Loneliest Time of Her Life

LTOHL_Book_CoverFor a high school senior like Dakota Washington, the only thing worse than enrolling in a different school for her final year is the discovery that she already has a ruthless enemy cruising the halls and waiting to destroy her reputation. In her edgy new novel, Loneliest Time of Her Life, author Erika L. Banks skillfully juggles multiple points of view against the contemporary backdrop of a high school that every reader will not only be able to relate to but will also cause them to contemplate what their own choices might be in the same volatile situation.

Interview: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What inspired you to make bullying the cornerstone premise of your debut YA novel?

A: Bullying has reached epidemic proportions in our schools and communities.  The recent spike in bully-related suicides and violence among youth has inspired me to pen my first book, Loneliest Time of Her Life.

Q: How much research was involved in capturing the vulnerabilities of today’s young people as well as the cruel realities of what is becoming an escalating problem in schools throughout the country?

A: I, unfortunately, had a great deal of knowledge about the vulnerabilities of today’s youth prior to starting this project. I had spoken to and read stories of middle and high school students who experienced bullying first-hand. It was interesting to learn about the characteristics of these young people which are evident in each one of the characters in the book.

Q: What role do you believe technology contributes to the way that teenagers – and even adults – are interacting with each other these days versus earlier eras in which texting, iPhones and social media venues didn’t exist?

A:  Technology has taken bullying to a whole new level. There has not just been an increase in the number of bullying incidents, but the severity of the words and actions used to bully have increased significantly as well. Bullies now have a powerful platform to harass their peers with little to no chance of being caught.

Q: It’s often said that there are multiple sides to every story based on individuals’ respective frames of reference and interpretations of events. You’ve taken a unique approach in Loneliest Time of Her Life by not only mixing first and third person narrative but also advancing the plot through the viewpoints of four diverse individuals. Tell us about how you chose that structure and why you feel it works.

A: The structure in which the book was written gives the reader a well-rounded view of bullying. I felt that this was important because everyone is involved. Whether you are the bully, victim or bystander, everyone has an opportunity to impact any bullying situation. By presenting the story from the perspective of all involved, the reader is able to identify with and relate to the story in a personal way.

Q: Which of the characters do you relate to the most?

A: I relate to Brooklyn the most. I, like Brooklyn, am a very fair and impartial person. I stand up for what’s right and I am not afraid to defend something or someone if I think it’s appropriate. I value my friendships deeply and will do everything I can to keep the peace. However, when push comes to shove, I will walk away from friends who bring harm to others and relationships that are filled with drama.

Q: If Hollywood came calling with an invitation to adapt this compelling novel to a feature-length film, who would your dream cast be?

A: I would love to see Dakota Fanning play Dakota, KeKe Palmer play Brooklyn and Maia Mitchell play Paige. They are very talented actresses and I think they’d do a wonderful job bringing these characters to life. I pulled from them when I developed each of the main characters, so their personalities are reflected in the book.

Q: Your three teen females – Dakota, Paige and Brooklyn – have been raised by mothers and fathers with radically different approaches to parenthood. What influence do you feel each of those parents had on the volatile situations in which their daughters subsequently find themselves as seniors in high school?

A: I think the parents had a big influence on each of them. Dakota’s dismissive mother and uninvolved father, Paige’s clueless parents and Brooklyn’s uninformed parents hindered their ability to help the situation. They all, in their own way, felt like they had no one to turn to. I believe if the parents were more aware of what was going on in the lives of their daughters, things would not have gone as far as they did.

Q: What advice would you give a real-life young person in Dakota’s shoes if she felt she had no one to whom she could turn with her problem?

A: Although not always obvious, I believe that everyone has access to someone who could support and offer advice in this situation. Whether a doctor, pastor or neighbor, everyone always has someone to turn to. There are also a lot of great resources out there that people in this situation can use. Stomp out Bullying, The Trevor Project and Stop Bullying are three of many helpful organizations that one can contact for help.

Q: What type of impact and takeaway value do you want your readers to come away with by the final chapter?

A: I hope that everyone who reads this book will walk away with a deep understanding of each character’s emotions, feelings and reasons for their actions. Because everyone who reads this book will be able to relate to at least one of the characters, I hope that they will learn from the good and not so good decisions made by them. I would love for this book to open up a dialogue between students, parents and school professionals about this difficult topic.

Q: This book should be required reading in high schools – and even junior highs – as a starting point for discussions about how to treat one another. Are you taking steps to make that happen?

A: Yes, I am hoping to use this book as a basis for book clubs, workshops and informal discussions among high school students, teachers and parents.

Q: Although the book is clearly a stand-alone title, you deliver a positively chilling cliffhanger that begs us to ask, “What happened next?????” Do you have plans in the works to answer that question with a sequel or do you prefer readers to formulate their own conclusions?

A: Both. I do have plans for a sequel, but also want the readers to create their own conclusion. By imagining a variety of possible outcomes, I hope the reader will think beneath the surface and want to take action.

Q: Tell us what governed your decision to self-publish Loneliest Time of her Life.

A: My initial desire was to publish through a well established publishing agency. There are many books out there about bullying, and these agencies tend to favor already established writers. When considering self publishing, I realized that getting my book out there was the most important thing and how I did that didn’t really matter. I was happy to find several wonderful self publishing companies available to choose from to publish my work.

Q: What do you know now about the business of publishing and marketing that you didn’t know when you first set out to write the book?

A: Publishing through an agency has its advantages, but I learned that it may not always be the best way to go. Self publishing has come a long way and is much more respected today than it was years ago. I also learned that marketing is key. Whether you self publish or publish through an agency, you must be willing to devote time to marketing your work if you want it to be successful.

Q: Have you done other types of writing in addition to YA?

A: I have self published a second book called High School Graduation: What I Want For My Life. It is a book for high school seniors graduating without a plan.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: You will find a little bit of Erika in Dakota, Paige and Brooklyn. In high school I was in each of their shoes at one time or another.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: In addition to my full time corporate job, I am working on a few projects. I am working with Georgia Tech to identify a way to effectively help high school students prepare for post high school life. I am also in the process of setting up The Margaret G. Banks Foundation, a non-profit foundation in honor of my mother. It will provide scholarships to high school students who would like to go to college but need financial assistance. I am also working on another book for high school students that will help them do what they need to do now so they can do what they want to do later.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Our youth have so much to be excited about when it comes to their future. Unfortunately, many of them are not. We need to do better in helping our youth not only prepare for their future, but provide bully free environments where they can focus on learning, creating and becoming everything they were meant to be. I’m excited about the future of our youth and it’s time to get them excited, too!

 

 

 

 

Angels Dawn

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Friends, cute boys and lots of fun are the usual expectations of a teenage girl’s birthday affair. Unless you are the key to a past crime that you can’t remember. In Komali da Silva’s debut novel Angels Dawn, one typical teen girl finds herself thrown into a world of intrigue and danger on her sixteenth birthday, with a dose of mysterious romance on the side.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?

Actually, it was never my plan. I always wanted to study sports medicine but that plan was destroyed because I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I had to stop doing sports for a while and I found time to read. I found my life and dreams in those books.!I was always good in writing but never invested time willingly. One day, I was on my way to work. I was sitting in the train and this idea came rushing into my mind. First thing I did was take a piece of paper and write it down, so the journey began.

Tell us about Angels Dawn. How did you come up with the concept of this novel?

I just saw these three characters in my imagination waiting to come out. Then I started writing with the description of Dawn and the story began to write itself. It’s mainly written in Dawn’s point of view because I felt very close to her. She is a 15 year old girl, living in a small town in Florida. On her 16th birthday everything changes in her life. It’s a teenage love story with a bit of a dark twist in it.

How many books are there in your debut series? 

I’m planning for three but it could also be four J

When you sit down and get to work, what habits or routines to do you have?

I always read the last chapter I wrote, that way I can start at the same place where my thoughts left me. Sometimes I even read a chapter or two of a book I really like, so that I’m inspired to write.

What is it about the young adult market that nabbed your desire to write for that genre?

It’s strange, I’m a 30 some year old woman, but I love reading young adult books. It keeps me young in heart and mind. Toni Morrison once said, if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. So that’s what I did.

Who were some of the authors and titles that may have influenced your writing journey?

Becca Fitzpatrick: Hush Hush series, Carlos Ruiz Zafon: Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game and the Prisoner of Heaven. J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter, all of them books And of course Lauren Kate: Fallen Series, Teardrop and not to forget Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist – It was the very first book I ever read.

Do you know where the story is going when you sit down to write it, or do you prefer to have an outline?

With Angels Dawn, I had a different ending planned but when I was almost there, my fingers typed something very different. I like that ending way more than the planned one so I polished it up and let it flow. I’m not an outline person. I like my imagination to play with my ideas. I think good books always need to have its freedom. I’m not the storyteller it’s the story, which tells the author what comes next. 

That’s how I feel with my books.

When it comes to leisure reading, what are some titles you might recommend for teens?

That’s a tough question. I love all the books written by Lauren Kate. I’m a crazy fan girl when it comes to my favorite authors. Lauren Kate visited Milano, Italy on her book tour and I traveled by train to Milano only to meet her. May be I should mention that I live in Bern Switzerland. So that’s like four hours by train to Milano. We got a lot of amazing authors out there; some of my absolute favorite authors include Cassandra Clare, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Cecelia Ahern, J.K. Rowling, Becca Fitzpatrick, Kami Garcia , Margaret Stohl, P.C. Cast and Richelle Mead.

What are the biggest challenges for authors attempting to break into the young adult market?

There are many good and talented YA authors in the market, so it’s very difficult to get the readers to see your work. There is so much of promotion behind the process and one got to have a lot of luck on her side as well. And of course, readers love to compare. That doesn’t help much but don’t we do that too? 😀

What’s up next for your adventures in writing? 

At the moment I’m writing Fight for Dawn, book two of the series. Then I hope on finishing the series. Then I also have an idea for another novel. But it’s going to be a stand-alone and not YA related.

 

Angels Dawn is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Surviving The Fog

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While most of us looked forward to sleep-away summer camps as exciting, what would we do if upon arrival, frightening things began happening and the expected world of wondrous fun turned into a deadly nightmare? If you plan a stay in this cryptic version of camp in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, author Stan Morris warns you to be prepared to survive much more than wild animals and sunburns.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us about Surviving the Fog. Is it part of a series?

It is part of a series, and there are currently two books available in the series.  The first is Surviving the Fog, and the second is Surviving the Fog-Kathy’s Recollections.  I am currently working on Surviving the Fog-Douglas Lives, and I have written snippets for Surviving the Fog-Sasha and Kim and Surviving the Fog-Howard the Red.

Is this series more post apocalypse or is it science fiction?

Definitely more post apocalypse.  The science fiction aspects are only present in the prologue to Surviving the Fog.  It describes the Earth moving through a region of space containing the Fog.  The book centers on the efforts of the teenage campers to survive.  They must obtain food and shelter, and perhaps more importantly, they have to decide what kind of community they will create.

How was the idea conceived, and what influenced the conception?

There are two books that influenced Surviving the Fog.  The first is Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and the second is Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein.  I disagree vehemently with Golding’s suggestion that a group of boys would degenerate to that extent.  I think it is much more likely that a group would create a community similar to Heinlein’s.  The reason for my belief is the archeological record.  In almost every case humans have formed stable communities.  It’s in our DNA.  Bees create hives, ants create mounds, and primates create communities.

You have both male and female characters as leads. Is one more of a focus than the other?

In Surviving the Fog the focus is clearly on the boys with a few notable exceptions.  But Surviving the Fog-Kathy’s Recollections is from the point of view of a fourteen year old girl, and most of the focus in on the girls.  After Surviving the Fog was published, I received numerous requests for a sequel.  I resisted this for a time, for I felt that I had nothing more to say about these kids.  But a few years after the book was published, I was engaged in a conversation with a woman at Goodreads.  She was complaining about how I had neglected the girls.  This was not the first time I had heard this complaint, but this conversation led me to consider how Kathy, one of the characters, might have viewed her situation and how she might have viewed the events that occurred in Surviving the Fog.  I began writing her story, and I became absolutely obsessed with it.  I usually write about 100,000 words for my novels, but in this case I decided to keep writing until I was satisfied with the story.  I finished Surviving the Fog-Kathy’s Recollections with over 200,000 words.

The New Adult category has taken off for writers who like to put a more mature spin on things. Is your book along the lines of YA or NA?

It depends on the definition of YA.  I’ve seen some definitions of YA that go as low as twelve years old.  Having raised two boys, I can say that describing a twelve year old as a “Young Adult” is flat out irresponsible.  Young teenagers should never be labeled “adult,” because doing so robs them of the right to linger in their childhood.  I define YA as sixteen to twenty-one, and my books meet that definition.  At the beginning of the book, the youngest camper is twelve and the oldest is seventeen.  The teenagers age as the story progresses.  I think this book skirts the line between YA and NA.  There are sexual situations but nothing graphic.

You’ve got us stranded at a mysterious camp in your novel. Where did you come up with the setting?

The camp is set in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains.  When I was a kid I attended camp in the Sierra’s almost every year, so it was a natural setting for my camp.  The purpose of the camp is to preach sexual abstinence and to teach the various methods of birth control.  Some people have objected to the premise, but I wanted to challenge the notion that abstinence and birth control education are not compatible.  These ideas are not only compatible, it is irresponsible not to encourage both.   There is an irony here, because once their society and culture is destroyed, and the adults have mostly disappeared from the scene, the kids don’t have any rules to follow except for those they create, and as in all communities, rules about sex are created.

Did you do any specific research while writing the book?

Wild Plants of the Sierra Nevada by Ray S. Vizgirdas and Edna M. Rey-Vizgirdas was very helpful and like most writers these days, Wikipedia is my best friend.  I did a lot of research on subjects like soap making, edible plants, temperatures, and the animals of the Sierra Nevada.

What kinds of details were more important than others as you wrote the book?

One of the most compelling aspects of Tolkien’s writing was how he described the countryside as the Hobbits moved about.  Many times I was forced to use a dictionary (pre-internet) to learn the kind of plant life he was referring to.  When I write, I try to remember to add details to the scene like the flora, fauna, and the weather.  The kids build a “lodge” in the book, and I had to describe the construction in a way that made sense.

Are there any sequels waiting in the wings?

I have written about 10,000 words for Surviving the Fog-Douglas Lives and about 2,000 words for Surviving the Fog-Sasha and Kim.

What book genres do you enjoy reading?

Science fiction, romance, and history books make up the bulk of my reading.  I branch out occasionally into fantasy and anthropology.

Where can we learn more about you?

My Website: https://sites.google.com/site/stanandrene/home

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Stan-Morris/e/B004KB2HG0/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Barnes and Noble Author Page: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/stan-morris

iTunes Author Page: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/stan-morris/id366779015?mt=11

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2884264.Stan_Morris

Smashwords Author Page: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/morriss003

 

 

The Promise of Living

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Writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell once said, “Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.”

Today’s young adult novels provide readers with a flourish of paranormal characters, dystopian societies, and lots of new romance. What if readers had an opportunity to travel back to a time where there was no social media, obsessions with cell phones or flipping through the electronic pages of a book?

In J. Lee Graham’s young adult novel, The Promise of Living, you won’t run into any vampires, werewolves or wizards, but you will find a young man who perceives danger before it happens, and the impact it has on his life as a small town boy caught up in a world of dark mystery, self-discovery and the sensitive steps into first romance territory.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us about The Promise of Living, one of four novels you’ve published.

The Promise of Living is a young adult coming of age novel set in the small, bucolic town of Wilson’s Ferry, New Hampshire in 1975. Ryan Colton is sixteen, and he and his best friend Dave work on a farm. It begins in late June, their final week of their junior year at school. While milking the cows one late afternoon, Ryan has a vision, a premonition, if you will, of a townsperson hanging herself. Throughout the summer and into their senior year, he continues to have visions that reveal the dark secrets of the people in his hometown. In one of them, he sees a young girl being murdered, but he can’t see her face or stop its occurrence. At the same time, he struggles with an inner, hidden, more prevailing growing pain about his feelings for Dave.

You chose to set the book in the 1970’s. How do you think a young adult reader from 2013 might relate to that? 

I set the novel in the 1970’s to remove the easy distraction of electronic devices. For me, it’s harder to establish conflict when everyone in the novel has access to the Internet or a phone. Besides, a coming out/coming of age story is universal. Ryan’s feelings for Dave happen regardless of the times, and I wanted Ryan not to have, again, easy access to LGBT information; blogs, role models, etc. I wanted to emphasize his struggle, not from a moral or religious perspective, but from a personal, self-esteem perspective. Again, removing the superfluous details and distractions of smart phones and social media highlights Ryan’s journey. Ironically, even with today’s extreme use of electronics, there are still many young people discovering themselves, where the coming out process is just as powerful and transformational as Ryan’s.

The theme of authenticity is strong in The Promise of Living. How does that resonate with you? 

Authenticity is a strong theme in many of my novels and plays: the power that comes from recognizing the ‘clothing’ of honesty and self-worth that one chooses to wear. That’s a major experience for young adults, straight, gay, transgender, etc. Being honest about who you are and allowing that code of integrity to guide you throughout your life. It’s funny, but a lot of adults who’ve read the book, also comment on that theme. It is an aspect that resonates throughout all our lives.

Is this book in any way autobiographical? If so, fill us in.

I think there is an element of autobiography in every novel we read. How about that for a dodge? I think there is a percentage of autobiography that creeps into all our work even if one were writing science fiction. Ryan, I have to say, is definitely not me, I wish he were! Small town characters and small town mores are pretty common, and I did live in Boston for a while, but fiction is fiction.

In The Promise of Living, you juxtapose the beauty of the city of Boston with the ugliness of the small rural town of Wilson’s Ferry. Most writers do the opposite. Why? 

I know, we see that so often! The small town sanctified beyond belief juxtaposed with the brutal dirt and corruption of a large city. Many writers draw from the idea of the ‘journey’ where the hero leaves the small farm, home, family, etc. and ventures out into the world, usually symbolized by a metropolis or at the very least, a war near a metropolis. For me, I wanted to create a Wilson’s Ferry that was filled with dirty secrets and shame. I wanted to symbolize that with the run down appearance of the town, the Commons, the dilapidated homes near the polluted river, etc. (And truth be told, there are, sadly, many small towns that are very economically depressed and it shows.) I wanted Ryan’s perception of Boston to be one of promise and hope and I highlighted the beauty there: its sense of community, the cobblestone streets, the old but beautiful Colonial and Victorian homes, etc. Have you been to Boston? It’s a jewel of a city.

Ryan, the main character, goes on a journey of self-discovery. Do you think that type of journey is common with people his age?

The theme of ‘going on a journey’ is a powerful theme since before the Greek and Roman Myths. Joseph Campbell calls it ‘the hero’s journey’, where one starts out with one view, goes down into the darkness, confronts his shadow self and comes out a renewed person. It’s a reflection and a process that happens over and over in our lives. So, with Ryan, it’s a discovery of his gifts: his gift for visual perspicacity and acumen, his discovery of his own sexuality, his own authenticity in being who he is and not morphing or hiding it, are all elements of self-discovery and yes, that journey is common with people his age. It’s like the Vision Quests of the Native American culture. One leaves the tribe, faces his greatest fears, becomes stronger and realizes his own unique gifts which he then brings back to share with the tribe. That’s the important aspect. The sharing of one’s gifts with the tribe.

What authors have greatly influenced you as a writer? 

Wow, so many. I love the universal wonder and beauty of Thornton Wilder; the cliff-hangers of James Fenimore Cooper; the power of language in Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Toni Morrison, the creative visual genius of Willa Cather; the way Dickens can tug at your heart strings; the pathos of Forster, Maugham, Baldwin, Capote, and even Cheever. I respect them all, and there are many, many others. I feel like I stand on the shoulders of giants.

Your other novels involve a thirteen year old and a much different premise. What was it like switching from that type of genre to the young adult one?

Yes, my other novels are a time travel adventure series for Middle Grade. It wasn’t too hard to move ‘up’ in a chronological sense. The dialogue between Ryan and Dave allowed more maturity in their perspectives on life and I could use the cadence of their speech to reflect their intimate friendship.

When I ‘switched back’ after The Promise of Living to write my third time travel novel, there was a major shift that I could feel, a jarring like when one slams on the brakes of a car. I had to constantly revise my writing remembering to reflect a more adventurous tone and a different flavor with these characters’ dialogue. I actually re-read book number one and two to bring my brain back to that world that I had created. In book number three, the characters are now fourteen years old and I had to really be mindful of how their discourse would reflect their age. Plus, the readership of a middle grade novel is much different than the readership of a young adult novel and I had to remember that as I wrote as well.

Have you always want to be a writer? 

I have. Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss,” and while I did do that in many other parts of my life, sadly, I didn’t do that with writing. I remember being shot down emotionally by my family when I casually announced at 13 that I wanted to be a writer, and I realize now how debilitating even that slight encounter has been.

What’s next on your plate? 

Well, as I’ve mentioned, I write middle grade time travel novels, currently a trilogy. In the Nick of Time, The Time of his Life, and just out this October, All the Time in the World. They are all available on Amazon.

I’m toying with a murder mystery series extracted from my work as a professional astrologer. Not autobiographical at all, just an extract, a seed where the mystery is created and solved with a slight astrological framework. It’s fun to think about, and create. It’ll be written for adults, so, we’ll see.

And of course, we must know. Who’s that on the cover?

That is my cousin! Actually, he did work on a farm.

Where can readers find out more about your work? 

The Promise of Living is available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Promise-Living-J-Lee-Graham-ebook/dp/B00992NIT0/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1383928688&sr=1-9&keywords=the+promise+of+living

Readers can follow my blog at www.jleegraham.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

 

Seasons of Raina

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According to the National Education Association, It is estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. But as Oprah Winfrey once said, “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you – always.”

Moving, finding oneself, learning to adjust to a large family . . . these are just a few of the curveballs thrown into one Colorado ninth grader’s life in Seasons of Raina, the debut young adult novel by Milissa Nelson.

A victim of bullying, Raina is sent to live with extended family in a small, rural town in Minnesota, quite the opposite of the metropolis that is Denver, where she hails from. Thrust into the life of a family of ten, Raina faces the crowding of eight cousins, the expectancy of a new school and new friends, yet a chance to discover herself. As it turns out, Raina is much stronger than she ever imagined. Sports, music and the adaptation to sharing rooms and problems with so many family members brings a surprising element of accepting change into Raina’s life. Seasons of Raina takes the reader on a warm, insightful journey into the struggling life of one young girl, who learns to balance the acceptance of herself, and the powerful effects that bullying can leave behind.

Author Milissa Nelson offers You Read It Here First a glimpse into Raina’s world, as well as her own.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Q: In Seasons of Raina, you explore the effects of bullying. Why did you choose this topic?

A: I needed Raina to have a plausible reason for her to re-locate such a long distance from her parents. I wanted her to move in with a family that closely resembled mine, so that I could write about what it was like to grow up in a large family. I needed a convincing reason, and I chose bullying. I’ve lived in both Colorado and Minnesota and love both places. I just needed to get her to Minnesota where I had spent more of my youth growing up. In general, life is better when people treat each other kindly and I wanted to show it was possible.

Q: Do you have a specific age range you are trying to reach with Seasons of Raina, considering it is a young adult novel?

A: I am writing for the upper elementary and middle school audience mostly. The language in “Seasons of Raina” is family friendly. The cousins in my novel have an age range of 3 to 17, so there is someone for most everyone to identify with. I also tried to write it for the entire family to enjoy. It is my attempt at a 1970s era version of a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel.

Q: You chose to write Raina into a large family rather than a small one. What governed your decision to create that particular dynamic for her?

A: Being part of a large family is what I know. I am seventh and I meet very few other seventh children. I wanted to share what it was like to grow up with a larger than average family and the special uniqueness of that. I am extremely grateful for my family.

Q: If you could come up with your own marketing pitch for Seasons of Raina, how would you draw readers in to purchase your book?

A: It is a great chapter book for beginning readers who want to tackle a longer story. The family friendly wording allows for “Seasons of Raina” to be read aloud and enjoyed by all. It is a book about the bonds of family, the advantages of trying new things, and it also has both serious and funny moments.

Q: Interestingly, your book takes place in the 1970’s. Modern trends are mentioned in the story that are quite common nowadays. Did your family participate in those things during your childhood?

A: I set the story in the 70s, because that was the last time that my entire family lived under one roof and I wanted to include all of my siblings. The older ones started to leave to attend college in the late 70s. We did recycle way before it was convenient. We drove our newspapers, glass, food cans, and aluminum 25 miles to a recycling center where we dropped them off and sorted them into collection bins. We were taught that resources are finite and we needed to conserve them. We had several paper bags set up near our wastebasket to save the recyclables in, until we had enough to make a trip to the recycling center.  We also composted food waste, leaves and grass from the lawn and dug it into our garden occasionally. Our garden was organic and we never treated our lawn or used weed killer. My parents did most of the work, but we pulled the weeds and used a tool designed to pull up the roots, and a push behind cultivator.

Q: Give us a few of your favorite authors and why you enjoy their work.

A: My favorite authors are Lucy Maud Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Willa Cather, and Carol Ryrie Brink. I love how they could make ordinary everyday lives, interesting. They were great storytellers and I love re-reading their books, even today.

Q: How was your own childhood similar or different to that of your young protagonist?

A: Raina became a combination of many different people. The biggest thing that I share with her is that I moved in high school and experienced a lot of new situations and took part in new and different activities. I am grateful for that move because I grew in many ways and became much more adaptable. I also learned that home can be anywhere there are people that you love.

Q: Did you find Raina easy to write? Describe her personality.

A: Raina is quiet, but when comfortable, has things to say. It was fun to write her part because I could compare and contrast her situations from before, with her new reality. She has a sense of humor and is respectful of others. I also gave her a drive to get better at things. She is someone who will put in the time necessary to see improvement.

Q: Bullying continues to grow into more and more of problem in today’s world. What advice would you give to children and teens about bullying?

A: I would say to try and treat everyone as kindly and respectfully as you can. Practice being nice to others even when they are not kind to you and try to not react to a bully, but sometimes by calmly talking through the criticism they have thrown at you, you can diffuse the bully from escalating the situation. When the bully stops finding any fun in being a bully, they start to feel silly. A caution though, is that this is not always possible when there is a potentially dangerous situation and sometimes adult intervention is needed.

Q: What hobbies do you enjoy in your spare time?

A: I like to participate in sports. Because of the size of the school I attended, they did not cut those who wanted to participate, so I was allowed to play volleyball, basketball, and I ran for the track team. I had a lot of fun. To this day, I would much rather participate than watch. I also have played the trumpet since elementary school and have sung with my family since I was very small. Even as an adult, opportunities to participate in making music are plentiful.

Q: When did you develop the desire to begin writing?

A: I have always enjoyed writing and find it to be very relaxing. I took a creative writing class in college where I majored in music education and I enjoyed it a lot.

Q: If you could jump into any piece of fiction out there today, which character would you like to be?

A: I enjoy reading about Anne’s adventures in “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Avonlea”. She is a very sincere girl, who has great intentions but somehow things don’t always go as hoped for. I love her fanciful use of language too and how she usually sees the good in things.

 

Seasons of Raina is available at North Star Press (http://www.northstarpress.com/products/seasons-of-raina) as well as on Amazon.

 

The Sharing Moon

The Sharing Moon

“It’s only in hindsight,” wrote artist/architect Maya Lin,

“that you realize what indeed your childhood was really like.”

In her debut fantasy/romance YA title, The Sharing Moon, author Christy Campbell weaves a compelling tale of do-overs, regrets and redemption as experienced by a pair of troubled, star-crossed teens.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Let’s start by telling readers about how your creative journey as a writer first began.

A: I first started writing short stories and poems in middle school. I won numerous awards for fiction and in high school, my Creative Writing teacher read my work as an example and told me that I should pursue writing. When I was unemployed last year, it was a good time to get down to business and finally start the book I’d put off for so long.

Q: Did you read a lot as an adolescent and teen? If so, what were some of your favorite titles/genres and who were some of the favorite authors that had the most influence on your personal style as a storyteller?

A: I read a ton and still do. In earlier years I loved Carolyn Keane, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and I would say Judy Blume’s young adult novels stuck with me the most. Mysteries and adolescent angst were my favorites. Then in high school I got heavily into Dean Koontz and found a pull toward science fiction/fantasy. I liked that he threw romance sometimes into such dark stories. I got into John Grisham too, who reminded me of Koontz in a way.

Q: If you could have lunch with one of those favorite authors, who would it be, where would you go, and what question would you most like to ask him/her?

A: Definitely Dean Koontz! We’d go somewhere near the beach, since he always impressed me with his details of the California coast. I’d ask him where on Earth he comes up with the compelling ideas for such ‘out there’ topics.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I just finished the last book in the Delirium series, Requiem, by Lauren Oliver. It’s in the YA genre.

Q: So tell us what your new book, The Sharing Moon, is all about.

A: A teen boy, Elijah, has died, and cannot recall any memories of his former life. He is stuck in between two dimensions, Before and After. Given a second chance to go back and live a new life, he finds the cost of such involves more than he imagined. He’s sent back to help another teen who battles her own emotional issues and the relationship becomes quite complicated. Elijah has no idea how his past has led him to the girl, but he learns along the way and it is very intriguing and heart wrenching as well. There is mystery and romance and some spirituality as well.

Q: What was your inspiration to write it?

A: I had this jumble of thoughts in my head to write about depression and how it affects teens. But I wanted to place a fantasy/romance aspect into the story so that it wasn’t too gloomy. I have dealt with depression and my husband, who was the same age as my character when we met, inspired a lot of the ideas. I wasn’t as severe as the female character, however. To portray both sides, I needed to have dual protagonists.

Q: The plot unfolds in South Haven, Michigan. Why did you choose this particular setting?

A: We love South Haven. There is no other Lake Michigan location in our state that is prettier, in my opinion. We’ve been there so many times and it’s so hard to leave. I know the area well and felt a lakeshore town was an interesting place to place teenage characters who live there year round, and don’t consider it just a tourist’s city.

Q: Which of the characters in your book was the hardest to write? Conversely, which one was the easiest?

A: Seraphina’s mother, Marah, was the hardest to portray. As a reclusive, emotionally damaged woman, there was a lot of background I had to cover and do it with her being a character who isn’t featured as often. Elijah and Seraphina were equally easy to write, the two lead characters, because I was a teen girl once, and remember first love very well. Writing a strong teen boy wasn’t as hard as I thought; his personality came very naturally to me. I thought of my husband.

Q: Do you see aspects of yourself in any of the characters?

A: The female lead, Seraphina, suffers a form of depression from a traumatic experience. I have been through a different type of depression and related to many of her issues.

Q: If you could go back and be the age of your young protagonists, what “do-over” moment would you most want to change and why?

A: In my own life, I would spend more time with my father, who died when I was 22. As a high school girl, I wish I’d appreciated the days I had with him more. High school years are all too consuming. Maturity seems far out of reach at 17 and 18.

Q: Did you start with an outline or simply wing it as you went along?

A: I used nothing except the mass of thoughts in my head! No outline, although I stopped dozens of times when I was out somewhere or doing something and sent myself long text messages of scenes I’d just came up with out of the blue.

Q: Was anyone in your circle of family and friends allowed to read chapters in progress or did you make them wait until the whole thing was done?

A: No one was allowed to see anything. I’m not sure why I was so protective about it. My mom is the first to have read the paperback from start to finish and absolutely loved it. I was worried what my family might think, even though I was proud of my work.

Q: Writing is a solitary craft. In your view, what’s the value of having a support network or critique group?

A: It can be good and bad. Unfortunately, I’ve found only a few family members and online groups to be the most encouraging. I’ve not received the support from friends and colleagues as I assumed. If I did, however, I’m not sure I could handle their opinions. What if they hated my work? I’ve gotten some great comments from some contacts who have made it so worth it already.

Q: From your perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges – and joys – of writing for today’s young adult market?

A: A positive right away that sealed it for me was the fact that YA novels cross over to the adult audience as well. With YA there is more to play with when it comes to fantasy type storytelling. The challenge, though, is breaking out a plot that hasn’t already been covered by all of the other YA authors.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work?

A: I self-published, which has some advantages. I was able to list my book as an eBook on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and with the help of a publishing press called Lulu, I have paperbacks available now.

Q: What do you know about the publishing world now that you didn’t know when you first started?

A: That hiring people is stress-free for a reason! Editors, agents, marketing people, you pay for those services and don’t have to worry about anything. I’d love to go that route.

Q: Is there a takeaway message from The Sharing Moon you’d like YA readers to discover?

A: I’d like readers to understand that mental illness during the teen years, or any age, is not to be taken lightly and we need to reduce the stigma. I’d also like to inspire young people to face obstacles with strength and learn that friendship and love can move someone to really embrace faith and hope.

Q: Okay, let’s say that Hollywood comes calling to turn The Sharing Moon into a movie. Who is your dream cast for it?

A: If I ever had faces pass through my mind it was someone who looks like Zac Efron now but 18 years old, for Elijah and someone who looks like Dakota Fanning at 17 for Sera. As for the rest, I can’t come up with anyone yet!

Q: What would your fans be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: Well, I only have a few (smile) but they might not know that I am somewhat introverted, desperately want to learn to play the piano, and that I cry at the drop of a hat.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: If something successful happens with my book, I will begin a follow-up about one of the secondary characters in The Sharing Moon. The antagonist named Damian. I also will be job hunting, since my college degree is actually in the human services field.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I have Facebook and Twitter pages listed under The Sharing Moon, and a Goodreads profile under Christy Campbell/The Sharing Moon. I am working on a blog as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS

LTTCover“Adolescence is a period of rapid changes,” wrote an unknown author.  “Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.”

Was there ever a more mystifying or mercurial entity sharing your roof and eating all of your food than a human teenager? In her new parenting book, LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS, popular columnist Myrna Beth Haskell wisely and whimsically affirms the empathetic message “You’re not alone” to the bewildered moms and dads of today’s younger generation.

 Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Let’s start out by looking at how – and why – your popular syndicated column Lions and Tigers and Teens transitioned to a full-fledged book of the same name.

A: Since I have dialogue with parents on a regular basis, many of them suggested I put the columns together into a guide.  I started to look at all of the columns I had already written, and I realized that compiling my favorites together was a fabulous idea!  The chapters are actually longer than the original column installments.  I added more from the original interviews, and I added additional tips.

Q: Newspaper and magazine columns are typically stand-alone fare on a variety of different topics. In compiling columns for inclusion, how did you keep the whole thing cohesive for prospective readers?

A: This was easier than one might think.  I was able to group the columns into sections so that parents could easily scan the book for “general” types of issues/solutions.  For instance, the section “Firsts” deals with issues such as a teen’s first time behind the wheel or first boyfriend/girlfriend.  The section titled “The Bad and the Ugly” deals with serious problems teens might face (i.e. depression, substance abuse, bullying).

Q: What is the overarching theme of the book and who is your target demographic?

A: Theme/Central message:  No parent is perfect. However, if you are willing to try different approaches and communicate with your teen regularly, you are well on your way to solving any issue.  Collaborate with your teens to find solutions to problems, and your teen will be well on his/her way to becoming an accomplished adult.

Demographic: Caregivers of teens (moms, dads, secondary teachers, etc.) – generally men and women between the ages of 38 and 55. 

Q: Do today’s teenagers have it harder or easier than they did when you were a teen yourself?

A: I think that many of the issues are the same.  Teens are still dealing with peer pressure, body image, self esteem, bullying, violence, and academic stresses.  One stark difference in my opinion: the amount of violence teens are exposed to.  I do not remember movies and games being so focused on gratuitous and graphic violence – many times void of consequences.  I think teens have more access to this type of media today due to the Internet and social networking.  Violence is exploited and easily accessed.

Q: Knowing what you know now as a product of life experiences, would you ever want to go back for a do-over? If so, what would you do differently?

A: I would never want to “do-over” any stage of my life.  I truly believe that we are who we are today because of our past experiences – good and bad.  This also goes for parenting.  Every parent makes mistakes.  You learn from them and you move on.

Q: What fascinates, inspires and/or troubles you the most about the modern teen mindset?

A: Technology can be wonderful and it offers teen’s exposure to places and ideas that help to expand the mind and imagination.  However, there is a dark side to all of this exposure.  Today’s technology exacerbates “instant gratification.” Texting, IMing, and other forms of shortened/instant messaging create problems we didn’t once have.  To some extent, many teens are losing the ability to express themselves in reasoned and thoughtful ways.  They are building relationships where the only contact is via a computer, as opposed to taking the time to actually “be together” and talk to someone.  Bullying has also become more hurtful (cyber bullying) where egregious comments or harmful images can be sent to hundreds of peers in an instant.  

Q: Should parents allow celebrities to be their teenagers’ role models?

A: Teens should understand that celebrity is a business…that what they see on TV or in movies is a fabrication of reality.  Many celebrities are portrayed in the media as going down the wrong path because it sells newspapers and advertising space.  Parents should make an effort to point out good things teen celebrities are doing in their communities and talk about why instant celebrity might cause a person to make bad choices.  It is a pipe dream to think your teenager won’t be curious about celebrities, so you need to have frequent and open discussions about celebrity.

Q: Your love of the written word was ignited at a very young age. Were you a voracious reader as an adolescent and a teenager?

A: I was definitely into books.  I was into the horror genre as a teenager.  I read a lot of Stephen King.  I also loved books about adolescent angst written from the adolescent perspective.  I wrote a book review column for my high school newspaper.

Q: What were some of your favorite books?

A: Favorites in adolescence: The Shining, The Stand, The Exorcist, Are You there God? It’s Me, Margaret, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.

Favorites in College: Catch 22, Beloved, Misery, A Clockwork Orange, The Sound and the Fury

Other favorites: In Cold Blood, Memoirs of a Geisha, Angela’s Ashes

Wow…I guess these lists are quite diverse! Basically, I love any book that really goes into “character.”

Q: What are you reading now?

I’ve just started Stephen King’s 11/22/63 about the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  I also have Killing Kennedy on my shelf – waiting to be read.  Unfortunately, I do not have the time I would like to read strictly for pleasure.  Much of my time reading is spent doing research for my features and column installments.

Q: At what point did you awaken to the realization that you wanted to make your living as a full-time writer?

A: In elementary school I knew I wanted to be a writer.  However, I didn’t start out as a full time writer.  That is extremely difficult to do. Most budding writers have day jobs.  I used to teach at a community college, and I also worked as a technical writer.  Once I began freelancing in 1997, my writing career developed from there.  It takes time to build relationships with editors.  It was very part-time the first several years when my children were young.

Q: Did you have mentors to guide you on that journey? If so, what were the most valuable lessons you learned from them?

A: I’ve stayed in touch with two former teachers – one is an author and one a poet.  I’ve asked them both for advice over the years.  More recently, I’ve had contact with other writers via social networking, as well as folks I’ve had contact with whom I’ve met through my work.

I guess I’ve learned through experience and from mentors that you have to love to write -first and foremost.  Most writers do not strike it rich.  They write for the love of writing…which is what I do.

Q: You’re the parent of two children. Over the course of writing your columns and developing the structure of your book, did you learn anything new that could be applied to your own parenting style?

A: I definitely learned to lighten up at times.  My lead-in for “Tornadoes and Other Hazards” has a light-hearted tone partly because I realized I had to let my son’s sloppy lifestyle go a bit – “pick your battles” comes to mind.  There is a difference between issues that drive us crazy because they just “drive us crazy” and issues that concern our teens’ health and well being.  I decided to focus on the latter. I’ve also learned that there are many approaches that work.  You need to decide what’s best based on your family dynamic and the personality and maturity level of your teen.

Q: Are you a parent, a pal or both?

A: I’m a “parent” most of the time.  I think some parents try too hard to be “friends” with their teens.  Teens need parents…adults to guide them and draw boundaries.  However, at times, I do things with my teens that a friend might also do…including giggling with my daughter until I have the hiccups or playing video games with my son.  You have to know how to have a good time with your teens even though your first job is to “parent.”

Q: At the end of each chapter in the book is a section called Tips and Tales. What were some of the best tips that other parents contributed?

A: The “Tips and Tales” sections include great advice from other parents.  My best tips:  One parent wrote in about her own experience with depression in her teen years for the “Down in the Dumps” chapter which addresses teen depression.  I also received some great tips on anti-bullying programs at various schools.  Parents, who also happen to be principals, high school guidance counselors, and teachers, wrote in with great tips.  Their advice is obviously coming from more than one perspective.

Q: How much research went into the planning of the book?

A: Research is extremely important for the type of writing I do.  I consider myself an educator, so I have to get it right.  I do general research on each topic before I even approach experts to interview.  The direction my topics take is influenced by my experiences, but often changes a bit once I do research and interview experts (psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, educators).  This is information my readers need to be armed with when they approach a problem.

I also did research on how to put the book together.  I looked at other compilations and popular parenting books.  The chapters are grouped into sections to make it easy for parents to find a particular topic.  I opted to do my own foreword because I was able to talk about my inspiration for the book and column.  The afterword (“Common Parentisms…and the answers your teens are thinking, not saying”) is humorous and goes with the tone of many of the lead-ins for the chapters (It kind of raps up the “generation gap”).  After all, parents of teens have to have a sense of humor. 

Q: Were there existing parenting books that influenced your approach to Lions and Tigers and Teens?

A: Since my book is a compilation of my favorite column installments, I would say the influence started with my column.  My work falls into the parenting genre, and I favor a lighthearted, down-to-earth, or humorous tone in the books and columns I choose to read by others.  I absolutely love Erma Bombeck!  I also enjoy the Newbie Dad column, by Brian Kantz.  Actually, I enjoy several “dad” columns and books, including work by Bruce Sallan (A Dad’s Point of View).  I think dads have a propensity to laugh at themselves more so than moms. 

Q: What do you feel is the most serious problem confronting teens in the 21st century and what is the remedy to help them deal with it?

A: There seems to be a lot more stress on teens today – school stress, social stress, stress about finding a job when they get out of school, stress about affording college, etc.  Stress is the underlying factor for a lot of problems that adolescents face (teen depression, substance abuse, test anxiety…the list goes on).  If parents can guide a teen to focus on their goals, improve their self esteem, face issues head-on, and allow them to make mistakes…stress will decrease and teens can focus on becoming a valuable member of society.

Q: Which chapters proved the most challenging?

A: “The Truth, the Whole Truth, well…sort of” (about what to tell your teens about your past) was difficult because there were many diverse opinions.

“That Ain’t the Way to Have Fun” (about teen substance abuse) required a lot of research.

Q: Conversely, which chapters were the most fun?

A: “The Locked Door” (about teen privacy): I just loved writing the lead-in for this one.

“No Jacket Required” (about teens refusing to wear jackets): This was fun because of all of the great comments I got from parents on this one.

Q: What is something that most people would be surprised to know about you?

A: I am an avid gymnastics fan – another passion of mine.  I was a gymnast.  I also choreographed routines for NCAA Division I teams, and I was a Level 10 judge for over 15 years.  Today, I still try to make it to local championship meets and, of course, I follow what our US girls are doing on TV.

Q: What advice would you give other writers who are in the process of writing their first book?

A: Don’t get discouraged and have the courage to allow other writers to critique your work.  Understand that when you’ve finished your book…your work is not done.  Prepare to market your book even if you’ve signed with a traditional publisher.  This process can be a daunting one if you are not aware that you have to put in just as much – if not more – time marketing as you did writing.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m always writing new features concerning children’s health and development, and I continue with the column each month.  I have plans to start a new column for empty nest folks and a possible second edition of LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS.

******

LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS, published by Unlimited Publishing, is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk as a paperback and ebook. To learn more about Myrna, visit her website at http://www.myrnahaskell.com.