In celebration of the release of Blue Balliett’s latest novel, Out of the Wild Night (ages 8–12), she discusses writing, ghosts, and the importance of home with her editor, David Levithan. Find an excerpt from the Q&A below. For the complete Q&A, click HERE.
David Levithan: Hello, Blue! I’m very thrilled to be talking to you today about your new novel, Out of the Wild Night. It’s been such a pleasure to work on it with you – you’ve written a ghost story that’s both heartbreaking and life-affirming . . . with no shortage of chills and spooks thrown in. Where did the idea for the book come from?
Blue Balliett: I first visited Nantucket in the summer at age eighteen, and fell madly in love with this magical place. Coming from Manhattan, I felt as though I’d stepped into a novel – all was mysterious, old, understated, steeped in stories, and made by hand. There were no skyscrapers, no wide sidewalks, and few right angles. As a shy kid who had always wanted to make books, I know I longed to write about Nantucket even then, but it wasn’t until I heard some stories about real ghosts a couple of years later that I felt I had a handle. The ghosts, oddly, gave me a reason to speak out and a place to hide as a young writer. Hiding behind ghosts! How funny -- I’ve never quite thought about my beginnings as a writer in that way.
DL: It’s always interesting to me how most ghost stories are at the same time universal and local. In talking to so many people about their Nantucket ghost stories, I’m curious if you found that there were any themes that kept recurring? How do you think the geography and history of Nantucket affects the ghosts that people experience there?
BB: When an old house changes hands and is renovated, many startled owners or workers report experiences they can’t easily ignore. A figure moving through a room or simply standing in a corner; knockings, latch doors that rattle, open on their own or slam, the distinct sound of footsteps or sometimes voices when there isn’t any explanation, objects hopping around on their own – these are the kinds of things that happen. Perhaps disturbances shouldn’t be surprising, as Nantucket’s old buildings were inhabited by a tough group who survived because they fought back. As people who lived off the sea and the land on a tiny island far from the mainland and far from outside help, they were resourceful. Their lives were mostly hardscrabble and their homes, although modest and practical, were their castles. Theirs, theirs, theirs!
DL: One of the themes that runs through all your books is the importance of home. Can you talk a little about why this speaks to you (and readers) so strongly, and how it appears in Out of the Wild Night?
BB: Home can be any place and any size, but it’s where all of us hope to find peace and safety, right? If home is a happy place, it’s where you relax, become invisible to the rest of the world and allow yourself to dream. I’m well aware of how painful it is for a child to feel home changing because of adult distress, or even to go back and forth between homes if your parents have parted ways, which was my experience. As an adult living in Chicago, I’ve spent time in many homeless shelters and with people who’ve lived for years without a home. I never take the gift and privacy of a home base for granted, and my wish is that none of us ever do.
It seems logical that a person’s spirit might linger in a home after they’re no longer alive -- a spooky thought, but it makes sense to me that some part of us saturates our surroundings, and I love the thought that ghosts might feel inspired to hang around and influence those who are still living.