As soon as I heard the premise for THE SIMPLE ART OF FLYING (published in other regions as CALL ME ALASTAIR) I couldn’t wait to feature it. It’s a lovely story that explores loneliness as well as finding family and true friends.
Sometimes flying means keeping your feet on the ground…
Born in a dismal room in a pet store, Alastair the African grey parrot dreams of escape to bluer skies. He’d like nothing more than to fly away to a palm tree with his beloved sister, Aggie. But when Aggie is purchased by twelve-year-old Fritz, and Alastair is adopted by elderly dance-enthusiast and pie-baker Albertina Plopky, the future looks ready to crash-land.
In-between anxiously plucking his feathers, eating a few books, and finding his own poetic voice, Alastair plots his way to a family reunion. But soon he’s forced to choose between the life he’s always dreamed of and admitting the truth: that sometimes, the bravest adventure is in letting go.
As a born and bred upstate New Yorker, what do you like most about where you live?
There are so many things to choose from! I’ll narrow it down to two. 1) The changing of seasons. We get it all. The winter-iest winters, cozy autumns, bright green springs, and beachy summers. My favorite? Definitely autumn. Apple-picking, baking, kaleidoscope trees, sweaters and jeans, and bonfires–it’s heavenly! And 2) The landscape. Rolling hills, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, forest, and farmland–NY is GORGEOUS, and I love trekking across every corner of this state. And when you combine the seasons with the landscape, it’s an artist’s dream.
Indeed it is! Coincidentally, my uncle, also an artist, lives there too. THE SIMPLE ART OF FLYING explores themes of loneliness and isolation. What do you hope readers gain from Alastair’s story, especially now?
I love this question. It’s amazing to me how as authors we can create a story we think will be understood deeply by a few who truly see themselves in the story’s characters. And while the same book might not resonate as deeply with others, at least those readers can find empathy for others different from themselves. But, right now in our present state of social distancing and uncertainty, it seems we’re all Alastair all of a sudden. And I hope readers (and all of us!) find the hope and comfort that Alastair finds in the end. Life doesn’t turn out exactly the way Alastair wants it . . . and it’s okay. Maybe even better than the life he would’ve chosen. One of the novel’s main themes centers around this idea that if they say life is like a bowl of cherries, well, you’re not going to be able to avoid the pits. Pits are hard and sort of annoying when you’re just trying to savor the sweet. But as Alastair and Fritz and Bertie find out, pits are seeds. Seeds have the potential to grow trees with more cherries than you can imagine. But first you gotta work through the pits. You gotta let them go, plant them. There is beauty to be found in loneliness and isolation. Who knows what possibilities will grow out of it.
What a beautiful analogy! What was the most challenging part about getting Alastair’s story noticed by agents and editors?
I was lucky enough not to have too much trouble with this story (that said, the eight years of writing stories before Alastair’s wasn’t pretty). But THE SIMPLE ART OF FLYING is certainly quirky with its three points of view and a mix of prose, poetry, letters, and logs, and I’m sure it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I think the most trouble in finding a place for Alastair was coming up against people’s preconceived notions of “animal stories.” With that, I knew I was in for an uphill battle from the beginning. I’d applied for one of Pitch Wars’ mentee slots and found many mentors who expressly stated they didn’t want anthropomorphic stories, and from my publishing research I knew the same was true for agents and editors. But the thing about writing the book of your heart is that other hearts tend to beat in time with yours–whether they know it yet or not. Alastair was indeed chosen by Pitch Wars mentors (who’d said they didn’t want, ahem, “animal stories”), and quickly landed an agent and not one, but two publishers (the book is published in in the UK by Scholastic under the title CALL ME ALASTAIR). I always say it’s important to know the “rules” of the business of publishing, but know when to break them, too. Sometimes that means writing the book everyone says you shouldn’t–the book your heart tells you you can’t not write.
Heart first, always. And I agree–it’s all about the execution of the trope rather than the trope itself. I can’t wait for your next book, THE HEDGEHOG OF OZ! Is there anything you can tell us about it yet?
Ooo. I’d love to! As the title suggests, this one’s a retelling of THE WIZARD OF OZ . . . but with animals (I can’t help myself!). The story’s about movie-loving hedgehog Marcel who thought he was lost after a fateful trip to the park with his beloved owner, 12-year-old Dorothy. But, after months of hiding in the Emerald City Theater’s abandoned balcony with hen sisters, Auntie Hen and Uncle Henrietta, the three animals are discovered, and when Marcel’s tossed from a truck into the wild, far from the city, he finds out just how lost a hedgehog can be.
Over the course of the story, he teams up with Scamp, a tiny mouse armed with enormous spirit (and her trusty sling-shooter), and they set out in search of a way home. They pick up a small gang of misfits: old gray squirrel Ingot, weighed down by a bad temper a broken heart, and Tuffy, a baby raccoon who’s not so much cowardly as scared and alone. But danger in the form of an owl named Wickedwing hovers over field, forest, and everywhere in between.
THE HEDGEHOG OF OZ is an adventure story that’s filled with my favorite things–hope and heart–and it’s about facing your fears, finding your family, and accepting this one simple truth: our path can be a dark and winding journey, and straying is easier than you’d think . . . but maybe we’re all a little lost until we’re found.
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