The power of persistence with chapter-book author and bicyclist Christina Uss

  • Author Christina Uss speaks during a past author’s discussion. Contributed Photo

  • “The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle” by Christina Uss. Contributed Photo

  • Chapter-book author Christina Uss will speak to the power of persistence during an online discussion Saturday, June 20 at 1 p.m. as part of the Northfield Authors and Artists festival. Contributed Photo

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    "The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle" Contributed photo—

Staff Writer
Published: 6/11/2020 8:21:53 AM
Modified: 6/11/2020 8:21:41 AM

Being an author takes dedication and a lot of persistence — kind of like learning to ride a bike. Pioneer Valley author Christina Uss, who has twice cycled across the United States and published a book inspired by her adventures that features a character named “Bicycle,” will deliver an online talk on this subject Saturday, June 20 at 1 p.m. as part of the Northfield Authors and Artists festival.

During the discussion, titled “Never, never, ever give up: Riding, writing and practicing persistence,” Uss will speak to her belief that “we get better at whatever we practice,” and how her own persistence can serve as encouragement to overcome challenges. Growing up, around age 10 or 12, Uss says she began to feel as if books were teaching her just how weird and wonderful the world really was. Now an author and mother of two, Uss strives to provide this same sense of wonder in anyone who reads her stories.

“As a child, the books I loved best, I would qualify as ‘weird books' that made you wonder if the author was telling you something that really happened and was just hard to believe, or not,” Uss said.

Uss wrote her first book, a wildly-entertaining story titled “The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle,” in 2018. The story was inspired by her own experiences biking across the United States, once from Washington D.C. to San Francisco and another time from Vancouver, Canada to the Mexican border. As the title of her books might suggest, Uss is a bicycling advocate, and she loves books that “remind us all that the world is a wonderful, weird place.”

“A Girl Called Bicycle” is about an introverted young girl named Bicycle who sets out on a journey across the country and finds some new friends along the way. Uss set out on the bike trip that inspired the story while in college in 1996, riding on her childhood 10-speed bike taken from her parents’ garage. The ride, organized by Habitat for Humanity, took Uss and 25 other bicyclists from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, Calif.

“It was the first time I’d ever done anything quite so adventurous,” Uss said.

Parts of “A Girl Called Bicycle” are based on real-life experiences, like the time Uss first saw the Rocky Mountains. Other parts of the story, like the ghost that haunts Bicycle’s bike, are admittedly make-believe.

She said the bike trip proved harder than she originally imagined, but she grew from the experience, just like the character Bicycle. Uss kept a journal during her 1996 ride and filled it with entries as she continued on the journey. Sometimes, during discussions with readers, Uss will pull out the journal and has the listeners guess what stories are true and what’s made up.

“After I took the trip, which changed my life, I started writing for newspapers and magazines and wrote for the Springfield Republican about my bicycling and travel adventures,” Uss said. “I began realizing that I had things to say and people would appreciate what I wrote.”

While she began laying the foundation for a career as a writer, Uss said she never outgrew her love for children’s books. One day, while thumbing through a copy of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at the bookstore, her husband, John Cooper, turned to her and said, “one day you’re going to write a book.” Joking, he suggested the title “Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle.” Uss said the idea struck her like lighting and she grabbed Cooper’s jacket with excitement as soon as the words left his mouth.

“That day I ran right home,” she said. “I had to start the story.”

Uss said the main character, Bicycle, is an introvert like herself. In the story, Bicycle is biking “to get away from something that didn’t work for her, toward something that will work for her.” Bicycle makes unexpected friends along her journey, just like Uss did in her real life bike trips. 

While she recognized that making friends can be a bit of a mystery for introverts, Uss encourages readers to “make friends the way they want, and find the kind of friends they want.” Her trips across the U.S. helped Uss see how welcoming the world can be.

“This country is filled with wonderful sites and people,” Uss said. “When you travel, especially by bike, people want to connect with you.”

Uss wants her books to give kids, or readers of any age, that same sense of wonder she felt as a young reader. She said “the world is weirder and more wonderful” than some may realize. Ultimately, she hopes her books make people happier than they were before they found her stories.

“We make life, and the world, a little better with what we put in it,” Uss said.

Uss lives in East Longmeadow with her husband of 16 years, and their son and daughter, who are 13-year-old twins. She said having her own children, and seeing the wonderful stories they were reading, helped propel her to continue searching for a publisher and release “Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle.”

She said persistence is the key to her lasting bike career and professional success. She said she has the “innate nature” of a long distance cyclist who is determined to keep going and going. For the June 20 discussion, Uss wants to inspire audience members and readers to create “their own unique persistence toolbox” for overcoming personal challenges. Uss hopes readers will remember that every book sitting on a library shelf was written by an author who simply wouldn’t give up.

“You just don’t know what might be waiting for you around the next corner,” Uss said. “Persistence will get you where you need to go.”

In April, Uss released “The Colossus of Roads,” which follows Rick Rusek, a carsick boy with a wobbly, talkative stomach trying to protect the good things in his life the only way he knows how: by harnessing the mighty power of road signs. The story is filled with traffic jams, secret plans, and Rick’s determination to save his family's livelihood.

Her third book, “Erik vs. Everything,” is scheduled to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2021. In “Erik vs. Everything,” Uss tells the story of a boy whose life motto is “Avoid Stuff,” while his family seems determined to bring out his inner Viking.

The discussion with Uss, and other free events, are being held each Saturday in June for the Authors and Artists Festival sponsored by the Dickinson Memorial Library. For registration and further information, visit authorsandartistsfestival.wordpress.com.

  Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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