Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Q&A with Lucy Jane Bledsoe


Photo by Su Evers



Lucy Jane Bledsoe is the author of the new young adult novel No Stopping Us Now. Her many other books include Running Wild. She lives in Berkeley, California.


Q: You've noted that much of No Stopping Us Now was based on your own experiences. What did you see as the right balance between fiction and your own memories as you worked on the book?


A: Great question. 


No Stopping Us Now is the story of a 17-year-old girl who in 1974 wants to play basketball for her high school. But there is no basketball program for girls. She learns about the law, Title IX, passed just two years earlier, and sets out to use it to gain a team.


A little naive, she’s stunned by the blowback — from male coaches, from the school board, from her high school’s principal. She almost gives up, but her good friends lift her up and she manages to win Title IX compliance for her town. Basketball is just the start of it, though. She falls in love, a couple of times, and gains so much more than sports.


The protagonist in this story is based on me as a 17-year-old and my own experiences. The truth is, I stayed as close to the actual events and facts as I could. Everything in the book happened, but to make the story read smoothly, I compressed some of the timeline. In particular, I moved some events from the following year into the year of my story.


Also, I wanted to be respectful of other kids’ privacy, so while the events and teachers and coaches are all based on real people, the protagonist’s friends and the other players on the team come from my imagination.


Finally, no one can remember dialogue verbatim! I wanted to write intimate, compelling scenes among my characters, with dialogue, so while I captured the gist of actual conversations, I wrote the story as a novel. 


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, “The cause is just, the action absorbing, the sexist flack still all too familiar.” How would you compare your experiences in 1974 with those of female high school athletes today?


A: One of the biggest reasons I wanted to write this book was because I wanted to have intergenerational conversations with young people about gender justice issues. Storytelling is the best communication tool I know, so I wrote this as a novel. 


Although much has changed, a lot has not. I know young women today are facing so many challenges in trying to get fairness in their schools. Title IX is not uniformly enforced, not even close.


I’m excited that I’ve been able to set up several events where I’ll be in conversation with high school girls about their experiences, including this one with the great Stanford basketball coach Tara VanDerveer and two student activists/athletes: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/lucy-jane-bledsoe-with-tara-vanderveer-tickets-294037111917?aff=web.


I’m looking forward to finding commonalities — the centrality of friendship and love, even while working for change. And I’m also looking forward to hearing from young people about what is different today and how adults can support the new challenges they face.


Q: How was the novel's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Ha! I’m terrible at titles. Publishers often nix the ones I come up with. So, to be completely honest with you, my wonderful agent came up with this one and my publisher loves it. So do I.


I like the velocity in the words: we’re moving ahead and nothing can stop us. I also like the way it speaks to the relationship among women through the decades who have been working on gender justice. No Stopping Us Now references both the history and the future. 


Being a teenager, dealing with injustices (and there are so many at that age, real and perceived), is exhausting. So I hope this title injects a dose of optimism about what the possibilities are for the future.


Q: Can you say more about what you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I always want my readers to enjoy an emotionally satisfying story. I prefer reading novels that tell me about things I didn’t know, too, so I hope No Stopping Us Now feeds people’s thoughts, as well as their hearts. 


The story uses basketball as its container, but it’s really about sisterhood and activism, about girls and young women finding their voices, speaking up for change in their communities. Several male allies, both students and adults, play a big part in the story, too, and I think that’s a good takeaway from the narrative.


I’d like readers to see how one girl stood up for herself, and how her teammates and friends helped, and the difference that courage made.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a book coming out next March, called Tell the Rest, about a couple of young adults who, as teenagers, were subjected to conversion therapy at a Christian camp. Their friendship saved their lives, but after leaving the camp, they lost touch with each other. The novel follows the path they each take healing from the experience and finding one another again.


I wrote Tell the Rest during the Trump years and the question of how to manage rage was, and still is, at the forefront of my mind. Where does rage come from? What are we supposed to do with it? Why exactly are so many people enraged?


So I flipped those questions and did some research into what makes people happy and gives them peace. Two big answers to this question are, one, being a part of a committed community, and two, being in beautiful places. Bingo. This rang so true for me.


Basketball, being on teams made up of a collection of diverse girls working cooperatively for excellence and toward specific goals, and all the humor and love and angst that comes with teams, saved my life as I was growing up. The dancelike beauty of the sport and the endorphins also filled me with joy.


As for beautiful places, I grew up in Oregon and love the state, especially its mountains and shorelines. And yet traveling in rural parts of Oregon can be frightening for me as an obvious queer person. Add to that the fact that the demographics in the rural parts of this country are growing ever more diverse, including in Oregon.


For my novel, I wanted to look at that mix, what happens when all kinds of people—BIPOC, queer, straight, white, etc.—live together in rural Oregon.


Finally, circling back to rage, I’ve been doing a lot of writing in the last few years about the Christian right. How these people are anything but Christian. How they are the source of so much hate in this country. I wanted to address that head-on in Tell the Rest, the confluence of that hate with the beauty of Oregon and the intensity of community.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’d love to see folks at any of my events for No Stopping Us Now — some in person and some virtual. They can find the events here.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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