Interview with Sabrina Kleckner about THE ART OF RUNNING AWAY

Kathie: Hi Sabrina, and welcome to MG Book Village. I really appreciate you taking some time to chat with me. I recently finished The Art of Running Away which is your debut novel that comes out on November 16th from Jolly Fish Press. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would love it if you could tell our readers a little bit about it, please.

Sabrina: Hi Kathie, thank you so much for having me! THE ART OF RUNNING AWAY is about twelve-year-old Maisie, who runs away to London in the hopes of convincing her estranged older brother to help save their family’s art shop. In the process, she learns why her brother cut ties with their family six years ago and the role their parents played in that. At its core, it’s a story about identity, allyship, and angsty (but earnest) sibling bonding. 

Kathie: I really loved watching Maisie reconnect with her brother, Calum, and her growth over the summer as she starts to understand why he left home and the factors that affect his decision to stay away. What do you hope young readers will notice about these changes in Maisie?

Sabrina: As a character, Maisie is pretty mature for her age. She often feels like the smartest person in the room, and sometimes she is. But a large part of her growth in the story revolves around her coming to terms with the fact that she doesn’t know as much about the world as she thinks she does. She makes rash decisions without considering how they will affect others, and is careless with people’s emotions. Especially in regard to Calum, it doesn’t occur to Maisie that she has the power to hurt him. He’s a very stoic, closed-off character, and Maisie kind of takes this to mean he’s unbreakable. She makes a lot of mistakes with him, but she also learns from them. I hope young readers will see that this is a story both about the inevitability of messing up and the desire to understand what went wrong so you don’t do it again. Maisie is not perfect and never will be. But by the end of the book she’s much more mindful of her words and actions, and because of that she’s much less likely to cause unintentional hurt going forward. 

Kathie: The question I really want to ask about Calum is “Was he a spy?” but since I’m pretty sure I won’t get an answer to that, can you tell us what you most admire about him as a character and the role he plays in Maisie’s life?

Sabrina: Ahaha–if I answered that question, Calum would feel so betrayed! Whether or not he is actually a spy will have to stay a secret, but as for what I admire most about him, I think it’s just the fact that he’s living his life. At one point in the story, he tells Maisie, “When I was in middle school and teachers asked where we pictured ourselves in twenty years, I…couldn’t. It felt like there wasn’t any space in the world for me, like I wasn’t allowed to exist.” Calum is gay, and although he’s only ten years older than Maisie, a lot has changed in the decade that separates them. Maisie grew up surrounded by queer people who were accepted completely in her small town. Calum did not have the same experience. He was actively erased in the same town, and could not see a future for himself. So I think there’s a lot of power that comes from him taking up space in the world, in the mundanity of him simply existing.

This generational gap was also an interesting dynamic to explore in his relationship with Maisie. Because of how much their town changed in only a few years, there are things about Calum’s life that she can’t comprehend, and vice versa. I think this bridge is really important for both of them. It’s a reality check for Maisie when she realizes things weren’t always as easy for other people as they are for her. And it’s proof to Calum that even in their small town, in the place he was miserable, people can change. In a lot of ways, Maisie and Calum are opposites. Because of that, I think they play equally important roles in each other’s lives. They are much more balanced together than they are apart.

Kathie: Can you tell us why you chose London and Edinburgh as the setting for most of the novel?

Sabrina: THE ART OF RUNNING AWAY was actually my senior thesis for my Creative Writing major in college, and I wrote it right after coming back from studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh. I absolutely loved living in Edinburgh and missed it as soon as I returned to New York. I knew I at least wanted to partially set my story there, and because there was already a nostalgic element to the setting, I decided to also write about London–another city I love and lived in a few years prior.

Kathie: Do you enjoy art, and do you have other artistic or creative outlets besides writing?

Sabrina: I do enjoy art. I drew a ton when I was younger, and I took art classes in high school and college. It’s been a while since I’ve drawn anything, though, and I was never very good–Maisie would put me to shame! But it is something I’d like to pick up again. Possibly my favorite thing in the world is seeing art of my book characters. I’ve commissioned a few pieces for THE ART OF RUNNING AWAY, and they make me so happy. I would love to be able to draw my characters one day!

Kathie: What would you love young readers to know about this book?

Sabrina: That it’s funny! There are definitely heavy topics covered in this book. There’s pain and angst. But there is an underlying hopeful tone and a ton of humor. One of my favorite scenes (and possibly the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever written) has to do with a Shrek bet. I’m still a little shocked it made it past copy edits haha, but it did! It was important to me that this wasn’t a dark book. I wanted to write about characters who had been through trauma and who may always experience the effects of it, but I also wanted to show that those characters could be happy and healthy and doing well in life.

Kathie: Are you currently working on another writing project?

Sabrina: I’m not going to lie, writing through this pandemic has been rough. I’ve started and stopped several projects over the last year and a half and haven’t made a ton of progress on any of them. But I’ve finally settled on re-writing an old manuscript that has had my heart for a while. Like THE ART OF RUNNING AWAY, it’s also about siblings! Hopefully I’ll have more updates on it soon.

Kathie: Where can we go to find out more about you and your writing?

Sabrina: I’m on Twitter, Instagram, and Tiktok @sabklecker. You can also find out more about me and my writing at https://www.sabrinakleckner.com/ 

Kathie: Thank you so much for answering my questions today, Sabrina, and I wish you all the best with your book’s launch.

Sabrina: Thank you so much! These were great interview questions and I enjoyed answering them. 🙂

Sabrina Kleckner is the author of THE ART OF RUNNING AWAY, a middle grade contemporary novel about family and identity. She began writing at the age of twelve, and is grateful to not be debuting with the angsty assassin book she toiled over in her teens. When she is not writing, she can be found teaching ESL or gushing about her three cats to anyone who will listen. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @sabkleckner.

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