It's the first day of 2015 and we celebrate with a new book: A HEART LIKE RINGO STARR, a YA novel in verse by Linda Oatman High.
Her family runs Stevens Brothers Funeral Home. Which is ironic, since Faith Hope Stevens is not long for this world. Unless someone dies. Unless there is a match. Staying alive will mean a heart transplant. Faith copes with wit and nerve. She’s also a little pissed off. She will never grow old. She will never have a boyfriend. Then one shocking day everything changes ...
We're excited to have Linda, an author/journalist/playwright who lives in Lancaster County, PA and a member of class of 2010 Thunder Badgers, with us today.
Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent? Were there a lot of revisions along the way?
This is the third book in my series of YA novels in verse for reluctant teen readers. (HI-LO: High Interest; Low Reading Level.) I’d sent the first one, titled TEENY LITTLE GRIEF MACHINES, to Saddleback after reading some great reviews of their books and hearing from high school teachers how valuable Saddleback Publishing is to their students. The editor, Arianne McHugh, called to tell me how much she loved the manuscript, and how “blown away” she was by my writing. I was thrilled, because poetry has become a difficult sell these days. I don’t currently have an agent, but I’ve been shopping, as one of my middle-grade manuscripts - THE TASTE OF ELEPHANT TEARS - was recently awarded the Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Award from PEN America. When I began my career, back in the mid-90s, I quickly sold more than a dozen books on my own, but in today’s ever-changing publishing climate, I do believe that we writers need an advocate. (And somebody who understands the legal language!)
As for revision, it’s one of my favorite parts of the writing process! I did revise a bit as per my editor’s suggestions and loved every minute of it.
What was the spark that ignited this book?
A HEART LIKE RINGO STARR was ignited by several sparks: a weird fascination with funeral homes, an obsession with hearts - both the physical attributes and the emotional aspects - and my love of music (I played electric guitar since I was 11, and played bass in a band in my 40s). I decided to write about a girl who loves classic rock. Her family owns a funeral home, and she needs a heart. She wants a heart like Ringo Starr: one that will keep a perfect beat.
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
Each of my VCFA advisors left me with golden nuggets: Marion Dane Bauer taught me to how to “paint on a smaller palette” and to look for the heart of my story. Martine Leavitt encouraged me to have my protagonists search not only for an emotional goal (a “heart” goal), but a physical tangible one as well. Rita Williams Garcia showed me how to find my characters and let them fly. And Louise Hawes spurred me to dig deep and to not be afraid of darkness.
Do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?
I do write in silence. As a musician, any music in the background would distract me and I’d be focusing upon it. My soundtrack when I write is in my head: Even when writing prose, it has to feel and “sound” like poetry. It’s almost like the words are the bass line or drum beat of a story; they have to have a steady rhythm. If there’s a clunker word, I hear and feel it in my head, much as I hear a clunker note or drum beat when listening to music.
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
I have so many that I can’t choose one! Images and memories that flash through my mind when I think of VCFA: the euphoria of standing by the bulletin board the night our new advisors were posted, making a snow angel with a student from California who had never made an angel and always dreamed of doing so, savoring every second of every lecture, defending NECI’s food (I’m always happy when somebody else is cooking!), late night talks in the dorm with fellow Thunder Badgers, chilling by the fountain, the immediate and magical bonding of our class, College Hall at night (and in the morning and afternoon!), walking up and down the hill to town, dancing at the party, crying and laughing (sometimes at once), connecting with my tribe, the warmth of Noble on a winter’s day, the flickering fireflies and cricket chirps of a Vermont summer, snow drifting on a full-moon night, waking up excited because I was still at VCFA, the sounds of bagpipes at graduation, the gleaming majestic sight of the antique pipe organ, the quintessential fire alarm in Dewey and students huddling outside and shivering in pajamas, the heart-to-heart chats over meals in the noisy cafeteria, the clicking of someone’s knitting needles during a lecture that was knitting itself into my soul, the feeling of homecoming when I returned for each residency, laughs in the dorm with my longtime friend and roomie Marty Crisp, the emotion of graduations, the quiet of the night beneath the Montpelier sky as I walked back from readings, the sight of the lights high in College Hall (where the ghost resides) . . . Can you tell that I adore this place?!
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
Don’t doubt your decision, no matter where you are at in your writing and your life. Leap and the net will appear. Open yourself up for expansion. Realize that this will be the best thing you will do for yourself and your writing. Know that this will be Home and your fellow students and advisors will be your Family. Be sure to pack a fan for Summer Rez and a big comforter for Winter. Don’t forget your boots. And gloves.
A HEART LIKE RINGO STARR is published by Saddleback Educational. You can visit Linda online at www.lindaoatmanhigh.com