Kelly, what is your favorite thing about CONVICTION?
I love the relationships between the characters. The ones between the narrator, seventeen-year-old Braden Raynor, and his father Mart and previously-estranged older brother Trey, are difficult and complex, but vital, and I love just how much these relationships hold and all the years and years and layers and layers of history and secrets and old longings and old wounds are buried within them, and how much possibility, too. But I also love all the relationships that knot the less central characters together--I love that web of people who all affect each other in different ways, large and small, and I love how even split-second decisions can reverberate through the characters’ entire lives.
What was your inspiration for writing CONVICTION?
The first thing that came to me was Braden’s voice. I knew I wanted to write a teen boy wrestling with big questions--loyalty, family, faith, redemption. I wanted him to live in a small town that was both familiar and suffocating to him, and I wanted him to have complicated relationships with both his brother and his dad. And I wanted him to have to confront truths about the world around him--and about himself-- that he’d been shielded from all his life.
What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?
There’s a scene in CONVICTION in which Braden reunites with his estranged older brother Trey that comes after a huge scene in which Braden made a difficult, complicated moral choice--and Trey’s the only one who knows. I wrote and rewrote it countless times to give breathing room to all the years of secrets and distance and silent loyalties between them, but it’s my favorite scene--I love the way everything they’ve been holding finally comes to the surface, and what that does to their relationship.
What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?
In YA, Sara Zarr’s ONCE WAS LOST, John Corey Whaley’s WHERE THINGS COME BACK or NOGGIN, Dana Reinhardt’s THE THINGS A BROTHER KNOWS, Swati Avasthi’s SPLIT, Alexis Bass’s LOVE AND OTHER THEORIES, or Chris Lynch’s INEXCUSABLE. But I think of it as an adult crossover book, too, so any emotionally-charged, character-driven contemporary fiction, like Chad Harbach’s THE ART OF FIELDING, Curtis Sittenfeld’s PREP, or Celeste Ng’s EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU.
What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?
CONVICTION was an exercise in empathy for me--it forced me to go deep with characters I had to truly struggle to understand and relate to. It constantly challenged what I believed about redemption, about a shared humanity, about grace.
What do you hope readers will take away from CONVICTION?
Whether or not they like or agree with him, I hope readers will feel the weight of the complex family relationships in the same way Braden does.
Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?
When I made Braden a baseball player--a pitcher, specifically--the whole story opened up. It became his moral compass and the lens through which he views both the world and himself, and what he has to offer. I think often with young people, you’re in these complicated situations and yet you don’t always have a lot of agency, so you have to find ways to enact your will somehow on the world around. For Braden, that’s baseball, but eventually even that is something that’s going to test him in ways he’s not ready for.
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?
I usually work at home, hunched horribly over my laptop, snacking incessantly. And I like to choose songs that somehow speak to what I’m trying to write and make playlists that I listen to on loop while I’m working. For CONVICTION, the song I kept coming back to was Bahamas’ “Sunshine Blues,” and Ryan Bingham’s “Hallelujah” and Jars of Clay’s “Let Us Love And Sing and Wonder” got a lot of play, too.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Never quit on your worst day.
What are you working on now?
A standalone about an Asian American teen whose parents are undocumented, and who begins to suspect they’ve been hiding something much bigger from him all along.
ABOUT THE BOOKConviction by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Ten years ago, God gave Braden a sign, a promise that his family wouldn't fall apart the way he feared.
But Braden got it wrong: his older brother, Trey, has been estranged from the family for almost as long, and his father, the only parent Braden has ever known, has been accused of murder. The arrest of Braden's father, a well-known Christian radio host has sparked national media attention. His fate lies in his son's hands; Braden is the key witness in his father's upcoming trial.
Braden has always measured himself through baseball. He is the star pitcher in his small town of Ornette, and his ninety-four mile per hour pitch already has minor league scouts buzzing in his junior year. Now the rules of the sport that has always been Braden's saving grace are blurred in ways he never realized, and the prospect of playing against Alex Reyes, the nephew of the police officer his father is accused of killing, is haunting his every pitch.
Braden faces an impossible choice, one that will define him for the rest of his life, in this brutally honest debut novel about family, faith, and the ultimate test of conviction.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORKelly Loy Gilbert is the author of CONVICTION (Disney-Hyperion, 2015) and NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY (2016). She serves on the NaNoWriMo Associate Board, is a fan of diverse books, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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