Meet Christina Uss, avid reader, bicycle rider, and author. Christina has written about bicycling for magazines and newspapers, and now she is releasing her first fictional novel called The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle. Having done bike tours in beautiful places like Yellowstone and Yosemite and riding across the country multiple times, Christina is definitely someone we wanted to interview. Read on to learn more about Christina's biking experiences and her novel!
Bicycling has always been a part of your life. What is your first memory that includes a bicycle?
I remember when my parents took me to pick out my first bike at the local bike shop. The one I chose was orange with a banana seat and a handlebar basket with three plastic flowers on the front, the only one of its kind on display. My next memories are all of falling off it a lot when my mom taught me to ride. But once I got the hang of it—zoom!—I went all over my little neighborhood.
Before you wrote The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle you wrote for newspapers and magazines about biking. What was one of your favorite pieces?
I am partial to the first piece I ever had accepted for publication. It was entitled, "Why My Mom (and Yours) Should Not Worry About Our Bike Tours" and it was published in Adventure Cyclist magazine (https://www.adventurecycling.org/sites/default/assets/resources/momworry.pdf). I'd asked the Adventure Cycling Association if they had any material I could send my mom so she wouldn't worry when I went on a self-supported bike trip with a friend from Vancouver to Tijuana, and they said sadly, no, but if I wanted to write something they'd like to see it. After I finished that fabulous journey, I wrote down a few notes I thought would convince moms everywhere that bike trips are a good thing, sent it to Adventure Cycling, and this article was the result. I hope it helped more cyclists with nervous families find support for their adventure plans!
After writing for magazines and newspapers, was it exciting to have your own novel published?
SO exciting! I was always constrained when writing for magazines and newspapers by how many words I could use and short deadlines. Writing my novel felt so freeing—I could create any characters I wanted, send them anywhere I wanted, and make sure they got to eat all kinds of really yummy food in the process.
What inspired you to create the main character Bicycle? Why is her name Bicycle?
It all began with the title. My husband was joking around about how I'd someday write a children's book, and when I challenged him to tell me the title of this imaginary book, he announced, "It'll be called 'The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle.'" My eyes got wide and I jumped out of my chair and shouted, "Hold everything—I DO want to write that book! Why is she called Bicycle? What are her adventures? Wait, I think she rides her bike across the United States. Excuse me." I ran upstairs, opened a file on my computer, and started the story right then.
You rode across the country twice! How old were you when you did that?
I was twenty-two when I rode from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, and I was twenty-eight when I rode from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Tijuana, Mexico. What emotions went through your head? Every emotion you can imagine!: I was excited and optimistic, terrified and exhausted and wanting to give up, stunned by the beauty of our country, grateful for the kindness of people everywhere, and proud of what my bike and I could accomplish together. And hungry, always hungry!
You used to do bicycle tours all over the country. What was your favorite place to see? Any good stories?
That was the best job. I have so many favorites, it's hard to choose— I can narrow it down by saying how much I loved visiting our National Parks by bicycle, especially Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion and Bryce.
I have oodles of good stories and silly memories. I remember on one tour donning a plastic grizzly-bear mask. I had tour guests in Canada who were disappointed they hadn't seen a bear on their trip so I jumped out from behind our support van, growling and giggling, at the top of a mountain pass to surprise my guests . . . and realized, instead, I'd just jumped out and scared the wits out of some random cyclists who were not part of my tour. I was so embarrassed, I jumped back behind the van and hid rather than try to explain myself. I hope I didn't scar those poor Canadians for life from pedaling up any more mountain passes.
You are a mother of twins; How do you get them off their digital devices and outside? How can other parents encourage their kids to bike more often?
Making sure bicycling was a part of their lives (and screens much less so) was incredibly important to me. As soon as my twins were old enough to wear helmets and ride safely in a bike trailer, I was hauling them around town. Then we found a tandem Trail-a-Bike, and we rode together to preschool and elementary school.
I will say it's certainly gotten harder as they've gotten older to keep them outside and in motion, especially since the part of town where we live has roads that are not good for young riders. One tip that may work for other parents: Find a (sneaky) way to start a conversation about how bicycling is much better for the health of our planet than driving. My son was actually pretty uninterested in bicycling until he realized it was one way an eleven-year-old can save the environment.
I also made it a rule that we will not go to the local ice cream place unless we do it by bicycle. That has proven to be a pretty good motivator.
How was writing a fiction book different than writing from magazines and newspapers?
I don’t love facts the way I love making stuff up—I’m always coming up with strange new ideas. Writing fiction is much more relaxing and fun than writing articles in which I’d need to double-check all my facts and quotes and figures.
Reading fiction has been a huge part of my life since childhood, and even as an adult, I never lost affection for the books of my youth and would frequently re-read them.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always loved reading and writing, but it simply never occurred to me I could make a living at it. I was stunned the first time a magazine offered me money for my writing. Then I realized if I was willing to bear a lot of rejections, I might just have a chance to write as my career. Having this book debut is a dream come true. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to share my stories with the world.
You have been very involved in biking throughout your life. Is anything bike-related in this novel based on something that has happened to you in your own personal biking experiences?
So many little details of this novel have their roots in my own experiences. For example, Bicycle and I have both gotten chased by dogs, been blessed by tailwinds, come close to heat exhaustion in the desert, and eaten really great pie while out riding. We both have also met the Cookie Lady of Afton Mountain, Virginia, who seems like a fictional character, but is entirely real.
Also, Bicycle meets a lot of kind people in her travels who are willing to feed her, offer her a place to rest, and give her advice on persisting towards her goal.
What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?
I really enjoy the writing part of writing, but I find it hard to listen to other people’s opinions of my writing. Now that BICYCLE is out in the world, it’s like letting my kids go off to school without me and hoping the other kids are nice to them. I hope Bicycle makes lots of friends, but it’s out of my control, and I sort of hate that!
Are you working on another book at the moment?
I am! My next novel is called THE COLOSSUS OF ROADS, coming out in 2020, also from Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House. COLOSSUS tells the story of a Los Angeles boy with an eye for patterns who figures out how to secretly, successfully, and spectacularly fix all of L.A.'s worst traffic problems. He feels like one of the seven wonders of the world, until he runs afoul of equally traffic-obsessed groups who seek to tie his plans up in knots; he eventually must learn how to walk the line between feeling 100% right while working with people he’s sure are 100% wrong. Some of those 100% wrong people are—oh no!—bicyclists!
You will be going on a different type of tour, a book tour, this summer. Where are you going, and how can our readers join in on the fun?
I’ve been sticking around New England this summer, so I don’t have to be far from my family when visiting bookstores and libraries. My next upcoming visits will be on Cape Cod—check my website at http://christinauss.com/contact-meevents.html And if you’d like me to come visit your school, bookstore, library, or bike festival, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!
You can enter to win a copy of Christina's book, a Schwinn kids' bike, and a Schwinn helmet here!
CHRISTINA USS has written about bicycling and travel for magazines and newspapers. The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, her first novel, was inspired in part by her own experiences while biking across the United States, once widthwise and once lengthwise. She lives with her twins in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Visit her online at christinauss.com.