Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of Just Roll with It! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Lee Durfey-Lavoie: Thank you so much! Veronica and I have worked really hard on this story for a few years now and seeing it hit shelves in just a few days is so exciting. Our main character, Maggie, is a young girl just starting middle school—but she quickly runs into problems. Be it bullies, meeting her parents' expectations of her, or the mysterious monster that's seemingly hunting outside her school, she has a lot on her plate. This makes the anxiety and the OCD she has much worse—to the point she ends up relying on her trusty D20 to make decisions for her. Judging by the number she rolls, she knows if she gets pizza or not for lunch, or if she should talk to her friend Clara or not, as well as some more increasingly difficult decisions. The core of her struggles—her anxieties and OCD—were close to both Veronica and I. Veronica was actually diagnosed with OCD at the beginning of this whole project and I’ve got depression and anxiety, so telling a story about mental health and children was really important to us.
BD: What can you tell us about your shared creative process in bringing this world and its characters to life?
Veronica Agarwal: The way we work involves a lot of back and forth. I came up with the concept for Just Roll With it, and then Lee crafted the longer story around that concept. I usually say the way we work is like building a person: I come up with the bones, Lee lays down the muscle and tissue, together we add the skin, and then I add the clothes, hair and details to make it pretty, hehe.
LDL: I think we’re really lucky because we work really well together. I guess it helps we live together, as well, but everything from editing to giving characters unique traits to dialogue, etc. came mostly easy. It was important to me to make sure every character felt like a fully realized human being, each with their own oddities and interests. I wanted every character to feel like they existed off the page even when Maggie isn’t seeing or thinking about them.
BD: In crafting a narrative story that aims to destigmatize mental health for young readers, did you find that there were any challenges in connecting with and educating audiences?
VA: I think there was definitely a balance we had to strike between explaining too much and not enough. We didn’t want this book to talk down to children, but we also wanted to make sure that the language was clear and informative… while not being too boring or textbook, haha. You also have to keep in mind how varied mental illness is; there's no situation or description that’s going to fit everyone. I still worry we didn’t show enough of this or that in the book, or that we could’ve pushed it further in a different direction, to showcase this facet of OCD compared to that… but at the end of the day, I hope that our story makes it clear that the one true thing about mental health is that it’s varied and that there’s no one thing that fits everyone.
BD: What makes Random House Graphic the perfect home for Just Roll with It?
LDL: Gina Gagliano has recently left Random House Graphic, but she originally approached us about coming onboard and it was her enthusiasm and expertise that drew us there. Really it was her passion, and the passion of everybody aboard Random House Graphic’s team, that made us stay. RHG’s motto is, "A graphic novel on every bookshelf," and that really resonated with Veronica and I. For me specifically I have eight brothers and sisters that I’m the oldest of, and the idea of being able to get something they’d all enjoy reading on their shelves was really inspiring.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Maggie’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
VA: I really hope that Maggie’s story will open up a dialogue for people about mental health, what it is, and how to take care of it. I hope that they may see someone they know reflected in Maggie and that the story will give them some new tools to use when approaching that person…even if and especially if that person is themselves!!
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
LDL: As a matter of fact there is! JRWI has a sequel in the works right now, and while it doesn’t have a name just yet, you can follow us on twitter (@Leedurfey and @Anuanew) for updates and events and the like!
VA: Yes!! Currently I’m working on the inks for that book! I’m having a lot of fun with it and can’t wait to share it with everyone.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Just Roll with It?
LDL: Outside of the twitter accounts I just mentioned, you can find everything about JRWI at Random House Children’s Books website, RHCBOOKS.COM, as well as a million and more other interesting reads, as well!