Vermont author’s childhood emotions develop into a book

VERGENNES — When author Ann Braden visited seventh-grade students and advisors at Vergennes Union Middle School on April 5, the Brattleboro resident divulged a secret — her superpower.
The VUMS seventh-grade class had been reading Braden’s book, a debut novel titled, “Benefits of Being an Octopus.” The book was recently nominated for Vermont’s Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award list, and was named one of National Public Radio’s best books of the 2018.
“Benefits of Being an Octopus” explores the obstacles faced by a middle-school aged girl named Zoe. With her mother working full-time, Zoe must care for her younger siblings while not disturbing her mother’s boyfriend, who owns the trailer they all live in. The story follows Zoe through the obstacles she faces, and the figurative superpowers she has that allow her to overcome these challenges.
Braden said that while the book is not a true story, the plot is based on emotions she felt as a child.
“I looked around at most people in my class and most of them had two parents, I had one. Most of them had a nicer place to live than I did. I automatically decided that meant that they were better than me,” she said.
Growing up a shy child, Braden recalls feeling like her thoughts were not important enough to write down. This mindset continued for the first 30 years of her life, until one day she began wondering what would happen if she decided to write.
Braden said she was nursing her newborn son when this thought first struck, and she began writing her first narrative.
“I grabbed my netbook computer and started typing with one finger at a time. I wrote an entire manuscript, and it was really short and really bad. But it showed me that I could write a story, and that I loved writing stories,” said Braden.
Shortly after Braden’s literary breakthrough, she began sending the manuscript to agents and was immediately met with rejection. Braden continued writing, sending five different novels to agents and being rejected each time. On her sixth try, Braden decided to be more honest with her writing.
“The other ones weren’t as true. For the other ones, I was very focused on crafting a story that would get the most attention,” Braden said. “And this one (Benefits of Being an Octopus), it wasn’t about what the story shape looked like as much as ‘was this going to reflect realities that I knew?’”
During her visit to Vergennes, Braden talked with the seventh-graders about superpowers and obstacles in their own lives. The students were asked to think of their own superpowers and name the honorable traits of their peers. Braden said that in the nine years between her first manuscript and her first publication, she discovered her own superpower.
“Everyone has some kind of awesome inner strength. For me, I found out that mine is persistence. That is my superpower,” Braden said.
Additionally, she encouraged the students to think about the obstacles they may face and how they might overcome these impediments. Toward the end of the visit, Braden gave each student a temporary octopus tattoo as a reminder of their place on Team Octopus, and the superpowers they hold within.
“For each of you, I have your own Team Octopus temporary tattoo to use as a reminder of your own inner strength,” she said.
Editor’s note: Marin Howell is a Vergennes Union High School senior.

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