Hi Margaret, and welcome to MG Book Village. I’m so pleased for our readers to get to know more about you and your debut novel, WE COULD BE HEROES (release date is Feb 25th by Atheneum Book for Young Readers). Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Thank you so much for inviting me to MG Book Village. Although I now live in Southern California, I spent my childhood moving around the western United States, including Utah, North Dakota, and Montana, before finally settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I am not writing middle grade fiction, I teach college students at California State University, Los Angeles. For fun, I like to play ball with my sweet yet neurotic dog, Walt, bake, and spend time with husband and two daughters. Oh, and as that last sentence proves, I am camp Oxford comma.
Can you please tell us about your book in your own words, please?
We Could be Heroes is about Hank Hudson, a fourth grader with autism, and the friendship he develops with new girl Maisie Huang as they come up with increasingly elaborate plots to…liberate..the epileptic pitbull who is tied day and night to a neighbor’s tree. Ultimately, it is a story of not only how to make a friend, but how to be one to both people and animals.
Why did you feel compelled to write this story?
I’ve been a writer for adults for a long time, but I wrote this story for my daughter, Elizabeth, who has both autism and epilepsy. Although she is a young adult, she got stuck for a really long time re-reading the middle grade fiction that she loved because she was so worried about what might happen to new characters in unfamiliar books. When she reads a book, she is in that book! So I wanted to help unstick her, and I also wanted her to see her challenges and her gifts represented on the page.
How has your debut experience differed so far from what you expected?
I didn’t think it would be so terrifying. To be sure, it has been a very positive experience. My agent, Tracy Marchini at Bookends Literary, and my editor at Atheneum, Alex Borbolla, have been so encouraging and they have both helped me turn what I think was a pretty good book into what I hope readers will now consider a pretty great book. But, wow, everytime I would get a revision letter from Alex I would have to just walk away from my computer and eat some chocolate so I could fortify myself to even read what she wrote. And now, as we await publication, I’m freaking out a little bit. Right now, reviews are starting to roll in. Just recently, Alex sent me our Booklist review. She said, “Look at this great review!” And I was just, “Wait! Where is my chocolate? Is this review radioactive? Will I explode? Ack! I don’t even want to know!”
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers, either about WE COULD BE HEROES or advice for other debut writers?
You know, as a society, we ask a lot of neurodiverse people, and so often what we ask is that they change everything about themselves in order to make everyone else more comfortable. It is true that people on the spectrum need accommodations and support, but what they need more than anything is acceptance. I’d like to see a world where neurotypical people–without even being asked–do some of the bending that we ask of people on the spectrum. For example, my daughter has had numerous teachers get frustrated with her inability to recognize their sarcasm, and they have straight out said, “You need to learn sarcasm.” Well, okay. But, you know, those teachers could have just as easily said to themselves, “Maybe I need to need to have a little more audience awareness myself. And maybe if I want to be sarcastic I can sometimes say, ‘Don’t worry. I’m being sarcastic.” It seems to me that thinking about the needs of others is just being kind. I hope that WE COULD BE HEROES can help create a kindness narrative that will help everyone.
As for advice for debut authors, keep a steady supply of chocolate on hand at all times.
We really appreciate you joining us today. Thank you so much, and best of luck with your upcoming release.
Margaret Finnegan’s work has appeared in FamilyFun magazine, LA Times, Salon, and other publications. She is lives in South Pasadena, California, where she enjoys spending time with her family, walking her dog, and baking really good chocolate cakes. Connect with her at margaretfinnegan.com or on Twitter at @FinneganBegin.