Author Ellen Klages: "Because Hopefully, There is Always Something Else That Happens Next"
Connections: A Podcast of the James L. Hamner Public Library
Published July 6, 2022
Transcripts are edited to aid with ease of reading. Verbal fillers, stuttered phrases, sounds of listening, and laughter are generally removed, but grammatical errors and similar verbal idiosyncrasies are included. Ellipses (…) are used to indicate unfinished sentences or interruptions.
[Intro Music] Jill 00:02
Welcome to Connections, a podcast of the James L. Hamner Public Library. I'm your host Jill and the ideas in this episode represent the opinions and experiences of the speakers. They may not represent the library's official position.
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the fifth year of the podcast with the library. Today, I am so pleased to have with us author Ellen Klages. Ellen's book Out of Left Field is what started all of the episodes that we have had on baseball, so I'm very pleased to start our fifth year with Ellen. But first, our featured resource.
Today's featured resource is a nature backpack that library account holders may borrow to use at a state park or in their backyard. As of this recording, the nature backpack includes various field guides, small nets for water exploration, magnifying glasses, an insect observation box and a Virginia all-park pass. And now, for the episode.
Ellen, thank you for being on the podcast, I'm so pleased that we are finally able to talk together. A while ago, I read Out of Left Field which has led to many different episodes about baseball, specifically woman in baseball in the United States. So, today as we talk inspired by Out of Left Field, longtime listeners know that I don't like to talk about the book in a book review sense. People can go read the book if they're interested. But inspired by Out of Left Field during this conversation, what do people need to know about you so that they can, as libraries like to encourage people, evaluate where their information is coming from?
I'm a writer. I have sort of two completely separate hats. I write science fiction and fantasy for adults and I write historical fiction for children. And so the three books that I have of historical fiction are The Green Glass Sea; White Sands, Red Menace; and the third book in that series is Out of Left Field. And then if you want to know what I write for adults, you can Google me.
Okay, thank you.
Can you give us maybe the two sentence version of what Out of Left Field is about, just for those listeners who have not yet read the book, even though we hope that they will go read it inspired by this conversation.
Out of Left Field is about a little girl who is a very good baseball player and wants to play in Little League, but she can't because it's 1957, and she's not the kind of kid that takes no for an answer. So, the book is about her adventures in research trying to prove that girls have and can play baseball. And it's set in 1957, so it's against the backdrop of Sputnik and the Cold War and integration and civil rights and everything else that was happening in 1957 and '58.
What I really liked about Out of Left Field was - even though it's a story, which I love - the history part and the back matter. I learned about all these people who played baseball. Not surprising. I probably could not name a living baseball player. But I really enjoyed that historical aspect.
I would be surprised if anybody reading the back matter had ever heard of anybody other than maybe Babe Didrikson who was the most famous female athlete of the 20th century, mostly not for baseball. She was mostly famous for golf, but people people may have heard of her. I would be surprised if most people have heard of any of my, Katy's other heroes. Which is what made her research so difficult, especially for a 10-year-old in 1957. My research was easier because in the last 60 years, a lot more has been written about women in baseball, but I stuck Katy with a hard homework problem.
Yeah. And Katy's Mom, Terry Gordon, is very supportive of her daughter and her, for the 1950s, unusual pursuits for a girl. Can you tell us about Terry Gordon? She's what I'm really interested in talking about because she is not the kind of mother that one expects from a book set in the 1950s.
I think Katy is very much her mother's daughter. Terry is a woman scientist at a time when not many women were scientists. Terry worked on the Manhattan Project and there were only a handful of women who did that. So she's been bucking the system since probably the 1920s. And I think Katy takes after her. She was raised by a woman who defied convention and basically said, "You want to do something, you try it. You know, see what happens. There isn't anything that I will tell you you can't do, other than every once in a while for matters of safety or bedtime."
Historical period aside, Terry is not the kind of mother we often hear about. She tells Katy that some rules are meant to be broken, which is a very strange thing for an adult to say to their child. Why did Terry tell Katy that some rules are meant to be broken?
Because I firmly believe that some rules were meant to be broken.
It's interesting, when I was writing this book, because I was writing Katy as the kid that I would have been if I'd been a jock kid. Actually, I'm writing Katy the way the way I was as a kid, except that Katy is a much better baseball player than I am.
But I was writing Mrs. Gordon as the mother of that I would have wanted to have: a mother who has rules, and there are things that, you know, she will put her foot down on, but she's also, she listens - she listens to what the kid wants, and she, she doesn't shut doors. She says, "Okay, that may be a difficult thing to do."
I mean, when Katy's talking about, you know, we'll get a lawyer and we'll sue them and we'll win. And her mom's going, "Okay. Yes, but there are consequences. You can't just... I'm not going to say no, I'm not going to say yes, I'm going to tell you that this is a lot more difficult than you understand."
And I think, I mean, I wouldn't want to rai...if - I don't have children. So I have no idea how this would actually work in real life. But I think that there have to be rules and there have to be boundaries. But I also think that there have to be exceptions. And I think that any good parent knows when to make an exception and not just say, "Nope, that's the rule. And, you know, you can't wear pink shoes, no matter how much you want them."
That's a terrible example. But I, what I love about Mrs. Gordon through all three books is that in some ways, she's not a very good mom. She's distracted by her work. And she leaves the kids alone a lot. And she leaves the kids to their own devices. But when push comes to shove, she's there for them. And she doesn't always have easy answers. She doesn't always say the things that the kids want to hear. But I think that she's, she's enough of a rule breaker herself that she knows when it's time to go, "Okay, let's take a step back and look at other possibilities here. Or let's rethink this, or..." I mean, I don't remember a time when she just flat out says "No, against the rules, not doing it." And that's one of the things that I love about her and about writing her as a character because she's, she's a really interesting woman.
Yeah, I think she is a great character.
Let's imagine that there were some adults, maybe some parents, who wanted to be like Terry Gordon and teach their children that some rules are meant to be broken. How does one know which rules are the ones that are meant to be broken? How could an adult teach a child to determine the difference between "I don't like this, so I'm just not going to comply," and something, a rule, that truly needed to be broken?
I don't know. I don't know that most adults have figured that out. Especially given the political situation these days. You watch people going, "No, this is the rule" and everybody else going, "No, that's not a good rule."
I don't know. I mean, it's, it, life I think is more complicated for kids now than it was in 1957, in a lot of ways. But I think, I mean, I think listening, listening to what the kid wants, and having an open mind about whether or not that's a possibility. I mean, you know, if you have a kid that wants to buy an AK-47 and shoot up their elementary school, then you say, "No."
If you have a kid that wants to do experiments, do chemi..., have a chemistry set. Then you sit them down and you tell them about safety. And you say, you know, "Here are things that are absolute rules. Here are things you can experiment with. This is dangerous." I mean, I think letting a kid know what's actually dangerous as opposed to what's maybe not expected or not what other people expect.
And of course, every family is different, so what's okay inside the family may not be okay in a larger peer group or at school or, you know, outside in the world. I know a lot of people have objected to the language in my books as not being appropriate for 10-year-olds, because the adults actually speak like adults, and there's no, there's no S-bomb, there's no F-bomb, but there is language that I've had people object to as being inappropriate for children.
People have objected violently to the fact that Mrs. Gordon smokes and drinks, and that that shouldn't be in a children's book. And one of the things that I tell people is that there are personal choices, and maybe your job as a parent, if a kid is reading a book where somebody is smoking, is to talk about why you personally think that's bad - not banning the book. I've had people not let their kids read my books because the adults smoke.
So I think opening a conversation, if the kid finds something, or the adult, in reading the book, finds something that is disturbing, or that they don't agree with, then you have a conversation about why that might be disturbing. Or, how things are different in 2022 than they were in 1942 or 1957. And the fact that these books are set in the past, and some things obviously have not changed much at all, and some things have changed a lot.
When I talk to fourth and fifth grade classes, they are outraged that anybody would think that girls couldn't play baseball. And these are 10-year-olds who have grown up with very different gender roles than I did. So, everything is evolving, and I think a parent needs to just listen to the kid, find out what the kid wants, and also be aware of their own prejudices, I guess.
Because I think a couple of times, Mrs. Gordon starts to say, "No, that won't," and then stops herself and goes, "Hmm, yeah, okay." And, you know, she also remembers what it was like to be a kid who chafed against the rules. Mrs. Gordon did. So Mrs. Gordon was 10 in 1920. And there were a whole lot more rules for girls then. But I think she remembers how much she wanted to do stuff that people didn't want to let her do, and that she will sometimes go, "Right. Okay. Let's play hooky and figure this out."
Yeah, one thing I really liked about Terry, Mrs. Gordon, is that she lets Katy experience her emotions. And she teaches Katy, or at least helps her, to experience those emotions in a way that is sometimes productive, or sometimes at least not destructive. Sometimes that can be very difficult for adults. What would be your thoughts for adults today who perhaps would want to help children learn how to productively experience all the different emotions that children experience, when oftentimes, adults don't know what to do, or don't really understand why a child might have those emotions, or otherwise might just feel very uncomfortable with another human being having strong emotions. Yet, their responsibility is to teach that person how to experience these emotions in a healthy way.
The thing that I've always found fascinating about writing about childhood is that it is a period of time in your life, when simultaneously everything is amazing. And it's new. And there's this sense of wonder and curiosity and exploration. And at the exact same time, everything is dangerous. And that is a very fine line for a kid to walk And it is a very fine line for a parent to walk. It's like, where do you draw the line between "Yes, I want you to explore the world and be curious and find out about stuff, but no, you can't cross the street by yourself yet because you're only six."
I walk around my house sometimes, literally on my knees, trying to look at my house from a kid's perspective. And, you know, you look under the sink and half of the things under the sink are poisonous. You know, so those things. You tell a kid you know, "No, no, don't touch that. That's dangerous." But at some point, the dishwasher pods become less dangerous. I mean, I know that there are kids who have eaten dishwasher pods because they look like candy. So it's a very weird time of life because everything is dangerous, and everything is so insanely interesting. And yeah, I have a great deal of respect for parents who navigate how to grow a healthy, reasonable adult from a baby. It's the hardest job in the world.
Katy's actions could create some really challenging social, or even work, situations for Mrs. Gordon. But Mrs. Gordon doesn't really try to curb what Katy does, outside of things that are dangerous. Instead, she just helps Katy to understand the situation better, but she allows Katy to do things that could cause the family, I guess, great embarrassment, and Mrs. Gordon doesn't seem to care.
Well, Mrs. Gordon already lost her job because of her own moral stance. She was blacklisted in the '50s under McCarthy. She refused to sign the loyalty oath at the University of California. Which is a real thing. They fired, I can't remember how many, but like three dozen professors lost their jobs, because they refused to sign a loyalty oath saying that they weren't communists at the height of the Red Scare.
So, Mrs. Gordon has already put her life and her career and her marriage on the line for what she believes in and lost her job. I don't really think Mrs. Gordon cares a whole lot what other people think, in anything superficial.
At one point, there's a scene where Katy has just gotten a letter from Little League saying "No; girls can't play," which actually was a rule in 1957. And Katy is so angry that she doesn't know how to be in her body. And she goes out into the backyard to throw things and break things and scream. And her mom comes out and basically walks her through a way to do this without being destructive, and encourages her to yell and to yell it out. And at one point, Katy yells, I can't remember what I call it, but something like the worst word she has ever said out loud. And the reader can fill that in with whatever they think the worst word she's never said out loud before. And her mother says, "Well, that's gonna give the neighbors cocktail conversation," and just keeps going.
So, it is not within the scope of the book for me to see Mrs. Gordon at a PTA meeting getting scolded by somebody who disagrees. It may or may not have happened. Matter of fact, I'm fairly certain that it did. But, you know, she's a liberal liberal.
I don't think that anything that Katy would do... I don't think Katy did anything that was actually going to embarrass her mother. Her mother's not going to be upset about Katy pretending to be a boy. I mean, not even pretending to be. She was just being herself and not giving real name. But, I mean, that's the way... She's been dressing like that forever. Her mother knows that she's wearing a baseball jersey and jeans and a baseball cap. So this isn't a surprise.
I'm sure there are things that Mrs. Gordon would not... Actually, I'm not sure. I'm not sure if you could embarrass Mrs. Gordon. I would have to think about that. I don't.
But in the middle book, there is a lot more of her coming up against what other people think, and especially what her husband thinks she should and shouldn't be doing. And she fights against it. So I'm pretty sure if one of the neighbors came up and said, "Well, I don't think your girl should be playing baseball," that Mrs. Gordon would give her a piece of her mind and not go, "Oh, no! What have I done? The neighborhood!"
Because really, I mean, she's a single mom. She's a single, divorced mom. And she's a nuclear chemist. So, I'm pretty sure that many of the neighbors didn't want anything to do with her anyway. Or, were scared of her. I don't know. I've never actually thought about that before. That's interesting.
Mrs. Gordon supports Katy, as she tries to change a pretty significant part of the culture that she lives in. Do you have any thoughts on what might be the 2022 equivalent to Katy's experience that adults might be needing to help children work through?
Well, the thing that I keep thinking of is having a kid who's trans or is not identifying with the gender that you've been assuming from birth. And I think that that would be, that would be very difficult. And I don't know, you know, I mean, that's a whole spectrum. But that's the contemporary thing that I keep reading accounts of parents who do listen to their kid about what the kid is wanting or slam the door and say, "Absolutely not. You're a girl and that's that." But I think that that is probably the topic that's contemporary for me that would be the most difficult parenting thing of you are flying in the face of the most binary thing in the universe that I grew up in.
I mean, girls could be tomboys. But, when my nephew who is about to graduate from college this weekend, when he was three, he wanted to take ballet. And so they said, "Yeah, sure, there's a toddler ballet class; you can take ballet."
And he wanted the tutu. A lot he wanted the tutu. And so I said, "Well, what are you going to do?"
And his mom said, "I'm gonna let him wear the tutu. I mean, he's probably not going to wear the tutu for very long."
And I said, "Are you going to tell our dad?"
And she said, "No. No, we're just gonna, we're not going to tell him about ballet at all."
So, there's a generational thing, I think, but you know, my sister let her son wear the tutu for the three weeks that he really wanted to wear the tutu rather than saying, "No! Boys don't do that." And, you know, he was three. As far as I know, he no longer wears a tutu. And that was actually a bad example, because he's, as far as I know, he's also cis and straight.
But yeah, having a kid that is not who you expect them to be, or is not interested in the things that you expect them to be, is the most challenging thing. I mean, do you force the kid to follow the rules that you believe in? And I think this is especially true if you have a religious family. Or do you let the kid explore and figure out who they are going to be separate from you? And that's probably the most difficult thing a parent ever does. Because for that first couple of years, the kid isn't separate. And then all of a sudden, you've got a kid with a mind of their own and interests of their own and friends of their own. And... and yeah, it's a challenge.
Yeah, being responsible for the well-being and the creation of a healthy human is a really big challenge I think. What I noticed about Mrs. Gordon is she talks to Katy, but mostly she asked questions and listened to Katy, and then helped guide Katy, to find the actions that Katy wanted to take that would be meaningful to her. What do you think adults responsible for children could learn from Mrs. Gordon in this area?
I think that's the most important part. I mean, I think listening, keeping an open mind, being willing to explore possibilities of how the kid can do what they want without... the other thing is that you're... I don't know, I'll tell you, it's hypothetically, it's just, I think, you know, listen, be open minded. Love your kid. Love your kid for who they are, not who you expect them to be.
And that I think is a trigger for a lot of people, is when your kid wants to do something that you don't like. And I had, I think my father said one time, would you rather be right or be happy? And I think that that may be is a question that you ask when a kid wants to do something is, you know, do you want to hold firm what you think the kid should be doing? Or do you want the kid to be happy? And in some cases, you know... and there's no easy answer.
And that's the thing, there is no easy answer. It's like if there was there would be a, you know, a three-step guide to parenting, and everybody would be handed it when the baby was born and that would be it. But, you know, every parent is individual, every kid is individual, every family situation is individual, you know. Are you a single parent? Do you have both parents? Do the parents agree on this? Do they disagree? You know, it's so complicated.
But for me, I think it's growing a whole healthy, adult human, and doing everything you can to make that happen. Read. Talk to other people, you know. Find out if anybody else has ever been through this? I think the worst thing that can happen is families keeping secrets, because that almost always comes back to bite you.
I grew up with a sister who had Down syndrome and there were a lot of people who thought that we should not be talking about her, or not, you know, being out in public with her, and my parents were very... And she was born in 1961, so it was right on the cusp of people dealing with handicapped individuals in that way. And my parents just said, you know, she's got challenges but she's just part of the family, and all of their friends, as I know eventually came around. I think there were some people who were upset about it when she was little because it just kind of wasn't done. But every family is different.
Every kid has a challenge and a gift and... Yeah, I'm the wrong person. I mean, I write fictional moms. I should not be giving advice to anybody who's got actual live children. Other than: read my books; make, let your kids read my books.
As you are talking, I am thinking about books that I have read that are fiction. But they're written by people who are first- or second-generation immigrants, or somehow have a close connection to people who are immigrants. And often there's this theme of the child wants to do something that the parent is absolutely against. Like, the parents will say, "Your options are to be a lawyer or a doctor. But you absolutely cannot be a musician or..." whatever thing that the child wants. This seems to be a recurring theme in at least the books that I've read.
Thinking about Mrs. Gordon and Katy, and how Katy is going after something that isn't really something Mrs. Gordon is imposing on her, but yet Mrs. Gordon supports her, what are your thoughts around this whole dynamic of children doing things that are not within the conception of possible, or perhaps reasonable or desirable, for their parents from their parents' perspective?
When I was a kid, I didn't know any adult women that had jobs. I grew up in the suburbs, in the late '50s, and the only... and there were teachers - women were teachers, or nurses, or mommies. And that was it. My father had a secretary, but she was an older woman. So, I mean, that was it. You could be a mommy or a teacher or a nurse. And those were the only choices. It was a very short menu. And I wasn't, it was, I don't think it was until I was in high school that I actually saw women who worked outside the home, who did something other than any of those. So the idea that you could be anything else, you know, that you could run your own company rather than be the secretary, or that you could be a doctor instead of being a nurse. That was kind of completely off the table.
And, yeah, it's... when you have expectations for what your kid is going to be, the more rigid you are, I think the more trapped the kid feels. And one of the things that I wanted to show with with Katy and her mom is that Katy grows through the experience of finding out stuff. It's not easy, and she's disappointed a bunch of times, and she's hurt a bunch of times. And her mom is there to catch her when she falls, but her mom lets her explore far enough that she does get disappointed. It doesn't always work out.
It's not a fairy tale where you listen to your kid, and then everything is, is going to be wonderfully happy. But I think maybe that next thing is when your kid does do something, and it doesn't work out. You're there to catch them, and let them know that they are safe and loved and that what they have done is okay with you. And everybody has a line that you don't cross. And it's different for every family, of course.
But yeah, first generation immigrants want their kid to be... I mean, I think everybody maybe wants their kid to be what they wanted to be when they were kids. And of course, it's 20 or 30 years later, by the time the kid is 10. And things have changed. And the kid wants something else. And I think for a lot of parents, that's a struggle of, "Well, when I was your age, I wanted to do this." And it's like, "Yeah, but I don't want that. That's not me."
Katy and Mrs. Gordon have this story where Katy experiences a lot of disappointment and hurt and other, what we might call "negative feelings" although they are a normal part and sometimes a necessary part of life, and Mrs. Gordon really does not try to protect her from these feelings. That can be a really hard thing to do. What are your thoughts for adults who can see that what their child wants to do is probably going to end in some heartache, sort of like Katy experienced, and Mrs. Gordon allowed her that experience.
And when I was a kid, I had my mother give me Christmas presents that she would have wanted when she was 10 that were so completely not me. And then she would get upset or angry or hurt that I didn't appreciate this wonderful thing. But it was a wonderful thing for her and not for me. And that's so tricky. And again, I think it comes down to just paying attention to who your kid is. But that may not be what some parents want to do. Some parents may think that that's a transgression, and that the kid absolutely has to walk this one path without straying or dire things will happen. In some cases, you know, they will go to hell; they will lose their soul; they will fall in with the wrong crowd. You know, all sorts of things.
And I also think that if you're letting your kid try something that you are reasonably certain could have a disappointing outcome. You just tell the kid that from the beginning. You know, it's like, "Yes, I want you to try to do this, or try out for the lead in the high school play, even though your 12. Chances are really kind of good that it's not going to happen and how you're going to feel about that?"
But, I mean, and that's what I tried to do with Mrs. Gordon, it's like, "Yes, I will talk to the lawyer and we will find things out and we will move forward, and I will support you, but I, but I think you're gonna get hurt. And I think this is what's gonna happen." And Katy is shocked, because this is the first time her mother has ever talked to her like an adult. And because her mom isn't saying, "Yes, we will do this and everything will be okay." Because sometimes everything isn't okay.
I mean, this is especially true if you've got a kid who's sick, or has, you know, a chronic illness or is, you know, born with special needs, or there are things that aren't possible. And there are a lot of things that are possible and having a conversation with your kid about: it's okay, you know, sometimes you're disappointed; life is sometimes disappointing, but you don't stop trying.
And is that going to be easy? Absolutely not. I mean, the other choice is, you tell the kid not to try, or you just let the kid go off and get hurt and go, "Well, you see, you should have listened to me." And hopefully good parenting is somewhere in between that - of telling the kid from your, I mean, you're an adult, you have more knowledge than the kid does. We hope. So, you know, the benefit of your experience. But your experience is also not the kid's experience. So, it's like, "Let me tell you about this, which is what I think, but you're going to have to make your own choice." And yeah, I can't imagine anything harder.
Yeah. Mrs. Gordon, really, from a parent's point of view, her daughter experiences so much disappointment and hurt and frustration and anger and to allow your child to go through that... This is a lot of emotion in this book, and a lot that we could think about and think about if we are in the support position to someone who is experiencing such intense emotions and frustrations and disappointments, what is the response? And what is our responsibility if we are in a caregiver position? I think there's really a lot there, even though this is more of a surface-level children's book.
Yeah, I wanted very much to have it be as realistic from her point of view as I could make it. So, she gets some bad news and she gets really, really angry, and then at the end of being angry, she burst into tears. And she's not a particularly weepy kid, but sometimes you're so frustrated that you cry.
And then in another disa..., and then she, but then she keeps going and goes, "Okay, so I can do this and I can do that." And some of that is frustrating, and she throws things. She wads up paper and throws it. She doesn't do anything destructive.
And then she gets another disappointment and that one doesn't make her angry. That one just makes her like, "Okay, fine, I quit; I'm done; I can't do this anymore." And she's hiding under a table when her friend comes over and her friend's, like, "Come on, there's pizza." And she's like, "No, I'm`" you know, "There's no point. I'm not going on."
So, I wanted to show the whole gamut of you can be elated, you can be angry, you can be disappointed and sad. You can be really depressed by it. And all of those things are completely valid emotions. And it's what you do as the next step that determines it. I mean, I wasn't gonna, it would be a terrible book if I just let her stay under the table and wallow.
But that's where not only, and I was also very, very aware when I was writing the book that I did not want her mom to be doing all of this for her. Her mom is opening some doors, but Katy is doing all of the work and Katy's got friends who support her and she's, you know, her mom is supporting her. Her friends are supporting her and she's got a teacher who's going, "Okay. Didn't see that one coming, but yeah, sure, go for it. Let's see what happens."
You know, I liked her teacher very much. He is a much, much more play-by-the-rules guy than her mother. But even he says, you know, "Okay, that," you know, "No, you can't do that. No, no sports are current events. That's not a current event. That's sports," but he encourages Katy to do research, and all of these. I mean, nobody does this alone.
So, hopefully your kid also has friends, and their friends are gonna go, "Okay, so that was disappointing. Let's go ride our bikes. Let's," you know, "My mom just made cake. Do you want a hug?" So Katy has lots and lots of allies in this journey that pull her out of being angry or being sad or being depressed and hiding under the table. But I think that that's the important part of her journey is that there is a next step.
It's like, "Okay, that didn't work. And now I'm really disappointed." And then something else happens. In her case, it's a school assignment that her teacher gives her and she's like, "Oh! Oh! I could do this." And then she's re-energized, and then she keeps going. But between hiding under the table and the school assignment, I think it's three weeks. So for three weeks there, she's just hanging her head and scuffling her shoes and kind of going through the motions. But she's, she's not a happy camper. And then she pulls out of it. And I think that that's possibly the most important part of that is, yeah, you feel the feels, and then you do something, then you figure out what happens next. Because hopefully, there is always something else that happens next.
Yeah, hopefully we can see, or someone can help us to find, a next step forward.
Would you be willing to share a personal story of when you broke a social convention or did something like Katy and tried to change existence as others knew it?
One that I remember is a letter that my mother wrote to my grandmother when I was two and a half, and it was about Christmas. And my mother had said to my grandmother, "Oh, thank you so much for the dress. Ellen doesn't really get the idea of dresses, but of course she will." She doesn't. "And what she really wants for Christmas, the football helmet. Of course, we're not going to get her one. But isn't that cute?"
And I'm thinking, and I'm, you know, 50-something when I'm reading this and going, "Get the kid a football helmet!" But, you know, is was 1956. My parents were not going to buy their little girl a football helmet. I have no idea why I wanted a football helmet. Probably so I could like run into walls and bounce.
But, I was always the kid that... I had several friends' mothers tell them they couldn't play with me, or that I couldn't come over, because I was daring. I would, you know, it's like, let's see what happens. You know, I would climb trees. And sometimes I would fall out of trees. I never ever liked wearing frilly dresses and petticoats and little patent leather shoes. And of course, when I was a kid, you had to wear dresses. I mean, I was, I am a little younger than Katy, but not by a lot. And I'm gay.
So, at some point, I just started challenging all of the roles of who people can be and what you can do with your life. And my parents did not accept it. Well, actually, my father eventually did. My mother died before she accepted it because she was afraid that I was going to have a terrible alcoholic tragic life, because that's what homosexuals do. And so, we never got to talked about it. And, that was, you know, I tried. I tried to talk to my mother about the fact that I was exactly who I had always been, I had just figured out a piece of it, and she didn't want to hear any of it. So, yeah. I would like to think that Mrs. Gordon would have listened.
But, I was the only person in the history of my high school to that point that ever freelanced for the school paper because I refuse to take journalism class, which was a prerequisite for writing for the school paper. So I just wrote articles for the school paper and they would go, "Well, we want to publish this but you have to take this, you know, semester-long class," and I'm just going, "But I've already written this thing," and they'd go "ehhmm." So, they would publish stuff.
I got kicked out of high school two or three times for breaking rules that I did not think should be rules. Girls were allowed to wear pants suits by 1971, which they thought, what meant a coordinated pants suits. Which they thought were like pastel polyester matching things, and I wore a pair of combat fatigues and they were pants and they matched and I got sent home. So, I actually can't remember many rules that I followed. Which is why I write the girl characters that I do.
Thank you for sharing those stories with us.
As a writer and someone who has broken rules, do you have any advice for women or girls who maybe want to change something about the place that they live, maybe break a barrier, but it will mean that they are stepping outside of social convention or breaking rules?
Do it because you are opening doors for everybody behind you. Know that it's going to be difficult. Make sure that you've got friends. Make sure that they are, there's somebody, at least, on your side. Figure out why you want to do it. But if you feel strongly about it, just because nobody's ever done it before, doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.
I mean, for the first time in American history, the vice president is a woman. And, I'm sure there are people that think that's a bad thing. But, she at some point in several steps, she had to fight to be where she was and who she was. And, yeah. It's, if you're going to do something that nobody's ever done before, it's not going to be easy, or other people would have done it. But if you feel strongly enough about it, do it.
Can I give a shout out to the first two books which are Green Glass Sea and White Sands, Red Menace? These are Katy's older sisters who do not the appear in Out of Left Field, but they are even more rule-breakers than she is. And those books are set 15 years before, so it is a much more stratified society. But, Dewey is an engineer and a math geek and a science geek. And, Suze is a very unconventional artist. And they're always always always bouncing off things that everybody else expects them to do. And they have the same mother. So you get to see Terry Gordon in action with other problems.
And, I mean, at one point, I think she tells Katy, "What people expect girls are able to do has never been a problem in this household. Both of your sisters own welding torches." One of them is an artist. One of them is an engineer. But, "Both of your sisters own welding torches," so there is a, all three books have a lineage of very strong women. And I had fun writing them, so hopefully people will have fun reading them.
Yeah, thanks for mentioning those.
Ellen, as we wrap up, is there anything else you would like to say?
No, thank you. Thank you for this opportunity. Because I have never, nobody has ever asked about Mrs. Gordon before. Nobody's ever asked about the parenting in the book. They're always asking about the kid or the plot or the writing. So this was a really fascinating thing to think about beforehand. And a really, really fascinating thing to talk about. And, I started thinking about things that I have never thought about, even though I wrote the book. So, it's given me stuff to chew on. So, thank you very much.
Well, Ellen, thanks for playing along. Thank you for joining us in this conversation today. It was a pleasure talking with you.
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[Outro Music] Jill 43:22
Until next time, keep learning.