Young adult author Maria Padian has been waiting for these shelves her whole life.
Author Maria Padian walks across the hardwood floors in her Brunswick living room, headed toward the east wall, which is lined with built-in bookshelves. Running floor-to-ceiling on either side of her childhood piano, this white-framed shelving is a new addition to the room, custom built by local carpenter Craig Gorman to hold both books and family keepsakes. “That was always the dream,” Padian says. “For the longest time this was just wooden bookshelves we stuck in here—they didn’t even make it all the way to the top and they were packed with junk—so finally we said let’s just do the real bookshelves.”
In front of the shelves is a leather wingback chair. Padian developed early rising habits 30 years ago, back when she was working in radio. Her overnight shifts at a station in Atlanta included reading the news at 2:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. Most mornings she’s in this chair by 6 a.m. “Early in the morning, this is where I will be, with my coffee and my quiet reading,” she says. The young adult writer’s fifth novel, How to Build a Heart, Izzy, a Virginia teen who struggles with the socio-economic and cultural divides between her Puerto Rican family and her wealthy high school classmates, came out Jan. 28. It’s already gotten raves from the likes of Kirkus Reviews, which said Padian “masterfully portrays the internal struggles Izzy goes through in her Catholic faith.”
This, she says, has been the year of giving herself the equipment of a writer. “Why did it take me so long to take myself seriously?” After years of hand-me-downs, she bought her first computer. She used to tuck herself into any corner to write, but now the empty-nester has a big, textured wooden desk of her own, in her son Christian’s old bedroom. He’s 28 and off in Los Angeles, trying to make it as a screenwriter. Her daughter Madsy, 26, is in medical school at Dartmouth but comes home at crunch time, to study in the quiet of Padian and her husband Conrad’s woodsy home. As Padian leads the tour, it’s clear this space of hers—with its designated history, poetry, Maine authors and religion shelf—ends up being a refuge for the whole bookish family.
Padian’s favorite knitting bowl sits on a shelf alongside a painting of a lobster made by her daughter Madsy. She uses the bowl, a lot, but when her knitting leaves the house, the bowl doesn’t. “That is too nice a bowl.”
PLAY IT AGAIN MARIA
“I got that piano 48 years ago,” Padian says. “I wanted a piano and we went around playing pianos. The only thing I knew that was a Yamaha was a motorcycle.” That’s what her family went home with. The piano came to her in adulthood because, “I was the only one in the family who played.” She plays classical or ragtime. “I love rags,” she says. But only for herself. “I don’t want to perform for people.”
Padian is already gathering inspiration for the next book, and one of the ways she does that is by reading her peers in the young adult world. On the stack right now? “I have got three of them going at once. Randy Ribay’s Patron Saints of Nothing. “I just met him at the ALAN Workshop.” (That’s the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE.) Then there’s Jason Reynold’s Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks and Samantha Mabry’s upcoming Tigers, Not Daughters.
HER BOOKS, HER SHELF
“I treated myself to a shelf,” Padian says. Her latest book is lined up with her other books, like Wrecked and Out of Nowhere along with a handmade plate that came with an award for excellence in children’s books from the Maine Library Association. “I won the Lupine Award once and the Lupine Honor twice and you always get this beautiful plate that is done by a potter in Portland called Toby Rosenberg.” She flips it over to show the “TR” on the back. The shelf also has a small street scene that Padian picked up from a trip to Lisbon a few years ago.
SIT FOR A BIT
When the bookshelves were finished last year, the reading chair (“an old Großvater stuhl, which is German for old father chair”) needed to be upgraded too. She and her husband picked out a wingback at Pottery Barn. “We wanted a real leather chair that we were going to read in.”
NEW BOOK, WHO ‘DIS?
Some of Padian’s books, like Out of Nowhere, are set in Maine (in that one, Somali refugees join a high school hockey team at fictional Maquoit High School). She chose to set How to Build a Heart, which is themed partly around construction of a Habitat for Humanity house, in town much like Charlottesville, Virginia. “For no particular reason except I felt like locating myself there in my head…I was a reporter for the first time there.”