Joanne Rossmassler Fritz is the author of the middle grade verse novel, Everywhere Blue (out June 1). I loved this musical story about a family whole life is disrupted when their teenage son goes missing from his college campus. The story is narrated by Maddie, the teen’s youngest sister.
Joanne and I discuss her musical background, managing anxiety and writing a character with OCD, as well as the unmissable role of climate change in this story.
Joanne is also giving away a copy of Everywhere Blue to one reader. See giveaway deets at the end of this interview!
Hi Joanne, I’m so happy to be chatting with you about your debut middle grade verse novel, Everywhere Blue, which I loved. What inspired this story — and why write in verse?
Thank you, Afoma. I love being here. And thank you so much for your kind words! Many things inspired this story. My own experience with playing the oboe in junior high school, the fact that my parents played a lot of classical music when I was growing up, my visit to a Butterfly Farm in 2014, and mainly my own anxiety. The catalyst of the story, though, is an unsolved missing person case in my area. To protect the family, I changed all the details.
Why verse? I actually started out writing it in prose in the spring of 2015, but I knew immediately that it wasn’t working. I’d been reading a lot of novels in verse and had an epiphany. As soon as I started all over again in verse, it just seemed to flow.I actually started out writing it in prose in the spring of 2015, but I knew immediately that it wasn’t working. As soon as I started all over again in verse, it just seemed to flow. – @joanneRfritz Click To Tweet
Music runs throughout this story — even the kids have musical names! Do you have any personal connections to music?
Oh, yes! I played the oboe in junior high. And way back, when I was young, my parents played a lot of records. I’ve always loved listening to classical music, as well as Broadway show tunes — Hamilton is a recent favorite, but I used to listen to the soundtrack of Wicked over and over! I had it memorized.
Maddie is an anxious child, looking for patterns and signs, common manifestations of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Why did you want to represent that mental health challenge in your story?
Well, first of all, I’ve suffered from anxiety most of my life. Mild as it is, I still understand how other people must feel who have it worse than I do. My symptoms throughout my life have manifested themselves in stomach problems, nervousness, a pounding heart, trouble catching my breath. I don’t handle stress well (I’ve survived two brain aneurysm ruptures). I was on Lexapro for years, and later Xanax.
These days, I find deep breathing exercises and Yoga help me the most. When I realized Maddie had to be an anxious child, someone whose world would be thrown into chaos by her beloved older brother’s disappearance, I took my own symptoms and then added to them by researching. I read a lot of novels like Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz, but also memoirs like Being Me With OCD by Alison Dotson, and several books aimed at parents of kids with OCD.I’ve suffered from anxiety most of my life. Mild as it is, I still understand how other people must feel who have it worse than I do – Joanne Rossmassler Fritz Interview on Reading Middle Grade Click To Tweet
Maddie and Strum have an exceptionally close relationship that I found heartwarming. I’m curious as to whether you have a sibling relationship that inspired theirs?
Thank you for saying that! It’s fiction, although I do have two older siblings. Like many siblings, we’ve had our ups and downs! Most people would consider us a close family, though.
Their mom is French! I found this to be a unique element and I loved the sprinkle of French words throughout, so I knew I had to ask: do you have any French connections? If not, why did you decide that the kids have a French mother?
Well, my college roommate has lived in France since 1984, so she inspired me. And I studied French in school. In the early drafts, I had the mother being from St Martin, the French side of the island of Sint Maarten. But it didn’t work in later drafts (mainly because of the grandparents), so my editor and I decided it was best to have Maman be from France.
Environmental challenges quickly become the center of this story. Strum is passionate about the environment, as is Maddie’s friend. How do you feel about the current environmental challenges, and why was that theme important for you to explore?
Oh, I’ve been passionate about the environment since the very first Earth Day, when I was in 10th grade. (Yes, I’m that old!) For the last ten years or more, I’ve been donating to Polar Bears International, as well as The Coalition for Rainforest Nations, and other organizations. I’m thrilled that our current administration seems to care more about the environment, and I love Greta Thunberg. I think every school student should do what she’s done. I wish I’d been brave enough to speak up about the climate crisis when I was young.
Which middle grade books have you read and enjoyed recently?
I’m trying to read as many books as I can by my fellow debut authors, the21ders! Of course at the rate I read now (very slowly), it’ll take me about three years to read them all. The 21ders books I’ve enjoyed most are the other verse novels, Unsettled by Reem Faruqi, Starfish by Lisa Fipps, and Alone, by Megan E. Freeman. Don’t you think it’s fascinating that all of our names begin with F?
Are you currently working on any projects you’d like to share?
I’m such a slow writer that nothing’s finished yet, so I can’t say too much. But I am working on another novel in verse, this time about brain aneurysms, as well as a middle grade novel that’s NOT in verse.
Thank you so much for your time, Joanne!
Thank you, Afoma! It was a pleasure.
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Meet Joanne Rossmassler Fritz
Joanne Rossmassler Fritz was born in Philadelphia, lived for a while in New York City, and now lives in southeastern Pennsylvania. She was fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by books and music and wanted to be a writer from elementary school on. She has worked in a publishing company, a school library, and an indie bookstore. EVERYWHERE BLUE is her debut novel. You can visit her website, Twitter, and Instagram for more information about her books.