YA is an awesome genre because it can take readers to the most amazing places, and tell stories that resonate with readers of all ages. Today we’re talking with Nic Stone, whose debut Dear Martin tackles racial injustice through the lens of Dr. Martin Luther King’s teaching. We, of course, wanted to hear more.
Tell us about Dear Martin. Why did you decide to write this particular story?
Dear Martin is really my personal exploration of the question: “How would the Dr. King we know, love and hold up as the ultimate behavioral role respond to current events?” The novel was really birthed out of seeing Dr. King quoted in opposition to modern protest and social justice movements, and being made uncomfortable by that. Hearing the mayor of Atlanta say “Dr. King would never take a freeway,” really opened my eyes to how easily the desire for order can override the pursuit of justice, and I knew without question that it was something I needed to dig into.
You lived in Israel for a few years, how did that experience influence your writing?
Israel was a very interesting place (to say the least), and I can definitely say that if I hadn’t lived there, I never would’ve started writing fiction. You have this intense collision of cultures and religions crammed into a nation that’s literally 14 percent of the size of my home state of Georgia, and with that comes endless inspiration for stories. I met so many people whose circumstances basically stamped #FirstWorldProblems all over my relatively petty concerns—like the girl my age who lived in the West Bank and had no home country, and therefore no passport (aka, can’t travel anywhere even if she wanted to), as well as a woman who lost her fiancé in a bus bombing shortly before their scheduled wedding—and it broadened my worldview so much, I developed a deeper appreciation for the power of story in stimulating empathy and just making people better humans. It made me want to tell the stories I wasn’t seeing in books.
You’ve written about how your father was a cop, but your attitude toward the police has changed over the years. Tell us about how that experience influenced Dear Martin.
In a word, it was … tricky. Growing up, cops were heroes. Full stop. If I saw a uniform, I felt safe because I was reminded of my daddy who would’ve risked life and limb to protect me from harm. As a matter of fact, at 19, a girlfriend and I were driving to Chicago and were pulled over literally for no reason (after the officer made my friend sit inside his cruiser while he ran her license and tag, he let us go, but told us we had to take her graduation tassel off of the rearview—as if that was why he stopped us?). And I didn’t think a single thing of it until Mike Brown was killed. And then there was the Eric Garner story. And Tamir Rice. And it kept happening. In a way, writing Dear Martin was therapeutic because it allowed me to work through my newly complicated feelings about police officers in a society where systemic racism is a huge problem.
Martin writes to Martin Luther King Jr. in your novel. What sort of research into MLK did you do while writing?
I have this massive book that’s a compilation of Dr. King’s teachings, speeches, interviews, sermons, books, you name it (he even did an interview with Alex Haley that ran in Playboy Magazine in 1965; it is utterly riveting and I suggest everyone read it). Also visited the King House and Center and Memorial. And you know, Google.
Was this the first book you wrote?
This was actually the third! The first was … yeah let’s not even speak of it, it was so bad. The second was about an African-American girl living with diagnosed mental illness. Definitely hope that one is published one day, but I’ll admit it needs some work.
What are you working on next?
I’m actively working on a middle grade, but my next YA—out Fall 2018!—went to copyedits recently, and that one, I can tell you, is very romantic.
Anything you’d like to add?
Be good to each other, friends. Everyone you meet is dealing with something difficult.
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