Robin Talley grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, writing terrible teen poetry and riding a desegregation bus to the school across town. A Lambda Literary Fellow, Robin lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife, plus an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. When Robin’s not writing, she’s often planning communication strategies at organizations fighting for equal rights and social justice.
You can find her on the web at www.robintalley.com or on Twitter at @robin_talley.
Luna: You can read my review of Lies We Tell Ourselves at the end of the interview. Short version: I loved it ♥ The book is amazing!
Why did you want to write Lies We Tell Ourselves?
The idea for Lies We Tell Ourselves originally came from a conversation I had with my parents. They were both in high school in Virginia in the 1960s when their schools were desegregated for the first time. As they described their memories of integration ― the school closings, the trepidation in the hallways, the isolation of the few black students ― I knew I wanted to read a YA book about it. Then I realized I wanted to write one.
Lies We Tell Ourselves was one of the YA books of BEA2014. There was so much positive buzz and the praise just keeps coming. What is that like?
BEA was so much fun! I’d ever been before and it was overwhelming, but everyone I met was incredibly nice and excited about books. It was such a cool environment to be in.
Luna: I met you at BEA and you’re really lovely. Thanks for signing my book.
Robin: Yay, thank you! 😀
How do you feel about the different covers for the book, do you prefer one?
They’re both so different! It’s so funny, I didn’t even know there was going to be a separate cover for the UK edition until I saw it on Twitter one morning. I love the US cover’s yearbook theme ― I did a lot of research pouring over old yearbooks to learn about high school life in the 1950s, so that cover definitely hits home. My favorite thing about the UK cover is the spine, actually ― there’s a silhouette of Sarah on the front cover and Linda on the back cover, and on the spine, you see the two silhouettes facing off. I love that.
Best thing about being a writer?
The idea that people are actually reading about characters and ideas I made up in my head. It’s a very, very surreal concept ― and since this is my first book, I really haven’t adjusted to it yet.
And the worst?
The complete absence of free time. I have a day job in addition to writing, so I rarely if ever get days off. I’m always trying to squeeze in at least a few hours of writing in the evenings, and I usually write all day on Saturdays and Sundays.
When you found out you’d sold your book, how did you celebrate?
My then-girlfriend, now-wife and I went out to a bar with a roofdeck and drank a lot of cocktails.
Luna: My kind of celebration! 🙂
Do you ever re-arrange book displays in bookshops?
Oh, definitely. If I see an awesome book by an awesome author that’s shelved spine-out, I pull it out so people can see it!
Changing the subject, apart from writing what do you love doing?
We recently got a dog, and I quite love taking her on walks. Before we had her I thought walking the dog would be a chore, but it turns out it’s awesome to take a break for a few minutes and just stroll around the neighborhood, taking in the sights and sounds. I’d never normally do that if I didn’t have to, but now I’m always eager to take the dog out for a spell.
I’m giving you a free platform to talk about anything – GO:
OK! Here’s some advice on your holiday shopping this year. Instead of going out to stores and buying lots of stuff that your friends and family probably don’t really need, go online and Google the name of your city followed by “children’s charity.” Find a good organization working in your community to help kids in need. Make online donations to the charity in the names of your family and friends. Print out the confirmation page for each donation and tuck it into a holiday card, then write a message describing the work the charity does and how a gift made in your friend’s or relative’s name will now help the organization do more of that good work. Then, when people ask you what gifts you want this year, tell them the name of your favorite charity and that you want a donation made in your name. You and your friends and family will wind up with less unnecessary stuff ― and you’ll have made a difference in the world.
So what happens next?
My next book is coming out in fall 2015. It’s currently titled Unbreakable, though the title could wind up changing. It’s set in the present day and it follows a so-together-they-might-as-well-be-married high school couple, Toni, who’s genderqueer, and Gretchen, who’s a lesbian, as they’re separated for their first year of university. They’re such an established couple they think it’ll be easy ― but there’s a lot ahead of them that neither of them ever expected.
Luna: SO want to read this. Ideally now.
Tea or coffee?
Tea, but given my druthers, I’d prefer a mango smoothie.
What word describes you best?
The last book you read?
I just finished Matt de la Peña’s The Living, which is incredible.
You’re at the airport with a free pass to get on any plane – where would you go?
I’ve never been to Italy, but I’d love to see it.
When no one is watching do you dance?
No, but I sing to myself. It’s a good thing no one’s around when I do because I always crack on the high notes.
If you could, what would you want to ask your readers?
I’m always interested to hear how much people learned about school integration when they were in school themselves. The answers vary so much.
What superpower would you like?
Invisibility would be very convenient.
Have you got your own place to write or can you write anywhere?
I can write in most places, but I mainly write in my office, a tiny windowless room on the second floor of the house, with my cat asleep on my feet.
What’s the perfect cure to a bad day?
Good reviews always help!
And finally, what is the question you wish people would ask and never do?
No one ever asks me what I think about Mad Men. I thought I’d get Mad Men questions given that my book is set at the same time! I guess the cultural zeitgeist is over Mad Men by now, sadly.
Lies We Tell Ourselves Book Review
It’s 1959. The battle for civil rights is raging. And it’s Sarah Dunbar’s first day of school, as one of the first black students at the previously all-white Jefferson High. No one wants Sarah there. Not the Governor. Not the teachers. And certainly not the students – especially Linda Hairston, daughter of the town’s most ardent segregationist. Sarah and Linda have every reason to despise each other. But as a school project forces them to spend time together, the less their differences seem to matter. And Sarah and Linda start to feel something they’ve never felt before. Something they’re both determined ignore. Because it’s one thing to be frightened by the world around you – and another thing altogether when you’re terrified of what you feel inside.
Review: This book was one of “the” books of BEA 2014. That combined with the amazing praise I’d read online set the bar very high but Lies We Tell Ourselves didn’t just deliver it vaulted right over that bar. It’s one of the best books of 2014 and I would quite happily hand a copy to every person I passed in the street. Winning lottery ticket come on, we can do good things here! Seriously though, this is a book that needs be read.
I had to read Lies We Tell Ourselves in parts. The characters and the town might be fictional but what Sarah, Ruth and the other students encounter isn’t. I was angry, sad and so disappointed that this was reality in 1959 and most depressingly it still is. Maybe not as openly but there’s plenty going round. Ironically I got to listen to it first hand while I was reading Robin Talley’s book.
Robin Talley deserves to be complimented not just for the story but also for her writing and characters. I thought that both Sarah and Linda were completely convincing, they develop throughout the book. Linda has to disregard everything she was ever told growing up. Even towards the end Linda still has moments where I was rolling my eyes thinking: “really?” but those flaws make her more convincing.
Lies We Tell Ourselves is stunning!