Lindsey Stoddard is a prolific middle grade author whose stories are always full of heart. I read and enjoyed Brave Like That and was thrilled to read her latest release Bea Is for Blended. In this interview, Lindsay and I chat about writing strong girls in middle grade books, teaching boys to become allies, and the common thread in all her stories.
Lindsey is also giving away one signed copy of Bea Is for Blended to a reader in the US. Please see the end of this interview for information on how to enter the giveaway.
Hi Lindsey, what a pleasure to be chatting with you about Bea Is for Blended! I enjoyed this book and the many elements you managed to tackle within. Bea Embers and all the Embers women are strong and independent. What inspired you to write a story with strong girls and women at the center?
Thank you, Afoma. I’m so happy to be chatting with you too! I’m delighted you enjoyed the book and that you found the Embers girls to be strong and independent. Like all my books, and all main characters, I start with a voice, and the first thing I heard Bea say, in my mind, was: “I got this.” Then I heard her say: “And I’ll tell you one thing…” Just from listening to her voice I knew she was going to be independent and outspoken. And from the beginning I imagined that she learned those things from the women in her life, her mom and her grandma Bea. So I gave them a sparky, fiery name and went from there!
Bea loves soccer and fights hard (along with A and some other friends) to build a girls soccer team in their school. I know you played soccer as a kid. How did you draw from your childhood experiences?
Oooo this is a good question. The book began with Bea’s voice, but was then inspired by a moment from my own childhood. When I was about Bea’s age, it was tradition in our school to dress up with some sort of team spirit on game days. We’d paint our faces with soccer balls, wear superhero capes, things like that… One day, I arrived at school to see the boys’ soccer team dressed up like the girls’ soccer team for their team spirit. They pulled sports bras over their jerseys, smeared awful makeup on their faces, put their hair in little pigtails all over their heads, and flitted about the halls pretending they’d broken a nail.
I was so mad.
But also, there was this unspoken rule that the “cool” girls were the ones who could laugh along with the boys, be friends with the boys. So, I felt mad and silenced, and even though I didn’t laugh along with them, I didn’t respond. Well, this book is my response.
I have to say: Bea is not always likable. She’s often brash, very competitive, especially in her relationships with A and Bryce, her stepbrother. Yet, we also see beneath her rough edges and she does get a lot of love to help her through. Did you worry that she might be misunderstood?
Oh Bea is all of these, yes! There’s a lot of chatter about characters (especially girl characters) being likable. What I wanted for Bea, though, was for her to be REAL. She’s competitive, she’s outspoken, has strong opinions, and she has a lot of growth to do. I hope that her readers see her for her rough edges, her toughness, and also recognize some of her misguided thoughts. I know we’ve all had unsavory moments of being overly competitive, or judgmental or biased, and I wanted readers to recognize those things in her and see how she learns to break through some of those things.There’s a lot of chatter about characters (especially girl characters) being likable. What I wanted for Bea, though, was for her to be REAL. She’s competitive, she’s outspoken, has strong opinions, and she has a lot of growth to do. -… Click To Tweet
A and Bea have a realistic, dynamic relationship. I loved watching them get closer. I like what A stands for: the fact that girls can be more than one thing. They can like fashion and still be A+ at soccer. Why was that an important message for you in this book?
I really hope that my readers will see that girls are all sorts of things, and they don’t fall into little categories that deem them “cool” or not.
I remember growing up there was a lot of talk about sporty girls, and girls who hung out with boys, and girls who wore makeup, and girls who didn’t, and girls who liked fashion, and girls who showed up in their brother’s hand-me-downs, and no matter what there was value placed on each of those things, and it made it seem like there was a “right” kind of girl to be. And sometimes those messages are so loud, the girls start to believe them too.
So I want my readers to see Bea, and all her confidence in exactly who she is, but also to see her edge of judgement toward A and A’s sense of fashion. And I wanted A to be confident too, and stand up against Bea’s prejudices. This is the way we drop the competition and work together toward something better.
Blending families is never easy. Have you personally experienced being part of a blended family? I love watching both families meld together. I’m so curious why this was a theme you chose to explore.
I’m not part of a blended family like Bea’s, but one of the themes throughout my books is how family is something you get, but also something you make along the way, and in each of my books there are all different types of families. In Bea is For Blended, I wanted Bea to be building a team on the field, but also at home.I’m not part of a blended family like Bea’s, but one of the themes throughout my books is how family is something you get, but also something you make along the way, and in each of my books there are all different types of families. Click To Tweet
Bryce is Bea’s archenemy even though they have so much in common. I felt like this book was as much a coming-of-age story for Bryce as it was for Bea and I love seeing more books explore the human side of kids who bully others. Was that what you wanted to do with Bryce?
Oh I’m so glad you brought this up. Thank you. Yes, we are seeing Bryce through Bea’s eyes here, and at first we see him as an annoying bully-follower who picks on Bea’s best friend, Maximilian. But then, as they begin to share what Bea calls those “in-between moments,” (when you’re at your house, all alone with no one watching, brushing your teeth, or fixing a snack, or feeding your pets) we get to see some of his humanity, and the things he struggles with too. More importantly, though, I wanted Bryce to learn and grow up and away from his bully-friends and to realize that he can use his voice for good.
Coach Meesley is a piece of work. It’s so frustrating when adults condone or even encourage sexism. I wondered how you would resolve his character arc. Was that something you went back and forth deciding or did you always know how things would end for him?
I did go back and forth on whether to redeem Principal Meesley’s character in the end or not, but every time I tried it felt unrealistic to have him unlearn all his implicit biases by the end of the story. So, I settled on a sort of middle ground, a baby step in the right direction, that gives the kids in the story the power: The girls come together to demand more, and get the help they need from the supportive teachers they do have, Bryce finds the strength to stand up to the boys in this totally amazing way (I love Bryce in this scene and if you remember what I said about the boys’ dressing up as the girls’ soccer team for team spirit when I was a kid, you’ll know exactly why), and you can see little hints that all this effort might lead to Principal Meesley reflecting on his behavior.
Which middle grade books have you read and enjoyed recently?
Oh so many! My most recent favorite is A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat. It’s so beautifully written, but also edge-of-your-seat reading, and full of powerful messages that are so delicately woven throughout.
You’ve written four middle grade novels (published so far). What would you say is a common thread in all your stories?
There are plenty of common threads throughout my books: bullying, being true to yourself, building a team, finding your people, family, courage, etc. But the thing I see tying them all together is that they really revolve around an emotional core that is true to kids.
I spend much of my writing process revisiting moments from when I was ten or eleven or twelve and feeling, again, the big emotions that come from being that age. I remember the way I felt when my grandpa started losing his memory and how I didn’t know what to say when he forgot the end of the sentence he was saying. I remember the guilt of doing something I wish I could have taken back. I remember what it felt like finding a stray dog that my parents wouldn’t let me keep. And I remember what it felt like watching the boys’ soccer team flit about the halls with their smudged, made-up faces. This way, I ground my books, solidly, in the hearts and guts of kid-experiencesI spend much of my writing process revisiting moments from when I was ten or eleven or twelve and feeling, again, the big emotions that come from being that age. – @lindseystoddard Click To Tweet
What do you wish you would see written about in more middle grade books?
You know, I’m not sure I’m looking or wishing for any certain topics in particular. But I am always delighted to find honest characters, a good story, and powerful messages naturally growing on up out of it all.
Lindsey, as the prolific author that you are, can you share anything about future work we can look forward to?
Yes! I am about to head into revisions with a middle grade novel I wrote over the pandemic. Some things will change, I’m sure, but at the heart of the story is a best friendship between two boys, Gabe and Oliver, their love for graphic novels, and a mysterious boy in their class who never speaks. Right now it’s called The Real Deal and is tentatively set to publish in the fall of ‘22 with HarperCollins.
Thank you so much for your time!
Thank you, Afoma!
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Meet Lindsey Stoddard
She was born and raised in Vermont. She spent twelve years living in NYC and taught middle school English at MS 324 in the neighborhood of Washington Heights. She recently moved back to Vermont with her husband and two children. Right as Rain is her second novel, following the acclaimed Just Like Jackie. To connect with Lindsey and learn more about her books, visit her website, Twitter, or Instagram.