Local author and Key West notable Hays Blinckmann rarely holds anything back. For those who know her, her quirky sense of humor and honest remarks have made her an endearing fixture in the local community of Key West characters. And while Blinckmann has mastered nearly everything she’s touched during more than two decades of Key West residency, including her proudest achievements as a wife and mother of two boys, her success as an author is expanding her reach beyond all boundaries.
Blinckmann has never been afraid of who she is, a quality that lends a raw and honest approach to her first two novels. Her unique blend of emotional insight and covert humor embraces what she refers to as an “invitation for people to enjoy dysfunctional families at their finest.”
But recently, the pandemic set in motion Blinckmann’s first young-adult novel, “Yell Out Loud,” which marks her third book in the past five years.
“Yell Out Loud” was inspired by the solitude and challenges that children and parents have faced during the social limitations of a pandemic.
“I observed my two boys and others roll with the punches of COVID,” Blinckmann said. “There were no sleepovers, birthday parties, trips of any kind, but they still went on with their childhoods — albeit through too much technology.”
As Blinckmann releases the emotionally uplifting journey of “Yell Out Loud,” the Keys Weekly’s Britt Myers caught up with her to discuss the book, her time spent working at the Keys Weekly newspapers (and whether certain characters were fashioned after a few of her former co-workers). We also learned how she managed to get banned from Twitter after just seven tweets.
With her own robust humor and brooding honesty, Blinckmann did not disappoint — nor does her latest offering, “Yell Out Loud.”
KW: OK, let’s get to it. How did you get kicked off Twitter after your seventh Tweet?
HB: [laughing] You’re not going to let that one go, are you? I posted a pic of Sumo wrestlers and one political comment and I was done! Evidently it was too much or Jack Dorsey just hates me.
KW: First things first. In “Yell Out Loud” the character Carl is a “know-it-all” newspaper owner that the book’s mother works for. You even write that he smells like old coffee. They say if the shoe fits you have to wear it…but do I, I mean he, have to smell like old coffee?
HB: OK, “old coffee” came from my old English teacher (laughing). But as for the mom character and her relationship with Carl, my kids watched me work as a journalist with no experience really, and becoming that person in just four years. I think it was about showing the boys how to use their voice, vie for themselves and champion themselves.
KW: The story takes place at the conclusion of a major war during which everyone had been locked down, similar to the COVID pandemic. What made you choose war as a major theme?
HB: I didn’t want to say pandemic, so I set it after a war with similarities. No birthday parties, no trips and no sleepovers for the boys. During the war, the kids hadn’t seen each other. So as it ended they were able to get back to their friends and back to being kids again.
KW: But the kids in the book are not the same after the war. There is a coming-of-age element based on what they’ve seen and experienced. Do you believe this generation of kids has changed due to the pandemic?
HB: Yes. My philosophy is kids bounce, but don’t break. The war setting Is a way to show how they adapt to and learn from it, just as our kids have adapted and learned from no birthday parties, no vacations and online schooling. As a parent, your kids not experiencing these things is heartbreaking, but I was thankful it didn’t break them.
KW: You also weave in the two other major themes of time and chess. What did these themes symbolize for you as you developed the story?
HB: First, “The Queen’s Gambit”came out after I wrote those parts, so I was on point and on trend (laughing). But chess is one of the most challenging games and I don’t want kids to shy away from challenging games, which is why I purposely left electronics out of the story. Chess is old school. Young and old can play and it’s a great confidence boost for kids. Plus I wanted to pick something that would bring generations together.
KW: And why is time an important recurring theme in the book?
HB: This past year has been about time. This past year, people felt like they lost time. It’s a huge element in our existence. The character of Mr. Klopp wants to stop time. We all do, but we can’t always get stuck in time. Klopp fixes clocks, but more importantly he is an older man teaching a younger man as they find a common ground and a new skill. My own boys are interested in fixing things and how things work. So again, it’s putting electronics aside, learning a skill and using your brain.
KW: Would you call the novel a coming-of-age story and did any stories or books from your youth inspire the idea of the treasure hunt the kids embark on later in “Yell Out Loud?”
HB: It’s a little bit coming-of-age. It’s about how kids learn to find confidence they didn’t know they had. And growing up, I loved the movies “Stand by Me” and “The Goonies!” In “Goonies” they go through a cave and look for treasure, so I wanted to give the kids in my book that moment — that something impossible is actually possible.
KW: Without offering spoilers, what do you hope readers take away from the book?
HB: People hurt. I’ve lost Tosh (father figure and best friend) and my mom in a matter of years. It’s a strange lesson to teach a child about coming to grips with certain parts of life. But they can understand it better if we are all more forgiving and less reactive — and when we just teach compassion, to not leave people out and not take others at face value.
KW: And how do you think the pandemic has taught children those lessons?
HB: For the past year we’ve been telling our kids it won’t always be like this. As adults we know life changes and things get better. But kids don’t have that experience or perspective. That’s the message, to keep moving forward.
KW: This is your third book and you’re already working on another. As the books become more and more popular, I have to ask, what made you decide to start writing novels at this stage of your life and what’s next?
HB: Well, first I was raising small children and then working for the newspaper. Being a mom, a journalist, a wife … it was so hard to put all of my eggs in one basket. Now I’m not doing that grind. I’m almost 50 and it’s now or never. It’s a dream I’ve had my whole life that was put on the back burner and now I’m going for it. I’m putting the investment in myself and if for anything else, it’s to show my kids.
“Yell Out Loud” can be found on Amazon or ordered directly from Blinckmann’s new website: authorhaysblinckmann.com.