This month, we talk to author Ashley Herring Blake about her coming-of-age novel, Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World. She talks to us about the way that stories and literature can give language to our experiences, questions, and fears, and also help us to empathize with the emotions and experiences of others.
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Awkward moments often make for excellent stories. For instance, Naomi, our founder, remembers when she read the line “c’est la vie” in front of her 7th grade acting class, only to discover the french phrase wasn’t pronounced “sa-est la vee-yay.” Amidst giggles and general hilarity from the class, a couple loyal friends came to her rescue and saved her from utter humiliation.
How about you? Turn an awkward moment in to a scene for us, and submit your response by emailing email@example.com. You might be published on our website!
An Interview with Ashley Herring Blake
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World follows Ivy as she copes with the destruction of her home, while also grappling with her attraction to other girls. What inspired you to write this story in particular?
I’d been writing YA for a couple of years when I realized that I really wanted to write a middle-grade book. While thinking about what topics I might want to tackle, I immediately knew that I wanted to a write a book that I needed as a middle-grade reader. My YA very much came to fruition because they were books I needed as a teen, but I quickly came to understand that, for my own understanding of my identity, I needed to go younger than teenagers. I needed to write about that horrible, mysterious, wonderful time that is middle school. As for the main external conflict, I’d always been fascinated with tornados, stemming from a deep fear of them as a kid. I wanted to explore how kids react and handle displacement, destruction, and how those themes can so easily mirror the turmoil going on inside of a kid who’s not sure who she is and, even worse, whether or not who she is will be accepted.
Can you tell us a little more about why you feel LGBTQ representation is important in middle-grade literature?
I’m so thankful that we have so many more YA books that feature vibrant, multi-faceted, diverse queer characters and I hope that continues to increase, but as I started really thinking about how I got here, how so many kids reach teen-hood or adulthood without really understanding who they are, I realized that middle school age is when those feelings and thoughts first show up. I specifically remember certain feelings about girls, but since I had nothing to help me with the vocabulary and really, no models to help me understand what I was feeling, I shoved it all deep down and focused only on boys. Middle grade is the time, for so many, when we first start having actual romantic feelings for other people — hand-holding, first kisses, all that stuff is actually possible. And it’s true, some middle-grade kids are not ready to deal with all that and have zero interest in anything relating to a crush or romance. And that’s okay. But for those who do and are, it’s a confusing time no matter who you like. Add in attraction to those that society and culture have historically said one shouldn’t be attracted to, the confusion multiplies. Middle-grade literature is a safe, empowering place to explore these feelings and possibilities.
Ivy is a very personal book to me, but honestly, they all are in some way. Still, I can’t imagine the kind of difference it would’ve made, even if only in my emotional understanding of myself if I had had a book like Ivy. Communicating these thoughts and feelings through characters in my stories is both difficult and liberating. It’s wildly freeing to write about feelings I struggled with as a girl Ivy’s age—while Ivy is certainly very different from me in many ways and is in no way autobiographical, there are pieces of me in every character I write.
What do you hope readers take away from Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World?
More than anything, I want readers to read Ivy, look at themselves in the mirror, and love who they see. I want allies to support and fight for their queer friends and let their stories be their own. I want kids to open their minds to all different kinds of people, to open their minds to themselves, and accept. Not only accept, but celebrate.
If you could tell your younger writing-self something, what would it be?
Oh goodness, so many things. That it’s all worth it. Not to settle. That it will always be hard, but there will be amazing people to help you through it. That I am worthy of love.
Society of Young Inklings News
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A special thanks to Ashley Herring Blake for sharing with us! You can learn more about Ashley at her website. Order a copy of Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World from Ashley’s favorite bookstore, Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN.
Ashley Herring Blake live in Nashville, TN, with her husband and two boisterous little boys. Previous jobs include songwriter and performer (though she made only about enough money to cover the gas to the gigs), substitute teacher, barista, ABA therapist, special education teacher in a private school for kids with autism, and the hardest job in the world, mommyhood. That last one is still happening, along with lots of word making. She is represented in all things literary and worthy of attention by the amazing Rebecca Podos of the Rees Agency.