Zetta Elliott and Lyn Miller-Lachmann will be joining us as featured presenters at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21, 2022, at our new location Gaithersburg’s Bohrer Park, 506 Frederick Ave, Gaithersburg, MD. They will be sharing their co-authored book, Moonwalking, a stunning exploration of class, cross-racial friendships, and two boys’ search for belonging in a city as tumultuous and beautiful as their hearts.
Zetta and Lyn are presenting their book 12:15-1:05 pm in the Ogden Nash Pavilion. MCPS School Library Media Specialist, Joela Paik, will be moderating the discussion. Their presentation will be immediately followed by a book signing.
I hope you will enjoy my interview with Zetta and Lyn.
What is your writing space like?
Lyn: The most unusual feature of my writing space is a giant LEGO town that I’ve been working on for 15 years. It features buildings in the LEGO Modulars series that I built according to the instructions, ones that I’ve modified to suit the needs of the town (such as adding extra floors to several of the buildings), and my original creations that I’ve designed to fit seamlessly into the display. Some of the minifigures in my town look like characters in my various books and are set up to portray scenes in those books. I have a vignette that includes JJ from Moonwalking, even though he leaves his own LEGO pieces behind when he moves from a Long Island suburb to his grandmother’s home in Brooklyn because he doesn’t have the space and has become obsessed with Joe Strummer and The Clash instead.
Zetta: I tend to write all over my apartment even though I do have a designated office that’s bright and sunny (and purple!). I bought an adjustable desk so I can sit or stand when working, but I haven’t tried it out yet. I mostly sit at my desk for Zooms since the bookcase behind me shows off my dragon collection and my latest titles. By noon, I’ve usually moved into the living room—it has a bay window that lets in lots of light, and I can see and hear all the birds in the shared garden. I just moved to Chicago last fall so I’m still getting to know my neighborhood. Since writing for me is 70% dreaming, I spend a fair bit of time gazing out the window, or walking by the lake, or visiting the nearby Japanese garden to gather my thoughts and hear my characters’ voices.
How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?
Zetta: I trust librarians to pair young readers with the right book! I think Moonwalking will have broad appeal because of the alternating viewpoints and different backgrounds of the two main characters. Verse novels are often great entry points for reluctant readers so I hope poetry fans find our book but also folks who might think poetry isn’t for them (poetry is for everyone!). I’ve seen a lot of art in the libraries I’ve visited so it would be great to have a display with work by local graffiti artists and, of course, images of tagged trains from 1980s NYC and the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Lyn has already assembled The Clash playlists so maybe library websites could make those tracks available to patrons.
What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?
Zetta: I tried to create an entire village in Moonwalking and I hope readers will think about their own communities in new ways after reading our book. JJ and Pie seem like opposites but when you go beneath the surface, there are enough similarities to sustain a connection. Pie wants more from his life, he’s outgrowing his childhood friends, and his teacher is nourishing his interest in art. For JJ, playing an instrument is a way to express himself and connect to the themes of resistance in punk music. Things were kind of hectic at home when I was Pie’s age so I hope kids dealing with family drama realize they’re allowed to BE kids and can search for and find adults in their community who can provide the help they need.
What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?
Lyn: Like JJ, I was not diagnosed as autistic when I was in school, and I didn’t understand why I was bullied and it was so hard for me to make and keep friends. I had a whole lot of other diagnoses that tried to explain, for instance, why I never looked people in the eye, so I wore an eyepatch for months and had to do exercises that never worked. I never had a problem focusing when I read books, but eye-to-eye contact intimidated me. I also experienced selective mutism, and in fourth grade stopped speaking in school altogether for about three months. That time of being too terrified to speak, even if I wanted to, is what inspired JJ’s invisibility when he goes to public school for the first time.
What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your book?
Lyn: I love the way David Cooper evokes early 1980s Williamsburg, pre-gentrification, with the Domino Sugar factory, the Williamsburg Bridge, the lights of Manhattan, and the graffiti murals on the sides of buildings. One can see the inspiration for the cover in Zetta/Pie’s powerful poems “Bomb” and “Sugarland” right at the beginning, and they set the tone for everything that comes after.
What has surprised you most about the characters in your book?
Lyn: The most surprising thing for me was how different from me JJ turned out to be, even though we’re both autistic and experience the same confusion and fear in new situations. There’s a saying, “When you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person,” and it’s true! Kiara in my earlier middle grade novel Rogue was a more autobiographical protagonist, with incidents lifted from my life, but JJ’s life, abilities, and interests are different. My parents gave me music lessons, and I hated them, but JJ embraces music as a way of communicating what he can’t express in words. Except for brief episodes of selective mutism, I was highly verbal and an A student in school. I didn’t really experience what JJ does as a struggling C student until I was out in the workplace and realized that exceptional academic skills don’t always lead to success outside of school.
Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?
Zetta: My books don’t always get reviewed but I think the most meaningful feedback definitely comes from young readers and parents or educators who are sharing books with kids. I often hear from parents who express gratitude for the books I write because like me, they remember all too well how it felt to grow up not seeing yourself in the stories you loved. Teachers tell me that students with little interest in reading became more engaged after finding one of my books—even going on to write their own story. Awards are nice and my career in kid lit started with the Lee & Low New Voices Honor Award for Bird, but so many excellent books never get that sort of recognition…it’s nice to have shiny stickers on the cover of your book but what matters most to me is that my stories resonate with a broad range of readers.
What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?
Lyn: This festival is a first for me. I’ve always been on the other side of the table, listening to the authors’ presentations and hoping to meet them and get my books signed. I look forward to meeting young readers and their families, talking to them about verse novels, how Zetta and I came to write this book, and my process for creating a protagonist on the autism spectrum who is very different from me even though I’m also autistic. I’m especially eager to be at the Gaithersburg Book Festival because the pandemic has isolated us for the past two years and canceled most in-person book events. While going out in public can be stressful for me, I don’t do well with isolation either. It’s too easy for me to hole up with my LEGO town and let my hard-won social skills wither.
I hope you will come to Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 21st to meet these two authors!
Zetta Elliott is a black feminist writer of poetry, plays, essays, novels and stories for children. Her poetry has been published in “We Rise, We Resist, We Raise our Voices,” and her picture book, “Bird,” won the Honor Award in Lee & Low Books’ New Voices Contest and the Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers. Her latest book is “Moonwalking.” She lives in West Philadelphia.
Lyn Miller-Lachmann is an author, teacher and librarian. Her latest book is “Moonwalking.” As an adult, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and delves into her diagnosis often in her writing. Lyn received her Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and edited the journal “MultiCultural Review” for 16 years. In 2012, she received my Masters in Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in New York City.