Tuesday, January 10, 2017

M-E Girard: Morris Award Interview

Welcome to this year's Morris Interview series. Today's interview is with M-E Girard. 

William C. Morris Award Finalist: Best Young Adult Debut of the Year

All Pen wants is to be the kind of girl she’s always been. So why does everyone have a problem with it? They think the way she looks and acts means she’s trying to be a boy—that she should quit trying to be something she’s not. If she dresses like a girl, and does what her folks want, it will show respect. If she takes orders and does what her friend Colby wants, it will show her loyalty.
But respect and loyalty, Pen discovers, are empty words. Old-world parents, disintegrating friendships, and strong feelings for other girls drive Pen to see the truth—that in order to be who she truly wants to be, she’ll have to man up. (Publisher's description)
Harper Collins, 2016
ISBN 9780062404176

Who were you writing to as you wrote Pen’s story? 

I’m not sure I was thinking much about audience while I was writing. Of course I knew I was writing YA, which meant I was creating something primarily for teens. I guess I was most concerned with creating an authentic teen voice and an interesting story meant to be consumed by young people, but knowing how the YA fiction market is, there were (hopefully!) going to be a variety of readers picking up my book. Some part of me hoped the story would reach teens who really identify with Pen, who see their own stories playing out in the book, but I just really wasn’t thinking in specifics during the creation of the story.

In Girl Mans Up, gaming is a shared interest that binds friends together, but it’s also woven into family life. It’s a big part of the relationship between Pen and her brother Johnny; Blake has her own retro ancestry. . . .   How did you become interested in gaming? Does it connect you to family and friends? What in the world is retro-gaming? 

I was always into gaming. My parents got my sisters and I an NES and a Gameboy when we were little. I also spent many hours PC gaming as a teen. It’s funny because I wouldn’t have considered myself a gamer at that time. I guess many of us were isolated back then (‘80s and early ‘90s) without the internet, and without subscriptions to publications like Nintendo Power, so thinking of gaming as part of my identity didn’t even cross my mind. I just knew I spent a lot of time playing video games, and I carried that into adulthood. It definitely connects me to family and friend. My girlfriend and I bonded over our love of gaming right from the start. We often have game nights when family and friends come over. We’re avid gamers as well as collectors, so we’re hooked up not only to play the latest in console gaming but also to revisit the classics. And that’s what retro gaming is—gaming old school.

When it comes to “manning up” many of the “men” in this story are struggling to measure up to some ideal of masculinity. Who is Pen’s ideal as she grapples with loyalty, competition, and responsibility? 

I think Pen is grappling the with the idea that someone, somewhere, decided that certain qualities and characteristics she feels are hers (or should belong to her) actually belong to a group of people she doesn’t belong to—dudes—and can only be performed authentically and correctly by them. Even though it’s not always explicit, she’s always asking questions and making decisions about what masculinity is and what it has to do with gender—it’s a constant deconstruction of the concept. As she progresses through her journey, it turns out all kinds of decent and not-so-decent people in her life actually possess the qualities that make up stereotypical “masculinity,” and they’re not all dudes—plus the ones who are dudes aren’t necessarily these ideally “masculine” dudes anyway. Pen’s ideal has always been her brother Johnny, in terms of behaviour/attitudes and also in terms of appearance and style, but now she realizes there are others she can admire and strive to emulate—she can look at Olivia for her strength, to Blake for her confidence and guts, to Tristan for his loyalty, to Elliott for his quiet presence, etc. In a couple years, someone might ask Pen what masculinity and femininity are, and she might be like, “I don’t know, man. Depends what your definition is, I guess.”

"... she's always asking questions. 
It's a constant deconstruction of the concept."

Do you write to music? If so, what did you listen to as you wrote this book?

If I’m at a coffee shop or a library, I’ll blast whatever I have on my iPod or my Spotify playlist on shuffle. It’s usually loud because I want to create this white noise. I don’t listen to anything specific, and I find my ears aren’t really tuning in to the melodies. It can be rock, cheesy pop, or metal—doesn’t really matter because I’m not listening! I couldn’t even tell you what I listened to during the creation of GMU. I get bored of music fast, too, so I probably dumped my entire library and playlists a few times through the course of the GMU writing.

Writing advice in five words or less...

Revise like a mofo!

Do you have a day job? How does it fit with your creative work?

I work full-time nights as a pediatric community nurse. Everything fit in quite nicely when all I had to worry about was writing GMU and going to work. Now things are changing. There is social media, book promotion tasks, tons of emails, travelling, plus I gotta write something else, too! I’m in a transition period right now, I guess, trying to figure out how to make this “published author” gig fit in with my full-time nursing career. Plus there’s all the Netflix and video games I gotta fit into my schedule on top of the other stuff!

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