Sweet Sixteener Kiersi Burkhart recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Erin Entrada Kelly about her debut MG novel, BLACKBIRD FLY (March 24, 2015 from Greenwillow Books).
Erin Entrada Kelly was raised in south Louisiana, but now lives in the Northeast. In addition to writing MG, she’s published lots of short stories in places like Keyhole Magazine, Kyoto Journal, and TAYO. She’s a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and was a finalist for the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction. She reviews non-fiction for the Library Journal and works as a writer and editor in suburban Philadelphia.
Apple Yengko knows what it’s like to be different. She has a weird Filipino nickname, she’s the only Asian at her school, and she’s obsessed with the Beatles instead of boys. But her life doesn’t truly fall apart until she finds out she’s listed on the Dog Log—the list of the ugliest girls in school—and her friends abandon her. Suddenly she’s a social pariah. The boys bark at her in the halls and the girls turn the other way. Apple dreams of escape and resents everything about her culture, including her mother. She’s desperate to get a guitar so she can run away and become a musician like her idol, George Harrison. Apple is convinced that music can save her. And it might—only not in the way that she thinks.
Kiersi: Apple’s story is one that will ring true for many kids with immigrant parents or backgrounds—the struggle between your native culture and language and wanting to fit in in America. How did the idea for BLACKBIRD FLY find you? Are there any echoes of your own life in it?
Erin: BLACKBIRD FLY started off as a very different book. The cultural conflict was originally a subplot, but it eventually took over. Apple had a bigger story to tell than the one I originally outlined; it just took a while for me to see it. There are many echoes of my own life in the novel, which is probably why I had trouble finding the real heart of the story. Sometimes we don’t see what’s right in front of us!
Kiersi: When and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Erin: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Always. I started writing in first or second grade. I’ve never wanted to do anything else.
Kiersi: What was the hardest part about writing BLACKBIRD FLY?
Erin: Twelve-year-old Erin shares a lot in common with twelve-year-old Apple. It’s difficult to write about someone who’s a lot like yourself, especially when you’re a person who hates being the center of attention.
Kiersi: Imagine your perfect reader. How would you describe that person?
Erin: My perfect reader is empathetic and kind. Although I write all my novels with a ten or eleven-year-old in mind, my hope is that anyone can appreciate them.
Lightning Round Questions:
What’s your favorite book?
THE UNDERNEATH by Kathi Appelt
Favorite band or song to write to?
What were you reading when you were sixteen?
Clover, a guinea pig.
Do you write longhand or type?
TV show you’re hooked on?
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
About the Interviewer:
Kiersi Burkhart grew up riding horses in Colorado. At sixteen, she attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where she now lives and works as an author and freelance writer. With a background in Political Science and Constitutional Law, she does nothing with her degree and instead writes contemporary fiction for children and young adults. She also has a dragon tattoo with which she consults for inspiration. In her MG contemporary debut, SHY GIRL AND SHY GUY (Darby Creek/Lerner Books, Spring 2016), the only thing Hanna Abbott fears more than being sent to Second Chance Ranch is being asked to get on a horse. As ranch owner Ma Etty points out, for every troubled kid, there’s a horse that can help—and for Hanna, it’s a beautiful, abandoned horse called Shy Guy, who’s just as afraid of people as Hanna is of horses.