It’s a fascinating thing when a friend of your youth writes a novel. Especially a novel set in high school, when your lives were woven tight. Lyn arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 9th grade, moving from northern California (France and Belgium before that). It didn’t take her too long to figure things out and make a unique place for herself at our conservative private school. Lyn edited the school newspaper and had a passion for justice even then; she starred in the plays and made the whole school give a damn about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Lyn didn’t live on the sidelines! She spoke up – but also, she laughed. And knew how to really let it loose at a school dance. Lyn had a knack for taking the right things seriously. I couldn’t help but wonder – how much of our shared high school experience would make it into her novel?
Lyn Fairchild Hawks also had an entirely different set of experiences to draw upon, having taught English in public and independent schools in California and North Carolina. She has written an edgy and moving tale of one girl’s high school experience – very different, I know, from hers and mine in Raleigh – and yet also recognizable. It is a book that speaks to teenagers and adults alike about the miseries and solaces of growing up and figuring some things out.
How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought tells the story of a teenage girl dragged from California to North Carolina by her free-spirited mother, one in a series of hasty and ragged moves following one man or another. Wendy’s spirit is nearly crushed by the hateful kids at her new school and her mom’s frightening and manipulative new boyfriend, but over the course of the novel she finds strength in unexpected friendships and within herself. The novel is a hymn to friendship, a meditation on race, a cautionary tale about parenting, and – not least – an homage to Michael Jackson’s music. (Just for the record, Lyn has absolutely wonderful, dear parents who have been happily married for 51 years.)
Lyn’s debut novel stands out in a crowded Young Adult Crossover field in several ways. There are no contests-to-the-death, it is not set in a dystopian future, and no one dies of cancer. She takes on race in a way that feels honest and nuanced. Wendy and Tanay work their way to a friendship with a bloody, beating heart – the only real kind – and one that acknowledges profound differences. What Lyn’s novel shares with the best of Young Adult crossover is a compelling heroine, very real suspense, and dialogue that feels current and crisp.
Wendy Redbird Dancing was first runner-up for the 2011 James Jones First Novel Fellowship. It is also the first book of the Girls Outside series, stories about young women who are “gifted, weird, and wise.” Do not miss the spectacular book trailer! Lyn’s collection of short stories, The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future, includes “My Grandma is a Racist,” a prequel to the novel. Lyn is also the author of Teaching Julius Caesar: A Differentiated Approach, and is co-author of The Compassionate Classroom: Lessons that Nurture Wisdom and Empathy and Teaching Romeo and Juliet: A Differentiated Approach. Lyn holds a BA in English and an MA in Education from Stanford University and currently designs curriculum and trains teachers.
I’d like to spend the rest of this post sharing with you some of Lyn’s answers to a few questions. They will give you a sense of who she is and how she writes. Tomorrow’s post will be devoted entirely to her answer to one other question; please check in to read it!
What is the hardest lesson you’ve learned recently?
Many parents stew late into the night wondering if we did more damage than good today. With a challenging teen who pushes every red-alert button I’ve got, I see neon FAIL flashing in my face quite often. Sometimes I think every other parent has this figured out but me.
“Love and oxygen,” a wise friend told me last summer. “That’s what kids need.” I haven’t wanted to hear these words till now, till my anger threatened to blow me away. When I’m doling out consequences in the name of tough love, righteous indignation might carry me through a few hours but eventually leaves me seared and crispy.
I’ve been mistaken thinking I need to shape everything and ensure the best outcomes. I forget that the greatest actor in all this isn’t me. When an older teen with signs of frontal lobe development gets the air and space to reflect and admit that life isn’t a happening, that it’s not a “mistakes were made” scenario, the excuses slow down. In the space of my stepping back, that teen might just start organizing, coordinating, and taking initiative. And on the worst days, when the DMV, the law, and life won’t budge, I’ve found it in myself to say hardly anything and let them speak for me. On those days, I’ve found a way to say, “Come here,” and open my arms for a hug.
What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
What is it about gummy bears and gummy colas? I think it’s the chew factor. For me who has to be in constant motion, the gnoshing and gnawing required is where it’s at. And I can’t stop at half-bag: MUST-EAT-ALL-AT-ONCE! I’ve read that food companies hire chemists to create the perfect storm of chemical sweet and sour, salt and saccharine, and just the right dose of carbs to make the cravings insurmountable. As I dive into the delights of Haribo, I silence the voice of my mother railing against Red Dye # Whatever and chew away.
Why did you marry your spouse?
When I met Gregory Lewis Hawks in February of 2005, I’d just left the teaching profession and taken a risk to do freelance work and write my novel. Not an eyebrow was raised by my suitor about pursuing art. My husband-to-be, a country, folk, and bluegrass musician, had one album to his credit and another in the hopper. When you marry an artist, here are some things you never have to explain:
- I need to be alone with my art. In his line of work, it can also be said Alamance County-style: “I wish everybody’d just leave me alone so I can pick.”
- There isn’t enough time in the world to get this right! In our house, a Saturday morning is happily spent facing the demons of a wayward song or manuscript.
- I’m crazy to be an artist. Why am I an artist? When certain bills come, we shake our heads and then remind ourselves we’d not be able to sleep at night if we took a job just for big money. Not that anyone’s offering that, but you have to console yourself somehow as you’re paying bills in an economy where wages are stagnant and some believe artists should work for free.
- Nobody cares what I do! When you spend years making a piece of art, you start to lose it some days, thinking that no one will ever hear it, read it, care about it, or understand why you took so long to birth it. And the toxic lure of fame, which isn’t what we really want at the end of the day – we just want people to say they listened and thought something new – it’s nothing but a prideful distraction whenever people will always wonder how those sales are going.
Of course, someone does care what I do – a lot. Greg believes in me, is patient with my artistic frustrations and moods, gives me my own verb (“are you deadlining?”), and supports me facing the process, day after day, in my office alone, with writers’ groups, and with an expensive coffee and tea habit.
Besides understanding my need for space, Greg thinks like I do, in ideals, possibilities, arguments, and dreams. Rhymes and metaphors make the insane world go down a little easier. Our conversations spring from a spiritual view that man was made to create. I never have to explain the passion so consuming.
It’s such a joy to find soul mates – those friends, family, or lovers who let you be exactly who you are. When we do find them, we should celebrate them, every day.