Crisscrossing the country in a rented compact car is hardly the traditional path for a touring author. But that’s the route e.E. (Eunice) Charlton-Trujillo has chosen to promote her third novel, Fat Angie, which Candlewick published in March. Another departure from the norm: selling books is not at the top of the author’s agenda. At every stop on her At-Risk Tour, which kicked off June 27 and will last through the summer, she is using the themes of her novel – among them bullying, self-image, friendship, war, same-sex relationships, family, and self-harm – as a springboard for conversations with at-risk youngsters, including those who are economically disadvantaged, bullied, and LGBTQ.
A filmmaker and poet whose earlier novels, both with Delacorte, are Prizefighter en Mi Casa and Feels Like Home, Charlton-Trujillo is documenting her tour on her blog and on film. She will use the footage to create a documentary (tentatively titled At-Risk Summer) showcasing her interactions with the young people she encounters, many through community centers and organizations that provide services to at-risk youth.
Some of the events will take place at bookstores and others will take place at centers’ headquarters. She also reached out to fellow YA authors, most of whom she knew exclusively through Facebook, to join her at various stops. Her interviews with these authors, who include Ellen Hopkins, Kathy Erskine, Jo Knowles, Meg Medina, C.G. Watson, A.S. King, Megan Kelley Hall, and Cecil Castellucci, will figure into her documentary.
“I made a personal plea to each, asking if they would be willing to be on camera to talk about helping these kids, and everyone said, ‘Wow’ and agreed,” Charlton-Trujillo said. “When you put something good out there with the right intention, generally speaking authors want to do the right thing. That’s why they do what they do as writers. I know that’s why I do what I do.”
An impromptu encounter with a 13-year-old boy jumpstarted the notion of the At-Risk Tour. Last spring, Charlton-Trujillo visited a teacher friend in a tiny Texas town, not far from where she grew up. Her friend showed her a creative writing sample by a student who was depressed and had had thoughts of suicide. “His writing reminded me a bit of myself as a small-town kid, feeling totally isolated,” said the author, who asked to meet the boy. Though she was warned that he wouldn’t meet her eye or engage with her, the opposite happened: “We talked about his writing and I acknowledged what was there in his words, and in a few minutes he was not only looking at me, but smiling. Through our talk, something changed in him.”
This gave Charlton-Trujillo a new idea as to how she would promote Fat Angie. “I began thinking, What if I went across America [to] not only do bookstore signings, but meet with kids who the book is written for?” she said. “Most at-risk kids don’t have access to book signings, and I realized that I wanted the themes of Fat Angie to hit the kids who needed it the most. I decided I’d figure out a way to get into their communities as an artist mentor.”
And, given her experience as a filmmaker, the author decided to take the initiative a step further. “I realized there was a bigger idea here that might motivate others to see the value in what I am doing this summer,” she said. “That’s where the idea of a doing a documentary came into view.”
Putting the Plan in Motion
To fund her cross-country road trip – she is traveling with a “camera person who is a one-man band” and estimates they will visit 25–30 states – Charlton-Trujillo launched a Kickstarter campaign with a fundraising bar of $1,000 and the goal of raising $5,000. Though she fell short of that higher figure, she is pleased that she did raise almost $3,000. “Forty-nine people backed the project,” she said. “Every dollar made a difference, and I feel that the amount that came in wasn’t at all bad.” She continues to raise money for her venture online.
When the author used social media to contact booksellers and ask if they were interested in having her visit their towns, the positive response “was humbling,” she said. “Some of them said immediately that they loved what I was doing and offered to put me in touch with centers or organizations in their towns. They are not going to make money off my visit, but they were willing to help out.”
“We jumped on board immediately,” said Hannah Moushabeck, children’s department director at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., where Charlton-Trujillo will visit on July 25. “I had read Fat Angie and really enjoyed it, and have handsold it in our store. We live in a community that is very supportive of anti-bullying efforts, war veterans, and the LGBTQ community, and the themes of the novel really fit in with these priorities.”
Moushabeck helped the author line up visits to Care Center in neighboring Holyoke, an alternative education program for pregnant and parenting teens who have dropped out of high school; and to the local chapter of Girls Inc., an organization that offers programs aimed at “inspiring girls to be strong, smart, and bold.”
The Odyssey Bookshop will host the author at a public event, to which Moushabeck has invited social work students from Smith College and girls from a preteen and teen leadership camp based at Mount Holyoke College. “We know that this event may not be financially beneficial to the bookstore, but it will be very rewarding to the community, and we try to do that as often as possible,” she said. “The important thing is to give this author access to our community, whether we sell books or not. We’re excited to be one of her stops.”
C.G. Watson, author of Quad (Razorbill, 2007), is one of the writers supporting the At-Risk initiative. The Chico, Calif., resident will take part in the At-Risk Summer documentary, and coordinated two events hosting Charlton-Trujillo on July 11, one at the Chico Library and one at the local branch of Stonewall Alliance Center, a national organization that supports the LGBTQ community. For both events, Lyon Books, an independent bookstore in Chico, provided $5 coupons to be used toward the purchase of Fat Angie at the store.
Watson, a former employee of the bookstore, said, “Everyone here has been happy to support Eunice, who is one of the most passionate people I know about connecting with young people and making life better for them. It is exciting to be part of her undertaking.”
At Candlewick, senior publicist Tracy Miracle voices similar enthusiasm for Charlton-Trujillos’s endeavor. Noting that the author is the driving force behind the At-Risk Tour, she added, “We are helping to facilitate books, orders, review copies, and logistical support whenever we can. We are so proud and honored to have such a go-getter like Eunice on our list. She has set lofty goals for her touring and film initiative, and I think she’s going to pull off every last one of them and in the process really connect with kids who need it.”
And, the author suggested, that fight that is likely to continue beyond September. “I know that connecting with these young people and giving back is what I’m supposed to be doing this summer,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s just a one-summer gig. Something will come of this that is bigger than this moment. If all authors give even one hour a year with at-risk kids, think how many lives we can change. While I can’t walk down the school halls and stop the bully from bullying, I can show up through my writing and presence, spark creativity in kids so that they feel like they have a voice and that their story matters, and say, ‘You are not alone. I am listening. Let’s try to write a better ending today.’ ”
Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo. Candlewick, $16.99 March 2013 ISBN 978-0-7636-6119-9