Miles Halter – in his own words

Our interview this week is with Miles Halter (aka “Pudge”) from Looking for Alaska.

According to a popular book review site, this is his story in a nutshell: “The Alaska of the title is a maddening, fascinating, vivid girl seen through the eyes of Pudge (Miles only to his parents), who meets Alaska at boarding school in Alabama.” (You can access the full book review here.)

His story is that and so much more, so we reached out to Miles with a few questions. Read his answers below – in his own words. (Wondering about the idea behind the “In their own words” interviews”? Read all about it here.)

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Original art for Ramblelane based on photo found at https://tinyurl.com/yb3whcmm

What is your motto?

So this guy…François Rabelais. He was this poet. And his last words were ‘I go to seek a Great Perhaps.’ …I don’t have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I know a lot of people’s last words. It was an indulgence, learning last words. Other people had chocolate; I had dying declarations.

What is it that you most dislike?

I hated sports. I hated sports, and I hated people who played them, and I hated people who watched them, and I hated people who didn’t hate people who watched or played them.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

This never happened to me in Florida, this oh-so-high-school angst about who likes whom more, and I hated myself for letting it happen now.

When are where were you the happiest?

Best day of my life was today…and the story is that I woke up next to a very pretty Hungarian girl and it was cold but not too cold and I had a cup of lukewarm instant coffee and ate Cheerios without milk and then walked through the woods with Alaska and Takumi. We skipped stones across the creek, which sounds dumb but it wasn’t. I don’t know. Like the way the sun is right now, with the long shadows and that kind of bright, soft light you get when the sun isn’t quite setting? That’s the light that makes everything better, everything prettier, and today, everything just seemed to be in that light. I mean, I didn’t do anything. But just sitting here, even if I’m watching the Colonel whittle, or whatever. Whatever. Great day, Today. Best day of my life.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

My worst day was in seventh grade, when Tommy Hewitt pissed on my gym clothes and then the gym teacher said I had to wear my uniform or I’d fail the class. Seventh-grade gym, right? There are worse things to fail. But it was a big deal then, and I was crying, and trying to explain to the teacher what happened, but it was so embarrassing, and he just yelled and yelled and yelled until I put on these piss-soaked shorts and t-shirt. That was the day I stopped caring what people did. I just never cared anymore, about being a loser or not having friends or any of that. So I guess it was good for me in a way, but that moment was awful. I mean, imagine me playing volleyball in pee-soaked gym clothes while Tommy Hewitt tells everyone what he did. That was the worst day.

What is your greatest regret?

We left. We did not say: Don’t drive. You’re drunk. We did not say: We aren’t letting you in that car when you are upset. We did not say: We insist on going with you. We did not say: This can wait until tomorrow morning. Anything–everything–can wait.

What is your greatest fear?

And now she was colder by the hour, more dead with every breath I took. I thought: That is the fear: I have lost something important, and I cannot find it, and I need it. It is fear like if someone lost his glasses and went to the glasses store and they told him that the world had run out of glasses and he would just have to do without.

What is your current state of mind?

I wondered if there would ever be a day where I didn’t think about Alaska, wondered whether I should hope for a time when she would be a distant memory–recalled only on the anniversary of her death, or maybe a couple of weeks after, remembering only after having forgotten.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

Although no one will ever accuse me of being much of a science student, one thing I learned from science class is that energy is never created or destroyed…awful things are survivable, because we are as indestructible as we believe ourselves to be. When adults say “Teenagers think they are invincible” with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only changes shapes and sizes and manifestations.

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Want to read the full novel? You can find Looking for Alaska by John Green at the Austin Public Library: https://austin.bibliocommons.com/item/show/1066576067
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Vera Dietz – in her own words

Our interview this week is with Vera Dietz from Please ignore Vera Dietz.

According to a popular book review site, this is her story in a nutshell: “A harrowing but ultimately redemptive tale of adolescent angst gone awry.” (You can access the full book review here.)

Her story is that and so much more, so we reached out to Vera with a few questions. Read her answers below – in her own words.
(Wondering about the idea behind these “In their own words” interviews”?
Read all about it here.)

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Original art for Ramblelane based on photo found at https://tinyurl.com/ybgxel9g

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Let me tell you – if you think your best friend dying is a bitch, try your best friend dying after he screws you over. It’s a bitch like no other.

On what occasions do you lie?

[After the funeral] Dad and I are driving home and he asks, “Do you know anything about what happened Sunday night?”
“Nope.” A lie. I do.
“Because if you do, you need to say something.”
“Yeah. I would if I did, but I don’t.” A lie. I do. I wouldn’t if I could. I haven’t. I won’t. I can’t yet.

Which living person do you most despise?

My mother left us when I was twelve. She found a man who was not as parsimonious as my father and they moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, which is two thousand five hundred miles away. She doesn’t visit. She doesn’t call. She sends me a card on my birthday with fifty dollars in it, which my father nags me about until I finally go to the bank and deposit it. And so, for all six years she’s been gone, I have $337 to show for having a mother.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

It seems the older people get, the more shit they ignore. Or, like Dad, they pay attention to stuff that distracts them from the more important things they’re ignoring. But there’s something about telling other people what to ignore that just doesn’t work for me. Especially things we shouldn’t be ignoring. Kid bullying you at school? Ignore him. Girl passing rumors? Ignore her. Eighth-grade teacher pinch your friend’s ass? Ignore it. Sexist geometry teacher says girls shouldn’t go to college because they will only ever pop out babies and get fat? Ignore him. Hear that a girl in your class is being abused by her stepfather and had to go to the clinic? Hear she’s bringing her mother’s pills to school and selling them to pay for it? Ignore. Ignore. Ignore. Mind your own business. Don’t make waves. Fly under the radar. It’s just one of those things, Vera.  I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. If we’re supposed to ignore everything that’s wrong with our lives, then I can’t see how we’ll ever make things right. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My first day volunteering [at the pet store], I took care of three Old English sheepdog puppies that had been rescued from one of those houses where crazy people have too many pets until their neighbors complain about the smell or the noise. I bathed them and brushed them and helped the visiting vet nurse apply lotion to their over-scratched flea bites. It was a feeling I can’t really describe. It was like I had a purpose or something – like I was doing something bigger. I loved it. All of it.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

I watch [Dad] secretly from the kitchen, where he’s left a blueberry muffin for me on a small plate. I see what my mother saw in him. He’s handsome, smart, and fit, which is a miracle in this part of the world, where everyone is spilling over their edges. His only flaw is linked to being cheap, which isn’t really that bad of a thing. He’s raising me while my mother is off in some flashy hooker town with some retired bigwig doctor who likes to play poker. He’s reading self-help books and learning new things about himself and the world. Only last week he learned to make vegetarian lasagna and tried a new dish at the Chinese place. Back in October, I got him to try pineapple on his pizza, and got him hooked on Walt Whitman. What’s not to love about that?

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

Something about death reminds me of birth, I guess. I have my own version of the afterlife now that Charlie is dead. There is one. People there can see you and they live on in the things around us. In the trees. The birds. Like that feeling you get when someone behind you is staring at you – I get that all the time, but it’s Charlie who’s staring. From up there, or over there, or wherever it is that he went.

What is your greatest regret?

I wonder if I’d called the police back when I was ten or thirteen or fifteen, would Charlie be alive now. I regret it. I regret every minute I lived keeping that secret. I regret every time I didn’t talk to Charlie about it. I regret having parents who couldn’t try to help or seem to care. I regret not being reason enough to make them care more. I regret never saying what I was thinking, never saying “But what if that was me? What if I marry some loser who hits me? Would you care then? Would you help?” And I regret not calling the police the first day we met the pervert. Because I’m sure he had something to do with how Charlie was acting at the end.

What is your current state of mind?

Today I am in control because I want to be. I can set Jenny Flick’s future to zero, I can dial up Charlie’s reputation to ten again, even though he’s dead. I have my fingers on the switch, but have lived a lifetime ignoring the control I have over my own world.

What is your favorite journey?

We’re eating seafood at a little shack on a North Carolina beach, looking out to sea, licking tartar sauce from our fingers. It’s been a long day. I look at the ocean and take a deep breath. I feel like an adult – his equal, and his friend. I feel like we’re in this together, and I’m glad for that.

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Want to read the full novel? You can find Please ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King at the Austin Public Library: https://austin.bibliocommons.com/item/show/795709067 
>>>

Vicky Decker – in her own words

Our interview this week is with Vicky Decker from How to disappear.

According to a popular book review site, this is her story in a nutshell: “A lonely high school student finds solace through social media.” (You can access the full book review here.)

Her story is that and so much more, so we reached out to Vicky with a few questions. Read her answers below – in her own words.
(Wondering about the idea behind these “In their own words” interviews”?
Read all about it here.)

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Original art for Ramblelane based on photo found at https://tinyurl.com/yb2bba37

What is your motto?

The yin-yang symbol…I love that symbol. Jenna and I first discovered it the summer before eighth grade and adopted it as our own secret code. We doodled it everywhere, signed notes with it. We downloaded a custom emoji so we could text it to each other. We even got temporary tattoos of it once and swore we’d get real ones when we were old enough. It’s the symbol of my friendship with Jenna, of the balance between us, the strengths and weaknesses, the ups and downs. 

What is your greatest fear?

I have a Terror List. I add to it whenever something makes me nervous or embarrassed of want to disappear. The list is long enough now that it’s become a sort of game for me to remember everything on it, like trying to name all fifty states. It includes:

  • Starting conversations
  • Walking into class late
  • Making eye contact
  • Assigned seating
  • Having to choose my own seat
  • Saying something stupid
  • Getting called on in class
  • Finishing a test first
  • Finishing a test last
  • Group projects
  • Individual presentations
  • The cafeteria
  • Eating in front of people
  • Gym class
  • Sneezing in public

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? 

Vicuriously – I mean, vicariously. I always mess up that word because it seems like curious should be the root of it, since it comes from being curious about how someone else lives. I should know, since I spend most of my time that way.

What is it that you most dislike? 

There is nothing quite so demoralizing as having your middle-aged mother pause from her Facebooking and dishwashing to suggest that you need to get out more.

Whose are your heroes in real life?

There’s Hallie Bryce, of course. Her pictures are so ethereal and peaceful, the way she bends herself to match the shape of tree limbs or tiptoes delicately through the tulips. I just can’t imagine going out in public, putting on pointe shoes, and contorting myself into these shapes while people walk past. Maybe that’s why I’m so infatuated with her Instagram. She’s like a superhero to me. 

What is your favorite journey? 

Where will I go next? It’s got to be Hogwarts. Because, obviously. That’s been my dream since I was nine. I lost count of the number of times I checked the mailbox for my letter of admission. And I’ve always wanted to ride a hippogriff.

What is your current state of mind?

It’s ludicrous how easily and without warning I can be sent spinning. Every emotion, every fear, hovers dangerously close to the surface. I’m so focused on protecting myself from hurt, I have no idea what to do with kindness.

What is your favorite occupation?

Photoshop genius. 

On what occasions do you lie?

I lied because it made [my mom] happy to think I was working on a project with someone like Hallie Bryce, who is beautiful and talented, rather than working alone, which I what I was doing until Lipton offered to help me. I lied to give [my mom] a rare opportunity to not be disappointed in me. 

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

God, what I wouldn’t give to be a cat. Nobody thinks it’s weird how skittish they are. Or that they rub their face all over you, or knead their paws into your lap and circle three times before sitting down. Cats are gloriously odd, and people still love them.

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Want to read the full novel? You can find How to disappear by Sharon Huss Roat at the Austin Public Library: https://austin.bibliocommons.com/item/show/1824343067
>>>

The “why” behind “In their own words”

You know when you really love a book? Sometimes it’s the story line that pulls you in, but often you feel a kind of connection with one of the main characters. There’s something about them that you relate to – you feel like them, you feel for them, you celebrate or worry about how others feel about them…their stories and their triumphs and their failures are real to you.

As part of a school project this spring for my Young Adult literature course, I decided to “interview” some of the most memorable characters from the books I’m reading. Each week here on the blog I’ll have a virtual “sit-down” with a character – one you may already know and love or one that you’re meeting for the first time here. I’ll try not to include too many spoilers, though sometimes key moments of their stories are likely to creep into their heartfelt answers.

I’m calling this project “In their own words”, since I plan to include a mix of quotes from the novels – in the character’s voice – as well as some creative writing on my part to fill in the gaps. Not quite fan fiction, for those of you who are familiar with that genre, but a grey area where truth and imagination overlap to create a more complete portrait of each character’s personality and life story – an extra dimension for you as the reader.

I’ll draw my questions from the well-known Proust Questionnaire used each month for celebrity interviews by the magazine Vanity Fair. (It’s notable that Proust himself allegedly completed the questionnaire twice in his lifetime – the first time at the tender age of 14! But, despite what you might read online, he didn’t invent it.) Using these questions to delve more deeply into a character is something suggested in writer’s workshop circles, and something you might want to try doing yourself if you like writing stories at home. I’ll ask each character a handful of questions and give them room to share more in-depth answers, rather than asking all 35 questions and sharing short “sound-bites” in response.

We’ll get started next week with our first interview. In the meantime, here are a few samples from artists and writers interviewed by Vanity Fair to get you in the mood:

  • Margaret Atwood – author of The Handmaid’s Tale (and so much more!)
  • David Bowie – musical chameleon and passionate reader
  • Lena Dunham – creator and star of the popular TV series, Girls
  • Tina Fey – star of 30 Rock, author of Bossypants, inspiration for us all
  • Daniel Radcliffe – actor who brought Harry Potter to life




Blog resurrection

The last couple of years have been hectic with life changes — two new jobs, a new grad program, planning a wedding (most untraditionally) and a related trip to Italy, moving house, losing a beloved kitty and getting a new kitty, learning new dances, making new art and costumes…the list goes on and on. Summing up: much living, little posting.

Well, here I am again, midway through my Library Science degree and called upon to blog about books for a current class… Given the original intentions of this blog to “ramble about” life “musing on art, books, life & wandering”, it seems silly to create a whole new virtual space for my upcoming posts about YA literature and character encounters. Instead I will build a YA book “room” within my blog “home” and invite you all to enjoy spending time here.

The Rookery

One of the downsides to taking a zillion photos while traveling is that you rarely find the time after your trip concludes to share them with the world in a comprehensive manner. I usually get to the point where I organize them and back them up, and then I think about how I’d like to share them online, and then I go back to work and get sucked back into my routine (which this year included a role change at my job), and before you know it, months have passed and you realize you never shared one thing. And a day comes where you find a wee bit of time, and you admit guilt on your public forum of choice (mea culpa, WordPress), and you prepare your images…and here we are! Finally giving this amazing building its due. To read more about all the people involved in the creation of the Rookery over the decades, click here: http://therookerybuilding.com/building-history.html

Although we learned about the building through the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust on our trip to Chicago late last summer, many others had a hand in making it spectacular inside. Here are some shots for your enjoyment.

 

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Holiday surprises – West Coast edition

In July I found out that Cirque du Soleil was opening their newest show, Kurios (which has a Steampunk theme), in LA around the holidays. The scheming began. I convinced Alex that we should have an “experience” in place of gifts this holiday season, and he – loving surprises as he does – wanted to know absolutely nothing about where we were going or what we were doing until the time came. I managed to keep the secret from July 27th until about 7:30am on the day of travel, when he made a comment about something before I was fully awake, and I replied with “yeah, we’ll do that in LA.” Best-case scenario, it would have been a secret for another 6-7 hours until we arrived at the airport…so I think I did pretty well considering how hard it is to keep secrets, especially when you’re excited about them.

We stayed at a precious little converted garage in a neighborhood only about 1 mile from LAX, which I’d never been through before. The garden was especially lovely.

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They also had great taste in decor – look at this nerdy graphic design poster about fonts!

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Inside the garage apartment were not one, not two, but THREE clues as to our weekend’s surprises. It was hard not to spill when Alex was asking me questions about Ojai (our second destination for the weekend), upon spotting the wall hanging and bookmark in the bathroom. Total coincidence. Also old postcards of the PCH right above the bed, and that trip north was on the docket.

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Saturday we got up and headed out to brunch. You know who is in LA the weekend before Christmas? NO ONE. We had zero wait and almost zero fellow diners for a Marina del Rey patio restaurant at 11am on a Saturday morning. And they had flights of beer in tiny mugs, so Alex kicked the day off with a round of IPAs, and nothing could have made him happier.

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We headed to the Getty so I could share one of my favorite places with him. The collection is great, and they had a cool show about daguerrotypes, but overall what I love about the Getty is the setting and the architecture and the gardens. And we had a perfect day for it.

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P.S. I want to go to college HERE, on the hill opposite the Getty. Such a view.

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No sooner did we head down the hill (on foot) and exit the parking garage, an unexpected rain started to fall. We would have been drenched if we’d been any slower. As it was we headed back “home” for a rest and enjoyed being lazy as the rain drummed on the roof of the garage. Next up, Cirque! We went off to the stadium. On the way we drove through a random neighborhood and saw one of the best lit holiday installations EVER. Why, yes, that is Santa flying off the rooftop, next to a ferris wheel and hot air balloon.

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We arrived and waited for the Grand Chapiteau to open.

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I had bought the tickets with my United Visa originally, so they gave us two certificates for free popcorn and drinks as a bonus. I had cancelled my card in the meantime, but Alex still had his, so we wound up scoring a picnic blanket (random giveaway) and being directed to a VIP lounge where they had free drinks (IPAs! Happy Alex!), appetizers, popcorn, salads…even some cheesecake at intermission. And it was empty – we found it by accident and I don’t think many Visa people knew about it! I found two families in line to buy concessions and gifted them our certificates.

The show was AMAZING. I actually splurged on great seats, since we were flying across the country to see it, so we had a wonderful view of all the amazingness. This is the one shot I took, before it started. So many gramophones on stage, adapted in bizarre ways!

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Sadly, it ended, and we had to leave. They honored everyone’s readjustment to the world at the exit.

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On Sunday morning we awoke to pale sunshine. I was delighted, because the previous afternoon’s rain would have ruined my midday plan to drive north on the PCH as far as we could on our way to Ojai. We hit the road, stopping at the Malibu Pier for brunch. The Yelp reviews said we’d wait about 45 minutes or more for Sunday brunch – we waited zero. There were a few people there, but it was pretty quiet.

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This happened. A hybrid of french toast and bread pudding with blackberries and a sprig of arugala. Mmmmmmm.

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Coincidentally, Alex’s company has an office in Malibu and it was about two blocks south of where we parked, so we strolled down for a peek. I’m sure there’s footage on their security cameras of him lurking around trying to peer in the windows. We continued north on the PCH, and decided to pull over at an especially scenic spot.

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Right around the bend from this rock is the Marine base, and it gets un-scenic pretty much instantly! We drove on to Ojai and headed straight for the winery/tasting room that our LA hosts had recommended.

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Then we had a late lunch (early dinner) at the Italian place that the bartender at the tasting room recommended. I’ve been watching what I eat pretty closely the last several weeks, and indulging in the homemade ravioli filled with squash and covered in browned butter/sage and parmesan was so delicious.

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We headed to our hotel, the Ojai Retreat. It was lovely. I felt a bit disappointed because it seems to me they overemphasized the quantity/quality of their outdoor installations (walking trail and gardens), but Alex had no prior expectations and loved it. And we did get a pretty sunset, though with the clouds it didn’t come near the legendary “pink moment” that all Ojai-aficionados rave about.

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We wrapped up our trip Monday with breakfast at the hotel, with a view over the mountains.

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We went to Bart’s Books (yes, the one featured on the bookmark in our LA AirBNB), and marvelled at the fact that 90% of the bookstore is basically outdoors! The few inside rooms are super creative – witness the book Christmas tree and the cookbooks in the historical kitchen.

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Then followed a quick visit to Ojai Olive Oil Co for a tasting and a stop at Ojai Beverage Co for lunch. More flights of IPAs were enjoyed. They’re so bitter, but they bring Alex so much joy… Then home to Austin late late, but totally worth it. All in all, I think the weekend was a total success!