|Sashi Kaufman, Author of THE OTHER WAY AROUND|
Hi Sashi! I'm so happy you stopped by the blog. Your debut novel, THE OTHER WAY AROUND, is in my shopping cart waiting to be bought as we speak. Every since reading your synopsis I knew this was the book for me. Freewheeling freegans and dumpster diving are kind of in my wheelhouse. I'm a hard core thrift shopper and my kids went to a Quaker school where they routinely dumpster-dived on their eighteen day field trips. Most parents would have been appalled. I was all, "fist pump!" So tell us, how did all-girl private school headmaster's son, Andrew, adjust to his new group of friends. And how did this environment make its way into your novel?
This group of people made its way into my mind, my heart and my book through a variety of paths. First of all, my parents were hippies so that's a good start -not the long hair, make your own tofu kind of hippies but I was definitely raised in an environment of love and acceptance for all. You mentioned your kid's school -I actually went to a Quaker summer camp which attracted a lot of like-minded folks in terms of values both emotionally and environmentally. But most of the characters in my book who are known as the Freegans are probably amalgamations of people I knew when I attended Oberlin College -which is kind of a bastion of alternative culture and acceptance.
Like Andrew, I'm a bit of a skeptic and definitely an observer. Even when I lived in the most far-out hippie co-op of them all, I still had my gap white v-neck t-shirts tucked neatly in my drawers. But that was what was so great about my experience at Oberlin -was the acceptance. Andrew is accepted by this group of dumpster-diving anarchist street-performers despite his relatively tame suburban up-bringing. They really meet him where he is and don't need him to necessarily buy in to all the things they believe in...at least not right away.
Andrew's really interested in the fact that they are living and thriving without subscribing to a lot of the things he's been told are important about being an adult -and that's what this book is ultimately about is finding out what kind of grown up person you might want to be.
Oberlin sounds like I would have loved it.
But this: "what this book is ultimately about is finding out what kind of grown up person you might want to be" In my own writing, I love exploring the moment when a young person starts to realize they have a choice. They don't have to take everything their parents have given them whole cloth. They can stride out and be their own someone. I think that's such a critical part of being a teenager. What are some other "life points" you think make YA literature unique?
Great question! And I completely agree- that is one of the fundamental coming of age moments. I think going along with that -realizing that your parents (and all adults) are flawed and that they wouldn't be human if they weren't. I feel very lucky to have had, and continue to have, a very close relationship with my own parents. We've really worked to continue to know each other as adults and not to rely on the ways we knew each other twenty years ago to stay close. So I think I'm always reminded that relationships grow and as you grow, and especially in adolescence, you understand the complexities of people as you grow up.
You can't really talk about "life points" in YA literature without talking about love. Those first incredibly awkward crushes, choosing (if you're like me) the most impossibly unavailable people to moon over, and of course getting your heart and your feelings stomped on those first irrevocable times.
And since I'm feeling kind of epic on this rainy Sunday afternoon, I'd have to add those first experiences with death. They don't come for everyone in adolescence but I think the first time you have contact with real loss in your teens or early twenties it's pretty shocking. Your parents probably don't coddle you or sugar coat it the way they might have when you were a kid. And I think that's pretty shocking -there's a bare nakedness to that and fear at realizing that people really are expecting you to accept and cope with this as adult -especially since often times the people you would turn to are experiencing and coping with the same loss.
Oh, yes, death. I love the way you put that. You hear people harp on all the dead relatives, especially in contemporary YA, but grief is like the counter point to love. I think it's a Buddhist saying that you can't experience great joy without great sorrow and that sticks with me. Especially when I'm hurting, to remember all those monumental moments that have allowed you to feel like this.
So you, like me, are a teacher. How has it been to combine your worlds? Or do you try to separate them?
I do teach 7th and 8th grade and the closer I got to publication day, the more I realized my book is really meant for a high school and up audience. I always say 8th grade and up because I know my 8th graders and I know many of them would be interested and excited about the book, but really high school is most appropriate. Middle school is still a pretty insular world and not that many middle schoolers are really asking the reflective questions about life and adulthood that Andrew starts asking as he sets out with the Freegans. Some are, but most aren't. So far it's been pretty easy to keep the two worlds separate and for the best really.
Teaching is inherently a very personal job but I think in order to be a good teacher you need to really balance being connected and engaged with your students while maintaining professional distance. I want my students to know that I'm there for them, and if they want to share things with me I'll listen and help if I'm able, but in order for them to be truly safe they need to know that I'm not doing that to feed my own emotional needs. My book and my writing are part of my teaching world and often fueled by my teaching world but they also stand a part -and I think mostly that's a good thing. Now that some kids are reading it and telling me what they think I try and objectively listen, and usually be amused by their reactions to the plot or characters. I enjoy their feedback but it's important that I don't "need" it.
I know you and I have talked about content -especially since my book is pretty frank and honest when it comes to conversations about sex and sexuality. I guess I'm lucky to work in a pretty liberal and supportive school department. However, I have had to make it clear that things like my blog or my twitter feed are part of my author world, not my teacher world. It's tricky I guess and probably impossible to keep entirely separate without a pen name.
Yep. As each new student finds me on Twitter my proclivity to tweet about bourbon goes down a few notches.
So if you were to take a page from Andrew's book and run away for the summer, what place and what combination of people, experiences, and things would you hope to take out of it? (Little know Jro fact. I ran away at age 6. I went 4 houses up the street to my friend Mary Ellis's house. I packed all of my socks, underwear, and one dress. My mom picked me up a few hours later after we'd finished playing. It seems my perfect combination of things was clean underclothes!)
Ooh, that's tricky. If I were to run away for the summer now? As an adult it would probably involve a tiny cottage on Deer Isle (it's a magical place here in Maine) with a laptop for writing, a ton of books for entertainment, a hammock for napping and a personal chef.
When I was a kid I can remember dreaming about creating my own world out in the woods ala My Side of the Mountain or Bridge to Terabithia ; somewhere I could fend for myself by hunting small game and foraging for nuts and berries. When I was a teenager I didn't want to run away. I just wanted desperately to be in love -or really more specifically to have someone be in love with me. If that person had come along and suggested we run away I probably would have gone. I think that's why I relate to Andrew's initial skepticism about joining the Freegans -in fact if it weren't for his instant interest in Emily he might not have gone at all.
Hear that people? An Emily with the Andrew. Go buy this book!
Your destinations sound great. Isn't Deer Isle the home of a big craft school? I've seen photos, it's beautiful.
Unbelievable we're at the end of our interview! So three final pressing questions. Next 3 books on your TBR pile, the best drink ever in your glass, and the song you just can't shake lately.
And thanks so much, Sashi, for stopping by the blog. I hope we get to meet in real life one day.
This has been so fun! Seriously, I'm going to miss you! (is that weird?) Also, if I met you in person how would you introduce yourself? You have many different names online. I ask also because this is a big thing for my main character -is he Andrew? Drew? Andy?
Anyway, when you read the book you'll see!
Deer Isle is home to Haystack Mountain School of crafts. Incredibly cool place!! The Maine Writer's and Publisher's alliance used to hold a writer's workshop there which I was lucky enough to attend on one incredibly warm weekend in September -can you say skinny-dipping?
Now let's get back to business:
Next three books on my to-read shelf are Andrew Smith's Grasshopper Jungle and pretty much everything by him. He's my new YA writer hero. On Such a Full Sea by Chang Rae Lee and then probably This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready. I jump around a lot between adult and YA.
The best drink EVER in my glass -wow that's really hard. I'm going to say Sapphire and tonic with a side of my toes in the warm sand.
And a song I can't shake. Well, my husband and friends make fun of me because I'm kind of a promiscuous radio listener meaning I travel all over the dial but never know anyone/thing by name. Is it really bad if I say I love Blurred LInes? Oh well. I'm kind of a pop junkie at heart. That and bluegrass. Like I said, all over the dial.
Not weird at all Sashi! Thanks again. And next week, stop in when I'll be talking to Lori M. Lee, author of Gates of Thread and Stone.