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2008 National Book Award Winner,
Young People's Literature

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Photo © Paul Llewellyn.
Judy Blundell
What I Saw and How I Lied

Interview conducted by Rita Williams-Garcia.

Rita Williams-Garcia: Great characters will never fail to give us great language and dialogue. Did you have a favorite character to write for?

Judy 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.

JB: 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 person’s journey.

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?

JB: 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 up.

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.

Rita 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.



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