Author Chat with Marie Marquardt (The Radius Of Us), Excerpt, & Giveaway!
Today we're excited to chat with Marie Marquardt,
author of The Radius Of Us!
Below you'll find more about Marie, her book, an excerpt, plus a giveaway!
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
One of the main characters in this story is an 18-year-old from El Salvador. He came to the U.S. with his little brother, running away from a very dangerous hometown and looking for asylum in the United States. I know a lot of teenagers like Phoenix. I chair a non-profit organization called El Refugio, and we visit with men who are detained at the Stewart Detention Center in southwest Georgia. Since about 2013, the government has been sending young asylum seekers from Central America, who were detained at the U.S./ Mexico border, to Stewart while they await their asylum hearings.
I have spent so many hours taking on the phone through the glass with kids like Phoenix – mostly listening. Because I have children around their age, I feel a close and sort-of maternal bond with them. Something about those visitation rooms is both radically dehumanizing and very intimate. Honestly, we have cried together many times, as they shared their stories with me. I wrote this book because I wanted a way to honor their stories – to thank them for trusting me enough to share them.
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
Phoenix. I have a thing for people who are incredible, kind, brave people, but who can’t see it -- because they won’t forgive themselves for past mistakes. That’s Phoenix, until other people come into his life and force him to see how great he is.
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
This book is a love story. I adore writing love stories – building attraction between two people, both physical and emotional. The best moments are usually subtle but also incredibly, overwhelmingly intense. I’m not sure “proud” is the right word, but I love the first intense attraction scene in the story. Phoenix and Gretchen are riding on a tourist train, barely even touching. Still, the scene has made many of my early readers blush.
YABC: Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
I’m a college professor, by training. I’ve always tried to be very structured with my time, to make a “to-do” list and stick to it. After many years of writing fiction, I finally have given into the truth: writing fiction isn’t really a ‘to-do’ list activity. At least, for me, it’s not. Some days, I ignore everything else happening in my life and dump thousands of words onto a page (hoping my kids will find a way to feed themselves). Other days, I have to put the story aside and do something else. I’ve learned to be much more kind to myself and to my writing process– much less rigid.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
I love this cover! It’s so clean and spare. Without a doubt, my favorite thing about the drawing is how Phoenix is looking at Gretchen, sort-of inclined toward her. I think the image captures their relationship beautifully.
YABC: What new release book are you looking most forward to in 2017?
There are so, so many. My friend Nic Stone has a book coming out in October called Dear Martin. I am incredibly bummed that we all have to wait until October to get our hands on that one.
YABC: What was your favorite book in 2016?
Again, this is a tough one. I’ll have to go with The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner. I still can’t believe it’s his debut novel. It is near perfect.
YABC: Is there anything that you would like to add?
Yes! I’d love to tell you a bit about he illustrations in the story.
There is a character in the book, Phoenix’ younger brother, who experienced trauma on their journey from El Salvador to the border. I came up with the idea of having him communicate, after this trauma, not through words but through illustrations. The idea came to me because, over the years, I have received many amazing drawings from the people I visit in detention. But, I faced an obstacle, which is that I’m a terrible artist!
So, I reached out to several friends, and I ended up connecting with with Carlos Morataya. Carlos was one of several people who submitted samples to me, and as soon as I saw his first drawing, I knew that he had captured Ari’s ‘voice’. Over several months, Carlos and I worked together and I learned more about him. He’s an extraordinary young man, and his story shares some things in common with Phoenix and his brother.
YABC: Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
A couple of the scenes and flashbacks were inspired by stories I was told when I was visiting teenage asylum-seekers in detention. There’s a scene in the book in which Phoenix tells Gretchen about being forcibly separated from his brother after they arrived at the U.S./ Mexico border. When I heard that story from a teenage friend of mine in detention, it almost tore my heart in two. Writing Phoenix’ version was incredibly hard, but I also think it’s so important that people know this is happening.
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
Juggling. Well, not actual juggling (I have zero hand-eye coordination). But, as a mother of four who writes books and works a couple of jobs, I am very good at doing several tasks at once. I only sometimes drop the ball…
Meet Marie Marquardt!
Marie Marquardt is an author of young adult novels, a college professor, and an immigration advocate. She the co-chair of El Refugio, a Georgia non-profit that serves detained immigrants and their families. She has published many articles and co-authored two non-fiction books on the issues involved and has been interviewed on National Public Radio, Public Radio International, and BBC America, among many other media outlets. Marie Marquardt is a proud member of the We Need Diverse Booksteam and lives in a busy household in Decatur, Georgia with her spouse, four children, a dog and a bearded dragon.
Meet The Radius Of Us!
What happens when you fall in love with someone everyone seems determined to fear?
Ninety seconds can change a life ― not just daily routine, but who you are as a person. Gretchen Ashland knows this, because that’s how long a stranger held her body to the ground. When a car sped toward them and Gretchen’s attacker told her to run, she recognized a surprising terror in his eyes. And now she doesn’t even recognize herself.
Ninety seconds can change a life ― not just the place you live, but the person others think you are. Phoenix Flores Flores knows this, because months after setting off toward the U.S. / Mexico border in search of safety for his brother, he finally walked out of detention. But Phoenix didn’t just trade a perilous barrio in El Salvador for a leafy suburb in Atlanta. He became that person ― the one his new neighbors crossed the street to avoid.
Ninety seconds can change a life ― so how will the ninety seconds of Gretchen and Phoenix’s first encounter change theirs?
Told in alternating first person points of view, The Radius of Us is a story of love, sacrifice, and the journey from victim to survivor. It offers an intimate glimpse into the causes and devastating impact of Latino gang violence, both in the U.S. and in Central America, and explores the risks that victims take when they try to start over. Most importantly, Marie Marquardt's The Radius of Us shows how people struggling to overcome trauma can find healing in love.
I WAS SITTING ON a bench in the Place Without a Soul when it hap- pened, another one of my episodes. The ones that shove me so deep inside of my crazy head that I can’t see out. This one was the worst yet, because I’m not even sure it actually happened. I think I might have hallucinated the whole thing.
So, yeah, I’m pretty much certifiable.
The Place Without a Soul—that’s what my best friend, Bree, and I decided to call this neighborhood. It’s only a mile or so from my house, but it feels like a completely different world. It’s as if someone comes in to paint the grass green at night, when all the perfectly formed nuclear families are sleeping in their enormous houses. And the flower beds. Who lines up flowers that way? Do they use rulers? I think they must, because every little flower is almost precisely three-point-five inches from the one next to it.
Here’s the thing: six months ago, I would have hated this subdivi- sion with all of its pointless order. Now it makes me feel safe. Or at least it did make me feel safe, until this afternoon.
There I was in the neighborhood’s private park, babysitting my little cousins. I was hanging out on a bench that’s made to look like wood but is actually plastic. Luke and Anna were climbing up the corkscrew slide,
and it looked like Anna might fall. I jumped up and hurried toward her. By the time I got there, she had already tumbled halfway down, knocking Luke to the ground. Of course, he burst into hysterics. Luke’s five, and a total spaz. I scooped him up and carried him back toward the bench.
That’s when I noticed.
There’s a little creek at the other side of the park. No one is allowed to go down there. All the parents in the neighborhood worry that the water’s too dirty, and they say the rocks are dangerous. I saw some- thing rustling in the bushes, and at first I thought maybe it was a coyote. There are a bunch of coyotes in the neighborhood, which is sad, if you think about it. I mean, they must be pretty desperate for a place to live if they’re in the Place Without a Soul. Not a whole lot of vegetation, unless you count the neatly aligned crepe myrtle trees.
I may be afraid of a lot of things these days, but I am not afraid of coyotes. Humans can coexist with coyotes just fine. I shushed Luke and called quietly to Anna, pointing in the direction of the bushes. I was hoping maybe we would see it—a real live coyote, hanging out in a rich subdivision three miles from downtown Atlanta.
But that’s not what we saw. Instead we saw that boy—his arms wildly shoving the bushes apart. That boy who was not yet a man, the one whose features I knew too well, whose face was etched into my mind, the shape of whose hands I couldn’t seem to forget. That boy with light- brown skin, deep-brown eyes, short dark hair.
My mouth went dry and my hands started to tingle. This wasn’t real. I knew this wasn’t real. Why would he be here, crashing through the bushes in the Place Without a Soul? I took a few steps back, trying to shove his image out of my mind, trying not to let my body remember the grip of his hands.
“Gretchen?” I barely heard Anna’s voice, small and faraway. “Gretchen, what’s happening?”
And then, before I even knew what I was doing, I grabbed her hand, slung Luke onto my hip, and took off. I rushed the kids across the street, stumbling toward their house. My heart was beating fast. Too fast.
I threw the door open and we tumbled into the foyer. Feeling dizzy, I looked up at the chandelier that barely filled the cavernous room. I tried to focus on the light refracting through its crystals. I tried to let the light take me to a “peaceful, safe place.” I did exactly what my mom’s friend, the meditation instructor, told me to do. I tried to imagine that those shards of light were actually rays of sun, sparkling across a blue sea. I tried to place myself on the edge of a dock, shaded by palm fronds and suspended over still water. I tried to visualize those palm fronds rustling in a salty breeze. But all I could hear was my heart, beating too fast, shoving blood through my body.
I was not finding my “peaceful, safe place.” I was suffocating. Even in this two-story entryway filled with empty space, I felt like the walls were closing in. I gasped and turned the dead bolt, peering through the etched lines of the frosted-glass window. I watched as a fluffy little dog darted across the lawn. The kind Bree calls a kick-dog.
Definitely not a coyote. Definitely not him.
I collapsed onto the hardwood floor, sucking air deep into my lungs. I wanted to go back to that safe place—really, I did. But the light ocean breeze kicked into a powerful wind, and I started to worry that a tsunami was forming on the horizon. And then, across the choppy, whitecapped water, Luke was calling my name, but his voice was distant.
I felt Anna’s small hands, cool against my searing hot skin, shaking me. But they couldn’t bring me back.
“Dad,” I whispered. I managed to hand Anna my cell phone as my body curled into the fetal position. “Call Dad.”
It’s forty minutes later, and Anna and Luke’s mom is home from work early. I’m climbing into the passenger seat of my dad’s car, feeling like a nutcase. Again.
“Are you sure you’re okay, Gretch?”
“Yeah,” I say, reaching down to adjust the seat. “I think maybe I just need to lie back for a minute.” And come up with a new “peaceful place.” Clearly, Bora Bora’s not working for me.
“Sure,” he says. “The lever’s in the front, sweetheart. A little to the left.”
Dad got a new car—a Nissan Leaf. He’s so proud to be the first in the neighborhood with an electric car. He drives it like a badge—a merit award for his progressive politics.
I find the button and ease the seat into a reclining position.
“I’m sorry you had to come over and rescue me like that. Is Aunt Lauren upset?”
Understands what? I wonder. That I probably shouldn’t be trusted with her kids? Not in my condition. But Luke and Anna are family, which must be why she took pity on me and gave me a job in the first place. Aunt Lauren and my dad are cousins—the kind who basically only have genetic material in common. For instance, until she asked me to help out with her kids, my dad wouldn’t be caught dead in this neighborhood. Apparently, there was a big controversy fifteen years ago, when the suburban developer came in with a backhoe and plowed down hundred-year-old hardwoods. Dad was on the front lines, pro- testing the intrusion of McMansions into his quirky old neighbor- hood. After a long community battle that included forty-year-olds chaining themselves to trees, the huge houses went up practically on top of one another, and Dad vowed never to enter the subdivision again. Except now he’s here all the time. He’s kind of like my desig-
nated driver. I haven’t been behind the wheel of a car in months— not since the incident.
“I called Dr. Cohen,” Dad says.
Dr. Cohen is the person who was supposed to make me feel better. But all she did was give me some stupid “diagnosis.” A “disorder” with a meaningless acronym. Then she handed my dad a prescription for drugs that made me feel—well, drugged. I hated it. I hated her. I con- vinced my parents that I was well enough to quit, but only under the condition that I would try alternative therapies. Thus my mom’s hippie friend and her guided meditations.
“Dad,” I say, “please.”
“Maybe we jumped the gun, Gretchen. You were doing so well—” “I’m okay,” I tell him. “It was nothing.”
“We need to consider going back on the meds for a while, Gretch, just until you’re feeling stable again.”
“We didn’t jump the gun,” I say. “I promise. It was just—I don’t know. I don’t really get what happened.”
“Will you tell me about it?” He is using his concerned voice.
No, I won’t tell him, not that I may have seen the boy. I can’t. How could I explain to my father—to anyone!—how I always look for him through the car window, at the grocery store, how I almost want to see him? Maybe after so many months of looking, I have finally imagined him into being. Because how could he have been in the Place Without a Soul? He must have been in my head. But, God, he was so real. Which is a clear sign that I have completely lost my marbles.
Dad does not need to know this. Dr. Cohen absolutely does not need to know this.
“There was a dog in the bushes, and it sort of spooked me.”
“You weren’t ‘sort of spooked.’ You had a panic attack—a debili- tating one.”
“I know,” I say. “I get it. But everything is okay.” “Really?” he asks, wrapping his hand around mine. “Yes,” I say, giving his hand a little squeeze.
When we pull into our driveway, Mom steps out through the side door, which is strange—she’s usually not home this early. But I’m guessing she’s been home for a while already, because she’s wearing the fur-lined clogs she uses as house shoes and the big cashmere sweater that she likes to climb into after a particularly long day at work. She’s rubbing white lotion into her hands, wringing them back and forth.
“I’m canceling the meeting with the prosecutor,” she says.
Well, hello to you too, Mom.
“You’re not ready to do this.”
She’s referring to the incident, which probably only lasted two minutes—one hundred and twenty seconds, maybe less. But it changed my life. Every single one of those seconds runs through my head all the time. Since I’m unable to escape them, I might as well talk to the fed- eral prosecutor. Though it’s still a mystery why she cares, so many months later.
“Gretchen?” Dad puts his hand on my shoulder and leads me up the stairs toward our house.
“I want to talk to her,” I say.
The three of us are now standing on the top step. The warm air from the house spills out through the open door. I breathe in the lav- ender scent of Mom’s hand lotion. She always says it’s a natural stress- reducer. Which makes me wonder what she would be like without the lavender . . . .
“It’s all good,” I say, sliding past my mom and into the house. “I’m fine.”
Big fat honking lie.
CREDIT: From The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt. Copyright © 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.
The Radius Of Us
By: Marie Marquardt
Release Date: January , 2017
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
The cover is super pretty, and the story itself sounds incredibly hard hitting and emotional. I have heard great things about this one so far! Thanks for the chance!
The cover doesn't seem to fit the synopsis -- it suggests a book with lighter material. I am very intrigued by this book's synopsis and impressed by the serious themes embedded in the story. Thanks for this chance to win, Kara S