Q: How did you come up with the idea for Reckless, Glorious, Girl, and for your character Beatrice?
A: I work for an amazing social-justice based arts in education nonprofit organization called The DreamYard Project and have had the opportunity to be a teaching artist in schools for over 20 years.
I work as the director of the theatre and poetry departments now and was visiting a poetry class that was being taught by an incredible teaching artist: Vincent Toro.
He was introducing the students to Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions. It was a seventh-grade class and I loved the beautiful and brilliant and both wild and simple questions they came up with. I was in awe of their wonder, and it reminded me of who I was at that age.
It made me start writing questions and journaling about the seventh grade. That year is such a turning point for so many young people. There are questions about identity, friendship, family and how to belong.
The poems started to bloom from there and Beatrice’s voice came out naturally. I wanted her to have strong family influences and to be connected to the landscape of Kentucky and to grapple with growing up while staying true to herself.
I wanted to follow her along that journey and it was a joy to spend time with her, her mom, and her mamaw through all that growing and changing and coming back to her roots.
Q: As you noted, the novel takes place in Kentucky—how important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Setting is one of the most important aspects of my work. I think of setting as another character in my books, and deeply wanted to represent the stunning natural beauty of Kentucky.
I wanted to put Beatrice right in the middle of my hometown of Bardstown, Kentucky, and painted the downtown, the garden in her backyard and the rolling hills with as much attention to detail as possible.
I wanted people to see that beauty. Kentucky has such a rich landscape and I wanted people who have never been to see it illustrated with care and attention and wanted those who are from the Bluegrass to see their home reflected back to them.
It was also essential for me to paint a small hometown like the one I grew up in. Everyone knew everyone else, and although that sometimes felt constricting, I loved that the people who knew me considered me family and that is what I wanted to showcase in Reckless, Glorious, Girl.
Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: I knew I wanted Beatrice to struggle internally. She is figuring out who she is and who she wants to be.
I wanted that push and pull between staying a kid and being a teenager and for her to grapple with what it means to be cool or what it means to be ashamed of your family life and how to face that – and grow from it.
I also wanted her try on new personalities and new attitudes to figure out which ones fit and how to be your true self. I started to learn Beatrice’s journey as I stayed with her.
Her friends, Mariella and StaceyAnn, came alive on the page for me, and I adored writing the character of Mamaw. The more they interacted, the more fun I had putting them in different situations and having them navigate their way through them.
I knew Beatrice would make mistakes and I wanted her struggles to be internal and to be wrestling against herself and the more I wrote, the more those opportunities showed up in the narrative.
Beatrice’s journey is a true ride and I hope I captured the feeling of seventh grade – and the way emotions can go up and down as you are changing and growing and becoming your true self.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I hope readers will find themselves as they are reading about Beatrice’s journey and hope they will think about what real friendships look like and what it takes to crate strong family connections.
I hope they will see the beauty of Kentucky and want to swim in the rivers, drive through the hills, and walk through my small hometown.
Most of all, I hope they return to Beatrice and her community – to eat meals in their garden, climb their treehouse, and be part of their own communities in real and powerful ways.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am working on a new Young Adult novel-in-verse called Don't Call Me a Hurricane.
It focuses on 17-year-old Eliza Murphy, an environmental activist especially concerned with protecting her coastal community, who navigates the aftereffects of a hurricane that devastated her town, while falling for a boy at the center of a redevelopment that could put their community in serious danger—again.
It is a love story about the ocean and a small island community and figuring out what it means to stand up for what you believe in and what you love.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I love storytelling. I love the process of taking characters and readers on a journey with me. It is my hope that readers find parts of themselves in my characters and that it makes them excited about reading and writing and crafting their own stories to share with the world.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Ellen Hagan.