NM: I especially loved the family scenes in this novel. Whether it was Reggie's family (refreshing to see a *functional* working class black family!) or Charlie and his mom, or the folks at the shelter who were another sort of family. The sibling rivalry between Reggie and Monica was particularly right on the mark - I have a younger brother and we were very much at each other like that, but with this current of fierce loyalty underlying it all. Did you draw upon your own family experiences for these scenes?
ORP: Heh! Thank you. I loved writing the family scenes, and had a lot more that just couldn't fit. My sister and I didn't have the kind of relationship Reggie and Monica had. I have a couple of friends who did...Monica and Reggie were so much fun to write. In the earliest incarnations, Monica was even more of an antagonist -- she and Donovan even teamed up on occasion! I really loved exploring how both siblings were struggling with image and identity, and how they bonded in that struggle, while always remaining wholly themselves (I hope).
NM: That's always the struggle for me, too - making the characters as true to themselves as possible.
Tell me about the election. I'm thinking you were probably writing or revising SUPERZERO around the last US election. In fact, you've even mentioned Obama in the novel. Did the US presidential election influence the way you wrote about the election in the book? In what ways?
ORP: I definitely added a few things in later drafts to refer to the election. I think that at a couple of points I tried to allude to the sense of hope/change that emanated from a lot of the response to President Obama's campaign, and some of the opposing ideas that come into play when we consider the role of goverment and politics in our lives. The concept of moral courage came up a lot for me during the election, and that did fit in well with the themes in the book...There were a couple of sarcastic references as well...and the now-President's path was very familiar to me, I've known many young men and women in similar situations, etc.
NM: I really like that term, "moral courage." I think it sums up a lot of what I struggle with on a daily basis. And yes, the election in '08 really brought much of that to the fore.
I recently did a school visit for readers around the target age for SUPERZERO's readership and couldn't help but recommend it to them. What do you hope young readers will walk away with after reading this story?
ORP: Oh, thank you, Neesha! I think that I hope that those readers might think a bit about who they are, what they stand for, and how that's expressed in their lives on a daily basis. That there are many ideas of heroism, and sometimes that "still, small voice" is the most heroic one. There is one moment in the book that I believe is Reggie's most heroic, and I think it might not be the most obvious. I believe that there has to be room, in any idea of activism, or any sort of forward movement, for the baby steps, the whispering voices, the quiet thinkers, for taking a few steps backward. And for all of us who come hard sometimes, and soft at others, to know that we don't have to fit into anyone's, even our own, boxes.
I hope that readers know that I am writing to them from that place in myself that is both broken-hearted and beautiful to that same place in them; that I'm hoping that we meet and are transformed in some way together. That we're all imperfect, self-conscious, want more, don't even know what the questions are sometimes, much less the answers...and we can all get beyond ourselves, even in very small ways, to make a difference in this world.
NM: That answer brought tears to my eyes. Especially the part about, "don't even know what the questions are sometimes." One thing I've learned and know is absolutely true is that there are no absolutes. That everything is as right as it is wrong and most of the time, I don't *really* know which category things fall into. Especially when I think I'm right *grin*.
And now, the classic: What's next? Not just what book are you working on now (that too), but where do you see yourself as a writer in, say, ten years? What are you writing? Still MG fiction? Why or why not?
ORP: I'm working on a YA manuscript right now, it has slight touches of fantasy, and deals with themes of grief and guilt, which might be my last in that genre. I have many younger MG and chapter book ideas waiting to be worked on, and one of these days I would love to develop the skills to write a picture book. I have a multiplatform/multimedia project that I started years ago, exploring the lives of girls around the world at different turning points in their childhood and teen years. For years I've been interested in some of the opportunities to make meaning using digital technology. I will always be teaching in some way; I love it, and am looking forward to a couple of school writing workshops that I have coming up in both early childhood and teen classrooms and libraries. In my teaching, I love looking at multiple ways to 'write' and create, and reflect; sometimes using arts and crafts techniques, drama, discussion, memoir...just thinking about it is fun!
NM: Thanks so much, Olugbemisola!