Fourth Grade Journey

A Fourth Grade Teacher's Journey Through the World of Books

Monday, December 2, 2019

An Inside Look #117 (Author INTERVIEW)

An Inside Look with Meredith Russo
(Author of Birthday)

*During the summer of 2016, I added this feature to the blog which was called "Season #ONE".  This first season ran from June of 2016 to March of 2017.  

*I started up the interviews again in June of 2017.  It was great to get back to Season #TWO.  This season ran throughout the summer.  


*Season #THREE ran during the school year of 2017-2018.  

*The next season (season #FOUR) of interviews took place during the summer and fall of 2018.  With each interview I became more and more impressed with the authors I was having interactions with.  

*Season #FIVE ran during the 2018/2019 school year.  I took a little break at the start of June 2019.  

*During my summer 2019 vacation I continued a series of interviews in which I put under the heading of Season #SIX.

*To kick off my 29th year of teaching, I'm adding Season #SEVEN with a whole new season of authors, books, and interviews.  

*It has been such an honor to connect with authors and "chat" about their novel, characters, and thoughts about the story.

*This is the FOURTEENTH interview in which I'm calling Season #SEVEN.  

*Thank you to Meredith Russo for being the One-Hundred Seventeeth author that I've had the pleasure of interviewing.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the One Hundred Sixteen interviews…

SEASON #ONE (2016-2017)

SEASON #FOUR (Summer 2018)

SEASON #FIVE (2018/2019)

Interview #81 with Tony Abbott (Author of The Great Jeff)

Interview #82 with Susan Ross (Author of Searching for Lottie)

Interview #83 with Gillian McDunn (Author of Caterpillar Summer)

Interview #84 with Rebecca Ansari (Author of The Missing Piece of Charlie O'Reilly)

Interview #85 with Ali Standish (Author of August Isle)

Interview #86 with Shaun David Hutchinson (Author of The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried)

Interview #87 with Greg Howard (Author of The Whispers)

Interview #88 with Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Author of Shouting at the Rain)

Interview #89 with Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Author of One for the Murphys)

Interview #90 with Laurie Morrison (Author of Up for Air)

Interview #91 with Jody J. Little (Author of Mostly the Honest Truth)

SEASON #SIX (Summer 2019)

Interview #92 with John David Anderson (Author of Finding Orion)

Interview #93 with Lisa Thompson (Author of The Light Jar)

Interview #94 with Keith Calabrese (Author of A Drop of Hope)

Interview #95 with Alicia D. Williams (Author of Genesis Begins Again)

Interview #96 with Kim Ventrella (Author of Bone Hollow)

Interview #97 with Natalie Lloyd (Author of Over the Moon)

Interview #98 with Cynthia Lord (Author of Because of the Rabbit)

Interview #99 with Tina Athaide (Author of Orange for the Sunsets)

Interview #100 with Elly Swartz (Author of Give and Take)

Interview #101 with Amy Rebecca Tan (Author of A Kind of Paradise)

Interview #102 with Varsha Bajaj (Author of Count Me In)

Interview #103 with Laura Resau (Author of Tree of Dreams)

SEASON #SEVEN (2019/2020)

Interview #104 with Laurel Snyder (Author of My Jasper June)

Interview #105 with Lisa Bunker (Author of Zenobia July)

Interview #106 with Jasmine Warga (Author of Other Words for Home)

Interview #107 with Barbara Dee (Author of Maybe He Just Likes You)

Interview #108 with Graham Salisbury (Author of Banjo)

Interview #109 with Donna Gephart (Author of The Paris Project)

Interview #110 with Jake Burt (Author of The Tornado)

Interview #111 with Jess Redman (Author of The Miraculous)

Interview #112 with Karen Strong (Author of Just South of Home)

Interview #113 with Nicole Melleby (Author of Hurricane Season)

Interview #114 with J.J. and Chris Grabenstein (Authors of Shine)

Interview #115 with Susan Vaught (Author of Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalyse)

Interview #116 with Chris Baron (Author of All of Me)

*Meredith was kind, gracious, and giving with her answers to the questions.  It is an honor to post her responses here on the blog. 

*Thank you Meredith Russo for writing this incredible and thought-provoking book.

*Here is my book review...


by Meredith Russo

(May 21, 2019)

How did you come to know Eric and Morgan?
I do a lot of behind the scenes work, mainly extensive character sheets with physical stats, relationship webs, and bits of personal trivia for each major character. If I’m having trouble getting a character down (which I did with these two, hence the gap between my first and second books) I also like to write scenes from their past, previous important moments when their life changed or something scarred or uplifted them.

What do you think are Eric and Morgan's most admirable qualities?
Their best qualities are also, in a way, their worst. Eric is not only capable of seeing the best in everyone and the beauty in everyone around him, but so dearly wants everyone and everything to be beautiful and good that he can often be paralyzed into inaction when something is wrong. Morgan is his foil in this regard—she keeps her heart encased in strong armor, and before the book has even started she’s survived things no young person should have to, but this defensiveness leaves her cynical, morose, suspicious, and unable to reach out to her friends and family for help.

Is there anything you wish they would have changed or done differently in their story?
Oh, of course. I’m a thirty-two year old woman with her transition six years behind her, so naturally I’m inclined to entirely different blind spots and weaknesses than a pair of lonely, isolated teenagers. Really, the crux of the novel is that Morgan should tell Eric that she’s transgender in the very first scene, but that’s the trick about regret, isn’t it? She is who she is in that scene, and doing anything but what she did would have required that she be someone else. We’re stuck being who we are and making the mistakes we’re capable of making.

What do you think they can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what they went through?
There’s an end to the tunnel. I think that telling young people, “It gets better,” is well-intentioned but, you know, a little misguided. My late twenties, post-transition, was maybe the darkest time in my life thus far, the latest in a long line of dark, dark times. The difference between experiencing that in my late twenties and the misery of my teen years, though, was that I knew dark times don’t last. The tunnel might be very long. The night might be something out of the Arctic Circle, lasting an entire season, but eventually there’s light again. There will always be another bad time, but knowing from experience that they end makes all the difference.

How did you research these two characters and the circumstances they found themselves in?
I based a lot of it on the sort of ambient knowledge of the region I’m from, though I did watch a lot of Friday Night Lights and play a lot of college football video games with my jock friends to make sure I was getting football culture right.

Do you and the two boys share any similarities?
Morgan isn’t a boy, but I think I share a little bit of Eric’s optimism and Morgan’s cynicism. (I’m prone to mood swings.) I’ve got Eric’s taste in music and Morgan’s taste in movies and fashion. All three of us have very complicated relationships with the American South.

What was the hardest scene to write about them?
Without spoiling too much, any scene involving thoughts or self harm or suicidal ideation is always incredibly difficult for me to write.

Who do you think was their biggest supporter and why?
Morgan’s mom, if an afterlife really does exist. She wasn’t perfect, as we see in one of Morgan’s memories, but out of the four adults in these two children’s lives, she was by far the gentlest and most nurturing, though of course all but one of the parents love Morgan and Eric in the ways they know how to love.

Why do you think some young people have such a difficult time being their true selves and struggle with it for years, while others can share their authentic self and be who they were meant to be?
Oh, that’s such a complicated question, and so many things factor into the answer. Let’s assume a gaggle of children raised in identical circumstances. Some of them will, even as little children, be more tuned in to the ambient homophobia and transphobia in their environment, which can extend time in the closet. Some of them will be more afraid of filial and social rejection, which can extend time in the closet. Some of them will be more generally self-conscious or have a nervous disposition, and being visibly different in anyway is as difficult for such a person as public speaking, dancing in a crowd, or getting in front of a mic at karaoke night. Some of them, for lack of a better word, would have been gender nonconforming even if they’d been born cisgender—think of a trans woman who likes jeans and flannel shirts as an adult, or a trans man who likes feminine coded clothing—and so they aren’t particularly bothered by the gendered expectations of early childhood until puberty hits. Some of the trans girls will be attracted to women and some of the trans boys will be attracted to men, which, in a world where heterosexual trans people are seen as exotic, can make figuring themselves out even more difficult. Now add in all the different kinds of communities and family environments and cultural backgrounds an LGBT person could be raised in and the possible road blocks branch out to infinity! Depressing!

What do you think Eric and Morgan are doing as the present time?In 2019 they’re twenty-six, just getting pretty firmly established in Los Angeles, Morgan as an editor and Eric as a part-time session guitarist, part-time lead for a band that still only plays locally. They’re making more money than either of them has seen yet in their twenties, and they’re seriously considering both taking in a foster child and telling Morgan’s dad to retire and come live with them.

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