Interview with the Author: A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel
A Blind Guide to Stinkville by Beth Vrabel
Before Stinkville, Alice didn’t think albinism—or the blindness that goes with it—was a big deal. Sure, she uses a magnifier to read books. And a cane keeps her from bruising her hips on tables. Putting on sunscreen and always wearing a hat are just part of life. But life has always been like this for Alice. Until Stinkville.
For the first time in her life, Alice feels different—like she’s at a disadvantage. Back in her old neighborhood in Seattle, everyone knew Alice, and Alice knew her way around. In Stinkville, Alice finds herself floundering—she can’t even get to the library on her own. But when her parents start looking into schools for the blind, Alice takes a stand. She’s going to show them—and herself—that blindness is just a part of who she is, not all that she can be. To prove it, Alice enters the Stinkville Success Stories essay contest. No one, not even her new friend Kerica, believes she can scout out her new town’s stories and write the essay by herself. The funny thing is, as Alice confronts her own blindness, everyone else seems to see her for the first time.
This is a stirring small-town story that explores many different issues—albinism, blindness, depression, dyslexia, growing old, and more—with a light touch and lots of heart. Beth Vrabel’s characters are complicated and messy, but they come together in a story about the strength of community and friendship. This paperback edition includes a Q&A with the author and a sneak peek at the upcoming The Blind Guide to Normal.
Interview with the Author:
Beth Vrabel — A Blind Guide to Stinkville
What do you love about A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE?
My daughter has albinism. Her condition is much milder than Alice, the main character of STINKVILLE, who’s legally blind due to her lack of pigmentation. A year or so ago, my daughter was frustrated—and I was plain angry—that anytime albinism comes up in a book or movie, the character almost always is portrayed as creepy, sinister, mystical or other-worldly. “Why can’t there be a book about a regular girl who just happens to have albinism?” she asked.
We couldn’t find that book anywhere. So I wrote one.
I love that my daughter loves STINKVILLE.
What is the best part about being a writer?
Can I pick three best things?
First, If something is important to me or interests me, I get to spend a lot of time thinking about it, researching it and learning all about that thing. And it’s my job! It’s my job to be curious and then make up stories about those things that tickled my interest.
Secondly is seeing the stories resonate with readers. It’s a total pinch-me moment when I have the opportunity to hear readers talk about my characters and realize they’re as real to them as they are to me. It’s magic, really. A few months ago, I received an email from a girl named Addison. She wrote: “Alice is about the same person as I am. My friends swore that you wrote the book about me.” I’m tearing up again just thinking about that message!
Third, the coffee.
Okay, but what’s the downside?
Writing can be a sedentary and lonely gig, sometimes. I’m glad my fitbit nudges me every hour to get moving or I’d be like that boy in the Shel Silverstein poem who slowly turns into the television. That could totally happen to me, but I’d be a laptop.
Tell us about your writing process.
My books begin with either a character or a scene I can’t get out of my head. And then I begin asking myself a lot of questions.
For STINKVILLE, the book began with Alice, a completely ordinary girl who just happens to have albinism and its associated blindness. Of course that’s why the rest of the world treats her differently. But what if the thing that makes her extraordinary has nothing to do with her complexion and her eyes? What if her specialness resides in her heart? What would it take to convince the people around her to accept her obvious differences and take note of that?
After I spend a long time thinking through these questions, I scribble a ton of ideas—snapshots, really—in a notebook. I buy reporter’s notebooks in bulk since they’re easy to shove into dresser drawers, under couch cushions or in my back pocket. That’s exactly what also makes them easy to lose, which I inevitably will do shortly after sketching out what the ENTIRE PLOT. Then I will cry, eat chocolate, and get to work redoing it. Usually I’ll find the original notebook once the book is complete and I’ll thank my muse for letting me lose it to begin with because the final product is so much better.
What motivates you to write middle grade stories versus other genres?
My all-time favorite books tend to be middle grade—THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, and the Harry Potter series. This is an age full of so much transition, as characters scrape their way past childhood and into independence. They’re stories about figuring out just how expansive this world is and determining where they stand within it.
Plus, you can still get away with making a fat, farting dog the star of a book.
What’s next for you?
A BLIND GUIDE TO NORMAL, the companion novel to STINKVILLE, releases in October. Readers got to meet Richie Ryder Raymond toward the end of STINKVILLE.
In NORMAL, Richie leaves the Addison School for the Blind and to mainstream in public school. Within the first hour, he falls hard for the fierce girl next door, manages to make the school hero an enemy, and causes his bio teacher to pass out—twice. If I could magically make any of my characters become real, it’d be Richie, hands down. He’s so much fun!
Beth Vrabel grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. She won a short-story contest in fourth grade and promptly decided writing was what she was going to do with her life. Although her other plans–becoming a wolf biologist, a Yellowstone National Park ranger, and a professional roller skater–didn’t come to fruition, she stuck with the writing. After graduating from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in journalism, she moved through the ranks of a local newspaper to become editor of two regional magazines and a lifestyle columnist. Beth now lives in Connecticut with her wonderful husband, two charming children, a spoiled rotten puppy, and two guinea pigs, Winn-Dixie and Pippin.