Out of all the authors I feature, Andrew Smith is one of my favorites. (Check out what he had to say about rival candy sellers in Ghent.) When I found out that his new Middle Grade book, THE SIZE OF THE TRUTH, was a tie-in to the Winger series, I knew another feature was in order:
When he was four years old, Sam Abernathy was trapped at the bottom of a well for three days, where he was teased by a smart-aleck armadillo named Bartleby. Since then, his parents plan every move he makes.
But Sam doesn’t like their plans. He doesn’t want to go to MIT. And he doesn’t want to skip two grades, being stuck in the eighth grade as an eleven-year-old with James Jenkins, the boy he’s sure pushed him into the well in the first place. He wants to be a chef. And he’s going to start by entering the first annual Blue Creek Days Colonel Jenkins Macaroni and Cheese Cook-Off.
That is, if he can survive eighth grade, and figure out the size of the truth that has slipped Sam’s memory for seven years.
Sam Abernathy originally appeared in STAND OFF, the second in the Winger series. How did you know that Sam needed his own story in THE SIZE OF THE TRUTH?
There have been more than a few supporting characters in my books for whom readers have begged for stories of their own, most notably Cade Hernandez from 100 SIDEWAYS MILES, Sam Abernathy from STAND-OFF, and even now James Jenkins from Sam’s story in THE SIZE OF THE TRUTH. So I guess I didn’t really “know” that Sam needed his own story, but he was a compelling character and I thought filling in all those blanks in Sam’s life would be fun. It was, by the way.
I’ll bet! THE SIZE OF THE TRUTH also discusses confronting fear. What do you feel is the most driving force behind most fears, and in writing Sam’s story, did you learn anything about your own journey with fear?
In this case, I think Sam’s and James’ biggest fears in THE SIZE OF THE TRUTH are based most strongly in their not wanting to let their fathers down. That fear of disappointing others can really mess with a person’s head and make them persevere at pursuits that cause anxiety. I think that’s been a recurring challenge in my life–always worrying about letting someone else down.
It’s a worry that a lot of people share–and what you’ve said beautifully illustrates why we should feel okay about putting ourselves first. And even when we are at our best, doing everything perfectly, disappointment from others is something we cannot control. What do you think makes THE SIZE OF THE TRUTH an inherently Middle Grade story, and, in your opinion, how is writing Middle Grade different than writing Young Adult?
Well, the fact that THE SIZE OF THE TRUTH has no swears in it or “adult” content is not necessarily what makes the book Middle Grade. As someone who’s worked with kids for the majority of my life, I think one difference between kids in the “MG” phase of life differ from kids in the “YA” phase in that they tend to be more in awe of the wonder and size of everything that’s out there, and aren’t necessarily trying to assemble any kind of construct of truth from their experience. Kids in the middle grade of their life tend to be relentlessly optimistic, and kids in the young adult section of their life often have accumulated a much wider range of experiences, which can ground them and occasionally turn them away from hope and optimism, or at least temper their views on just about everything.
Makes sense. In our last interview, you said, “The purest kind of writing you can do, what will give you the greatest sense of satisfaction, is the writing that you do for yourself.” Now that you’re also writing for an audience, in what ways do you still find satisfaction from it?
I think I’ve held onto that philosophy as far as my writing is concerned–that I do not think about an audience of more than myself when I write. To me, this keeps me engaged with the story and makes the task of writing more rewarding. That said, I do truly appreciate all the people who read my stories, and I am quite pleased by the fact that the audiences for my work are incredibly diverse in every aspect–including age. I would hate it if I ever wrote a young adult novel that was only read by 14- to 18-year-olds, or a middle grade book that was only read by fourth- through eighth-graders, and nobody else. That would be terrible! And I do sincerely hope that kids get their parents to read THE SIZE OF THE TRUTH, because there are definitely some pretty big truths about being a parent in there.
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