We spent the entire day today with Libba Bray, author of Going Bovine. And what a day! She started off telling us the answer to the question an author is inevitably asked: where do you get your ideas from? She likened her process to the video game, Katamari, where a big, highly-adhesive ball rolls around the universe picking up random, yet important things, from thumbtacks to mountains. If you’ve read Going Bovine, this image really makes sense. Here are some of the images, characters, inspirations, impulses, and wacky ideas that eventually became Going Bovine: hearing about a man from her hometown who, after exhibiting psychotic behavior, was finally diagnosed with the human variant of mad cow disease; her love of road trips and quests; reading Don Quixote again, along with other legendary road trip books like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, On the Road, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Then there was the ex-boyfriend, a jazz musician, who explained jazz to her by saying “When you’re playing jazz, you can spin out and jam as much as you want. But you always have to come back to 1, the downbeat.” For Libba, “1” is her story and her characters. And that’s just a small part of the list which also included New Orleans, Disneyworld, string theory, and Norse mythology. All of these things bubbled and percolated in her imagination until, after casually agreeing in February to submit a manuscript to a friend’s writing workshop, she was faced with writing the first draft by May 1. She wrote the book.
Libba was then joined by Trish Parcell who has designed the covers for all of Libba’s books. She brought in pictures of rejected covers for Going Bovine, and photo shoots for one of Libba’s other books, A Great and Terrible Beauty. She described how a cover designer has to take direction from the publisher’s art director and their editorial director and they don’t always agree. The author gets to have some input. Happily, Libba and Trish have pretty much always seen eye to eye.
Libba shared the reason she likes to write for teens: those years were very significant for her. They were fun, formative and tumultuous. They’re inherently dramatic. So she’s drawn to that period of life. She also spoke about the issue of gender as a writer (Going Bovine is written from a boy’s point of view,) as well as a person. Although her previous books have had female protagonists, she had absolutely no trouble writing from Cameron’s perspective. Her next book, however, is about teen beauty queens!
Then we all piled into the #1 subway and went to Central Park and had lunch in Sheep’s Meadow. There, Libba revealed a little-known document, The Complete Care Book for Miniature Invisible Flying Penguins, by Libba Bray, Penguin Authority. This was her very first book, written in sixth grade. A number of campers read it cover to cover and prounounced it “brilliant” and “funny.” Clearly, Libba has always had a very healthy imagination.
Our ultimate destination? One of Libba’s very favorite places in New York City: the carousel. It’s connected to the book she called her “bible’ when she was a teen, Catcher in the Rye. She insists that she gets her best ideas there. With hope in our hearts (for great ideas,) we all mounted our steeds and whirled around to the music of the calliope.
Back at Symphony Space, Libba confided in us that she has another muse: lollipops. And she gave each of us one. It worked! We all wrote memories, poems, songs, and stories evoked by the lollipop. This was followed by another writing activity in which the phrase “In the letter I never wrote to you, I said. . . ” Once again, the variety of responses to the one prompt was so interesting.
We had spent the whole day with Libba. She ended her visit with a sneak peak of the beauty queen book she’s currently writing. And we learned yet one more fascinating thing about her before she said goodbye: she’s in a rock band comprised of young adult book authors . . . of course! Check them out at the Brooklyn Literary Festival on September 12 and at the Tribeca Barnes & Noble on September 13. And here’s the link to the playlist from Going Bovine.
We look forward to tomorrow’s visit with Kekla Magoon, author of the powerful book, The Rock and the River, as well as to our afternoon behind-the-scenes visit to The Colbert Report.