Gail Sidonie Sobat . . . is a witch at heart, a pirate in her dreams, and a gypsy in practice. She has worn many disguises in her lifetime, and her most noteworthy roles include: flower seller, grounds keeper, woman-in-black, professional actor and singer, teacher, adjunct professor, parimutuel seller and flag girl. Gail is the creator/ coordinator of YouthWrite/ WordsWorth, camps for kids who love to write, and also the creator/director of SWYC (Spoken Word Youth Choir). Ridiculously, she has moved twenty-seven times in her life from Badlands to Siksika Nation Reserve to hideous suburbs to Istanbul, Turkey to the Sunshine Coast of Canada to her writer’s garret in a near-century-old temperamental house.
Q. Can you tell us about your new book, Chance to Dance for You?
A. Chance to Dance for You is based, in part, on real-life events and on real people, though of course, it’s fictionalized. The book tells the story of Ian Trudeau, an openly gay boy in a suburban high school, who is the object of affection for the high school jock, a closeted gay male, who “plays” straight because he is simply too terrified to come out. It’s part Glee, part love story, part So You Think You Can Dance, part coming-out-of-age tale. There are humorous bits, many references to current music, cultural touchstones and icons. But at its heart, CTDWY is a frank examination of sometimes how cruelly we treat young people who are perceived as different.
Q. Did you grow up in the suburbs like your book’s characters?
A. Unfortunately, yes. I spent my own tortured adolescence in the suburbs of the city where I now reside. What a hideous time.
Q. If you could give the main character from Chance to Dance for You, Ian, some advice on how to deal with prejudice and bullying, what would you tell him?
A. Particularly after high school, it really does get better. One comes into one’s own, so to speak. And if Ian goes on to post-secondary, he will find his “tribe,” a collection of close friends who will value him for what he is, his many talents, and what he stands for. Oh yes, and he’ll likely find true love after high school, too.
So the only advice is to hang in there and DANCE. I really do believe that the arts save kids like Ian, sensitive types who frame the world differently. Not fitting in can be a badge of honor. It certainly is often what makes a true artist.
Q. You wrote an essay called “The Thing About Elves Is . . .” for the Smart Pop anthology on the Inheritance Cycle, which describes how elves have been depicted throughout history and literature. After doing so much research on Paolini’s and Tolkien’s elves, among others, do you think you’d ever want to invent your own elves? (Or have you already?)
A. I have, in fact, invented my own elves, particularly one rather fetching elf in my novel, A Glass Darkly. He is the main adversary and then love interest of my protagonist, the witch Ingamald. His name is Goodfellow Robyn, obviously stolen from the tradition of Robin Goodfellow. He is an imp, a pied piper, a shapeshifter and a completely romantic figure. How could any witch resist him? How could any author?
Q. You also wrote an essay for the Smart Pop anthology on the Uglies series. In “Why the Prince Bites It,” you talk about how, in fairy tales, the girl always needs to be rescued by a prince. Do you think the growing trend of strong female characters in literature (Katniss from the Hunger Games and Lisbeth Salander from the Dragon Tattoo books come to mind) is a reaction against those old-fashioned stories of rescue?
A. Absolutely! And I’m so glad to see this trend. Long overdue and long may it continue!!
Q. Were there any fairy tales that especially influenced you when you were growing up?
A. I particularly loved “Hansel and Gretel” and “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” both of which feature strong, stalwart and clever heroines.
Q. You’ve written books and essays in a wide variety of genres. Are there any genres that you prefer to write in or read?
A. Because I have a penchant for fantasy, I do like magic realism or elements of the fantastic in the tales that I read. I’m a big fan of Gregory Maguire and Jeanette Winterson. But I read widely and eagerly; I’m not married to reading one genre over another, except that I think children’s and teen fiction rival the best so-called adult literature in the world.
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. A graphic novel called Jamie’s Got a Gun.
Q. If you could tell us to read one book this year (besides your own, of course!), what would it be
A. I am Canadian, after all, so I MUST endorse the fabulous Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul by one of our finest Canadian writers, David Adams Richards.