Rebecca Stead on Liar & Spy: “It Felt like a Brooklyn Story”

08/06/2012 9:00 AM |

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  • Joanne Dugan

Rebecca Stead’s Liar & Spy, her follow-up to 2009’s Newbery-winning When You Reach Me, is about two boys who live in the same apartment building and become friends, spending their time spying on a mysterious upstairs neighbor. It’s the Manhattanite’s first book set in Brooklyn; Wendy Lamb Books will release it tomorrow. We talked to Stead about DiFara’s, Ditmas Park vs. Park Slope, and writing after the Newbery.

Your previous books have been set in Manhattan. Why did you decide to move the setting to Brooklyn for this book?
My first book, First Light, is mostly set in Greenland, actually—and what a relief it was to shift to something more familiar! When You Reach Me takes place in the time and place of my own childhood: the Upper West Side of the 1970s. I picked Brooklyn for Liar & Spy because it felt like a Brooklyn story—I wanted New York, I wanted mixed housing, I wanted middle class, I wanted a place mostly untouched by great wealth.

Do you still live in Manhattan?
Yes, I live in Manhattan Valley, near Columbia.

How familiar are you with Brooklyn? Like, is it intentional that the pizza place is named DeMarco’s, which is the real-life pizza maker at DiFara’s?
I know parts of Brooklyn—as a high school kid, I lived in Midwood exactly half the time (child of divorce). And the DiFara’s connection is absolutely intentional. I’m a fan. Did you know that the name DiFara is made up from the two names of the original owners?

You never mention the neighborhood, but did you use one as a model? It kinda feels like Park Slope.
I’m thinking Ditmas Park, where there’s a mix of houses and small buildings. I love the Slope, but it’s more gentrified than the neighborhood I wanted to write about.

I like the specificity of the details, like the kid called “Bob English Who Draws,” or the child’s bedroom with the iron fire escape built into it. Where do you draw such details from?
Those particular examples are all imagination, but in general my writing relies heavily on my memory of childhood. Even when I’m making things up, I’m depending on my memory to make them true.

Did you feel pressured about your writing after the Newbery? Anxious over what comes next, or how it would be received?
Yes, all of the above! But along with that anxiety came some confidence, and a tremendous amount of joy.