Put on your ’80s going-to-the-mall clothes! With me on the blog is the awesome and prolific Lyn Miller-Lachmann (left), who is here to discuss Moonwalking, her historical novel in verse co-authored with the equally awesome Zetta Elliott. (See cover reveal post here.) Moonwalking was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on April 12. Lyn is represented by Jacqui Lipton.
For a synopsis of the book, click here.
El Space: You have two books debuting this month! We’ll talk later about the second. But how amazing is that? How does that make you feel?
Lyn: Very busy! My last book launch, not including translations, was June 2015—seven years ago—so it was a huge adjustment to get back into promoting my books. Also, the industry has changed and my last book was a YA novel, Surviving Santiago, so how I’ve gotten the word out about the books has been different. I’m grateful to my co-author, Zetta Elliott, for doing more than her share in terms of blogging about Moonwalking and going on social media. This is an exciting time, and I’m learning a lot, which will surely help me when my next YA novel, Torch, launches on November 1 of this year.
El Space: Congrats on getting four starred reviews for Moonwalking from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and Horn Book. How has that recognition been a game changer for you?
Lyn: The starred reviews for Moonwalking are the first I’ve received for any book I’ve written, though I did get Kirkus stars for two of my translations from Portuguese to English:The World in a Second (Enchanted Lion, 2015) and The President of the Jungle (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020). I feel that the starred reviews have given me a certain level of approval in terms of craft that’s especially gratifying because I spent a lot of time in the seven years between publications to improve my craft and try new forms and techniques like the verse novel. These stars make me think of when JJ gets his social studies project back and sees, “My first A+ ever!”
El Space: How did you decide that Moonwalking needed to be a novel in verse? Did you experiment with other formats or was telling the story in verse the chosen way from the beginning?
Lyn: Zetta suggested the verse novel format right at the beginning, as we were coming up with the story line and the characters. She’s a celebrated poet for adults, but she’d never written a verse novel for young readers, one that foregrounds story arc and accessibility. She wanted to try a form that captures the artistic flowering of 1980s New York City even though neither Pie nor JJ see themselves as poets. I had been working on a YA verse novel at the time—one in which the protagonist does dream of being a poet in the mold of Elizabeth Acevedo’s groundbreaking The Poet X—but I put it aside to work on Moonwalking. We sold the book on the basis of a detailed synopsis and three poems each. I’d never sold a novel with so little written before, so this was a new experience for me—and it was a verse novel from the very beginning.
El Space: Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Lyn: I came up with JJ’s story because I wanted to write about a white boy who’s grown up comfortably middle class and privileged, losing it all when the government fires and blacklists his father and the other members of the PATCO union after the August 1981 strike. I read Gregory Pardlo’s haunting memoir, Air Traffic, where he talks about his family suddenly descending into poverty and instability as his father is unable to find regular work. Sadly, this has been the story of so many Americans of all races (Pardlo, for instance, is Black), but the growing numbers of white Americans who have lost the economic security and communal ties that unions offer make them especially vulnerable to demagogues seeking to blame the Other. JJ is struggling to find his way within these circumstances, but he’s also coming to see how he often gets more consideration because he’s white.
El Space: What was the process of collaborating with your coauthor? Did you guys each start with a character? With the plot?
Lyn: We started with our individual characters and their stories—JJ, the newcomer to Brooklyn trying to find his place, and Pie, the longtime resident who loves his neighborhood and the nexus of adults who support him but also wants to escape to something better like his artistic role model, Jean-Michel Basquiat (photo below). Because I broke my ankle in January 2020, around the time we signed the contract, I was stuck at home with lots of time to write, so I finished my poems long before Zetta, who moved house three times in the middle of a pandemic. Once she finished, we looked at what we had, brainstormed some endings that diverged from our original outline/synopsis, and added, subtracted, and revised poems.
El Space: How long was the writing period? What was the road to getting it accepted at a publisher?
Lyn: We had a tentative acceptance within a week after submitting the outline/synopsis and sample poems. Several publishers were interested. We spoke to them by phone over the course of a week, and ultimately decided on the pre-empt with Grace Kendall at FSG—the editor of Zetta and Noa Denmon’s Caldecott Honor Book, A Place Inside of Me—because we loved her vision and her equal appreciation of both boys’ stories. It took me about six months to write my draft of the poems, another six months for Zetta to finish hers, and another six months for revising and incorporating our separate narratives into one unified narrative.
El Space: What novels in verse inspired you?
Lyn: Besides Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X and her dual point of view, Clap When You Land. I especially appreciated Susan Hood’s WWII verse novel Lifeboat 12 for its portrayal of a 12-year-old boy who felt invisible in his family and in school and struggled with what probably were learning disabilities. Like Ken in her book, JJ has a lot going on inside and doesn’t realize the extent of his power and what he can accomplish if he stands up for what’s right. At the same time, many of the people around him don’t recognize that he’s a keen observer of the world around him and the hypocrisy within it, and that he’s on his way to becoming a composer of the music that allows him to express himself when his words can’t.
El Space: What will you work on next?
Lyn: I’m going back to that YA verse novel, but I’ve also been working on several nonfiction projects for older elementary school students related to twentieth century history. I like the idea of working in multiple genres and categories, but related topics, because it allows me to reuse and expand upon the extensive research that I do.
Thank you as always, Lyn, for being my guest!
I’m giving away a copy of Moonwalking. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced next week sometime.
Book cover and author photo courtesy of Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Other covers from Goodreads. Jean-Michel Basquiat photo by Andy Warhol found at Wikipedia.