Chatting with Author Laurie Frankel

by Marie B.

Whidbey community libraries, their Friends of the Library groups, and community volunteers have put together a great slate of programs for Whidbey Reads 2020.  You don’t have to live on Whidbey to attend these events.  Start a carpool and take a day trip to the island!  All roads lead to three chances to hear directly from Laurie Frankel, author of this year’s featured title.

In the 2020 selection This Is How It Always Is, Rosie and Penn are parents to five boys.  When the youngest, Claude, begins to wear dresses around the house and announces they are a princess not a prince, it’s cool.  When they say they want to change their name to Poppy and wear a bikini at the beach, their family supports them completely – but their parents start to consider how the outside world will react to Poppy who was Claude.  Laurie Frankel’s experience in raising a transgender child brings authenticity to this funny, thought-provoking novel perfect for fans of heartwarming fiction.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Laurie.  Check it out!

Marie B.: What made you want to be a writer?

Laurie F.: I love writing. I always have. I also love reading and do it a lot, and reading good books makes me want to write and makes me write better, so it’s a good cycle. I also have much to say, lots of opinions, and writing is the best way I have to make my cases thorough and entertaining and available. Mostly though, reading books has been my greatest pleasure all my life, so the opportunity to contribute myself is a deep honor.

MB: In the novel, Rosie and Penn have differing views on what to do in their role as parents as Poppy gets older. Has your support of your daughter changed shape as she approaches puberty?

LF: Nope. She has and will always have my full support. What she needs from me, of course, changes moment to moment, but whatever it is, that’s what she gets, no question.

MB: Can you talk about fairy tales and why you chose that motif for your book? What roles do fairy tales play in our lives?

LF: Fairy tales are formative. They’re the first stories most kids read, the first movies they see. They range wider than any given time or culture or nation you try to pin them to. So they’re great places to begin and then manipulate for your own devices. That’s what fairy tales are all about. They’re also all about transformation so particularly apt for the theme of this book.

MB: You have personal experience in raising a transgender child. Did you start writing this book to bring awareness, or is it just another example of art imitating life in all its infinite variety?

LF: All of the above. I think all fiction mirrors its author’s life in some way and diverges widely in most others. I think life imitates art as well as art imitating life. But for sure, always my books are trying to spread awareness, spread love, spread the sense that what’s weird about you probably isn’t that weird at all and is in fact to be celebrated.

MB: How did you handle first discussions about your transgender child with family, friends, and teachers?

LF: Our friends, family, and teachers have made this easy. Seattle Public Schools is wonderful on this front.

MB: Did you go to Thailand to conduct research for this novel? If so, were your experiences similar to those of Rosie?

LF: I did! I didn’t realize that the book was going to go to Thailand until I was well into writing it, so I went fairly spontaneously as far as international travel goes. I had a travel agent get permission for us to visit a border clinic like the one Poppy and Rosie do in the book, and otherwise, I tried to see as much of the country as possible because I didn’t know what I was going to need because I hadn’t written or even imagined that part yet.

MB: Whom did you turn to when you had questions?

LF: Doctors, support groups, writers, journalists, authors, experts, activists, members of the LGBTQ+ community, their parents, supporters, etc.

MB: Based on your experiences, how can educators help support transgender children in the classroom and beyond?

LF: Treating trans kids like all other kids is the only thing they need. As far as accommodations go, trans kids don’t need ‘em. They just need to be loved and celebrated and supported like any other kid because they are just like any other kid. Especially because often parents and friends can be freaked out about gender transitions, the more school can be low-key and casual and unconcerned and blasé about it, the better.

MB: What impact does authentic representation in books and media have on transgender children?

LF: Huge. Of course. Seeing yourself out there in the world, in the pages you read and your friends and parents and teachers read, having your experiences and thoughts and fears and dreams represented and celebrated and considered real and true and good and normal…it means the world.

MB: What resources would you recommend for parents of transgender children?

LF: I have lots of links on my website, and there are lots of really wonderful groups, local and online. or are great places to start.

MB: How can the average citizen support the transgender community?

LF: Listen when people tell you their pronouns. Apologize when you get them wrong. Ask if you aren’t sure what people want or need. Be kind and generous but not embarrassed. Don’t assume just by looking. Speak up when you witness cruelty or bigotry or unfairness or misconceptions. Celebrate difference — difference is awesome.

MB: What are your favorite books?

LF: So, so many. Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats, Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Naomi Alderman’s The Power, Lily King’s Euphoria and her forthcoming Writers & Lovers, David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother…honestly, I could do this all day.

MB: What books are on your nightstand, coffee table, or to-read list right now?

LF: I will be reading the last of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, the second I get my hands on it. Ditto David Mitchell’s forthcoming, Utopia Avenue. Right now I’m reading Abi Daré’s The Girl with the Louding Voice.

MB:  Well, thanks for taking the time to chat, Laurie.  Readers, you’ll find all of Laurie’s suggestions in this handy list.  Enjoy!

Laurie Frankel's Picks

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2 responses to “Chatting with Author Laurie Frankel”

  1. Becky says:

    Great questions and interview Marie!

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