‘How to Build a Heart’ author returns to Middlebury
MIDDLEBURY — Sometimes (especially when interviewing an author) it’s best to let someone describe their own story. Maria Padian — born in New York City, raised in “rural” New Jersey — now lives in Brunswick, Maine, where she writes, and texts her grown kids, who have gone off to college, jobs, etc.
Padian is coming to The Vermont Book Shop on Thursday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m., to read from her fifth and latest novel “How to Build a Heart.” The event is free and open to all. A book signing will follow.
Padian grew up with her nose stuck in a book, and was the first in her family to attend college. She graduated from Middlebury College in 1983 and continued on to The University of Virginia to earn her Masters. That was “A. Big. Deal,” said Padian. She followed school with a variety of news reporting jobs in Atlanta, Ga., and Washington, D.C. But when it was time to start a family, she and her husband moved to Maine.
Her first book “Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress” came out in 2008; followed by “Jersey Tomatoes are the Best” in 2011, “Out of Nowhere” in 2013, “Wrecked” in 2016 and “How to Build a Heart” in January of this year. Padian describes her work as “character-driven, dialogue-fueled, young-adult contemporary, edgy and funny.”
Here’s what else she had to say about her career as a writer and her latest young-adult novel.
Why do you write?
I just love to tell stories. Any kind of story. I’m happy talking about what happened to me in the grocery store the other day. I pretty much believe in stories to connect us, build empathy, change lives.
What was your inspiration for “How to Build a Heart”?
Like Izzy in “How to Build a Heart,” I’m the daughter of two cultures: my Irish father’s and my Latina mother’s. While that animated our table with a variety of accents, fed my imagination with marvelous stories and traditions, and filled my life with exceptional food pairings (a dinner of arroz con pollo followed by a buttery hunk of soda bread was not unheard of), it also left me adrift — like Izzy.
I look nothing like my blond-haired, blue-eyed father; I struggle to speak my mother’s first language, Spanish. Growing up sometimes felt like having a guest pass to a club I couldn’t join. I had a constant yearning to long but never quite felt that I did. And I had a sneaking suspicion, especially when attempting to embrace certain aspects of one identity or another, that deep down I was a fraud.
All teens search for their community, their voice, and their sense of self. But for the child of immigrants or the child of blended racial and cultural heritage, that journey can. Be event more complex. Traveling with Izzy as she made her way “home” surprised and challenged me in ways I didn’t expect. Ultimately, like Izzy, I was surprised to discover that who we are and where we belong is more than an accident of birth or fate.
It’s also something we build.
Why did you write this book for young-adults?
I have a hard time remembering the last “adult” book I read, but the books I read as a teen have burned a hole in my heart. I remember every character, every illustration. I read with my whole heart, passionately, and I think that’s how we read when we’re young. I love writing for that audience, and writing stories that take the reader on an emotional roller coaster.
What do you offer young adults through your writing?
Everyone teaches “Write What You Know.” Well, if I did that I’d write about vacuuming and paying the bills. Loading the dishwasher. I tell students: “Write what you know” is emotionally true. Dig deep, connect with authentic, honest emotions that fuel your stories. The deeper you go the better the chances that you’ll hit something universal that will resonate with others. That’s what I bring to this age group: my willingness to dig deep and connect with my teenage self and the way I felt about the world.
Is being an author everything you hoped it would be?
It’s hard in ways I didn’t expect, like … sitting still all the time. I have to remind myself to get up and stretch, not spend too much time in a bad chair. It’s also hard to be between books … I’m always worried I won’t “pull it off” again. But it’s been amazing to find my rhythm, to know how to get into the swing of a novel, to know when the writing is working and when it’s not. It’s also an amazing privilege: I didn’t expect to feel so grateful for the opportunity to stand in front of a room and read a story out loud. That’s the part I love. Not the writing so much: the reading out loud.
What are you looking forward to about coming back to Middlebury?
I’m kinda hoping some old friends and profs might come to the book store when I’m there. I’d love to see them. I also just love returning to that dear place. I live in Maine, which is also beautiful, but there’s something special about Vermont.
Anything else to add?
Yes. Buy books from real bricks and mortar bookstores. You don’t have to buy mine (although that would be nice) but buy someone’s. Bookstores and libraries are the beating hearts of communities: support them.
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