Monday, May 4, 2020

Interview with Christina Uss for The Colossus of Roads

The Colossus of Roads

by Christina Uss
Publisher: Margaret Ferguson Books
Release Date: May 5th 2020
Genre: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Fiction
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Eleven-year-old Rick Rusek is determined to improve the traffic conditions in Los Angeles-- his parent's failing delivery catering service, Smotch, depends on it.

"Traffic is a puzzle with one correct solution. And I've got to solve it!"

Rick has been studying maps and traffic patterns for years, and devises solutions to improve Los Angeles' notoriously terrible traffic that he calls his Snarl Solutions. He has big ideas, but not enough resources-- until his artistic friend, Mila brings him to a Girl Scout meeting.

Every week at Miss Diamond's art studio, the scouts paint recycled traffic signs with their own designs. The signs will be hung all over Los Angeles to beautify the city with art. But Rick, The Colossus of Roads, has ulterior motives . . . He will restore the signs to their original glory and find a way to install them strategically to rectify the traffic. Anything can be hung with duct tape!
But of course, it's not that easy. SPLAT (Stop Poor LA Traffic), BLAM (Bike-Loving Amazing Mamas), and the TCD (Traffic Calming Division) have their own methods of curing the city's dilemma and will undermine Rick's efforts however they can.

Will Rick be able to clear the notorious traffic problem on Sepulveda Pass in time for his parents to deliver Polish food to the movie studio and land the catering contract they need to keep their company afloat?

Written by Christina Uss, the acclaimed author of The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, which was selected for the Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List and was a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the year.

Can you briefly describe THE COLOSSUS OF ROADS and its characters?

This is the story of a boy and his talking stomach who decide to fix all the worst traffic problems in Los Angeles in order to save the family business.

The main character, Rick Rusek, has an unusual talent: he can see how to make traffic move smoothly and perfectly. (He also has an unusual habit of talking to his carsick stomach and vividly imagining his stomach talks back.) Too bad no one else seems to find Rick’s traffic talent interesting or worthwhile, because constant traffic jams look like they might ruin his family’s food catering business.

Luckily, his quiet and artistic neighbour Mila Herrera belongs to a Girl Scout Troop who is doing a city-wide street art project using old road signs, and Rick devises a plan to use the road signs to move 300,000 cars out of the way of his family’s future. He’ll need Mila’s help, plus that of her grandmother Abuelita, the best driver in L.A.

If Rick can succeed, maybe everyone will see that he’s not some strange carsick kid. He’s one of the seven wonders of Los Angeles. He’s the Colossus of Roads.

Who would you say is your favourite character from the story and why?

I love Rick to pieces because he believes in himself. Despite hitting huge setbacks, he keeps finding ways to move forward with his peculiar plans. I equally love his wobbly but brave stomach, who is always there with words of encouragement and impulsive advice, especially about cheeseburgers and doughnuts.

How did the story occur to you? Did you find inspiration anywhere?

The first nugget of an idea came from living with my husband in Los Angeles, where he was born and raised. Whenever we drove together and encountered traffic snarls, he’d read the traffic like an animal tracker, explaining what caused the slow-down, why, and when it would clear up. It was creepy how he was always right! When I asked how he did it, he said, “When you’ve been in traffic your whole life, you just get a sense for these things.” I thought: what if there were a kid born with a talent for reading traffic? How would that play out for him? Would anyone care? And what if that kid got a chance to actually use his talent to fix a major traffic jam, secretly and spectacularly?

Another inspiration for writing COLOSSUS came from my son. I told him I was proud of him for accomplishing a task he found difficult and didn’t enjoy, and he said, “I wish you were proud of me for the things I actually like doing.” That really struck me. I’m sure kids everywhere wish their families appreciated when they used their innate talents to do things they find fun. That helped me envision Rick’s family dynamic, because at the beginning of the book, his parents don’t see the value in his traffic talent.

I do hope the COLOSSUS story gives readers faith that they’ll find places to use their talents, whatever they are, to make a positive difference in the world.

If you could choose one song to describe your book, which one would it be?

I’ve got to break the rules and pick two: First, “This Is Me” from the movie soundtrack to The Greatest Showman for all the characters in my book who want to stand up and be recognized for the things they can do well. Second, “Take It to the Limit” by the Eagles for the line “Put me on a highway, and show me a sign, and take it to the limit one more time,” to represent Rick not giving up on his idea of using road signs to protect the good things in his life.

If your book was going to be made into a movie, who would play your characters?

We’d have to do a casting call for Rick and find a nice Polish boy who looks like my dad did when he was young, and for Mila we’d need to find a girl so shy she hardly want to get in front of the cameras. I want Jack Black to play Rick’s stomach’s voice. I’d like Rita Moreno to play Abuelita, but she’d have to eat a TON of cake to get ready for the role.

What drink and place do you think will go with your book to have a perfect book date?

The perfect place to go read my book would be at In-N-Out Burger, especially in southern California. You can order any flavour milkshake you want, but you have to order a cheeseburger to go with it.

Can you recommend your readers any other books in case they are left hungry for more once they finish THE COLOSSUS OF ROADS?

Another book about a California character who takes on a task most kids wouldn’t dream of is THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT by Mae Respicio. And the funny ALL FOUR STARS series by Tara Dairman has a main character with a passion and special talent that her family doesn’t understand one bit.

What would you say is the most difficult part of writing a book?

For me, the hardest part of writing is when I have to show my work to other people and find ways to use their constructive criticism to make my story better. I’m super-sensitive, and it can feel like any criticism of a story I love is like someone telling me my beautiful new baby isn’t good enough.

What’s next for you?

I have another book coming out next year, ERIK VS. EVERYTHING, about a boy whose motto is “Avoid Stuff” while his family wants him to bring out his inner Viking. I’m also hard at work on some more tremendously odd middle-grade stories with happy endings–stay tuned!

Christina Uss has ridden her bicycle across the United States both lengthwise and widthwise, and has worked as an adventure tour guide in fifteen states, leading cyclists of all ages through various mountains’ majesty and all kinds of fruited plains.
Even more than pedaling across state lines, Christina loves books, especially ones that remind us all that the world is wonderful, weird place. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her family and will always wave hello if she sees you out riding.