“I was pretty sure you’d be weird. But now that I’ve met you, I can honestly say you’re even weirder.” –a reader
Libba Bray is the New York Times bestselling author of The Gemma Doyle trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, The Sweet Far Thing); the Michael L. Printz Award-winning Going Bovine; Beauty Queens, an L.A. Times Book Prize finalist; and The Diviners series. She is originally from Texas but makes her home in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband, son, and two sociopathic cats. You can find her at…oh, wait. You already did. Nevermind—you are a genius!
The I-Am-A-Glutton-For-Punishment-And/Or-I-Need-More-Info-For-Some-School-Book Report-Thingy Version
I was born, which is a great start to any life, in Montgomery, Alabama, but without a banjo on my knee, for which my mother was most grateful. For those who keep asking, yes, Libba Bray is my real name, and yes, I realize that it sounds a lot like “Library,” which I think is pretty cool. At least it doesn’t sound like “Weasel Fart.”
“But your copyright page says Martha E. Bray!” you protest.
Simmer down there, young padawan. If you must know, my full name is Martha Elizabeth Bray. In the interest of world peace, I was named after both grandmothers. Libba is short for Elizabeth. Yes, it would have made more sense to name me “Elizabeth Martha,” I agree. I asked about this more than once. My father told me that “Martha Elizabeth” was more euphonious. Euphonious is a fancy word for “sounds better.” I come from twenty-five-cent word people. Now you know.
We moved from Alabama to West Virginia for a nanosecond and finally to Corpus Christi, Texas, on the Texas Gulf Coast, by the time I was three. I was pretty sure I was going to grow up to be a veterinarian-astronaut-figure-skating Julie Andrews in the “Sound of Music.” Or Queen of England. My brother planned to be Batman since he already had the cape (1).
We did not temper our ambitions in the Bray household. I was an odd little kid with a Linus-style security blanket in one hand and a plastic elephant puppet on my right hand (It did all my talking for me, like a government lobbyist, or a freaky kid in a Stephen King novel.) My mother cut my hair just like Mia Farrow’s in “Rosemary’s Baby”, and people mistook me for a boy for much of my childhood. This led to a compulsion to show my pretty girl panties. Look, there are lots of ways to say hello, okay?
I grew up in the church. Not literally, like I was hiding under the pews to bite the ankles of the devout or washing my pits in the baptismal font (2).
My father was a Presbyterian minister with a razor-sharp wit and a dislike of any music written after 1920. He was also gay. This gave me a sense that God was Fabulous!™ and heaven had a disco ball. Imagine my surprise when the fundamentalists told me I was wrong. I choose to believe that God hears that and says, “Bitches, please.”
My mother was a high school English teacher. If there were a “Jeopardy” for Romeo & Juliet, she would PWN all. She was fond of serving us red Jello, which always reminded her of her favorite topic: Leprosy. To this day, I cannot even look at red Jello without automatically thinking “leper colony.” On Christmas Eve, her absolute favorite day of the year bar none, she would run around the house shouting gleefully, “It’s Christmas Eve! I’m peaking! I’m PEAKING!” while my friends looked on in horrified silence.
Please do not ask me again why I am so odd.
When I was eleven, we moved from Corpus Christi all the way up to the plains of North Texas. We made the two-day trek twenty-four hours after my brother had been shot in the head by a high-powered BB gun. We would stop to eat and pee…and let my disoriented brother vomit and hallucinate. It was kind of like Faulkner. Only funnier and with AM radio. He spent the first week in the hospital, getting all the attention—just like the Batman cape all over again. I self-medicated with my mother’s purloined (3) copy of Helter Skelter, which is about the Manson Family murders. I was obsessed with this book. This explains a lot.
Denton, Texas, did not have a disco ball. It did have football, revivals, three Dairy Queens, two universities, a lovely public library where the movie, “Benji” was shot, a community theater housed above an active firehouse, one high school, and a town square with a 1940’s-era movie theater where I saw “Star Wars” approximately 4,572,319 times (4).
In fact, Denton is a lot like Tattoine but with a Wal*Mart.
By the time I was a young adolescent, with some spiffy wardrobe choices to show for my burgeoning identity, I was heavily into rock ‘n’ roll, punk, Monty Python, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, Woody Allen, National Lampoon, and New Wave videos on MTV. My favorite book was Catcher in the Rye, the preferred tome of serial killers and dysfunctional stalkers, and I watched a lot of old Hammer Horror movies because I like my horror served up with anachronistic beehive hairdos and a hint of Carnaby Street (5). My plans were to run away with an English rock star and live in the Cotswolds (6)–a place I’d never been but which sounded terribly glamorous—where we would wear lots of eyeliner and write songs about hats.
Three weeks after high school graduation, I had a serious car accident. I demolished my face and lost my left eye. For those of you wondering what this was like, I can tell you: It sucked. Like, a lot. Also, the doctors did not replace my lost eye with a laser, which I think is just stingy. It took many years to put me back together again, but most of the pieces seem to be in the right places, and anyway, that’s when I discovered how powerful writing can be, because writing everything down kept me alive. This is how I know that writing can save your life. So, if you take away nothing else for your school report, tuck this thought into a pocket of your soul: Should you ever find yourself in a bad, hopeless place, please know that you can write your way out of something that feels completely unwinnable and into something better and, just possibly, into something wonderful. And I still haven’t given up hope on that laser eye.
I went to college at the University of Texas at Austin (7), which is nowhere near the Cotswolds. Austin is one of my favorite places in the world after New York City, which is where I moved after graduation with my grandmother’s crystal punch bowl under one arm and six hundred dollars in my shoe. I read somewhere that muggers would never look in your shoes for money. Having been mugged at gunpoint, I can tell you that muggers will look in your ear canals if they think there’s money there. My new plan was to become the next great American playwright. I wrote five-and-a-half plays. Three of them got produced. One won an award. The others line the bottom of a drawer, where they cannot harm humanity. Apparently, I wasn’t a very good playwright, which makes playwriting as a career somewhat difficult.
I worked in publishing, advertising (Despair! Now with the power of baking soda!) and entertainment. I wrote copy for Richard Simmons (8) and romance novels, including one about unicorn love. That was a low moment. I am giving you truth here, people. Even when it’s ugly. I also wrote three books for the book packager 17th Street Productions. My first book, A Great and Terrible Beauty, was published in 2003 and the rest, as they say, is history.
I am married to awesome literary agent, Barry Goldblatt. We met at our beginner jobs as publishing plebes my first year in New York City, and eloped two years later in Florence, Italy. When I want his attention, I sing to him with a sock puppet. He loves that. We have one son, heretofore referred to as The Boy, a teenager who enjoys mocking my lack of tech prowess and remotely activating my phone to play a certain song from “Book of Mormon” at the most inappropriate of times. I choose to wake him from slumber each morning with a wet washcloth dropped on his head. Love is funny. We live in Brooklyn with Little Squeak and Cocoa, two cats of either questionable intelligence or deviant cunning. It’s hard to tell with cats.
When I am not scribbling words and lying to my editors about missing deadlines, I am one quarter of Tiger Beat, the world’s first and possibly only all-YA author rock band, along with Natalie Standiford, Barnabas Miller, and Daniel Ehrenhaft. I sing, play middling keys, and, occasionally, dubious drums.
Things I like: writing, books, music, libraries, history, pedicures, having my teeth cleaned, cursing, snacks, friends, friends with snacks, theatre, karaoke, running, smacking the drums, funny things, Dr. Who, good horror movies, coffee, physics, trains, the color turquoise, spiral notebooks, crafting, stickers, beaches, emotional bravery, road trips, Chucks, irony as social commentary, Jon Stewart, autumn, the smell of Cinnabons, New York City, people watching, pets, daydreaming.
Things I do not like: dolls, doughnuts, clowns, humidity, doing math, thong underwear, bad horror movies, sweet potatoes or anything vaguely yammy, flying, being late—except on deadlines when it’s totally okay, telemarketing, irony as a lifestyle, posturing, those little subscription cards that fall out of magazines all over the floor of the subway and you have to say “Sorry, sorry” while pawing past somebody’s leg in order to scrape it off the floor and then you have subway floor gunk on your hands, elevators, people who think they are BFFs with God and can make policy because of that, bra shopping.
I am pretty sure that when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, I will be food. Unless I get that laser eye first. Then, party at my house, y’all.
Now you know everything about me.
That’s all I got.
Click another link.
There’s more stuff to look at.
(1) He always got to be Batman. I was always Robin. I have worked through this in therapy. Mostly
(2) Now I have guaranteed that baptismal fonts will forever = my pits in your mind. You’re welcome.
(3) I told you I come from twenty-five-cent word people.
(4) I said approximately. I don’t do math. You should know that about me if we are going to be anonymous Internet friends.
(5) Carnaby Street was the ultimate in 1960’s London Hipsterville. You should spend some time looking it up. Procrastination = fun.
(6) You should look this up, too. See? This biography is teaching you all the things!
(7) Hook ’em, Horns!
(8) An exercise guru famous for his big hair and short shorts. He was very nice to me. I loved working with him. But I had to hide my guilty cookie stash.