Artist with OI: Natalie Lloyd
Interview with Natalie Lloyd,
author of bestselling novel Hummingbird
I’m Natalie and I’m an elder millennial (born in 1981). I live in Tennessee with my husband, Justin, and our three spoiled dogs. In college, I studied journalism, but creative writing was always my first love. I feel very blessed to be able to say writing is my job now, and that I make books for kids. When I’m not writing, I love reading on the porch, long dinners with my family, lazy movie nights, and roadtrips up into the mountains.
At what age and how did you find out you want to become an author?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love stories. When I was very little, I loved listening to my parents read stories to me – or even make up bedtime stories. I realized early on that my imagination was limitless regardless of the physical limits pushing against me. I think, for most of us who love books, we can remember the story that made us feel “book magic” for the first time. I’m talking about the story that was written so well you felt like you were inside it. For me, that book was The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis. It’s like I could feel the same icy wind Lucy felt when she pushed the wardrobe door open. I felt her fear sometimes, and I also felt her courage — and that was huge for me. Books helped me realize how brave I could be — the story was fictional, but the courage I found was so wonderfully real.
Writing felt like a very natural extension of that story-love. I absolutely was not a kid-prodigy writing novels in third grade. I started by writing pretty terrible poems (that my parents still have), some short short stories, and I think I tried to start classroom newspapers every other week. But writing is like any other art — you really do get better the more you do it, no matter how old you are. I never stopped doing it. As an adult, I realized that if I actually wanted to be an author … I needed to finish writing a novel. I did … and lots of rejection followed. But then I sent my work to an incredible agent who loved it, and she connected me with my editor at Scholastic. Scholastic published some of my favorite books as a kid, so it’s a big honor to be a little part of what they do. I was always hopeful I’d get to write one novel. But my seventh book, Hummingbird, just came out and I’m so grateful.
Tell us how you came about to write a book about a girl with brittle bones!
Thanks for asking this! Like Olive, the main character in Hummingbird, I also have OI. I broke my leg for the first time when I was ten weeks old. That’s a whole other story in itself – one I know lots of people in this community would be familiar with. But eventually, I was diagnosed with OI. Because my type is mild, my doctors always encouraged me to start walking again after fractures healed. At school, I used a wheelchair or walker so I wouldn’t get accidentally pushed over by classmates. My childhood was full of joy and fun. It also had lots of broken bones it it.
I vividly remember a time walking from my bedroom door into the hallway and hearing my leg snap. Just snap, for seemingly no reason. I think I was in 7th grade when I was able to walk without a walker. I’m able to do that now unless, of course, I’m recovering from a fracture.
At first, because my experience with OI was so personal, I was only going to make it … kind of an afterthought for Olive. Like, yes, she has OI. But I also wanted to make sure she had an epic, full life of adventure and wonder and friendships and first crushes. She’s not everybody’s shining inspiration. She’s a girl, just trying to grow up. Then I broke my femur while writing the book. And I knew I’d glossed over the full truth of my experience. She still has a story full of adventure. She also has a disability that’s really frustrating sometimes. I tried to stay as true to my experience as possible, and writing from a very real place.
What themes do you pursue in general?
I think the number one theme that seems to surface in my novels is that we’re forever connected to the people we love. All of my novels also have a little fantasy and magic in them, but they’re usually anchored in realistic towns. I’m very inspired by Roald Dahl and Dolly Parton — they both write in such lyrical, imaginative ways and have such fantastic characters in their songs and stories.
It might sound cheesy, but I think everything I write is a love stories even though, of course, there’s no romance in a book for young readers. I write a lot about the people I love and miss, the big questions I still have about life, faith and doubt, and wonder and hope — everything that goes through the blender of my brain somehow ends up in the stories. There’s just a little shimmer of magic in there, too. Because I believe there’s so much magic in the world.
Do you have a favorite book/role model?
If you mean my favorite heroine in a book, it’s hands down Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables series. The thing that still amazes me about those books, especially reading them as an adult, is that there’s no magic or fantasy element. If there’s a quest, it’s sweet and bucolic. Mostly, it’s just the story of a girl growing up. And I love that she’s actually allowed to grow up – to make mistakes, and to discover the world. I like how she pushes against her quirky-weirdness until she realizes, herself, that she’s actually pretty great. That her unique way of seeing the world is kind of magical. As far as author role models, Ann M. Martin was one of my most favorite authors as a kid. I still love her books. Moreover, I love that she’s still – this many years into her career – writing such relevant, timely, beautiful work. Her books are evergreen.
Do you have a particular target group? Why?
Right now, my novels are all for middle grade readers — so around ages 8 to 12. Middle school was a very memorable time for me. So when I write from that place, I think it feels authentic. It’s a very open-hearted place to write from, emotions are more raw, but – for me – there wasn’t this veneer of skepticism just yet. I think those experiences we had as kids shape so much of who we are as adults – for bad but also for good. Plus, I know I’m biased, but middle grade literature is so lyrical and lovely. I just got an email from a 65-year-old woman who told me she loved the books – and that made my day. I really feel like middle grade novels are for everybody, no matter the age.
What is the most tricky part when writing a book?
For me, it’s remembering – every single time – that it takes time for the story to percolate. I’ve yet to write a first draft that’s very good. Or even kind of good. It’s all a mess at first, and that can be frustrating. But once I get that first, messy draft out — I can finally see a little bit of a landscape forming. I can get back into it and really tease out the elements I’m excited to tell. Sometimes when I’m drafting – or even at the finish line of that first janky draft – I want to quit and write something else. But the more I stay with a story and work to craft it, the better it gets.
What do you do when you are not writing?
If I’m not writing, I’m usually spending time with my husband and dogs, our families, road-tripping, or reading. Or ordering coffee at my favorite spot. Or binge-watching The Great British Bake-Off.
Do you have a message for the readers of OIFE magazine?
Mostly, I would just say thanks for making this community such a welcoming and authentic space. As I was writing HUMMINGBIRD, I had the stark realization that my parents raised two kids with OI with no internet. They couldn’t google treatments, they couldn’t get the kind of resources you can get here and on oif.org. Most of all – they couldn’t connect with other people who were experiencing this. It’s great that this space exists for all of those reasons and more. I would also say that if you – like me – ever want to share your experience with OI through your art, don’t hold back! And do it how you want to do it. Every single person’s experience with disability is so unique – so however you choose to share it (or not share it at all) is totally up to you. I’m excited to see more and more disability representation in books, movies, and television. I believe the world needs to see all kinds of bodies doing all kinds of things. And I believe we need more disabled creators in those spaces making art, too.