I’m so happy today to be hosting a stop on the official blog tour for Antipodes by Michele Bacon — which is in stores this week! Keep reading to learn more about the book, and enter to win a copy.
Heaps of Gratitude, for Brenda Brueggemann
by Michele Bacon
I grew up in a family of teachers, so I know how hard teachers work, and (in our country) for how little respect or pay. I’ve always held teachers among my most beloved people. I am beyond grateful for what I learned from Maxine Houck, Darleen Carey, Nancy Moore, Thom Williams, Melanie Rae Thon, and Clifford Vaida. Each of them changed my life in significant ways.
Brenda Jo Brueggemann changed me as a writer. My sophomore year in college, I took her introductory Critical Theory class, and soon was vying for a seat in her more advanced courses. Brenda taught and still teaches disability studies, literature, disability and human rights, and writing.
Brenda has long been an advocate for the deaf community, for women in higher education, and for disability rights.
During my tenure at Ohio State, she demanded healthcare equality for all faculty and equality for women. I admired and attempted to emulate her strength.
I believe I took five courses from Brenda, the most valuable of which was Disability in Literature. Our examination of how “the other” is portrayed in literature and other media led to discussions of inclusion and othering. That quarter of study changed how I read, and changed how I write.
As a white, cisgender, middleclass person, I am keenly aware that books already include heaps of characters who look like me. Because Brenda’s lessons stayed with me, am quite conscious of how I write characters who do not share my lived experience—and how crucial it is that I’m writing them. When I am writing “the other,” my characters must be fully formed. I spend a lot of time considering what their motivations are. I start every manuscript considering my protagonist’s heart’s desire and, before I start writing, I know the heart’s desire of every other character as well.
I am grateful to Brenda, who forced me to consider stories from every characters’ perspective. For nearly 25 years, I have been conscious of the need for and treatment of diversity in my work. I try to imagine every character complexly.
BUT, after first-pass edits on my first manuscript, a blogger asked about diversity in the novel. I shared that Tucker and Kat are black. Grant Blakely is gay. Jillian is bisexual. Xander and several of his friends are quite poor. Only two families are nuclear. Some households are multi-generational.
But the manuscript didn’t read that way. I had left out explicit details that weren’t germane to the plot. Readers never saw Jillian dating a girl, so her bisexuality was lost. I knew Tucker’s entire family, but I hadn’t explicitly written that they were black. I had planned to write another manuscript about Grant Blakely, because readers never see him having intimate relationships with anyone in Life Before…so of course readers wouldn’t know he was gay. Much to my editor’s chagrin, very late in the editing process I added more explicit details so readers knew what I knew about my characters. Some are queer, some are characters of color, Xander lives near poverty. I’ve always thought Jill was dyslexic, but could not finagle a way to portray that without making it a bigger deal to Xander than it *actually* was to Xander.
For my second novel, I think I did a far better job of naturally informing readers this is a diverse cast of characters. I engaged sensitivity readers to ensure I am writing “the other” respectfully and honestly. I hope it is a reasonable reflection of the world in which we live. I hope I’ve brought the lens through which I see the world into the story for readers.
Had I not spent ten weeks with Brenda examining ways literature historically portrayed disability and “the other,” I wouldn’t have this lens. As my college advisor, Brenda also taught me about life and parenting and adulating—all of which was invaluable—but I always will be most grateful for the way she asked me to study and portray other people. We are—all of us—complex and valuable. And we ALL are here together.
When Erin Cerise steps off her plane in Christchurch, New Zealand, she is focused intently on her mission: do something unique that will erase the mess she made of her life days before her 17th birthday. She’s already lost her swim team captainship, her boyfriend Ben, and her reputation. Her mother is certain studying abroad will regain Erin’s chances of a good future. Once Erin sees her uninspiring host family and city, though, Erin’s not so sure.
Before Christchurch, Erin wasn’t always intense and focused. A mission used to sound like a fun adventure, and the only ivy she cared about was the stuff growing around her grandparents’ back porch at their peaceful Upper Peninsula home. When had her priorities gone upside down?
Now Erin balks at NZ’s scratchy school uniforms, cold houses, and her hosts’ utter inability to pronounce her name correctly. Christchurch does boast amazing rock climbing, gorgeous scenery, and at least one guy who could make her forget Ben if she lets him. With months ahead of her, Erin slowly begins to draw on the years behind her, one step back into her memories and then another, as she rebuilds her life from the other side of the world to find that when life turns your world upside down and you’re farthest from home, every way you move takes you closer to where you came from.
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I was born in Trumbull County, the only square county in Ohio, where books were my favorite means of escaping an unhappy childhood. Writing was my transparent attempt to create the things I craved: big happy families, international adventures and unconditional friendship. From a young age, I was drawn to people’s stories, and I still want to know how you met your best friend or fell in love with your partner.
In high school, I embraced my inner geek and wrote my first novel. In college, there were short stories and still more novels. I graduated from The Ohio State University with a B.A. in English, with concentrations in critical theory and creative writing.
Full-time work sapped my creative brain for several years, but my professional life was one of reinvention. In state government, business management consulting, and nonprofit fundraising, I adapted easily and absorbed the languages of different professions. My last paying job was as an independent fundraising consultant for nonprofit organizations. That was seven years ago.
Since then, I have been writing and traveling (and, let’s be honest, chasing down small people who don’t like to wear clothes). I’ve traveled to all 50 states and dozens of other countries, always collecting pieces of characters and ideas for stories. I recently spent a year on sabbatical in Christchurch, New Zealand, where I may have left my heart at Ilam School. Now that we’ve settled back in the States, I’m writing for adults and young adults, exploring the Pacific Northwest, and baking like a fiend. (You’d thinking baking would be the same everywhere, but it’s not. Something is different about kiwi butter.)
When an idea strikes, I scrawl sweeping plot outlines, character idiosyncrasies, and ideas for scenes on the nearest blank spot of paper. My current manuscript was born of those torn slips of paper, used envelopes, lollipop wrappers, fuel receipts and–once–that little paper bit that keeps a nursing pad sticky until it’s time to use it. My manuscripts are better than the quality of papers where they began. Promise.
Outside of writing, I am a tabletop game enthusiast, passionate skier, and lover of prime numbers. I also am a mentor at the Moving Words Writing Clinic, and a freelance copyeditor.
I live in Seattle with my husband and three growing children.
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3 winners will receive a finished copy ANTIPODES, U.S. only.
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I love the setting, the suspense, the Upper Peninsula home town, and the cover is amazing.