Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Five -- Leah Bobet

One of the things about today's Friday Five author that comes across in everything she writes - her novel, her website, her interview questions - is also the one word she'd use to describe herself (see below).  It is my pleasure to introduce Leah Bobet, author of ABOVE, out now from Scholastic.


1.  What is the worst job you’ve done?

In the summer of 2003, there was a SARS outbreak in Toronto, and all the tourism jobs dried up, which meant all the people who normally worked tourism jobs snapped up all the retail and customer service jobs – which meant university students looking for summer work, like me, were entirely screwed.  I managed to land a job at a call centre – calling people who had shares in companies and getting their votes on company board elections and the like -- finally, in July.  I knew I wasn’t going to like it from the first day, but it paid $13 an hour, I had a $30 phone bill in my hand, and $15 left on my credit card -- never mind the question of saving up money for next year’s textbooks.  And so I worked it for the rest of the summer.

The job was seven hours in the evening, 4pm to 11pm – so no social life for Leah – sitting in the same chair at the same computer and the same grey-walled cubicle, going through calls as fast as you could.  There was half an hour for dinner, and no real time to talk to any of the students and new Canadians and young moms I was working with: you had ten or fifteen minutes, total, for bathroom breaks, and when you clicked your computer to the break setting, there was a literal timer that would count down.

I think that’s what made it the worst job I’ve ever worked, even though it wasn’t close to the dirtiest; the smelliest; the hardest, to be honest; or the one with the meanest people.  It was that timer.  It said right out that they had zero trust in you and you had zero integrity.  It made you want to pull complicated Ocean’s Eleven-style cons to get five minutes extra.

I learned two valuable things from that summer: that whenever someone’s doing something for you, you extend your trust and kindness to them right out, and they’ll try harder because of that; and to never, ever be nasty to a telemarketer.  They have enough to deal with.

2.  What is your favorite writing motto/mantra?

I don’t know where this came from, or if it’s just an observation that went around my writing group at some point, but: “Writing is like everything else.”  Writing is like knitting because you’re making very complicated things out of very simple tools -- sticks and string – and it’s all in how you arrange it.  Writing is like building a house, because you need to make sure the characterization runs consistently through the story, like wiring, and the foundation is solid, and your plot doesn’t leak.  Writing is like doing a four-year university degree, because you (and I mean me) need the same skills – discipline, focus, the ability to push through when you don’t want to anymore – to finish either a degree or a novel.

I really like this one because it’s so flexible: it lets me use whatever metaphor I need to figure out the problem in front of me, whether it’s knitting, or rock-climbing, or building a house (I’d been watching a lot of Holmes on Homes that month).  But I also like it because of its literal meaning: Writing really is like everything else in the world.  It’s not better, and it’s not worse.  It’s a passion and a vocation and the best job ever, but other people also have passions and vocations and jobs that make them feel good about everything, and remembering that every day helps me keep a level head and appreciate all the other things going on in the world.

3.  What is your most treasured possession?

I have a battered old green suitcase, probably dating from the 1940s or so, that has my grandmother’s diaries: every single one from early 1950 to last year, when she died.  They’re one of two things she wanted me to have.  Mostly they’re not all that full of stories: to do lists, and appointments, and things like that.  But half the time they are, and having a book that talks about your mother being born, you being born, how she felt when my grandfather died is kind of amazing and humbling.

4.  What one word do you think describes you best?

Passionate.  I care about a lot of things – my friends, my city, poverty, politics, indie music, good food, good art, writing – and no matter what it is I’m focused on, I care about it a lot.  There is no half-assing anything in this corner of the world.

5.  What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned since becoming a writer?

That when a person wants something, really wants it, nothing’s going to stop them.  Because people who want things that much want them more than their own bad habits or attitudes, more than being able to say not succeeding is someone else’s fault, more than being comfortable and not taking a risk.  I grew myself up mostly because I wanted to be a professional author, and all my little immaturities, the parts of me that were a little bit petty?  They were in my way.  So they had to go.

People are kind of amazing machines sometimes.  It’s amazing what we’re capable of when we want something more than ourselves.


Matthew has loved Ariel from the moment he found her in the tunnels, her bee’s wings falling away. They live in Safe, an underground refuge for those fleeing the city Above—like Whisper, who speaks to ghosts, and Jack Flash, who can shoot lightning from his fingers.

But one terrifying night, an old enemy invades Safe with an army of shadows, and only Matthew, Ariel, and a few friends escape Above. As Matthew unravels the mystery of Safe’s history and the shadows’ attack, he realizes he must find a way to remake his home—not just for himself, but for Ariel, who needs him more than ever before.

Order ABOVE here!


You can find Leah on her website.
On Twitter.
On Facebook.

Monday, September 3, 2012

What Are You Reading?

It's Labor Day.  The official end of summer. But that doesn't mean we have to put away our beach chairs and flip-flops (or even our white shoes and skirts, like my mother always insisted when we were kids).  And it doesn't mean we have to put away our fun summer reads, either.

Recently, I've been reading a huge variety of fabulous books, including, but not limited to:

SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE by Joanne Levy.  How can you lose with a title like that?  Smart, snappy, fun and utterly delightful.

TOKYO HEIST by Diana Renn.  This book combines some of my favorite things: art, travel, mystery and Seattle.  Fast-paced and ever so detailed, it makes me want to visit Japan and jump into a Van Gogh painting.

THROUGH THE EVER NIGHT by Veronica Rossi.  This book doesn't come out until January, but it will be worth the wait.  Brilliant sequel to Under the Never Sky, it continues Aria and Perry's story, deepening our connection with them and their world.  Amazing.

LEAGUE OF STRAYS by L.B. Schulman.  Darkly believable, this book about the bullied bullying back pushes the reader to look at the grey areas between right and wrong.

EVERY DAY by David Levithan.  This book is so unusual it almost defies description.  Philosophy and love story combine to make this an entertaining, inspiring and thought-provoking read.

THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray.  What can I say?  Libba + 1920's + ghosts + fabulous characters.  Did I mention it's set in the 1920's?  Did I mention I always wanted to be a flapper?  I'm a bit of a scaredy-cat, though, and had to skip a couple scenes.  Be warned - do not read this late at night!

MARY BOLEYN by Alison Weir.  I always have to throw a couple of historical biographies onto my TBR pile, and this one doesn't disappoint.  So little is known about Anne Boleyn's sister, it's like trying to puzzle through a mystery.

MEMO FROM THE STORY DEPARTMENT by Christopher Vogler and David McKenna.  I need to refresh myself on craft every day, and the advice and inspiration in this book help keep me going.

What have you been reading?  What have I missed?