I had the pleasure of meeting Pat Schmatz in person at a dinner hosted by our publisher, Candlewick Press. As soon as I held the galley of Lizard Radio, I knew I was on to something special. the cover is gorgeous, and the world Pat built inside is filled with world play and questions about how we define ourselves as people in the most basic way. Today, Pat talks to us about what it means to be a girl – or if there is yet another way we can see ourselves.
Why do you think the main character in your book represents a strong girl?
Everyone knows what a girl is, right? Well…maybe. And maybe not.
Things have changed a lot since I was born and raised as a girl. Girls have so much more freedom to play the sports they love, study what they want, and become a whole person. But “girl” still comes with a whole set of expectations. For a lot of girls, those expectations are no problem. They can be their strong and fierce selves within an ever-widening understanding of “girl.”
But for some, it’s still not a fit. Even with freedom to stretch and dream, choose any career and marry whomever they wish, these young people still cannot manage to wedge themselves into the world’s understanding of “girl.” And for some, they can’t fit “boy” either.
These young people have to make their own map. They have to figure out their own values, often with no mentor and no role models. They have to carve their own way to adulthood, hopefully without compromising their integrity and sense of self. Kivali, the main character in Lizard Radio, is that kind of girl. The very kind of girl who is not a girl – and yet is. And yet is not. And is. To hold that course is not easy. It requires not just strength but also a willingness to never quite fit and to question, and question, and question some more – and then to find one’s own answers.
How did you first becoming interested in writing about the topic/character in your book?
Like Kivali, I am fluent in both male and female but not entirely at home in either place. Although I share many of her traits and experiences, I was not as strong, as brave or as fierce as she is. Kivali is my imaginings of my best self.
For years, I didn’t think I could write a character who was neither a girl nor a boy. I thought there was no room for an out genderqueer character in literature for young people. I moved ahead with Kivali and Lizard Radio a number of years ago, thinking it would probably never be published. I cannot possibly describe the freedom that came with writing Kivali and letting her be exactly who she is. It cleared up headspace for me to put more focus on the plot, the setting, and the other characters, without worrying about getting my main character’s gender markers right. In the years since I started the book, the world has changed enough to welcome a character like Kivali. I’m still marveling over that.
What is the best advice you ever received about writing?
The best advice I ever received was “Do your work.” It’s simple, and it’s complex. “Work” encompasses so many things – reading, writing, rewriting, failing, experimenting, feeling, starting over, research, internal exploration, frustration, fear, risk – that is all work. As long as I show up for my work, day after day, the stories will come, and they will be true.
BONUS: Finish this sentence please. “Strong girls ____”
Strong girls are amazing people, whether they identify as girls, boys or something outside the binary. It’s not easy to be born female, grow up in this world and hold your own course – no matter what your gender identity.