in.
Let’s talk to this awesome author about her wonderful book!
This is Sarah. Everyone say, “Hi, Sarah!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Sarah! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!
Thank you so much for this! Things to know about me — I’m a teacher in Brooklyn, I just finished my 17th year teaching. I have a hilarious, brilliant, opinionated four year old and a wonderful, patient wife. I am an extremely amateur knitter and I love reality tv.
What was the inspiration behind MIDDLETOWN?
I wrote MIDDLETOWN for my sister. I am the youngest of three, and my sister and I were the ones who were home once our parents got divorced. We were 12 and 15 and found ourselves alone, together, a lot. While our lives couldn’t have looked less like Eli and Anna’s, I remember feeling like it was just her and me in our little lifeboat, and so no matter how different we were from each other or how much we fought, we were always going to have to figure out how to keep the boat from tipping over. We’re still like that, I think, all these years later.
The other thing I wanted to write about was being a queer kid in a small town, which was very much my experience. It’s odd — the book is really, really different from my life, but it’s also probably the most autobiographical thing I’ll ever write.
Two sisters, Eli and Anna, are at the heart of this book. What do you think are some key factors in writing realistic sibling relationships?
Ha! I’ve never thought about that. I think it’s about doing something that’s almost impossible to do as a sibling — seeing each person as a whole and also as a part. There’s who Eli is, there’s who Anna is, and there’s who they are to each other. The parts that they show to each other, the parts they try (and fail) to hide from each other, the parts that hurt each other, and the parts that make the other person who she is. We’ll get into this more later, but I have a real *thing* about the complexities of the lives of young people, and so I think that, for me, that extends to their relationships. Nobody is just one thing, not to themselves, and not to anybody else, either. I wanted their relationship to be just as layered as the sisters themselves.
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on MIDDLETOWN?
How many Middletowns there are! I thought they were all in the northeast, but I was wrong. I also learned, as I always do when trying to write a book, that I avoid conflict on that page just as much as I avoid it in life and I always have to go back and force myself to make the characters have the conversation they are/I am avoiding. I learned that it is indeed possible to write a book during a pandemic with a toddler, though I’m not super sure I’d like to learn that again.
Oof! That definitely sounds like a lesson that would last a lifetime!
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
MIDDLETOWN is a middle grade novel that also feels like it could be a bridge into YA. What drew you to writing for this age group?
Sooooo, I didn’t really understand that if you write a book with an 8th grade protagonist, then it’s going to be middle grade (despite the fact that I’ve done this twice now), so there’s that. But the truth is that, while I love the high schoolers that I work with, my heart is always with middle schoolers. Throughout my teaching life, even when I’m working with older kids, I always find a way to connect with middle schoolers because they are my bread and butter. They are hilarious, honest and figuring out themselves in a way that is both excruciating and exhilarating. I invited Kacen Callender to speak at my school last year, and one thing that they said that struck a particular chord is that we write for the age group where we experienced our first trauma. I’d never thought about it like that, and I also haven’t been able to get it out of my head, so that’s probably a factor for me, too. It wasn’t easy growing up queer in my town, I came out when I was 14. I will probably always write for queer 14 year olds, just like I will probably always teach to the queer 14 year old in any classroom I’m in.
Any hints about your next book project?
A few things! A proper middle grade that takes place at Family Week in Provincetown, and a time-hopping love story, both of which may orr may not include a plethora of queer 14 year olds.
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
Everything about my publishing journey has been surprising and unlikely, and also in some ways very predictable because it’s very much a result of growing up as the child of a writer. The most surprising part of my publishing journey still is the moment that my heart leapt out of my chest because The Arthur A. Levine, who had just published the anthology I’d co-edited with Celeste Lecesne of the Trevor Project, told me that I should send him what I would be working on next. But the only reason that happened was because I met Celeste when I was a 12 year old kid on my bike in Provincetown because he and my mother worked together at the Fine Arts Work Center, and so it was that I ran into him again 15 years later outside of a theater in New York and said, hey, I have this idea for a book, and six months later, I was sitting in The Arthur A. Levine’s office with my jaw on the floor. I try to be very upfront about both the unlikeliness of my story and the ways in which the industry is greased for a story like mine.
Oh, wow! That’s amazing!
What are you reading right now?
I’m always reading too many books. Blackout (six powerhouses in one book — each page is a gift); All Adults Here (all things Emma Straub always); Time to Stir (a book about the Columbia strike in 1968, see aforementioned time-hopping love story), and While Justice Sleeps (a political thriller from the political genius of Stacey Abrams? Yes, please).
Just finished BLACKOUT over here and love, love, loved it!
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
When I was 16 and woebegone about my wish to write but my deep, deep doubts about having any talent at all, my stepmother asked me, “Do you know what you have to do to be a writer?” I said, “No,” quite plaintively. She said, “You have to write.” I think about that every day.
That is totally it.
Thank you so much for joining us, Sarah!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out MIDDLETOWN!
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Thanks for reading!