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A Picture and a Thousand (Plus) Words – A Q&A with Author Brigit Young

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I picked up Brigit Young’s debut novel, Worth a Thousand Words, because we have a friend in common, and our mutual friend sent me a copy as a gift. I read it right away, and thought it was really well done. And I wasn’t alone in that assessment: Horn Book’s review called it “a suspenseful mystery/detective story [that] deepens into a nuanced coming-of-age story…” Curious to know more about a friend of a friend, I asked if I could interview her. She was kind enough to answer some questions, and here’s what she had to say:

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Brigit Young portrait - by Gabriel Frye-Behar

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The NewsWhistle Q&A with Brigit Young

Date: 2018

Occupation: writer

Hometown:  Ann Arbor, Michigan

Current town: Brooklyn, New York

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Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions–I really appreciate it. And congratulations on your debut novel, which I greatly enjoyed. What inspired you to write this book?

Thank you! As I embarked upon my second attempt at a middle grade novel (the first will rightfully never see the light of day), I asked my wise friend, Tillie, what she’d want to read about. She said she’d always wanted to read a book about a girl who finds lost things. That image sparked a character in my mind. I saw a young girl with a camera, searching for lost objects, for lost people, and eventually for the lost parts of herself. From there, a mystery story grew, and because I myself was dealing with intense and life-altering chronic pain at the time of writing the book, particularly in my leg, I wanted to create a heroine with chronic pain. All of these elements combined gave me my protagonist, who I named Tillie, and that character led me through her story.

Tillie is a terrific character, so she is a lovely tribute to your wise friend. Do you have a follow up in mind, a sequel, or another story entirely?

Although I’ve had a couple of requests from kids for a sequel, I think Tillie’s story is done for now! I’m currently working on another middle grade book, The Prettiest, due for publication in the winter of 2020. The Prettiest tells the story of the fallout at Ford Middle School after an anonymous social media user posts a list of the “Top 50 Prettiest Girls” in the eighth grade. Readers follow Eve Hoffman, number one on the list, who desperately wants to hide from her newfound celebrity status; Sophie Kane, number two on the list, who believes she deserves to be number one; and Nessa Flores-Brady, Eve’s loyal best friend, who is not on the list at all and claims she couldn’t care less. Readers follow the three girls as they join forces to take down whoever wrote the list.

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Do you see yourself writing a novel for adult readers as well?

I have half of a novel for adult readers sitting in a folder on my computer. It’s loosely based on my early years in NYC as an actress. It’s a dark comedic piece with a Tales of the City vibe. Maybe one day I’ll dust it off and rework it… But for now, I’m incredibly inspired by young readers and their stories, and I’m happily sticking with middle grade fiction!

Your adult book does sound pretty fun. But I’ll gladly look forward to your next book for kids, too. What has been the critical reaction to your book so far…has it found a readership? What do kids, parents, librarians, and teachers think?

I’ve been told by some parents that their kids are up into the night reading it or finishing it in a day!  It’s been remarkably gratifying to know that the story drew them in like that. As for parents and librarians, some of them have expressed to me that they appreciate how sensitively the book deals with tough issues. I’m so happy when I hear that!

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What was the biggest challenge you faced in the writing process?

It was tricky to nail the character of Jake in terms of his role in the story’s mystery. Jake wants to find his father and has many wild theories as to where he has gone and why. In the editing process I had to find a way to make his tendency toward paranoia and conspiracy theories feel believable and ultimately not too over-the-top (although some of the humor in the book comes from his hyperbole).

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Who are some authors working now, writing books for middle readers that you admire?

I deeply admire heavyweights Rebecca Stead, Hilary McKay, Jason Reynolds, Meg Medina, and Erin Entrada Kelly. But in terms of new writers on the horizon, while there are so many I could name, a few that come to mind are Melissa Sarno, who wrote the moving Just Under the Clouds, Kheryn Callender, whose Hurricane Child absolutely floored me, and K.A. Reynolds, author of the stunningly poetic and original The Land of Yesterday.

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Is there a book everyone should read? If you could give the world a book assignment, what would it be?

If the assignment was mainly for the United States I would say The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. But when it comes to the entire planet, I’ll go with fiction instead of non-fiction. Everyone on this planet should read East of Eden by my main man John Steinbeck. And also We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, one of the most brilliant pieces of writing of all time. Or anything by Gloria Naylor. Or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There are just too many. My class for the world would require a long syllabus.

I’d take your class for the world! How about a movie?

Sense and Sensibility! Oh, how we miss you, Alan Rickman.

That is an excellent film, a beautiful take on a near-perfect novel. If you could go back in time and do one thing over, what would it be?

I would study more in high school. I struggled with depression as a kid, and it hindered me immensely. I failed many classes. I really wish I had soaked up more knowledge earlier on to serve as a bedrock for my studies in my 20s.

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What is the best or the worst thing that happened to you this week?

The best thing that happened to me this week was going to see a folk concert with my three and a half year old daughter and watching her explode in spastic, full-body excitement over the presence of a ukulele and a fiddle.

Aww, that sounds adorable. What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in life?

Leaving my hometown and moving to New York City at age nineteen to live with my then-boyfriend in the East Village. Every cliche about Midwestern ingenues in the big city fit me perfectly at the time. I was absolutely doe-eyed.

Well, you’re still in NYC so it must have worked out reasonably well! What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

In life: “This, too, shall pass.”

For writing: Put any words on the page, even horrible, dreadful sentences that anyone would be ashamed to have written. Eventually, the good stuff will pour out.

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One last question: is there anything else you’d like to pitch, promote, or discuss?

 Yes! My book! (And the next one!)

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.

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IMAGE CREDITS

Brigit Young portrait courtesy of Gabriel Frye-Behar.

Book cover by Boyoun Kim.

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Other Q&As by Laura LaVelle

Alexi Auld, author

Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director, Historic Districts Council

* Eric Bennett, author

Victor Calise, NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities

Alexander Campos, Executive Director, Center for Book Arts

Mark Cheever, Friends of Hudson River Park

Yvonne Chu, Kimera Design

*Claudia Connor, International Institute of Connecticut

Sarah Cox, Write A House

Betsy Crapps, founder of Mom Prom

Margaret Dorsey, anthropologist

Mamady Doumbouya, Jonathan Halloran, & Robert Hornsby, founders of American Homebuilders of West Africa

Wendy Dutwin, Limelight Media

Kinsey Dyckman, Board Member, Dyckman Farmhouse Museum

Rhonda Eleish & Edie van Breems, interior designers

Martha Albertson Fineman, law professor

* Christopher Fowler, author

Bob Freeman, Committee on Open Government

* Les Friedman, Mikey’s Way Foundation

* Alex Gaudelet, INVEST HOSPITALITY

Carrie Goldberg, internet privacy and sexual consent attorney

Dr. Ramis Gheith, pain management physician

Alex Gruhin, co-founder of Nightcap Riot

Leslie Green Guilbault, artist, potter

Garnet Heraman, brand strategist for Karina Dresses, serial entrepreneur

Bill Harley, children’s entertainer and storyteller

Meredith Sorin Horsford, Executive Director, Dyckman Farmhouse Museum

Margaret Pritchard Houston, author and youth worker

Camilla Huey, artist, designer

Michelle Jenab, anti-racism activist

Dr. Brett Jarrell & Dr. Walter Neto, founders of Biovita

Beth Johnson, Townsend Press editor

Mahanth Joishy, founder of United States – India Monitor

Alexandra Kennedy,  Executive Director, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Jim Knable, playwright and musician

Jonathan Kuhn, Director of Art & Antiquities for NYC Parks Department

Elizabeth Larison, Director of Programs for apexart

Ann Lawrence, Co-Founder of Pink51

Jessica Lee, dancer, Sable Project Administrator

Najaam Lee, artist and sickle cell advocate

* Devoney Looser, English professor

Chris Mallin, theorem painting teacher

Anthony Monaghan, documentary filmmaker

Ellie Montazeri, Tunisian towel manufacturer

Heather-Marie Montilla, Executive Director, Pequot Library

Yurika Nakazono, rainwear designer, Terra New York

Jibrail Nor, drummer

* Nick Page, composer, song leader, conductor

Craig Pomranz, cabaret singer, children’s book author

Alice Quinn, Executive Director, Poetry Society of America

Ryan Ringholz, children’s shoe designer, Plae Shoes

Alanna Rutherford, Board Member, Andrew Glover Youth Program

Deborah Ryan & Frank Vagnone, Historic House Anarchists

* Steve Sandberg, musician

Bill Sanderson, author, reporter, and editor

Lawrence Schwartzwald, photographer

* Rose Servitova, author

* Lisa Shaub, milliner

Marjorie Silver, law professor

Peter Sís, writer and illustrator

Charlotte Smith, blogger, At Charlotte’s House

Patrick Smith, author and pilot

Juliet Sorensen, law professor

Jeffrey Sumber, psychotherapist and author

Rich Tafel, life coach and Swedenborgian minister

*Jonathan Todres, law professor

Andra Tomsa, creator of SPARE app

Maggie Topkis, mystery fiction publisher

Pauline Turley, Irish Arts Center

Vickie Volpano, Goodwill of Western and Northern Connecticut

Carol Ward, Executive Director, Morris-Jumel Mansion

Krissa Watry, Dynepic & iOKids

Adamu Waziri, creator of children’s television program Bino and Fino

Ekow Yankah, law professor