Welcome to 2021 National Poetry Month. It's my fifteenth year of participating (some years better than others).
Today Poetry Friday is held at Jama at Jama's Alphabet Soup and she has quite the alphabet soup feast for us.
I have five great interviews lined up:
April 2 POETRY FRIDAY: ALLAN WOLF
April 9 POETRY FRIDAY: LISA FIPPS
April 16 POETRY FRIDAY: CHRIS BARON
April 23 POETRY FRIDAY:
JOANNE ROSSMASSLER FRITZ
April 30 POETRY FRIDAY: LITA JUDGE
I love getting books into the hands of readers so there will be prizes for stopping by and saying hi.
Today, I am thrilled to be hosting Chris Baron as he answers questions about his second book, THE MAGICAL IMPERFECT. This book will be available June 2021.
THE MAGICAL IMPERFECT was just what I needed to read now. I remembered that 1989 quake and where I was (In Vancouver, WA, watching the World Series). The story of Etan and Malia shows readers the power of friendship as well as the strength of compassion. And I love the bond between Eta and his father and Grandfather as well as Malia and her family.
I wish that when I was a K5 Teacher Librarian, that I had had a copy of the book. I had one student who had extreme eczema and there were days I could see her discomfort and pain. It would have been so cool to have a book that she could see herself in.
WELCOME CHRIS BARON
When did you know that this is the story you would write for your next book? (were you still working on ALL OF ME?) What was the spark that started you writing it?
Baron: Love this question: I think the quiet voices were stirring for a long time. Having lived in the Bay Area, the magic of that place is present in almost all of my stories. It was really when I started thinking about my grandfather who was a jeweler in Brooklyn that the story started taking shape. I had some great conversations with my agent about my ideas for this story--about two unlikely friends--kids-helping one another, and it grew from there.
Did anyone in your family arrive in the states via Angel Island? This place as an entry spot is new to me. I had no idea.
Baron: It’s fascinating to see the history. I am familiar with the history, and my family actually arrived through Ellis Island while my wife’s family emigrated from the Philippines in the 1960s, so there is a lot of family history connected with ports of entry and the movement from an entirely different culture into a “new world.” Angel Island history is lesser known than Ellis Island. There were many immigrants who came through, Japanese, Filipino, remnants of Jews fleeing Europe. It’s a place of deep pain for so many, and there is much to be written about here--primarily the roughly 175,000 Chinese Immigrants that came through and the countless numbers who were interrogated or detained. A fantastic resource to learn more about Angel Island and all that happened there is from this book which was a core source of my research: Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America, by Erika Lee and Judy Yung. Also--two other books I highly recommend are: Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist, and Paper Son: Lee's Journey to America by Helen Foster James and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh.
As a child did you experience selective mutism or bullying? What kind of research did you do for the book?
Baron: So MUCH RESEARCH! I spent time in our College Library, working with our Mental Health Department to learn all I could. I also highly recommend After Zero, by Christina Collins, for a really powerful story about selective Mutism. Most of all, I relied on my own experience in dealing with this. As a kid, we moved a lot. One of the ways I dealt with the anxiety of moving was the manifestation of mild selective mutism. It was easier to stay inside my imagination than give my words away. It never lasted long, and certainly others deal with much more severe cases than this, but I think I have a strong taste of it.
As for bullying: Not talking often invited some sort of cruelty--but the real bullying for me was almost always about my weight (see ALL OF ME).
Were you living in the San Francisco area in 1989?
Baron: I lived in the Bay Area before 1989, but I still had family and friends living there during that tumultuous time.
What led you to the decision to create the fictional town of Ship’s Haven ( I do love the name)? Wouldn’t it have been just as easy to use a real town?
Baron: I love this question. I always draw maps-maps are such a huge part of my writing process. There were a few towns I considered as candidates, but I always envisioned a small town on the coast bordered by redwoods. The deeper I went into the magic of this town, it’s diverse inhabitants, and the roots of the story--Ship’s haven came alive.
Were there any characters that were more of a challenge to write?
Baron: Yes and no. But isn’t this true for all writers? (smile). I think I always want to create the most authentic characters I can--so each character took a lot of time and “extra” writing to ensure they came alive in the best way possible. I think the greatest challenge was to make sure that the rich culture and history of the characters were fully and appropriately represented, so I spent a lot of time, for example, working with my wife on Malia’s character. I also had several sensitivity readers for different aspects of the story. This really helped me through different characterizations of everyone.
I loved the bareket scenes. It hit home to have lost and regain a family treasure. What is the story behind the bareket. The return and the tiny rabbit footprints around it gives it a sense of magical realism.
Baron: I am SO glad to hear this. The bareket scenes were close to my heart. I wanted a jewel that had a sacred and symbolic life, a symbol of deep hope. My grandfather worked in a jewelry shop in Brooklyn--nothing fancy--trophies, watch repair, stuff like that. But whenever I went to see him he always had a treasure for me--something solid I could hold in my hand. I wanted Etan to have this, too.
There are so many magical moments in this story: the talking to the trees, the clay, the treasure box. Again, what are the backstories for them? (I’m a tree talker so I get it).
Baron: Without too many spoilers--I would say that this story is rooted in the idea that magic is all around us--that if we might only stop and listen-pay attention-we will see and hear the trees, or discover the ancient things living right beside us. But also--I love trees.
Malia’s cape does a lot of work in the story. I loved the ending image of the cape (I don’t want to give it away). Where did this image come from?
Baron: It does! So much of the book deals with Malia’s severe skin condition. These images relate to the life I have lived with my wife and her severe eczema--learning to hide and to be brave at different times. It’s a deep well in our lives, and the cape comes from there.
I wanted to know more about the mother, I almost wondered at the end of the book if there is another book there about her and Etan. I loved that they both are notebooks.
Baron: Ohhhhhhh, yes. I like this idea. She and Etan have a very special connection, and this is part of why it hits him so hard when she has to leave. The notebook is an extension of herself that she gifts to him. I think as a parent-writing Etan’s mother and father felt like two sides of a coin. Parents often express themselves differently even when they both love their child with all of who they are. It felt close writing both--even as they were so different.
Do you keep a notebook? What is your writing routine?
Baron: I have a giant notebook that I draw in, write ideas, and of course, maps. I confess though that my kids often take it and draw surprise pictures inside (which I love).
Do you have a favorite scene or quote from the book? If you were to give a reading, what might you read to the audience?
Baron: I think there is a scene where Etan first meets Malia that I have read to a few classes at school visits. In these scenes, Malia stays hidden behind her door, but at the very end of their time together, Malia’s irrepressible vitality comes through like a light shining under the door and into Etan’s heart.
Goodbye, Etan the artist.
Please bring me a pumpkin
if you can.
And for a moment
I see half of her face smiling,
as she closes the door.
Finally, I’ve been taking some classes at the Highlights Foundation with Cordelia Jensen. We’ve been discussing what is the definition of a verse novel. What are your thoughts on the definition?
Baron: Cordelia is amazing. I am not sure what more I can add to the definition, but I can say that for me Novels in verse relate to all kinds of readers. There are all the elements of fiction at work, plot, character, setting, theme, conflict, all at work. but it’s delivered in the most careful way possible. There is space on the page, measured breaks, pacing, music,figurative language, and movement of lines that a reader of almost any level can find their way into. The structure of verse creates an intimacy with a reader that allows them to hear the tone and cadence of a character’s voice. This can create even stronger connections for readers.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Chris. I hope that many will be sure to put this on their lists of "Books-to-Buy-in-June" list. That's when it will be available.
All photos and poems in these blog posts are copyrighted to Jone Rush MacCulloch 2006- Present. Please do not copy, reprint or reproduce without written permission from me.