BookUp Students from CAMBA at M.S. 25 in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, led by instructor Willie Perdomo, read When You Reach Me and Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead earlier this year. They sent her some questions about Liar & Spy, which she was kind enough to answer.
BookUp: Why did you write about a twelve-year-old drinking coffee?
Rebecca Stead: I wanted to write about a kid who’s a little bit of a puzzle. At first I thought maybe he was just pretending to drink coffee, but by the time I finished the story and really understood Safer and his family, I realized he was probably drinking the real thing. Not that I recommend it. I don’t let my actual twelve-year-old son drink coffee, for instance.
RS: Probably sometime in 2015. (That number looks like science fiction to me, but in fact it’s only a couple of short years away!)
BU: Why is Mr. X so demanding?
RS: Is Mr. X demanding? (He’s pretty much invisible. . .) But he’s hard to keep track of, that’s for sure.
BU: How long did it take you to write Liar & Spy?
RS: It took a long time to write this skinny book—over two years. But the writing process is not just putting down one page after another—it’s a lot of writing and then rewriting, sometimes restructuring the story, changing the way things come together. And then there’s the long process of figuring out where the story should “land.” For me, all of this takes a lot of thinking and experimentation—I map the story out for myself, over and over, as I write, almost like a comic strip (but without pictures).
BU: If Mr. X. was real, what would have happened if he caught Safer in his house?
RS: I think he would probably have yelled a lot and then let Safer go (unless Safer saw something truly incriminating). Then maybe he would have tried to erase Safer’s memory with one of those gizmos from Men in Black.)
BU: What would you do if Georges was your brother and you saw Dallas bullying him?
RS: I would step in and say, “Georges, these guys are taking their own problems out on you for no good reason. Let’s ignore them and go get some peanut M&Ms. My treat.” It can be hard to intervene, but I’m guessing it’s also a great feeling.
Rebecca Stead is the author of three novels, Liar & Spy, First Light, and When You Reach Me, which was a New York Timesbestseller and winner of the Newbery Medal and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for fiction. She lives in New York City with her family.