Friday, February 26, 2021

Marti Leimbach

Marti Leimbach is known for her bestsellers, Dying Young, made into a film starring Julia Roberts, and Daniel Isn’t Talking. She is interested in neurodiversity and has shared the stage with young inventors at the Human Genome Project (Toronto), the National Autistic Society, and the University of Oxford. Her interest in science influenced her YA thriller, Dragonfly Girl.

She teaches on the Masters Programme in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. Dragonfly Girl is her eighth novel, but her first for young adults.

From my Q&A with Leimbach:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Dragonfly Girl is about a high school senior who discovers a “cure” for death and ends up embroiled in an international rivalry. I thought about calling it The Death Cure, but that sounded like science fiction (the novel has some speculative fiction, but is very steeped in the real world). Also, it didn’t sound personal enough. This is about a girl, after all, one who is very smart in some ways, but woefully not in others, who can handle herself in very difficult situations that most teens wouldn’t cope with, but who can barely get through a school day without drama. How do you describe such a girl?

Within the first few chapters the reader will understand why the main character is called “dragonfly girl” but it isn’t until the end that the name has further significance, and we see that this girl has changed. She’s become something she wasn’t before. And this new identity will take her forward in life (and take the reader into the novel’s sequel).

What's in a name?

I chose the name Kira because I wanted a name that would work in America, where Kira lives, but also in Russia, where she ends up after everything goes south for her. I could have chosen a lot of other names but somehow Kira stuck in my head and, once there, refused to budge.

When I imagined Dr. Munn, his name and face and everything about him came to me at once. I remember googling like mad to make sure there wasn’t some famous Dr. Munn out in the real world that would prevent me from using the name.

As an aside, I’ll add that Cornelius, the lab rat who comes back to life in the book, was named after one of my own pet rats.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

Very surprised. First, that I wrote it at all. I was already writing poetry and short stories in high school but I didn’t think of myself as particularly “science-y”. I grew to love science as an adult, in part because of the excellent popular science writers out there that made it all a lot more interesting than it seemed in school.

The real shocker for my teenage reader self would have been the science inside Dragonfly Girl, which is largely real. The rate of change in the scientific world is staggering. My teenage self would never have imagined that the stuff that happens in the book is taken largely from real life, or that defense technology has truly reached James Bond levels.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I dabbled with the beginning of Dragonfly Girl for ages because it was so much fun to write! I mean, a poor girl wins big money but has to carry off being an adult for a week in order to get it? Has to borrow all the clothes and even the suitcase from her best friend because the only clothes she owns are hoodies? Has to avoid the guy she has a crush on because he doesn’t know she’s a 17-year old high school student but believes she’s a post-doc in her mid-twenties? It was like writing about Cinderella going to the ball except there was a lot more than a romance at stake.

I rewrote the ending a few times because I couldn’t decide whether to sew it all up or make it an invitation for the novel’s sequel, which is called Academy One. In the end, I decided to sew up one set of Kira’s problems and then push her into a whole new set, ones we will see resolved in the sequel.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

While I’m certainly not super-smart like Kira, I have a few things in common with her. Or at least, I did when I was a teenager.

First, like Kira, I was the daughter of a single parent who became ill early in her life. During high school, my family went through significant financial difficulties and we lost our house. Due to illness, my mother moved out of state to live with my grandparents. I didn’t follow her. Instead, I spent my senior year working all hours at restaurants and fast-food chains, babysitting in between those shifts. Like Kira, I worried all the time about debt collectors and school administrators. I knew I was supposed to get good grades but, like Kira, I had a singular gift that didn't always extend to every subject. However, that gift sustained me through the hardest of times. In my case, I could write. There were a few very important people who believed in me, including my mother for that matter, and made it very clear that if I was going to succeed in life I had to avoid what Kira’s mother calls “the great downhill”. That is, the cycle of poverty that can set in for so many kids in similar circumstances.
Visit Marti Leimbach's website.

My Book, The Movie: Dragonfly Girl.

The Page 69 Test: Dragonfly Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue