I first encountered Lucy Knisley through her wondrous graphic novels, An Age of License: A Travelogue and Relish: My Life In The Kitchen. I instantly loved the style, both realistic and arresting, the illustrations capture and transform in a familiar and comforting way, a true visual banquet for any graphic novel reader. In her latest, Stepping Stones, Lucy tackles the middle-grade audience and a personal subject that many of us have experience in. Readers won’t want to miss this graphic novel and if you’ve never read a Lucy Knisley book before, now is a perfect time to start.
Stepping Stones is available now. Order your copy from your favorite indie bookstore during this time and be sure to check it out from your local library if they’re open! And be sure to read on about Lucy’s middle-grade novel process, writing about personal topics, and what she’s reading and enjoying now.
TYF: Stepping Stones, like your other graphic novels, is deeply personal and came a bit from your own childhood. What is the hardest thing about writing something so close to you?
Lucy Knisley: One of the hardest things was reliving that frustration! Being an adult, I don’t experience that as much. I’m frustrated about other things, but being a kid in a situation beyond my control is a unique feeling. I didn’t want my parents to split up, I didn’t want my mom to get a new boyfriend, I didn’t want to live with his kids, or do farm chores, but I didn’t have a choice about those changes. It’s interesting that the book should come out now, when we’ve decided to shelter at my mom’s little farmstead, and my own son is forced to change so much about his life. As an adult, I have a lot of sympathy for my mom and the choices she had to make for her family, but as a kid, I was just mad that things had to change, and not in a way I liked. Reliving that frustration in writing this book brought back a lot of those feelings, which are returning again during quarantine.
TYF: Divorce is hard no matter what age you are when your parents go through it. What made you want to tackle a divorce story set in middle-grade?
Lucy Knisley: I always wanted a book like this, when I was going through it. I remember my mom signed me up for this kids club called “Banana Splits” during the divorce, and it was literally just an after-school club for kids with divorced parents, where we ate ice cream. Nice to have the ice cream, but not all that helpful in recognizing that something has happened that is terrible. I was so frustrated and angry and hurt by the divorce, and I would have liked to know that other kids were, too. I didn’t just lose my parents’ marriage, I was made to move away, to a totally new setting, away from my friends, and deal with my mom’s new love life. I’m still kind-of mad about it! But there was so much good to come from even that awful experience! I’d have liked to read a book about a kid who comes out okay in the end, because sometimes it didn’t feel like I would.
TYF: What’s your favorite thing about writing for this in-between/adolescent age?
Lucy Knisley: This period of my own life was so vivid to me. I remember it well, and the accompanying frustration and sadness. But also the beauty of the farm, and how the sweet moments were extra sweet for the reprieve. I think this was the age where I learned resilience, and that is such a fundamental part of anyone’s self. So I didn’t necessarily write for this age, I wrote for everyone who has ever gone through a rough time and found beauty in it. Adolescence just happens to be a time when most of us experience that for the first time.
TYF: What graphic novels/books are you reading right now?
Lucy Knisley: I just finished Spapdragon, by Kat Leyh! It was so good. I just started Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui. I’m a swimmer and I miss it a lot. Counting down the days until it’s warm enough here to try to swim in my mom’s pond.
TYF: When blending real life and fiction in writing, what’s some advice you would give to hopeful authors writing between the two fiction/memoir-ish spaces?
Lucy Knisley: Don’t be afraid to make things up! I hesitated in including certain plot points I really wanted in this book, because they happened over a longer period of time, and were more subtle. And then a friend said “Just write fan fiction of that time! Write what you want! It’s your book!” And it clicked into place that I could do just that. It can heal a part of yourself, to write what you wish would have happened– a conversation that you always wished you’d had, vocalizing something that never made it out, or an action you wish someone had taken on your behalf. It’s not rewriting history, it’s telling a different story, and that’s just fine.