Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts about my forthcoming book, Always Brave, Sometimes Kind (now available for pre-order!).
When people ask me what this book is about, I’m always a little stumped. Sure, there’s a description you can read if you follow the above link, but still there’s the question – what’s the story? Truth is, when I wrote Always Brave, Sometimes Kind, I did it with the goal of writing many stories. I wanted to write a book about my home, and about the people who live here. I wanted to write about Alberta, and we have no one narrative.
So, to answer some questions about what it’s “about,” I’m creating a series of blog posts to introduce the reader to the many characters who make up the novel: a post for each protagonist of their own story. Included will be the character’s “camera roll” so you can get a sense of what life might look like through their eyes, and tidbits about the actual writing of their story – including information that didn’t make it into the book.
But first, let’s start with the cover!
Three times in my life I have come to the sudden realization that something is inarguably right. The first time it happened, I had woken up from a dream in which a name was painted onto a wall above a cradle. I turned to Freddy and said, “Cailena.” He smiled, nodded his head and reached over to pat my rounded belly and said, “Yup. That’s her name.”
The second time, I woke up on Cailena’s second birthday, sat up straight in bed, and said something I’d barely thought about until that moment: “I want to have another baby. Like, yesterday.” Again, Freddy smiled, and immediately agreed to the project.
The third time, I saw this cover. There had been other options (all of which I thought were fantastic), but the publishing and sales teams weren’t totally sure. More options were commissioned. Freddy was sitting opposite me when I first saw this cover and when I excitedly showed him, he said, “Oh yeah, that’s the best one. For sure!”
(This blog post is making my husband sound super agreeable, but actually these moments are remarkable exactly because of their rarity!)
Anyway, why was this cover so right? It was because of THAT CAR.
The car – a silver four-door from the eighties – appears and reappears at surprising moments throughout the Always Brave, Sometimes Kind. It belongs to Amy, one of the book’s most important characters (and, by far, one of my favourites for her warmth, gentle courage, and undeniable vulnerability). The old, run-down beater of a vehicle is the most valuable possession Amy owns and yet she uses it to serve others. It’s a heart-breaker of a symbol, and that’s probably why there was a catch in my throat when I first saw it on the jacket.
But there’s a second reason why this cover is so special. Before the character of Amy was even “born,” I knew I wanted to write a story about a silver vehicle – a Dodge Spirit, to be exact (though that’s not the make and model of the car on the cover – but close enough). I wanted to feature this vehicle in a story for a silly, sentimental reason: because it was my car, bought for $1000; money earned giving smiles away for free at MacDonald’s when I was only sixteen. It was the first real taste of freedom for a girl who grew up so rural that a drive in to see friends took twenty minutes; it always smelled like weed; and my mother hated it. If you went to my high school, you might remember it. It was the car you so often heard about over the intercom, an office secretary calling its owner to turn its keys because I’d forgotten to kill the ignition and (again) left it running while parked. If you looked out the window to the student parking lot, there would probably be a boy or two skipping class to cram a metal coat hanger into it because while I’d left the keys in and the ignition on, I’d also locked the door.
Anyway, I friggin’ loved that car.
Teenage Amy and I are far from the same kid. I was and am immeasurably more privileged than her. I had parents. I had options. I had a home and a voice and the financial ability to keep and raise my babies when they came – some of many things she is denied. But I did know an Amy once. A real one, who I still think about, and to whom the book is dedicated.
And although I have no idea where that real girl is in the world now, it seems very good in this very small, fictitious way, that I got to give Amy my car.
Always Brave, Sometimes Kind: A Novel by Katie Bickell is now available for pre-order: