|Michael de Guzman||...in his own words...|
|GROWING UP RITA
Growing Up Rita is the story of twelve-year-old Rita Martinez, who was born in the United States to Alicia, who came here illegally from Mexico. When her mother is swept up in an immigration raid, Rita is left alone. She must find the courage and resourcefulness to survive while she tries to find her mother and get her back. This story is about a kid who populates the margins of society, who has something big to face, who takes action on her own behalf, and who is aided by adults who live on the margins themselves. (Ages 9-12)
From Growing Up Rita
Rita turned and ran. If they could take her mother, they could take her. She tore out fo the building and across the street. She looked back. Nobody was chasing her, but she was certain they would be any minute. She kept running, trying to remember how she'd come. The purse slipped from her shoulder. Its contents emptied on the sidewalk. She looked up as she retrieved them. A white truck was barreling up the street. They were coming for her. It sped past. She breathed a sigh of relief. She started running again. She fairly flew, clutching the purse under her arm. She was afraid to look back. The station came into view. She descended to the platform. Waiting for the train she expected them to appear at any moment. She searched for an escape route. There was none.
Michael de Guzman wrote Growing Up Rita because he wanted kids to read about other kids who live a different life. And because the more we know about each other, the better off we are.
HENRIETTA HORNBUCKLE'S CIRCUS OF LIFE
Henrietta cherishes her family’s kooky existence working as clowns for a small, shabby traveling circus. As far as she is concerned, she has it better than any twelve-year-old on the planet. But one shocking day, life throws a pie right in her kisser—in the form of a hitand-run accident that takes away a loved one. Henrietta must use all her clowning skills and a whole lot more to pick herself up and face a future full of change.
A bittersweet novel about circus life and life itself.
Newboy hasn’t spoken in three years. One morning he opened his mouth and nothing came out. He doesn’t know why he stopped talking, but what he does know is that he’s through with the state child-care system. In twelve years he’s lived in eleven foster homes, and the Knoxes are the worst of the bunch. Now, with no voice, no family, and no exact plan, Newboy is running away for good. Living on the streets means danger and excitement around every corner, but the one thing Newboy never expected to find is a companion in the form of an old ventriloquist dummy lying in a Dumpster – a puppet with no hands, backward feet, and a chunk of its nose missing. Amazingly, this beat-up doll whom he dubs “Stinko” possesses a kind of magic that helps Newboy rediscover his ability to communicate.
This is a fast-paced adventure about a runaway kid figuring out not just what he’s searching for but also what he has to say.
Albert Rosegarden is a boy ready and waiting for an adventure to take him away from Mountain View, Idaho (where there are no mountains in view)--and he gets what he wants when Wendell shows up, the grandfather Albert didn't know he had. Wendell is an old ex-con of mixed ancestry who carries a violin case he calls the Stradivarius. Albert's mother and Wendell have been estranged for years, and she orders him to leave immediately. But Albert talks her into letting his grandfather spend the night. Which is the beginning of the adventure Albert yearned for--an adventure that takes him and Wendell and a three-legged dog to Seattle, where they are going to pull off the perfect con--the conning of a con man.
The author's irrepressible and inventive third novel is about love and the passing of wisdom; as Wendell puts it when he and Albert first see Seattle, "This is going to be the most fun you've ever had."
--Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2005
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BEEKMAN'S BIG DEAL
Twelve-year-old Beekman O'Day has spent his entire life moving from place to place with his wheeler-dealer father, Leo. They've lived everywhere in Manhattan, from hotels to apartments to rented rooms, and Beekman has attended nine schools. Now Beekman is in a new home and about to enter school, ready to go through the motions of meeting new kids and teachers. He knows that this lifestyle has got to go; that it's time to make a deal with Leo and put an end to their pick-up-and-go shenanigans. And with a little help from the neighbors and his first best friend, Beekman is going to do all it takes to make his big deal happen.
This sly and wise second novel charts the course of a young man who is discovering how to go somewhere new by standing his ground and staying in place.
Twelve-year-old Sidney T. Mellon has an unfortunate name considering that his head is round and much too large for his body, his red hair stands straight up in a long crew cut, and his expression is perpetually flushed. A cantaloupe is what usually comes to mind. So does the nickname Melonhead.
What chance does Sidney have, looking like this, yo-yoing back and forth between Seattle and Los Angeles, living part of each year with each of his divorced parents? He is disconnected from both distracted parents; he is disconnected from his own distracted self. No wonder he gets on a bus in Los Angeles one day and heads for New York City, making up ridiculous names and stories about himself at the drop of a hat whenever he meets somebody new. But each of the people Sidney meets on his diesel-powered journey across America contributes something to his understanding of who he is and where he's going. What he will do when he gets there, what he will discover about the unhappiness in his life, he has no idea. He just knows that he has to find out.
Interview, May 2010
ETC: Henrietta Hornbuckle's Circus Of Life is your fifth novel for middle readers. What's it about?
de Guzman: Henrietta is a clown. She was born into a small, down-at-the-heels traveling clown circus. Her parents are clowns. Her teachers are clowns. Everybody she knows is a clown. The circus never stops moving. In her opinion, she has the best life of any twelve-year-old on the planet. She never wants things to change. But things do, whether we like it or not. The circus is on its last legs. Henrietta has to face the prospect of it closing. Then she's forced to confront a tragedy that's beyond her imagination.
ETC: Why a traveling clown circus?
de Guzman: Well, to start with, I think life is a circus. It's chaotic and entertaining and confusing and noisy all at the same time. So many things are going on at once it's hard to know where to look. It's bright lights and music and big moments and small ones. Awe and wonder. Laughter and love and tragedy. Then I wanted the story to take place in a tight, somewhat isolated community so that things would be felt more intensely. The clowns, there are only thirteen of them, spend every day of the year, year after year in each other's company. They work together, live together, travel together, and solve their problems together. What effects one, effects them all. I like to make up unusual settings. I like marginal environments. Fanciful places and people. Inside those worlds I like to tell stories about real life, about difficult situations and relationships. The clown circus is Henrietta's world, and ultimately it's no different than any other.
ETC: Aren't some children frightened by clowns?
de Guzman: I've heard that, though I've never witnessed it. I liked clowns when I was a kid and I like them now. The best clowns bring the same level of creativity to their work as other great artists. A good clown can make us laugh, then make us cry. Emmett Kelly was the greatest I ever saw. I used a ventriloquist's dummy in Finding Stinko. I was told that they scared kids too. I was hooked on Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy, when I was a kid. Imagine a ventriloquist and his dummy being one of the most popular radio shows of all time. Anyway, part of what I'm trying do is to pound away at the whole idea of prejudice. It's silly. There's nothing to fear from a ventriloquist's dummy or a clown, just as there's nothing to fear from the circus-like nature of life. Stinko started as a device and turned into a character. Henrietta's circus became more than the sum of its parts.
ETC: Why did you decide to deal with the subject of death?
de Guzman: Because death is as much a part of life as birth. We don't like to talk about death. I think we need to be more open about it and its consequences. We start to lose people when we're young. Our grandparents. Maybe a kid from school in a car crash. One of our parents. A teacher. Henrietta has to deal with the death of her hero and mentor. Her father means everything to her. She has to be smart and independent and strong in dealing with all that, and with the demise of the only way of life she's ever known.
ETC: Why do you write novels for middle readers?
de Guzman: Growing up my heroes were novelists. I dreamed of becoming one someday. First I wrote whatever would pay the bills. Then I did a stint toiling in the fields of Hollywood. I reached the height of that career when I wrote the fourth JAWS movie. I just lost out for the worst screenplay of the year award, the coveted Razzi. Another year, who knows? Upon reflection it turned out that the characters I'd enjoyed writing about most were kids. For me, twelve is the age that bridges the world of childhood and the world of everything else. It's sort of how I feel a lot of the time myself. There's a lot of twelve-year-old left in me. Then there was the dream. I concluded that there could be no better or tougher audience for me to try to reach. And no better way to do than with novels. That's kind of how it happened.
ETC: How do you write? What are your work habits?
de Guzman: I work every day, even if only a little. It's not a matter of inspiration, it's about slogging. I write while I'm writing. I don't outline. A character interests me. The world the character might live in emerges. The life the character might lead begins to come into focus. Then come other characters and a vague idea of who they are and what they're about. I throw it all into the hopper, shake it up, and see where it leads. By the fifth or sixth draft, maybe, it begins to take on some sort of coherence. I put complete drafts through the typewriter each time, changing, adding, subtracting as I go. I've always worked at home, so I got used to my children hanging around my neck while I was doing it. Now I have grandchildren hanging on my neck. The hardest part is not to lose faith in what I'm doing. A year into a book, when I have serious doubts and think it's all rubbish, I wonder why I didn't chose something else to do with my life. Then I go back to work.
ETC: What would you like kids to take away from Henrietta Hornbuckle's Circus Of Life?
de Guzman: That they should fight for what they believe in. They should know that things will happen for which there is no preparation. We may think we know what's going to happen next, but we don't. Live the life you have. Live it in the present. But the past is important too, for what we've experienced and learned, and for the memories that matter. And so is the future. We should have our dreams and make our plans and embrace the unknown.
ETC: What would you like to say to kids about writing?
de Guzman: Whatever you do with your life, being able to say what's on your mind in writing is a big deal. The words may be directed to the love of your life, or they may provide information for your boss, or they may become the novel or screenplay that's screaming to get out of you. Words inform, but they do much more. They inspire. They illuminate. They entertain. They can become the mirror that lets us see who we are. The other thing I'd say is that writing and reading are joined at the hip. I learned how to write from other writers. In this way I discovered which writers I liked and why. In that way, over time, I came to find my own voice. Well, I'm getting closer anyway.
When I was a kid I made up stories and went door-to-door selling recitations for a nickel. I found out it's a tough way to make a living. I did it anyway, including a twenty year stint writing television movies. One of them, an adaptation of E.L. Konigsburg's FATHER'S ARCANE DAUGHTER (the film was called 'Caroline?'), convinced me I was writing for the wrong crowd. I discovered that I saw and felt the world most clearly through the heart and mind of the twelve year old inside me. I decided to write for people my own age. When I turned sixty I started writing novels about twelve year old boys.
MELONHEAD was first. It's about Sidney T. Mellon, Junior, who has an extremely large head and a lot of family problems to go with it. I gave him a big head because it's something he couldn't hide. He'd be forced to deal with it. We all have something, but for most of us it's buried where others can't see it. I kind of stacked the deck against Sidney, to see what he'd do. He ends up traveling across the country by himself on a bus in search of a life that works.
BEEKMAN'S BIG DEAL is about Beekman O'Day and his father, Leo, who makes his living making dubious deals. Beekman has spent all twelve of his years with Leo on the island of Manhattan. They've resided in apartments, hotels and rented rooms; fourteen different places in all. Beekman's been to nine schools. When a couple of Leo's deals land them in a mews house at Nutting Court and him at Chance Academy, Beekman sees his opportunity to stay put. He makes a deal with Leo. A big deal. No more moving. No more new schools. When Leo can't keep his end of it, Beekman makes his stand.
When I was growing up I became aware of the difference between the world the way it was and the way I wanted it to be. I still see injustices to fight. There are still windmills to be tilted at. I believe that unexpected people show up at unexpected moments to hold out a hand. Beekman encounters such people. All the boys in my stories do. I write about what matters to me because it's all I know to write about. I have to hope that it matters to the people I write for. I have to hope that my best work is good enough. That's the struggle. And the reward.
The inspiration for BEEKMAN'S BIG DEAL was the life I lived with my father for a time in New York City. The book is dedicated to him. For many reasons. He told me to read every day if I wanted to be a writer. He wrote himself and set the standard. I didn't want my own life to pass without trying to honor his. My father and I are not Leo and Beekman. Not in the details. It's a matter of feelings, you see.