Tag : ya

Lizzie Skurnick II (BSS #302)

Lizzie Skurnick is most recently the author of Shelf Discovery. She previously appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #13.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Sacrificing his manhood to fight the patriarchal overlords.

Author: Lizzie Skurnick

Subjects Discussed: Bridge to Terabithia and class distinctions, the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, issues surrounding mothers working, reader perceptions vs. authorial intentions, how much an author has to do with the work, concern for redheads, The Moon by Night, The Gift of Magic, a streak of redheads in the Skurnick family, Pippi Longstocking, redheads as outsiders, Skurnick’s propensity for ALL CAPS, modesty vs. competent performance, Are You In the House Alone?, sitcoms and oblique references to rape, Hunter, The Facts of Life, very special episodes, afterschool specials using YA novels as source material, Mariel Hemingway, Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, reviewing many books by one author vs. spreading reviews among several authors, Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Post-Birthday World and similarities between Match Point and Double Fault, The Shining, reviewing The Clan of the Cave Bear twice, not having a definitive word on a particular subject, on not getting caught up with writing about too many authors, the YA category’s birth in the 1980s, Robert Cormier, “Shelf Pleasuring”, Scruples, Jaws, Graham Greene, market categorizations, Scholastic book fair sales, the Weekly Reader catalog, books for the 25-35 age demographic, read-a-thons, David Simon, M.A. Orthofer’s criticisms, Choose Your Own Adventure, Robert Heinlein, on boys reading books designated for girls, Flowers in the Attic, ghettoizing women writers, The New York Times Book Review, Mary Rogers, Freaky Friday,Superfudge, Louise Fitzhugh, merging of the sexes in previous generations, trivia competitions, sexism among college boys, women gravitating towards publishing jobs, the potential reception for Shelf Discovery, writing Sweet Valley High novels for 17th Street Productions, patriarchy vs. general elitism, Oz books by L. Frank Baum, on books with young men making the front page of the NYTBR, what books are taken seriously, Jacob Have I Loved, Portnoy’s Complaint, Wifey, hysterical vaginitis, Kin Flicks, women having a hard time getting satisfaction, gonorrhea as punishment, Pretty Woman having a “happy ending”, sex & shopping books with nuanced roles about men and women, Island of the Blue Dolphins, bad accents in period pieces vs. overly formal internal monologue, Sherman Alexie, being strategic towards a market that does not exist, blogs as a new form of writing, pressure of wanting to be like the pretty girl, today’s teens needing to be little adults to be as interesting, Naomi Wolf, training kids to make a nation, the problem of well-rounded individuals, The Babysitters Club and Gossip Girl as part of the book packaging factory, Meg Cabot, cruel mothers, Daughters of Eve, The Red Pony, The Old Man and the Sea, a documentary on To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout’s loneliness, and the quietness of childhood.


Skurnick: You know, you make up a story for what you’re trying to do later, but who knows what you were trying to do?

Correspondent: Well, then I’m going to go ahead and put my own particular question of interest to you.

Skurnick: Go for it.

Correspondent: Okay. The concern for redheads in your review of The Moon by Night.

Skurnick: Oh.

Correspondent: The author who has the redheaded stepchild in A Gift of….A Gift of Magic. Yes. I’m sorry. My handwriting’s terrible. But I found out last night that there are, in fact, a streak of redheaded people in your family.

Skurnick: Yes.

Correspondent: And so, as a result, I must put forth the psychological question to you, Ms. Skurnick, over whether this preoccupation with redheads reflects this familial genetic scenario.

Skurnick: Okay. It’s hilarious. Because if you — I don’t know if you notice this at the party. Because not all of my friends were at the party. But my Grandma Dora was a redhead, my father is a redhead, my Aunt Francine is a redhead. Growing up, one of my good friends Becky was a redhead. I think I have another good friend who was a redhead. And throughout my life — it’s hilarious — two of my dearest friends — Casey and Jane — were redheads. I have dated many redheads. And my new nephew Asher is a redhead. So I think that certainly I have a huge streak of redheadedness in my life. And I could not tell you why. And it is actually funny. Because whenever I write about Meg’s boyfriend — Calvin is redhead — and there’s quite a few redheads in L’Engle, in general. You know, Polyhymnia is a redhead. Calvin’s daughter. And when you write about it, there’s always a few girls in the comments who will go, “Oh, Calvin, I love a ginger!” Like if you do it with Prince William and his brother, you’ll get that too. So there is — that is a theme in my life. But it is also a theme in YA.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Skurnick: It’s a huge theme in YA. And I don’t know. I guess it’s because — I’ve never understood this because, like I said, there’s zillions of redheads in my life. But redheadness in society does always — it’s like you are marked as a very different thing. Everybody looks at redheads. You know, when Asher, my nephew, was born, it was the first thing five people told me. And then when people looked at him, they would say, “He’s a redhead.” You know, that’s like the first thing. And so I guess it’s often a little bit of what the author is talking about. You know, the sense of being deliberately put outside. And then what do you do with that? What do you do with the fact that you are an individual. You know, redheads are forced from a very young age to be individuals in the way that we are not. And I think maybe that’s…

Correspondent: I was a redhead, you know.

Skurnick: Really?

Correspondent: Yeah, yeah. You’re drawing a generalization here. But I’ll let you continue. I am very curious to hear your answer.

Skurnick: Well, all of the redheads in my life are actually like fire red. You know, it doesn’t go away. Like I actually have some red in my hair, although you can’t tell right now. Because it’s wet.

(Image: Tayari Jones)

Categories: Fiction, Ideas

Jenny Davidson (BSS #230)

Jenny Davidson is most recently the author of The Explosionist.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Investigating the veracity of explosions.

Author: Jenny Davidson

Subjects Discussed: Coincidental run-ins, the necessity of war, Edmund Burke, philosophical asides, a novelist’s use of argument, Agatha Christie novels, John Buchan, ending chapters on cliffhangers, early 20th century British adventure fiction, alternate universes, Tolstoy as theologian, research undertaken years in advance of writing a novel, forgetting things one makes up, world-building as you go along, Michael Moorcock’s Hawkmoon, thought experiments, rationality vs. emotions, historical plausibility exemplified by electric kitchens, junk science, lie detectors, spiritualism vs. organized religion, Arthur Conan Doyle, Herbert Sidgewick, radios talking to ghosts, post-9/11 sensibility, danger of terroristic attacks in public places, narrative serving the needs of the world, novels as problem-solving exercises, tradeoff between security and civil liberties, fiction as a means of addressing political issues, productive forgetting, contemplation hindering the creative process, the internal responsibility to finish a trilogy, Margo Rabb, YA and genre categorization, voracious and eclectic reading, the difficulties of writing a good book, John Banville, cynical motivations for writing genre novels, freedom afforded by academic institutions, meaningful distinctions between YA and adult fiction, Philip Pullman, Garth Nix, whether authors should worry about book marketing, leaving publishing concerns to the experts, Rebecca West’s The Fountain Overflows, James Baldwin’s Just Above My Head, Sigmund Freud broadcasting via pirate radio, possible references to The Man in the High Castle and Brave New World, suicide booth trope in Golden Age SF novels, inventions by Alfred Nobel’s father, seals trained to drag bombs on ships, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Sherlock Holmes, exclamation marks, italicized words, exclamations as metaphor for genre writing, cockamamie explanations in the exposition, nostalgia for British children’s literature, ratio for invention and ambiguity, classroom scenes as an acceptable setting for fiction, reclusiveness, the enthusiasm and passion of boy characters, tension between female school roommates, Muriel Spark as a “great novelist of a small group”, sociological interest in dynamics of schools and boarding houses, Scottish dialect, peculiarities of diction, willful delving into uncomfortable territory, standing by sentences, emotional ethical questions about truthfulness, relationship between style and ethics, when writing is “too showy”, Thomas Paine, self-pity as antithesis to good writing, blindness to self-justifying elements of prose, Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels, Ernest Hemingway’s style, David Foster Wallace as self-parody, David Copperfield, the purity of the unwritten sentence.


Correspondent: Well, going back to one of the many questions that I just asked you about the idea of concocting this alternative universe, was it a matter of working within a loose world here? I mean, in a way, this book reminded me very much of a Michael Moorcock alternative history, like the Hawkmoon books that he wrote, which have only a few existing elements which suggest what may have happened. But it’s largely an excuse. This particular book gave Moorcock the freedom to explore this notion of ideas that have spun off into other terribly mutated forms. And I wanted to ask how this idea of worldbuilding relates to this idea of exploring ideologies, of which I plan to ask you more about.

Davidson: I think that’s a really fair description. And I find in my academic writing, as well as in my fiction writing, I’m strongly right now in a counterfactual mode, where it’s the thought experiment appeal. If this was different, and the thing that you make different — like, in this case, what if 1930s Scotland was still really being run in a way that was consistent with the ideals of the Scottish Enlightenment. No swerve into the 19th century and these different snails of thought. What if we really went back to those core ideas of rationality and the emotions? That was my most fundamental counterfactual for this novel. The set of questions that came up around that. And what if you were a teenage girl growing up in a country that was being run along those principles? That was at the core of my interest in the topic and what made me want to write the book. So the other stuff is for fun, and the stuff that comes up around that once you start thinking that way. But I guess in a sense, I’m not so much writing alternate history as a novel of ideas type thing. Where the premise of altering something in the past allows me to get a clear grip on some idea like that. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know how we categorize these different genres anyway.

Correspondent: So you’re saying in the end that where it’s set, or when it’s set, really does not matter because it is a novel of ideas? Is that what you’re suggesting here? And that the world, or the alternative universe, is more of a fun component towards entering the story?

Davidson: Well, I think the sense that you get — at least I hope the sense that you get — I’m clearly a writer who is in love with densely realized and realistic particulars that are historically plausible in some sense. So that, for instance, the storeroom with the electric kitchens, and all the sense that electricity is transformative and the way of future — that’s very realistic. I mean, that was a real feature. And a lot of the things in the novel that seem slightly fantastical, I drew from historical sources. I don’t mean so much to say that it’s a novel of ideas, as I mean to say it’s more like regular historical fiction than alternate history. Because, in fact, in very many particulars, the world of Sophie’s 1938 Scotland is like the world of real 1938 Scotland.

Categories: Fiction