1. What inspired you to write your first book?
At first, it was my own experiences as a teen—the way I remembered them—that inspired me to write Girl in the Middle. Then, very early on, the story morphed and became Skye’s story, not my own. Also, a local teen who went missing and the media that surrounded the crisis inspired me. It haunted me for days after hearing that story, and I wondered how the family coped in the aftermath.
2. Do you have a specific writing style? Typically, my realistic prose has a hint of sarcasm emanating from my protagonists. I like to read biting humor in others’ works and I also like contrasts/complexities in characters. The following passage shows Skye dealing with her hippie-esque mom:
Whistles and other strange sounds echoed from the rear of the vehicle. I lowered my head to look out one of the windows.
“Is that your mom?” the yellow-toothed bus driver asked.
“Oh my gosh,” I said.
“Your. Lunch. Skye!” my mom yelled.
“Just drive. NOW,” I begged the bus driver.
My mom, in a flimsy hot pink robe and worn cowboy boots, bounded across the lawn with my lunchbox in her hand. As she ran, her robe came untied and revealed a barely-there tank top and shorts that were even shorter than Sophie’s skirt. She jumped and waved her arms like she was trying out for the cheer team. Her hair, loose and dark like mine, bounced on her shoulders. I’m not sure she was wearing a bra.
“Drive, please,” I said.
The bus driver shut the door and put the gear in drive. I scooted down in a seat and hid behind my horn case on my lap. I gripped the green vinyl seat and held my breath.
“That’s one hot mother,” a voice from the back said.
“For sure,” another said.
“Oh, I know. I had her.”
“Whatever! No, you didn’t.”
“Hey, Luke Skywalker, were you adopted?”
“How’s the mom so hot and the daughter so ugly?”
Marcella, who was sitting with her brother in the seat in front of me, popped her head up. “Why do they call you that?”
“What?” I asked.
“Luke Skywalker. Why do they call you that?”
“Because my last name is Walker. Get it? Skye. Walker.”
Marcella scrunched up her nose and shook her head. Shrugging, she stuffed part of a granola bar in her mouth.
“Have you been living in a hole for the past decade? Does Star Wars ring a bell? The movie? I get called Luke or Princess Leia just about on a daily basis.”
“Never seen it. We don’t watch television at my house,” she said with her mouth still full.
“Well, you’re about the only one on this planet who hasn’t heard of it.” I’ve been traumatized my whole life having to live with the stupid name my mom swears didn’t have anything to do with Star Wars.
“It’s true,” Kyler said. “We don’t watch TV. We’re not allowed. But I’ve heard of it before. Oh, and yeah, your mom really is, uh, hot, you know.” He grinned.
“Yes, I know. She’s hot. I get it. You can turn around now, thanks.”
3. How did you come up with the title?
In my MFA program during a workshop, people noted how they didn’t think the original title would have great pull. The original title was Ordinary Girl. They said, “Who wants to read about ordinary, hum-drum stuff? That’s not very exciting.” So, I changed it to Girl in the Middle because, for one, Skye is the middle sister, but she’s also put in the middle of situations that always seem to challenge her and stretch her as an individual. The following excerpt also inspired the title:
That had been an amazing birthday. My sisters and I had been talking for weeks about going to Florida in the Winnebago with Aggie and Jimbo (part summer vacation, part birthday present), but Sarah Elizabeth bailed at the last minute. Mom and Dad acted all shifty about it and agreed to let her stay home with them. So it was just me and my hippie grandparents and my sister Sophie. It took us three days to get there.
We ended up having a blast. We went to Disney World, but on the first day at the park, something happened. It wasn’t anything huge or life shattering, but something inside me changed. Clicked.
I found myself surrounded by large, nonhuman characters—a mouse and a duck and something goofy that seemed oddly sad. The merry-go-rounds and the high-in-the-sky roller coasters tormented me. I was stuck somewhere in the middle; I felt too old for the “kiddie” rides, but I didn’t have the courage to face Space Mountain either. I was stuck in the middle of being a kid and a grown-up, and it all hit me as I stood in the hot sun while one of Snow White’s seven dwarves was giving me the eye.
4. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Difficulties arise in our lives that we must learn to overcome, no matter how painful. Sometimes it’s being bullied or overcoming heartache or understanding how to deal with psychological warfare, but hope exists with every sunrise.
5. Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
A couple of the events in Girl in the Middle are loosely based on my own experiences in high school; however, they are more of a blending and morphing of actual events. None of the characters are based on actual people, but rather on a blending of many personality types. The following excerpt, about a silly “Hot” sticker did happen though!
After class, while walking down the hall to band, the most embarrassing, horrific, make-you-want-to-die thing happened. It started when Will Hutton, a junior, said to me, “Hey, you’re hot.”
I kept walking and turned to see him smile, or laugh—I couldn’t tell. I got this crazy jolt of the “what-ifs,” but then it happened again. Next, Jordan Miller called out, “Hey, hottie.”
By this time, I was freaking out a little.
Then Caitlen passed me saying, “Oh, you’re hot, flaming hot, Skye.”
“What is going on?” I asked.
“Come here.” She pulled me off to the side. “You have a bright orange sticker on your butt.”
“What?” I escaped to the bathroom, peeled the sticker from my khaki skirt, and stared at it in my hand. It was one of those stickers they put on sausage in the meat department or on wings from the deli. Sure enough, the bright orange tag had the word HOT on it with little flames.
6. What books have most influenced your life most?
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger • Night by Elie Wiesel• Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl • Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume • Go Ask Alice • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson • Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian • Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird • A Separate Peace by John Knowles • Lord of the Flies by William Golding • The Once and Future King by Terence Hanbury White
7. If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Judy Blume and John Hughes. Hughes was a screenwriter and producer, but it was his collection of films in the 80s and 90s that have influenced my writing the most. I wanted to recreate the innocent, angsty teen stories that spoke to me when I was a teen, such as the following Hughes films: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Weird Science, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and Some Kind of Wonderful. These screenplays are timeless expressions of art as well as quirky, real coming of age stories.
8. What book are you reading now?
Reason to Breathe from The Breathing Series by Rebecca Donovan
9. What are your current projects?
I am working on the second book in the series, Girl Under Water, about Skye’s sister Sarah Elizabeth.
10. Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Fifteen-year-old Skye, the middle child, finds herself wishing for a new life-one that doesn’t include daily harassment from the in-crowd at Highland Creek High School. Skye barely survived freshman year. She only did because her best friend, Goose, a semi-popular fellow band geek, was by her side. But when their sophomore year starts, Goose ditches Skye for a new crowd.
Cast into a lone existence at Highland Creek, Skye wishes for a touch of extraordinary that everyone, except her, seems to have. Her older sister, Sara Elizabeth, has it. Goose is getting close to it, and even her little sister is wildly popular in junior high. Skye would do almost anything to cast off her ordinary life…but at what price?
When her older sister goes missing without a trace, Skye gets her wish…but it’s not exactly what she had in mind. And when she questions Bryan, the senior class renegade and also the last person to be seen with her sister, she finds something she never quite expected.
Christine H. Bailey teaches creative writing and written composition at a private university in west Tennessee. Before teaching English, Christine worked as a journalist, a marketing/public relations writer, and a freelance editor.
Girl in the Middle is Christine’s debut novel. To learn more about the author and her work, visit her website at www.cibailey.com