In Conversation: J. Albert Mann and Lisa Yoskowitz

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J. Albert Mann (l.) is the author of several books for young readers, including Scar: A Revolutionary War Tale, What Every Girl Should Know, and The Degenerates. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in writing for children and young adults. Her new novel, Fix, tells the story of two teen girls with physical differences, exploring themes of disability, addiction, and friendship. Here, Mann and her editor, Lisa Yoskowitz at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, talk about their collaboration on Fix and their personal connections to the novel.

Jennifer Albert Mann: Hi, Lisa! I think we should dive in by talking about how my very personal novel, Fix, ended up feeling very personal to you, too.

Lisa Yoskowitz: Yes, it felt like fate delivered this manuscript to my inbox—though really, it was your agent, Kerry Sparks 🙂

Mann: When I first sent the novel to Kerry, the title was different (Missing Minnesota), but the premise was the same.

Yoskowitz: And what a premise!

Mann: Thanks. It’s a story about a friendship between two young women born with physical difference—Eve with large, progressive idiopathic scoliosis (IS) and Lidia with congenital amputation of her hand. Eve and Lidia’s friendship needs to weather some of the major issues that confront disabled folks today, like internalized ableism, chronic pain, addiction, isolation, and the medical community. It’s an extremely personal story because like Eve, I was also born with IS and although Fix isn’t my story, I put a lot of myself into it.

Yoskowitz: The pitch drew me in right away, because Eve’s story is mine, too, in so many ways. I had the same surgery Eve (and you!) did when I was in high school, and then two more spinal surgeries in the next four years.

Mann: I figured there would be editors on the submission list who were impacted by IS since almost four million people are living with spinal differences in the U.S., but we didn’t know this about you when we went out with the manuscript.

Yoskowitz: It isn’t something I talk about much! Or see reflected back on the page. But reading your amazing words, I was just in awe of how viscerally you place readers in the experience. You completely transported me into Eve’s world, and I felt her agony, fear, grief, and hope so deeply.

Mann: And in an ultimate small world moment, we discovered that we actually shared the same surgeon!

Yoskowitz: I couldn’t believe it. Over lunch, we exchanged our stories of the kind, brilliant man who operated on each of us, just a few years apart.

Mann: It took a few surgeries and a few years of recovery, but this man changed my life. I went from struggling with mobility and breathing issues to actually riding a bike!

Yoskowitz: He’s helped so many people. I suppressed a lot of the most painful parts of my IS, surgeries, and recovery, and talking to you and working with you on this extraordinary novel turned out to be healing for me. Not to mention super rewarding.

Mann: Same goes for me. Editing with you was an incredible experience. Not only did you draw Eve (and me) out into a more honest light when it came to the excruciating pain of spinal surgery, but you also helped move the story to a much more real place. I wanted to hide inside a trope at the end, and not deal with the heart-wrenching internalized ableism of my characters. You put a definite stop to that!

Yoskowitz: You really dug deep and put so much of yourself into this story while creating a rich fictional world. The cast of characters is small, but each one is so fully realized and complex. I’m always drawn to multilayered storytelling and gray areas, and Fix is full of them, in the best possible way. I also appreciated that this novel depicts a character as she’s becoming addicted to painkillers, as so many are.

Mann: Yes, in the process of researching the book, I read tons of stories from disabled folks—especially women, and even more so, Black women—whose pain wasn’t taken seriously.

Yoskowitz: Absolutely. Policy changes and major work at every level are needed to bring equity and equality to health care. While not a solution, hopefully books like yours help give teens insight into the unbearable pain and struggles their peers might be experiencing.

Mann: I hope readers emerge from Fix with a renewed sense of empathy. In my book, Eve and Lidia struggle mightily with this… to empathize with each other. A large amount of their suffering could have been avoided if only they’d felt empowered to be themselves.

Yoskowitz: That would have been a completely different book! Though I’m very glad you wrote this one. Thanks so much for chatting today, and for everything you do for readers in your books.

Mann: Thanks, Lisa. If there is one thing disabled (or chronically ill) people understand it’s interdependence. I think this ability to balance trust and control made you and me a great team.

Fix by J. Albert Mann. Little, Brown, $17.99 May 11 ISBN 978-0-316-49349-9

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