by Jamie Tan
As a publicist, I’m used to being gregarious or quiet, adapting to whichever author I’m with. I’ve sat quietly with authors, filled up space with small talk so an author could have a moment of rest, and leaned back while an author took the floor. I’m here to be supportive, but more importantly I want to be respectful of the author and the work they have created.
Pat Schmatz was one of the first authors I worked with when I started at Candlewick. I can say now how much I adore working with her, but when I first met her I was a bit terrified. She will be surprised to hear this, as I was able to keep my deer-in-the-headlights look under wraps (I hope). My hesitations came from the fact that I loved reading Lizard Radio. I respected the book an incredible amount, and at the same time feared that some of the themes in her work might be too personal for an author to talk about publicly. When you scratch away at the science fiction element in the vivid world Pat creates, you see a character full of questions about her personal, sexual, and gender identities. This felt like a book that hit close to home, and I didn’t want to assume anything about authorial intent or experience. I first wanted to see where this book came from, and if the book was as close to Pat’s heart as it seemed, before doing my duty as a publicist and seeing if I could encourage Pat to talk about these themes in a personal way.
Meeting Pat was a great relief. She is incredibly humble and well-spoken, and is the kind of person you could envision yourself having a deep lazy afternoon chat with, leaving you with the feeling that the world has become a bit nicer, more meaningful. In short, I adore her. She has a great relationship with her editor, Joan, and institutional trust in Candlewick. I’m grateful for these two things, as Pat took a chance and gave me her trust. She shared the story behind Lizard Radio, and told me that the story came from a personal place, that she had similar feelings to Kivali. As I listened to her, I wanted to hear her talk more about herself and the experiences that led her to write the book. I didn’t want to push her too hard, but I knew that Pat had a story that young adults (and even adults) would appreciate hearing. I knew that Pat was shy, but I also saw that she had a powerful voice.
Pat trusted Joan, Candlewick, and myself to give her book the respect – and push – it deserved. Throughout the publicity process, Pat was a trooper and pushed herself past her boundaries. She was wonderful at Book Expo America and didn’t mind when I was shouting, “GENDERQUEER SCI-FI!” into the aisles to bring more people in for her signing (it worked). She gave a keynote speech at the Heartland Fall Forum last year to our delight, because not only was Lizard Radio being recognized by independent booksellers, Pat was willing to share her story in front of a very large group of people.
Pat went on a blog tour, with both humorous and serious posts. I actually cried when I read her blog post for Gay YA. While I want to paste the entire thing here, I will hold back and share this teaser:
“I am so grateful for this generation. I can’t begin to tell you. They are giving me, at age 53, inspiration to keep learning and blasting away old ideas, to speak my truth, to try and be as fierce and bold as they are. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do it. I’m too encumbered by years of silencing myself, of being silenced by others. But I can try.”
This was Pat at her finest: honest, sincere, and hopeful. This was the unveiled Pat Schmatz I met, and I hope that this is the Pat Schmatz that will continue to inspire people for years to come.
One last thing – Pat is one of the winners of the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award which encourages the exploration and expansion of gender in literature. This award feels tailor made for Lizard Radio, but she was genuinely surprised when she found out that she won. I could think of no person that this award is better suited for, and I am so thrilled that more readers will be discovering her work through this important accolade.
Jamie Tan is a publicist at Candlewick Press, and is perpetually grateful to make a living doing what she loves most—talking about books. You can find her on Twitter @thejamietan.
Joan Powers, Group Editorial Director, on Pat Schmatz’s Lizard Radio
Of course we all hope that we’re getting to a place where the notion of gender identity isn’t actually an “issue”—that it just is. It’s not for me to say how far we’ve come, or how much “better” things are, since this is beyond my personal experience. What I can say is that acquiring and editing Lizard Radio is part of my personal experience, and helping to shepherd this book—and having the opportunity to work with someone as honest and talented as Pat Schmatz—has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.
Pat’s main character, Kivali, lives in a world where gender rigidity is central, and as a nonconformist, her struggle is a particular one. But to me, what makes this book brilliant is that it’s also a story about love, power, abandonment, and discovery. That these facets of the narrative are intertwined in a story that takes place in a dystopian world–futuristic, but not that far from where we live—says a lot. It’s not necessarily about how far we’ve come, but about how the path to the destination is broader, higher, and followed by ever more diverse travelers. In my view, that’s what Pat has brought to the conversation. That’s the gift of Lizard Radio.
Joan Powers is the Group Editorial Director at Candlewick Press.