Barbara Gregorich participated in an immigrant rights rally in Chicago, near where she lives, and was struck by one aspect of the crowd.
“I was reminded so much of the antiwar demonstrations in the ’60s, which I participated in, and I looked around me and I … just thousands of teens, I mean, kids 14, 15, 16 years old,” said Gregorich, a Masury
native. “The kids were all ethnic(ities). There were white kids, black kids, Mexican kids, Arab kids, and they were so young. I was just so impressed with their being there.”
That experience provided one of themes of her new young adult novel, “The F Words,” which will be
released Sept. 28 by City of Light Publishing of Buffalo.
The other experience that helped form the novel was the Chicago Board of Education’s decision to close
about four dozen schools.
“All these kids, first-graders, second-graders, third-graders, all the way up to sixth-graders, had to be
bused or driven to other schools,” Gregorich said. “There was a huge public outcry, including hunger
strikes, but nevertheless the Chicago Board of Education went through with closing these schools.”
At the beginning of “The F Words,” Cole Renner’s dad is beginning a 120-day sentence in Cook County Jail for inducing panic for leading the school closing protests.
“Cole, in frustration, tags the high school wall, the outside, at night with the F word, and is caught in the act by his English teacher,” Gregorich said.
To escape the incident being reported to school authorities – which likely would mean getting thrown off the cross-country team – Cole has to clean the wall, and write two poems a week, each starting with a
word that begins with F.
“It really is a story about social justice or fighting against social injustice,” Gregorich said. “Mainly, it’s about immigrant rights, because Cole’s best friend since first grade is Mexican-American, Felipe Ramirez,
who was born here, but is nevertheless regarded as an other by some people. Felipe wants to run for class president, for 10th grade class president, and that starts a big subplot in the book in that Cole and Felipe
campaign to get Felipe elected to class president.”
“The F Words” is Gregorich’s first young adult novel, and fulfills a goal she’s had to write for that market.
Having run the gamut in her previous books of working with a major publisher through self-publishing,
Gregorich said she has really enjoyed working with City of Light, an independent publishing house that
puts out about a dozen titles a year.
“I would have to say it’s probably the most enjoyable publishing experience I’ve ever had, because it’s as
if my editor and I are a team,” she said. “We meet every week (on Zoom), we discuss what needs to be
done, we brainstorm. It really feels like we are publishing the book.”
The author of “Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball,” “She’s on First,” several “Boxcar
Children” stories, “Charlie Chan’s Poppa: Earl Berr Diggers” and “Jack and Larry: Jack Graney and
Larry, the Cleveland Baseball Dog” said she has more ideas for books than she’ll ever get to write, and
has two projects in the works: an adult fiction book on life in working-class Chicago, and a middle-grades
book about a horse race told in a ballad style.
“My big struggle with this is that, although when I was in grade school and high school I read a lot of
ballads, I don’t think the ballad is my natural form of communication,” Gregorich said. “My critique
group, we’ve been together for like 20 years, they all agreed that the ballad is the perfect form. All six of
us agreed that I’m not doing a good job on it. I figure it’s gonna take me at least another year and a half to
write four or five drafts of that. Each draft does get better, but I have to somehow go somewhere and
immerse myself in ballads.”
“The F Words” will be sold at Barnes and Noble and Books a Million book stores, and online through
Amazon and the City of Lights website.
More insight on the process of writing and publishing “The F Words” can be found on her blog, “Much to
Write About,” at barbaragregorich.wordpress.com