Finding courage through literature

Leucadia writer Janet Eoff Berend’s job as an English teacher at La Costa Canyon High School got her creative juices flowing. Listening to her teenaged students in her classroom inspired her to write “Vertical,” a book from the perspective of a young skateboarder who slowly finds courage in the face of a gut-wrenching decision. Berend will sign copies of “Vertical” at E Street Café Oct. 20 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Janey Eoff Berend

Were there any of your students in particular that gave you the idea for your main character and this book?

I had these two boys in my class that were skateboarders. And they just completely fascinated me because they spoke this skater slang. But they would have these really profound moments where they would be talking about things that really matter. But they would still be speaking in their skater slang. I found that really interesting. I wanted to explore that; the novel grew from there.

How did you go about researching and honing that skateboarding voice?

My research had to do with hanging out at the (Magdalena Ecke Family) YMCA Skatepark with my son and watching. And of course, going on the Internet and looking at skateboarding footage on YouTube. I would literally transcribe how they would talk about skateboarding. From there, I would try to capture that in my skateboarding scenes. Then I had two former students read those scenes and help me get the words right.

Although skateboarding-centric, the novel is also filled with literary references. For what reason did you choose to incorporate those into the book?

It wasn’t like I’m going to write a skateboarding book and put literary references from “Of Mice and Men” into it. It happened as the story unfolded. Some of the book takes place at school in an English classroom. The main character is on restriction from skating unless he improves his grades. I’m an English teacher, so I know from that point of view what it is we’re trying to get kids to think about when we talk about literature. So that kind of seeped into the novel. It doesn’t feel like those references are being projected onto the story; it feels like they’re planted in and it makes sense. The literature ends up helping guide him.

Skateboarder and X-Games gold medalist Danny Way reviewed the book. How did that come about?

Danny Way is an acquaintance of a friend of mine. My friend asked him to review the book and he graciously accepted. What’s cool about that is Josh’s (the main character) hero in the story is Danny Way. He has a poster of Danny Way jumping over the Great Wall of China. When Josh is at his lowest moment, he stares at this poster of Danny Way and there’s this pivotal moment. For Danny Way to review the book and give it the thumbs up was absolutely thrilling.

 

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