Today we're excited to chat with Gae Polisner, author of In Sight Of Stars.
Read on for more about Gae and her book, an excerpt, plus an giveaway!
Meet Gae Polisner!
GAE POLISNER is the award-winning author of The Memory of Things (Nerdy Book Club Best YA 2016), The Summer of Letting Go (Nerdy Book Club Best YA 2014, Teen Ink Editor’s Choice Badge of Approval) and The Pull of Gravity (2012 Bank Street Best, 2012 PSLA Top Forty, Nerdy Book Club Best YA 2011). She also co-hosts Teachers Write!, a virtual writers camp for teachers and educators. She lives in Long Island, New York with her family.
Meet In Sight Of Stars!
~ Interview ~
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
I never know exactly where my inspiration comes from, but I do recall at some point shortly before I started the manuscript (which was, I think, back in 2010), remembering a heated argument that involved my mother – who is an artist – whether it happened to her or was just a story she was telling me. Someone was angry – furious -- because someone else had touched their painting – actually put paint to their canvas without permission, made some correction, or whatnot (yes, I just used the word whatnot), and for some reason the whole concept of that stayed in my head.
At some point after that, the scene where Klee draws on Sarah’s paper popped into my head. I could see it like a movie, and so I wrote it down:
[Sarah] works across from me. Her hair spills onto her paper like a shiny
black waterfall, and her hand moves the charcoal in tight gray lines.
. . .
I stare at her hair, then at her hand, then I reach out and trace the
strands with my charcoal.
“Hey! What the ****, Alden?” Her eyes search mine, then dart back
to my marks on her paper. “What the hell is your deal?”
I yank my hand back, burnt, but it’s too late, several kids have jerked
their heads around. And I’m already an alien for showing up here senior year.
Originally the first lines of the book, this scene now appears on pages 8 – 9, but that moment was the catalyst for the whole story that came after. I asked why? Why would Klee do something he absolutely knows he shouldn’t do?And the answer that came to me was, he’s in such a fragile place, he can’t stop himself. He gives in to an impulse, feels utterly compelled. We are witnessing the first instant when Klee is out of control. And, then, Sarah forgives him. More than that, there is something about his impulsivity, his compulsion, that draws her to him. Which will ultimately be the same thing that undoes them. This interaction became this poignant springboard moment where love, pain, and art all collided.
From there, I just kept asking myself why, and the rest of the story unfolded.
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
Hard not to say Klee, after all, it is his story, and I love him and how he digs deep and struggles with the pretty brutal curveballs life has thrown him. But also hard not to say Sister Agnes Teresa because, well, read it and see.
YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel?
Funny you ask that because I have never had a title come first, except once (hold on, I’ll get there). In this one, just like most my others, the beginning of the story came first. As I was writing the early pages, an artist/poet friend of mine had just happened to post the Van Gogh quote that opens the book somewhere, probably her facebook page, and I knew not only in that moment that Van Gogh would come into the story, but also that a piece of the quote would be my working title. The reason I say funny you ask is because the book I just sold to my editor and Wednesday Books, JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME, is the only manuscript I’ve ever written where the title came first.
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
Yeesh, this is always a hard question. I’m proud of different scenes for different reasons. The hardest scenes to try to get right, if I have, in fact, done so, are the scene where Klee finds his dad, and the scene where he unleashes his fury at his mother in Dr. Alvarez’s office. If I got those close to right, I am proud of them. But I also adore the scene with Sarah in Central Park, some of the scenes with Sister Agnes Teresa, and, for some reason, when I wrote the scene with his dad about the silver mackerel, it moved me so very deeply. I don’t know, maybe I’d pick that one. The silver mackerel. In fact, now as I type this, it occurs to me, I could have also called the book Silver Mackerel.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
I like that the sunflowers manage to convey the emotion and tumult of the story, but also the hope.
YABC: What was your favorite book in 2017?
Hands down, THE SERPENT KING, by Jeff Zentner. I don’t know if it came out in 2016 or 2017, but I read it –- well, actually, listened to the audio book in early 2017 while swimming -- then tweeted about how much I adored his characters, etc. I didn’t know him at all, but being the good and humble guy he is, he tweeted back his appreciation. Several months later, I got up the nerve to ask him if he’d read IN SIGHT OF STARS, and, if he loved it, might consider blurbing it. Given my love of his writing, it is amazing to see his name on the hardcover of the book.
YABC: What’s up next for you?
As I mentioned above, I just sold my next book to my awesome editor Vicki Lame, so revisions will be on tap soon. Deep and meaningful revisions, so wish me luck.
I am also working on a rewrite of a collaborative novel with my dear friend Nora Raleigh Baskin. We hope to sell that soon after. **tosses salt, or spits, or does whatever one does not to jinx things**
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
Is it too corny to say that writing stories is my superpower?
Seriously, I don’t know how I do it, and often still can’t believe that I do. Can’t believe that I can find the stories in the first instance, write them well enough that others want to read them, manage (eventually) to sell them, and get pretty good critical reviews, etc.
But if that’s too corny, my superpower is definitely being able to swim long distances in the open water. I’ve done a 10K+ and can do a 3 – 5 mile swim without too much difficulty on a regular basis. And since I’m terrified of spiders and other creepy crawly things, it’s quite the feat that I do so on a weekly basis May – October with all the swimmy, tentacled, bitey things that want to join me.
YABC: Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
YES!! Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America https://momsdemandaction.org/ and Everytown for Gun Safetyhttps://everytown.org/ Both these organizations have been mobilized and powerfully outspoken since Sandy Hook, and I march with them annually across the Brooklyn Bridge, etc. Also, Women Against Gun Violence, which has existed even longer, I believe.http://wagv.org/about-wagv/ These are all organizations that are, every single day, kicking ass and taking names in the fight against gun violence. If you can support them in any way, please do!!!
And join marches on March 24th with #MarchforOurLives https://marchforourlives.com/
And, if you’re local, come march with us again on June 2nd across the Brooklyn Bridge.
~ Excerpt ~
On Monday morning reality hits, and a heavy hopelessness descends in the form of my mother hovering in the doorway of Dr. Alvarez’s office.
Her features are in shadows, her blond hair illuminated at the edges like expensive gold thread. Likewise, the threads of her Chanel jacket catch bits of light complementing her hair. Her bracelets jangle. Is she coming from a meeting? Why does it always seem like she’s dressed to impress?
“… My dearest M … You are perfection…”
My stomach roils and bile rises into my throat. Did I say she could come today and forget? I don’t know what I was thinking.
Yes, I do. Guilt. When she called again. Or, false hope, maybe. Or it was the medication talking. Or maybe I was still high off my first Chutes and Ladders win.
Dr. Alvarez looks at me for information, her expression changing quickly to concern.
“Your mother said you were expecting her? That you said it was okay if she came in?” She gives me a half smile, half grimace, as if to say, “Now that she’s here, how bad can it be?”
Bad, Dr. Alvarez. Bad.
I can’t stop the images from coming.
“My dearest A … My good man…”
“I shouldn’t print these, but I want to carry your words…”
I lift my head from where I’ve lowered it onto the throw pillow in my lap and stare at my mother in the doorway.
“Do you want me to go? I can leave.” I hear the tears in her voice. Her arms hang helplessly at her sides. She looks to Dr. Alvarez, then away.
I want to believe her. I want to believe that her upset isn’t an act, but she’s lied about so much already.
Dr. Alvarez opens the drawer to her left, rummages around, and tosses a yellow stress ball next to me on the couch. “That’s up to Klee,” she says.
I sit up, and roll the ball in my fingers. “The chief danger in life is that we take too many precautions.”—Alfred Adler.
My eyes shift to Dr. Alvarez, and she asks, “What say you, Klee? Do you want to try to discuss some things, or do you need another day?”
I need many more days. I need a century.
“No. Let’s get it over with,” I say.
“Come in, Mrs. Alden. Sit. We’ll talk for a bit. See how we do. If Klee needs more time, we’ll adjourn. It’s flexible, how we do things in here. Whatever is best for him, you understand?”
My mother nods and steps in. Her features reappear. Her lip trembles and she gives me this apologetic look. No, not apologetic. Expectant. Like she’s hoping for something I can’t give.
I don’t get up. I have nothing to offer at this point.
She sits on the other end of the couch, her leather bag perched on one knee, her thin fingers clutched around it.
“Would you like some water?” Dr. Alvarez asks.
“Yes, please.” My mother reaches out, and her gold bracelets jangle. She uncaps the bottle and sips.
Jangle, jangle, jangle.
Every move, every sound is exaggerated.
My mother puts the bottle down, takes off her jacket, folding it perfectly over the arm of the couch.
“Forgive me,” Dr. Alvarez says, “this office is always warm. It’s the forced heat. I keep requesting a humidifier to counter it. If we’d had a warmer week, they’d have turned off the heat altogether. Any day now. It’s much more manageable in the spring.”
My mother nods, fidgeting, and drinks some more water. Dr. Alvarez seems more uncomfortable than usual. She pulls her clipboard to her lap, waits patiently for my mother to say something.
My mother drinks again. A drop of water from the mouth of the bottle lands on her cream silk blouse and spreads outward in a darkening circle. I wonder vaguely if it will ruin it. A minor chute against her many, many ladders.
She recaps the bottle and twists it in her lap. Finally, she turns and looks at me. I don’t know if it’s for show or not, but her eyes are filled with tears.
“Klee, honey, it kills me to see you here.” I close my eyes, and she says, “Dr. Alvarez, please, I don’t know what I’ve done. I just want to help.”
But I don’t want her help. I want my father. I want Sarah. I let Sarah crawl toward me on her knees.
Wait! No. Not that day.
That day got messed up.
Not that one. Not now. Not with my mother here.
* * *
We’re doing it again, but this time I’m lasting.
Sarah feels amazing, and I’m lasting.
I think the condom I bought is actually helping. We move in rhythm, in sync, until she whispers my name, and squeezes my back before relaxing quietly beneath me.
Only then do I let myself go, too.
She brushes back my hair and kisses my forehead. I feel giddy. Happy. Happy because I made Sarah feel good.
I get up and go flush the condom, grabbing my jeans, to pull them on in case her mother gets home. We’re in the basement, and her mother’s filling in on someone else’s weekend shift.
“Nice abs,” she says, lowering herself onto the floor and crawling over. She sits on her knees, looks up at me with her gorgeous blue eyes that I can never get enough of, and runs her hands up the length of my torso. “You’re skinny, so I didn’t realize how much you must work out.” She moves her hands back down my stomach and over the front of my boxers.
If she wants to, I can go again.
“No so much,” I say. “I do crunches. But there’s a lot you don’t know about me, Sarah Wood.”
I glance down my thin frame and feel myself disappear. All I can see is my father. In his striped pajama pants. In his sunny studio. Painting.
I have the same build as he did. I’m staring down at myself but keep seeing my father.
“Okay. So tell me.”
“Tell you what?” I flinch, reeling, slammed by how badly I’m missing him.
“Never mind.” She laughs, goes down on all fours again, and crawls toward me. She’s still in just her panties.
She sings softly, words to a vaguely familiar old song I know she likes because she plays it on her phone.
“Every cloud must have a silver lining…”
She watches me intently, her long black eyelashes batting up at me, and I’m trying to focus, to concentrate.
“Wait until the sun shines through
Smile my honey dear
While I kiss away each tear…”
I’m trying to smile, and I’m sure that I’ve managed, that I’m smiling, but I can’t clear my father from my brain.
“Or else I shall be melancholy too.”
And I’m crying.
Jesus. For some dumb-ass reason, I’m crying.
I don’t mean to. I don’t want to be.
I hate myself for letting it happen.
Maybe it’s something in her voice, how lilting and beautiful it is, or maybe it’s the lyrics, or maybe it’s because despite trying not to, I already love her so much. And love is trouble. Love is broken and wrong. The people we love don’t stick around.
Whatever the reason, Sarah is naked, and singing, and I’m the motherf***ing asshole who is crying.
I hate myself for it.
Sarah sits back and looks at me.
I swipe at my eyes and say, “Don’t stop, please. I’m just moved by how pretty your voice is.”
But she gets up, pulls on her clothes, and walks back to the couch where she left the remote, and turns on the TV, putting the volume up loud.
I should leave. I should just go home and never come back. But I don’t want to leave us like this.
I sit on the couch and pull myself together. F**k me, but I pull myself together.
We watch Family Feud. That’s what’s on, so we watch it. We watch until the Cutler Family wins. When it’s over, I reach out and take Sarah’s hand, but she slips her fingers out of mine and says, “I’m sorry, Klee. I told you I like you, and I do. I like you a lot. But, I don’t know…” She shakes her head, eyes looking so, so sad.
“Are you breaking up with me?”
She turns and stares at me, says, “What? No. God, no.” But she shakes her head again and wraps her arms to her chest. “I just think you want more from me than I’m ever going to be able to give.”
CREDIT: In Sight of Stars by Gae Polisner. Copyright © 2018 by the author and reprinted by permission of Wednesday Books.
In Sight Of Stars
Author: Gae Polisner
Publishing Date: March 13th, 2018
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Five winners will each receive a copy of In Sight Of Stars (Gae Polisner) ~ (US Only)
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