© Paul Llewellyn.
What I Saw and How
by Rita Williams-Garcia.
Great characters will never fail to give us great language
and dialogue. Did you have a favorite character to write
Blundell: Secondary characters are usually
fun for writers. Grandma Glad is only in a few scenes
in the novel, but I enjoyed writing her dialogue. I
didn’t have to reach for her voice-- I knew exactly
how she would put things. When she says, “you
can put sawdust on the floor, but a fish store still
stinks like fish” to Evie’s mother, it’s
a nasty crack, but it’s also an indication of
where she goes to for her metaphors. My vision of her
is of a woman who hasn’t traveled beyond her own
neighborhood and doesn’t need to. She judges the
world from the perspective of her own front porch.
RWG: Evie is a girl of her times but also one any girl
can relate to and admire. A neat trick to pull off and
clearly, you have. Tell us about any aspect of creating
Evie for today’s reader.
The concept of “teenager” as a separate
marketing group was just beginning in the late forties.
Yet when you look at the popular material of the time,
they all do a good job of packaging an idealized, sunny
vision of what a young girl should be. The machinery
of desire is vastly more varied and sophisticated now,
but young people still have to struggle with a pressure
to conform to popular images. For Evie, the romanticism
of her time bleeds into how she looks at the people
around her. She has to struggle to look at things as
they are, and take a hard look at the reality of family
stories that have been told and retold until they reach
the status of myths. I think that process-- of learning
how to see your family and society from a clear and
individual perspective—is part of every young
RWG: What I Saw and How I Lied portrays
the glamour and underbelly of the 1940s. The Black Dahlia
murder and the Lana Turner-Gianni Stompanato murder
trial spring to mind. Where did you go for your own
good, dark material?
Back to the source—the books, magazines, newspapers,
and movies of the forties. I was lucky to have a great
treasure trove—my mother had saved newspapers
from December 1941 all the way through the Japanese
surrender in 1945. It was incredible just being able
to handle them (very carefully!) And of course, there
is the writer’s best research assistant these
days—Google. If you plug in “murder”
and “1940s,” it’s amazing what comes
The postwar period is generally
seen as a time of great optimism and opportunity in
American life. This was undoubtedly true, but there
was also a strain of anxiety that was mined by writers
like James Jones, whose Some Came Running was
a gritty look at a returning G.I. and the Midwestern
city he returns to, or Laura Z. Hobson’s Gentleman’s
Agreement, which talks about the hard facts of
what the war didn’t change for American Jews.
I read those books for their slang, but also their vision
of a darker America.
An obvious influence is film
noir. Some of those films were not so much whodunits
as murky explorations of colliding characters who each
have something to hide. I thought it would be interesting
to put a teenage girl in the middle of that, instead
of a hardboiled detective. In order to figure out what’s
going on, she has to understand some complicated adult
motivations. In other words, she has to grow up fast.
Williams-Garcia is the author of six distinguished novels
for young adults: Jumped, No Laughter Here, Every
Time a Rainbow Dies, Fast Talk on a Slow Track, Blue
Tights, and Like Sisters on the Homefront.
She has also published a picture book and has contributed
to numerous anthologies. Williams-Garcia's works have
been recognized by the Coretta Scott King Award Committee,
the PEN/Norma Klein Award, the American Library Association,
and Parents' Choice, among others. She recently served
on the National Book Award Committee for Young People's
Literature and is on faculty at Vermont College for
the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program.
Rita Williams-Garcia lives in Jamaica, Queens, NY and
is the mother of two daughters.