Today I have invited the fantastic Joanne Levy to visit the blog and she has offered to tell her story about writing SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE and how bullying plays into the book.
After she’s hit by lightning at a wedding, twelve-year-old Lilah Bloom develops a new talent: she can hear dead people. Among them, there’s her over opinionated Bubby Dora; a prissy fashion designer; and an approval-seeking clown who livens up a séance. With Bubby Dora leading the way, these and other sweetly imperfect ghosts haunt Lilah through seventh grade, and help her face her one big fear: talking to—and possibly going to the seventh-grade dance with—her crush, Andrew Finkel.
"Usually, when I start a book, it begins with a ‘what if?’ question or maybe even a plot point or two. Ideas are nebulous and can fly into my head at weird (and often inconvenient) moments and sometimes the greatest joy of being a writer is capturing those little bits and pieces and putting them together into a something that ends up being a book. But SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE began as a title, fully formed in my head as I woke up one morning. I wish I could say the rest of the book was as easy, but it went through many rounds of edits, most notably, one taking it from a young adult novel to one for a middle grade audience. This wasn't my brilliant idea, but the vision of a very smart editor, who felt my voice was better suited for a tween book. A lot of great feedback from the book centers around how I nailed the tween voice, so it seems that editor was right.
Although much of the book changed (a lot of the themes and content were too mature for middle graders), one of the components that didn't was the main character, Lilah, having to deal with mean girls and one exceptionally mean girl in particular: Dolly. Dealing with bullies is something I think a lot of us dealt with in school and although my book is overall a lighthearted and often funny look at middle school, (with a few ghosts thrown in) I wanted to capture the day-to-day stuff that makes middle school such a crazy and emotionally packed time for kids (even without the ghosts).
So Lilah has to deal with an older girl who chips away at her self-esteem and makes fun of her for her clothes and not having boobs and really, just for being who she is. I definitely know how that feels. Although I wasn't horribly bullied the way some kids are, I had a few run-ins with mean girls when I was growing up. Girls who made fun of my clothes or my weight or even my taste in music. And what’s weird is that I had been okay with who I was until other people pointed out my failings. That sucked. And living up to someone else’s expectations, (borne, I’m sure, out of their own insecurities) meant I wasn't being true to myself and was acting a part to avoid censure. That makes me sad. And I hate thinking that this kind of thing happens even today, though I know it does.
So I very consciously made Lilah strong (though not infallible or perfect) and although she’s scared of Dolly, she stands up to her and in the end, helps her, even when she would rather turn the other way. In the end, the girls become friends thanks to Lilah’s ability to forgive and willingness to help out. I realize that doesn't happen all the time, but I like to think that sometimes bullies can be reformed by kindness.
And maybe a kid reading my book will see a bit of a message between the funny things that happen to Lilah. Maybe kids will see that Dolly didn't gain anything by being mean. But she did gain something when she stopped tormenting Lilah and let her help out even though she’d treated her badly—she gained a friend. And really, isn't getting more friends what everyone really wants in middle school? Well, not just friends, but it’s high up on the list of middle grade wants. Right before boobs."
Joanne Levy’s love of books began at a very early age. Being the youngest and the only female among four children, she was often left to her own devices and could frequently be found sitting in a quiet corner with her nose in a book.
After much teenage misadventure, Joanne eventually graduated from university and now spends her weekdays as an executive assistant at one of Canada’s big banks, planning meetings and thwarting coffee emergencies. When Joanne isn't working, she can usually be found at her computer, channeling her younger self into books.