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Linda Oatman High [Bibliography Below] Interview May 2004
Sister Slam
Young Adult
Linda Oatman High ETC: Let's cut to the chase, or the road trip as the case may be. Tell us about your latest book.

Linda Oatman High: "Sister Slam and the Poetic Motormouth Road Trip" is the story of Laura Crapper, who's way past chunky. In fact, she's downright clown-white fat, but funky, a hip chick in thick-soled combat boots. Laura and her best friend Twig have a plan, a jammin' road trip to a poetry slam in New Jersey. Laura changes her name to Sister Slam, and the girls squeal away toward fame. The book is written in verse: a hip-hop be-bop kind of rhythm that was fun to write, and I hope fun to read! A clerk at Borders Books called it "Dr. Seuss for big cool people."
ETC: Why did you decide to write about (and in the form of) poetry?

Linda Oatman High: It's my firm belief that poetry can - and should be - fun, cool, hip, and exciting! I wanted teens to realize that attending or participating in a poetry slam can
be as great as getting tickets for a concert. I was meeting too many kids
who stated that poetry was "boring," and that their teachers weren't excited about teaching it, therefore the students weren't champing at the bit to learn about it, either. I like to relate poetry to music, and tell kids that music is poetry in motion. The word "rap" is an acronym for "rhythm and poetry," so I use rap music in my writing workshops, as well as punk, rock, classical, and pop music. Boring is against my religion.

ETC: Tell us about your writing workshops.

Linda Oatman High: I offer lots of theme writing workshops, such as "Writing by the Light of the Moon," a nighttime session using glow-in-the-dark novelties, blacklight, and ghostbuster/monster/moon music. Other workshops include "Sk8er Creator: A Workshop For Punks, Freaks, and other Rebels," using the music of Good Charlotte and Newfound Glory, and "Renaissance Writing," for which I wear a costume and play medieval music. I've had a blast creating theme workshops, and keep adding to the repertoire. My newest addition is "Bubble Writing," for which I'm in search of a bubble machine, and "Winter Wonderland," which will use a portable snowmaking machine and snowman pens.

ETC: Back to "Sister Slam." How did you create authentic teen characters?

Linda Oatman High: As a mother to two boys and two stepchildren, I have kids who now range in age from 13-22. It wasn't difficult to write about teens, as I listen to their voices and their music every day.

ETC: What kind of reaction have you had to "Sister Slam and the Poetic Motormouth Road Trip?"

Linda Oatman High: The book just came out a month ago, but I've had emails from teens telling me that it's the best book they've ever read. One girl wrote, "I love that the fat girl gets the hot guy!"

ETC: What did she mean by that?

Linda Oatman High: Sister Slam - Laura - ends up "wooed and rescued by a dude with avocado-hotto eyes." The character Jake is a good-looking green-eyed musician guy, whose heart and soul are as sweet as his looks. Jake sees through Sister's outward appearance and falls in love with her spirit. Jake tells her:

"You're smart and
artistic. You're no
bimbo chick, flouncing
around primping and simpering.
You're interesting.
A mix of bizarre
and beautiful in a psychedelic
kind of way."

ETC: Were you heavy as a teen? Is this why you wrote about a large-size girl?

Linda Oatman High: No, I was too skinny as a kid, which can be as difficult as being too big. Kids will find something tease-worthy in every physical appearance on earth. I wanted to write about a character whose inner beauty shines through.

ETC: So was Sister's best friend Twig, the skinny Indie-Goth-Hippie chick, based on you?

Linda Oatman High: All of my characters include bits and pieces of me. In the dedication of "Sister Slam," I thanked my family for putting up with the Sister and the Twig in me! Like Sister, I wear Doc Martens. Like Twig, I wear Chuck Taylor sneakers. Like Jake, I play the guitar. I've been described as being a free spirit, and most of my characters seem to be a lot like me.

ETC: Why did you have the characters driving a 1969 Firebird for the trip?

Linda Oatman High: My first car was a '69 Mustang, sunshine-yellow with a hood scoop and a black stripe. I'm in love with vehicles made in that year! I've also noticed that teens seem to be fascinated with vintage cars.

ETC: Did you ever hit a pig, as the characters in the book did?

Linda Oatman High: No! I also never had a fender-bender with a gender-bender in Newark, New Jersey. You can make things up when writing fiction!

ETC: Why did you choose New York City as the place for serendipity to hit Sister?

Linda Oatman High: I love New York. (Hey, that's a song title, isn't it?!) I chose Pennsylvania as Sister's home, because I've lived in Pa. for my entire life.

ETC: How did you get the idea for Twig almost washing her face in the bidet at the suite in the Waldorf?

Linda Oatman High: When my son Zach was about 8 or 9 years old, we stayed in the Waldorf for one wonderful weekend. Upon Zach's entrance to the bathroom, he yelled out, "Hey! Cool! A little sink to wash your face!" Zach also gave me Twig's comment at Tavern on the Green, when she says, "Oh, look here! A John Deere tractor picture, smack-dab in the middle of the butter pat!" The restaurant's trademark is a green leaping deer, and my son assumed that it was the John Deere logo. Hey, when you live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, you see a green deer and assume that it means John Deere.

ETC: The book is very quirky and different, and we'd think it was a bit of a risk to write something so unusual. What kind of reviews is the book getting?

Linda Oatman High: My favorite was the review in Publisher's Weekly. They called the book "an ultra-hip Cinderella tale," that's "satisfying as well as hilarious." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books said that "High's pulsating rap balladry makes it a vigorous and stylish outing." A kid named Jordan wrote a wonderful review on, in which he said this:

"I thought the book was phenomenal. I would definitely recommend it to my friends because it's a miraculous, dream come true story that you won't want to put down. It's written in poetry throughout the entire book which is refreshing. It has a good rhythm to it, making you speed up during the exciting moments, heightening the excitement, and then slows you down when need be. It makes the book flow so well and you feel very involved in the story. The poetry gives the book a marvelous energy to it and will make this a book you'll want to go back and read again. Over all I give this book Sister Slam and the Poetic Motormouth Roadtrip by Linda Oatman High, five stars and two thumbs way up."

I love Jordan's review. I also love that several reviewers compared the book to the writing of Francesca Lia Block, who's one of my hero writers.

ETC: Do you visit schools?

Linda Oatman High: Yes, and I love it. I guarantee that creativity will be sparked, and that even reluctant writers and readers will be excited. Oh, speaking of reluctant readers, the ALA has nominated "Sister Slam" as a 2005 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.

ETC: What do you recommend for people who want to write books for children and/or teens?

Linda Oatman High: Read, read, read, write, write, write. Write about your passions and your heartbreaks, your joys and your fears. Attend writers' workshops and conferences. I'll be teaching at Manhattanville College this summer, and in Italy next summer!

ETC: Your writing is so diverse. What's the next book?

Linda Oatman High: A poetry book titled "City of Snow: The Great Blizzard of 1888" is coming in September. I'm also working on a followup for "Sister Slam," which will be another quirky read for teens.

ETC: Your published books include picture books, poetry, and middle-grade novels. "Sister Slam" is your first young adult book. Will you stick to writing for teens?

Linda Oatman High: I love writing for all ages. I'll definitely write more for teens, but I'm sure that I'll continue to write picture books as well. My first grandchild was just born on May 18th, and I'm over the moon with joy. His name is Connor, he's beautiful and sweet, and I'm sure that he'll show up in a book. Through the years, my writing has seemed to follow my kids.


Picture books:
The Girl on the High-Diving Horse, Barn Savers, Beekeepers, Winter Shoes for Shadow Horse, The Last Chimney of Christmas Eve, A Christmas Star, Under New York

A Humble Life: Plain Poems

The President's Puppy

Middle Grades:
Maizie, Hound Heaven, The Summer of the Great Divide, A Stone's Throw From Paradise