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Aimee Lucido | Emmy in the Key of Code

Emmy in the Key of Code

by Aimee Lucido

In a new city, at a new school, twelve-year-old Emmy has never felt more out of tune. Things start to look up when she takes her first coding class, unexpectedly connecting with the material—and Abigail, a new friend—through a shared language: music. But when Emmy gets bad news about their computer teacher, and finds out Abigail isn’t being entirely honest about their friendship, she feels like her new life is screeching to a halt. Despite these obstacles, Emmy is determined to prove one thing: that, for the first time ever, she isn’t a wrong note, but a musician in the world's most beautiful symphony.

September 24th, 2019

Introduce yourself and your debut novel!

Hi! My name is Aimee Lucido and I am a software engineer and middle grade author living in San Francisco. When I’m not writing, I like to bake, run, do improv, and make crossword puzzles. But then again, these days I’m mostly writing, because it’s DEBUT YEAR!

What’s the most surprising part about your debut journey so far?

The most surprising part of my debut journey so far has got to be how much WORK it takes to debut a book! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I knew revision was a thing, and marketing was a thing, and copy edits were a thing...but I had no idea what I was in for! Marketing your book can start as early as a year before you release it, and revision can bleed into copy edits, and copy edits can bleed into pass pages, and pass pages can bleed into your book going to the packager and... oh well you get my drift. Big surprise: publishing is hard!

Give a shout-out to a fellow debut!

Well, my default shout-out to a fellow debut is almost always Sofiya Pasternack’s incredible book ANYA AND THE DRAGON, but seeing as this is HER INTERVIEW, I’ll pick a different one. One of my favorite debuts of the year that I’ve read so far has got to be WHITE ROSE, by Kip Wilson. It’s a gorgeous and all-too-relevant novel in verse about Sophie Scholl, who was an anti-Nazi political activist who was active within the White Rose resistance group. This book was beautiful and it shook me to my core.

What’s a cool thing about your book that isn’t in the blurb?

I think the coolest thing about my book that isn’t conveyed in the blurb is the way it combines poetry and Java to tell Emmy’s story. The verse is all from Emmy’s point of view, and so it starts off code-free, liberally using musical metaphors as they come to her. But the more Emmy learns to code, the more her thoughts start to mimic the if statements and while loops of Java. This is meant to demonstrate how Emmy’s thought process is shifting as she learns this new skill, but also I wanted it to show kids that code doesn’t have to be scary.

If we don’t know what code looks like, we can find it intimidating. Maybe we picture computer code as a stream of ones and zeros that programmers somehow know how to translate, or we think it’s like math with numbers and symbols and complicated calculations, or maybe we just don’t think we’re smart enough to learn something technical. But code is literally just English. It’s just words, and if I can show kids through Emmy’s story that code isn’t scary, then maybe the world will have a few more software engineers than it once did.

What inspired you to write this book?

EMMY IN THE KEY OF CODE is the result of me working through some pretty big questions in my personal life, trying to reconcile my job as a software engineer with my love of the arts. For years I had people telling me that I should write a book about computers because “girls in STEM was trendy.” And I guess they weren’t wrong, but also after I spent 8+ hours a day coding computers, the last thing I wanted to do was write about them.

But then inspiration struck where it always does: at the gym. I was on the elliptical, reading Andrea Davis Pinkney’s THE RED PENCIL to distract myself from exercise, when I realized how much Andrea’s poetic conventions resembled those of a coding language called Python. All at once, I decided that I had to write the book that would eventually become EMMY IN THE KEY OF CODE. I knew it would be written in verse, I knew it would combine poetry and computer code, and I knew I had to get off the elliptical and start writing ASAP.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

For a book like EMMY, that was so much based on subjects that I already have spent decades mastering (computer code and music), my research was sprinkled throughout the drafting and revision process, and I did it on a need-to-know basis. For example, the glossary of EMMY is filled with coding and musical terms. For every word in that glossary I more or less knew what the word meant, and I could use it in context, but coming up with a precise definition was tough, and required a lot of research. On the other hand, using musical metaphors and coding language throughout the text came very easily since they are already so much a part of my vocabulary.

However, my second book is requiring a ton of research. The book is called RECIPE FOR DISASTER and it combines two things that I love and have strong emotional/family ties to, but don’t have a ton of personal experience with: food, and Judaism. My research process for this book involved a lot of baking and cooking (which sounds amazing, but after a point it’s like how many angel food cakes can one person eat!) as well as learning a bit about food science. I also started taking Hebrew lessons, interviewing my Jewish family and friends, and I even attended a Bat Mitzvah for someone that I’d never met before!

I never thought a book that is based off of my own identity and history would require so much gosh darn research!

How do you select character names?

Character names are the first thing I think of when I create a character. Usually I know what role the character is going to serve in the story, and I have a sense of their personality, or what they look like, or at least what they sound like, and their name comes out of that feeling that I have about them. And once I’ve decided on a name, I don’t often change it. To me, a character’s name is a snapshot of who they are, and I can only write a compelling character once they’re named.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Author friends are the reason I’m publishing a book. I don’t want to get into name dropping because once I start I honestly can’t stop because I’m lucky enough to be friends with some incredible authors (seriously, check out my acknowledgements, they’re 100 pages long, and I’m exaggerating but only a little) but I do want to talk about how author friends help me become a better writer.

For starters, author friends who are willing to read your work are invaluable. I trust the opinions from people whose books I love, and if someone whose work makes you cry happy tears says that your book makes them cry happy tears??? Well that’s just the dream. And even better, sometimes your book isn’t working, and if your writer friends can tell you why it’s not working in a way that helps you figure out how to fix it, then you pretty much owe every breakthrough you have to them. Seriously, I want to split my advance with my critique partners because dear lord they earned it.

But author friends aren’t just valuable for feedback, they also remind you why you do this crazy thing called writing. Writing can be so lonely and miserable and hard, but if you know other masochists causing themselves the same pain as you, you can talk about it! You remind each other that maybe this crazy thing isn’t so crazy at all. And maybe the words that we hated this morning really aren’t so awful, and maybe they’re actually kind of good, or even kind of great.

And as you grow with your writer friends and you watch them be successful and they watch you be successful, you start to realize that sometimes you are even more excited when your friend has something amazing happen to them than you are when something amazing happens to you. All the endorphins without any of the imposter syndrome! And that’s such a wonderful feeling because if you get excited when people you love achieve great things, then you get excited over so many more things! And that’s such a beautiful way to live!

Share a favorite recipe!

This is stolen from AllRecipes.com but it’s such a hit and a staple of my childhood that I need to share: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/15004/award-winning-soft-chocolate-chip-cookies/

4 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 cups butter, softened

1 ½ cups packed brown sugar

½ cup white sugar

2 packages instant vanilla pudding mix (yes, pudding mix, trust me)

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour and baking soda, set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. Beat in the instant pudding mix until blended. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Blend in the flour mixture. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips. Drop cookies by rounded spoonfuls onto baking sheets covered in parchment paper.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Thanks for interviewing, Aimee!! I've already read EMMY, but I'm so excited for everyone else to get that chance on 9/24/19!!




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