Friday, May 14, 2021

Q&A with J. Albert Mann




J. Albert Mann is the author of the new young adult novel Fix. Her other books include the YA novel The Degenerates. She is based in Boston.


Q: You've said that Fix was a very personal story for you. Can you say more about that, and about how you created your character Eve?


A: Eve was born with large, progressive IS (idiopathic scoliosis) and so was I. We both endured a double fusion of our spines. In our recovery beds, we both developed a relationship with a plastic, department store telescope. Here is where our experiences stop crossing.


Creating Eve as a character separate from myself took a long time and was a serious struggle. I used side writing as a tool to separate us. Writing from Eve’s perspective on everything from her spine, to her relationship to her mother, to her understanding of art, helped me bring her into being as a character who was not myself.


I believe many writers share pieces of their own stories inside their characters, and the closer those experiences are to their own experiences, the harder those characters will be to write. Although someone from the outside would probably think the opposite is true.


Q: You tell the story in prose and in verse. How did you decide on that approach?


A: I first wrote the entire novel in prose and edited this way for a long time. But the chapters where Eve was in pain and on medication (altered mental state) felt overwhelming.


Physical pain is incredibly difficult to write…and even more difficult to read.


Verse allowed me to control Eve’s experience of pain and suffering…slow it down. While at the same time, the use of verse intensified these moments by zeroing in on them with less words. I also used the white space surrounding the words in verse to serve as a hollowing out of these moments and to mirror Eve’s isolation in her recovery bed.

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says that "this intense, unflinching story asks what it means to be repaired and reveals the forces that bring people back together after being torn apart." What do you think of that description?


A: When a reader—and a reviewer is essentially just a reader—“gets” what you tried to do, it’s an amazing feeling. Because this novel was so personal, the reviews felt even more scary. It was almost like my life experience was being reviewed. Although I tried very hard not to see it this way.


Q: What do you hope people take away from the book?


A: I hope readers will think differently about the disability experience. I’ve always hated the “walk in another person’s shoes,” saying because I just don’t believe we can do this. We can picture ourselves in their shoes, but then it’s us in those shoes, not them.


A better way to empathize is to listen to people, hear them, believe them. Their story is their story, and as humans, we can take that story in to create understanding and connection.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on two works of historical nonfiction…and loving it!


I’ve written historical fiction but never just straight-on nonfiction. It’s actually quite intense. There is no veil of “story” or “character” that sits between me and the subject. It’s exciting to give readers an historical experience with this veil removed and thrilling to write. I’d equate the experience with tight-rope walking without a net.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: There are so many fantastic disabled writers penning awesome works for us to read. Below are some of my favorites. I hope readers will dig in!!!


Picture Book


What Happened to You by James Catchpole

MC [main character] with one leg.


Middle Grade


What Stars are Made Of by Sarah Allen 

MC with Turner Syndrome.




Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz

MCs with rheumatoid arthritis and Gaucher’s disease.


Finding Balance and Brave Enough by Kati Gardner

MCs with cancer and amputation of a leg from cancer


Unbroken edited by Marieke Nijcamp

Anthology of stories of #ownvoices disabled writers


Even If We Break by Marieke Nijcamp

Multiple MCs with different disabilities


Cursed by Karol Ruth Silverstein 

MC with rheumatoid arthritis


Run by Kody Keplinger

MC who is blind


The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais

MC who is deaf, brother with cystic fibrosis


The State of Grace by Rachel Lucas

MC with Asperger’s


YA Coming out in 2022:


One for All by Lillie Owens Lainoff

MC with POTS


The Threat of the Hunt by Madeline Dyer

MC with POTS and EDS


Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester

MC with hip dysplasia

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with J. Albert Mann.

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