Check This Out: Up for Air

Hi ya! (See what I did there? Yes, I laugh at my own bad puns. If you’re still wondering what on earth I mean, think higher. Get it? Air? Higher? Okay, I’ll stop.) My guest is nudging me to focus, so, with me on the blog today is none other than the amazing Laurie Morrison. She’s been here before to discuss her debut MG novel, Every Shiny Thing, written with the awesome Cordelia Jensen. Click here for that post. Today, Laurie’s here to talk about her solo flight, Up for Air, published by Abrams on May 7.

   

Laurie is represented by Sara Crowe.

Stick around to the end to learn of a giveaway for Up for Air and to find out who won the $25 Amazon card I announced in this post. Now, let’s talk to Laurie!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laurie: I’m very sensitive to loud noises and scared of fire, so I was terrified of fireworks as a kid. I love sweets and love coffee but hate sweet coffee. I used to wish I had straight hair and a name that ended in an “a,” but now I like my hair and my name a lot. I always loved to read but didn’t begin to think of myself as a writer until my mid-twenties.

El Space: Congratulations on your starred reviews for Up for Air, Laurie! [Click here and scroll down for those.] Please tell us how this book came to be.
Laurie: Thank you! Up for Air spun off from a YA novel I was working on when you and I got to know each other at VCFA, Linda. Annabelle from Up for Air was the younger stepsister of the main character in that book, a sixteen-year-old girl named Lissy. I still love that book, which was called Rebound, but unfortunately it never sold. However, right around the time when I was realizing that book might not sell, my then-seventh-grade student read it and told me she loved Annabelle and wanted me to write Annabelle’s story next. I loved Annabelle, too, and I had taught some other students who were excellent athletes and ended up playing on sports teams with older teens. I thought that dynamic, of a tween on a team with older teens, would be interesting to explore, and I loved the idea that I could use the setting and some of the characters from Rebound. It took me a little while to commit to writing Up for Air because I was afraid it would be seen as too mature for middle grade but too young for young adult and therefore wouldn’t be marketable, but I couldn’t let go of the idea.

Laurie talks with her Every Shiny Things co-author, Cordelia Jensen. Photo taken at the Up for Air book launch at Children’s Book World in Haverford

El Space: Annabelle’s story is such a rich conglomeration of angst, joy, family, friendships, crushes, and summer fun.  Who, if anyone, was the inspiration for Annabelle?
Laurie: I’m so glad you thought so! Originally, I created Annabelle as a character who would really push my old main character Lissy’s buttons,  so I guess Lissy was the main inspiration. Annabelle’s stepdad, Mitch, is Lissy’s father, and while Annabelle and Mitch have a great relationship, Lissy and Mitch had a pretty tense one. I tried to build Annabelle up as a kid who would seem to Lissy like the daughter her dad had always wanted.

El Space: Honestly, your book was painful to read at times because it is so true to life. What were the challenges for you in the writing of this book?
Laurie: I struggle with perfectionism, and I tend to feel a whole lot of shame when I think I have done things wrong. As I wrote this book, I really wanted to explore those feelings of shame and vulnerability because of “messing up,” so I channeled some painful and embarrassing experiences I’d had as a kid and as an adult. Annabelle’s experiences are very different from mine, but her feelings are the same. Interestingly, though, I didn’t find the book emotionally difficult to write. It was actually very cathartic.

Cookies served at the Up for Air book launch were made by Frosted Fox Bakery.

El Space: You taught middle school. What do you think your students would say about Annabelle’s journey? What do you want your readers to take away concerning girl power?
Laurie: I think 6th-8th graders like the ones I taught would say they are happy that Annabelle’s story delves into some things they don’t often get to read about in middle grade books—things like the social pressures that can come along with being friends with older teens, and the way it feels to get a certain kind of attention as your body develops. I want readers to see that girls can be competitive, yes, and Annabelle has a very competitive friendship, but girls also lift each other up and share their experiences in a very open and deep way, making each other feel less alone.

El Space: The swim team aspects were so realistic. Were you on the swim team at school? How did you bring them to life so vividly?
Laurie: Thank you! I was an athlete, but my big sport was soccer. I do know how to swim and love to do laps for exercise, though I haven’t done that for a while, and I also love to watch swimming during the Olympics! I drew upon my minimal knowledge of swimming and my more substantial understanding of what it’s like to be serious about a sport, and then I did a bit of research and relied on three readers who are swimming experts: my friend and critique partner, Laura Sibson, and two of my former students. All three of them helped me make the swimming elements more vivid and authentic.

El Space: Your book is considered upper middle grade. I remember reading Shug by Jenny Han years ago and thinking it was upper middle grade. What are the differences between middle grade and upper middle grade?
Laurie: Oh, I loved Shug! And that’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a clear consensus on what the criteria are or which books are middle grade and which are upper middle grade. I could say that upper middle grade books are designated by the publisher as age 10-14 versus age 8-12, and that is sometimes the case; Up for Air and Every Shiny Thing are both marketed as 10-14, and so are Melanie Sumrow’s unputdownable novels, The Prophet Calls and The Inside Battle. But then one of my favorite upper middle grade books is Paula Chase’s So Done, and that one says age 8-12 on the jacket.

  

   

I guess for me, the age of the protagonist is important. When the main character is 13 (an age that I think publishers used to shy away from), that’s one indication that you’re looking at an upper middle grade novel. It’s also about the topics the author is covering and the book’s tone. So I guess it’s an I-know-it-when-I-see-it kind of thing. If I feel like a book is geared more toward a 6th-8th grade reader than to a 3rd-5th grade reader, then I personally would call it upper MG. I’m happy to say that I think we’re starting to see more and more upper MG, and I hope that’s a trend that continues!

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laurie: I’m working on my next book, Saint Ivy, which is due out from Abrams in spring 2021. Like my first two books, it’s a story about friendship, family, and complicated emotions, but this one also features an anonymous email and a bit of a mystery. It’s proving to be a fun challenge so far, and I’m nervous but excited to see how it comes together!

Thank you, Laurie, for being my guest!

Looking for Laurie? Click on these icons:

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Up for Up for Air? You can find it at your local bookstore and here:
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But one of you will find it in your mailbox just because you commented below. Yes, this is a giveaway, like the $25 Amazon gift card will be given away to Jill Weatherholt. See what I did there? Oh never mind. Jill, please comment below to confirm.

Everyone else, please comment below to be entered in the drawing. I’ll announce the winner next week sometime!

After reading Up for Air, Henry was inspired to hug his friends regularly, including new friend, the lamb’s head.

Author photo by Laura Billingham. Cookie photo by Elizabeth Morrison. Book launch photo by Mike Fabius. Cup of coffee from clker.com. Various icons from the internet. Other photos by L. Marie.

51 thoughts on “Check This Out: Up for Air

  1. Congratulations on your terrific reviews, Laurie. I love the premise of Up for Air. Since I was little, I’ve been afraid of fire, too. I remember running to my parents bedroom whenever I heard sirens at night because I thought they were coming to our house. Great to meet you, Laurie. I see what you did, L. Marie! 🙂 Thank you so much for the gift card!

  2. This sounds like a wonderful story that makes me reflect on my middle school days. I grew up long before girls were encouraged to be competitive. In some ways I suspect that I could learn a lot by reading this book too. As always, it’s fun to meet a new-to-me author. Thanks, L. Marie.

    • It is indeed a wonderful story, Ally. It brought back painful memories–the sign of something that goes deep. And I also remember being raised in a day when girls weren’t encouraged to be competitive–especially at sports. I used to play baseball in the alley with the boys, but that was a no-no!

      • Thanks for your comment, Ally! Competitiveness is a theme in this book that I wasn’t fully conscious of as I wrote, but I’m glad it slipped in there. There are some really positive outcomes of Annabelle’s competitiveness when it comes to swimming, but she also has a friendship that becomes competitive in a negative way. Hope you enjoy the book if you end up reading it!

  3. Congratulations, Laurie! Up for Air sounds wonderful. I’m very excited about the rise of upper MG – I tutor an 8th grade student and she isn’t quite ready for YA, but is way beyond the lower MG her 5th grade younger brother reads. I’m always looking for books that hit this sweet spot that’s been neglected for so long.

  4. I believe I bought Every Shiny Thing for my grand-daughter, but possibly with a different cover (?).
    So kind of you to promote authors, L. Marie. But that’s who you are! 🙂

    Best wishes to the duo on their new launch!

  5. Thanks for a great interview, Linda and Laurie. And congrats, Laurie, on your solo launch! So excited for you! Such a great story. And yay for upper mg!

  6. This sounds like a wonderful story for kids to relate to, and like things I also went through. Although, I was not and still not an athlete. BTW, I love the name Laurie. 😉

    Congratulations on this great accomplishment.

  7. What a wonderful interview! Thanks, L. Marie, for hosting Laurie and thanks, Laurie for such fantastic answers. I love this book, I love Annabelle and I can’t wait for more books from Laurie!

  8. I have read the book through an ARC sharing group and it is perfect for my workplace as I teach grade 6 and have time in a K-7 library. I am hoping to pick up some copies soon, but it being late in the school year, the library budget is shot. This is a book that will be needed in libraries though, so I will be getting at least one copy somehow.

    I enjoyed the interview as well. Thanks for the post!

  9. Thank you for this interview, Laurie and Linda! I was lucky to get a sneak peek at Up for Air, and all the advance praise is correct! It’s a compelling story that will resonate with a lot of middle schoolers, and I’ve been recommending it everywhere.

  10. Always such a treat to meet new authors via your blog interviews, L.Marie. You are a gracious hostess.
    And Laurie, congrats!
    ps-Clara’s wondering if that’s one of her new cousins emerging from Henry’s hug?

  11. Very punny, LM!
    Congrats to Jill ~> put your win in a rainy day fund to spend when it’s pouring the rain!

    Good luck with UP FOR AIR, Laurie (or should I call you Laura . . . with an “a” at the end?).
    Great title and good looking cookies!

  12. How nice that Henry was moved to hug his friends, and so shall I. 🙂
    I get confused with 3-5 and 6 – 8, especially now that my granddaughter is in third grade, a vociferous reader, but, well . . .
    I enjoyed this interview and wish Laurie the best.

    • I’m glad Henry inspired you to hug people, Penny.

      I know what you mean about the confusing designations. Publishing keeps changing. I’m glad there are books for kids who aren’t quite ready for YA books. But Laurie’s book also is one a teen could read and feel at home too.

      In third grade, I was introduced to so many good books. What does your granddaughter like to read?

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