Please tell us a little bit about Into the Dangerous World and what you learned while writing it.
There are so many ways to explain this story! Basically, it’s about 17-year-old Ror, an artist who grows up on a commune in the 1970s and 80s. Her father, also an artist, is the leader and her teacher. When he burns down the commune with himself inside, Ror’s life changes drastically. She, her mother, and her sister move into Manhattan. There, she meets Trey, the sexy and very talented leader of a graffiti crew called Noise Ink. She falls in love, gets into a heap of trouble, and starts to understand what it really means to be an artist.
I had very little idea of graffiti when I started writing this book. Friends from high school did it, but there wasn’t a whole lot I loved about it back then. I think my biggest lesson was getting into the artists’ heads and understanding why people paint on the street. Understanding that it’s a way to get work out there, a way to get your name known, especially for people who have no access to more traditional methods of art making or selling. It’s an act of rebellion, for many.
What led you to writing about Ror and her journey as an artist?
Ror sprung out of knowing many artists and having a whole lot of questions about visual art, like, why do you people do that thing in the first place? What’s the point, really, of art? As I wrote about all the avenues Ror tries out, I started to understand that she really doesn’t express herself well in words. She needs to draw to know what she feels.
What kind of research did you do and what kinds of experiences did you have as you dug into the world of graffiti?
I interviewed a lot of graffiti and street artists. Depending on their age, they had quite varying stories. The artists of the 1980s are different from those of the 1990s, for example. Street artists today often are asked or paid to do murals, which wasn’t a common experience in Ror’s time.
I found the illustrations added a lot of depth to my reading experience. They made me stop and think. I would drift away into the pictures. Was it easy to get the text and the illustrations to flow? What was the process like as you all worked together?
I’m tremendously relieved you had that experience because, in fact, getting the drawings and text to meld was the hardest and most terrifying part for me. I worked closely with the artist JM Superville Sovak (who happens to be my husband), discussing every single one of the 130 drawings in the book. We had Excel spreadsheets and documents full of research and references – commercials and music videos and movies and art from 1984, things Ror would have been looking at so we could filter the world through her eyes and her time period. I’m so glad she came through for you!
The couple in the book come from different cultural and racial backgrounds. We’ve had a lot of discussion about diversity in children’s and young adult literature in the past few years. Were you attempting to be inclusive on purpose or was it less deliberate than that?
JM and I are a mixed race couple, so naturally, I was excited to write about a mixed race couple. When you’re in love with someone from another race, you get a closer look at what they go through – for me, I suddenly understood what it felt like to be suspiciously followed by store employees, or attacked by skinheads. I have always found racism shocking and superficial. For Ror and Trey, their love is based on their shared talent and circumstance, not their skin color. I felt it was important to explore that. I am relieved that there is a movement toward making young people’s literature more diverse. It’s sorely needed.
What advice would you give other writers about writing beyond their own culture?
Talk to people. Ask them lots of questions, allow yourself to be nosy, buy people drinks and chocolate. Find friendly people who warmly accept what you’re doing (this allowed me to infiltrate pretty far into these secret crews). Support them and their communities however you can. Writers work hard to get inside people’s heads – though there’s an atmosphere of political correctness, I would hope it wouldn’t deter writers from trying to enter other experiences or cultures from their own. We desperately need to see our world better reflected!
Thank you for the interview Julie!
Here’s the book trailer for Into the Dangerous World:
To learn more about Julie Chibarro and the illustrator, JM Superville Sovak, watch this Kidlit TV interview: