As a full-time writer, Sharon M. Draper loves what she does. She gets to write, travel, read, sleep late, go to the beach, or do nothing. No two days are ever alike. She feels blessed. When researching her life, I found it interesting to learn random things from Fireside Musings about her such as she loves Hagen Daaz ice-cream and can’t swim. If she were stranded on a desert island, according to Fireside Musings, she would bring building tools, a satellite telephone, and the complete works of Shakespeare! As for the coolest thing to most recently happen to her. Out of my Mind was on the New York Times Bestseller List! I reviewed it on August 6. Now I’m excited to post an interview with Sharon M. Draper, wherein she shares from her personal life as well as talks about Out of My Mind.
ALLISON: If you could share only one thing from your childhood with readers, what would that be?
SHARON: I was an avid reader as a child. I went to the library every single Saturday and checked out the maximum number of books, which was ten. I’d take them home and read them, then go back the next week and get ten more. I really did read most of the books in our small branch library. Seriously. All that reading probably got me started as a writer.
ALLISON: People tend to love or hate their adolescence. Which describes you?
I was an awkward adolescent. Because I was studious and I guess kinda nerdy, I was left out of the more socially mobile crowd, but that turned out to be a good thing. My best friends stayed true and loyal. We are still close friends even today. Adolescence can be survived!
ALLISON: A challenge from a student started you on the path of literary recognition. What was that challenge? What was “One Small Torch” about? And where might one find a copy?
SHARON: One of my students, a young man who did not like to write very much, challenged me to do some writing for a change, instead of just assigning it. So I entered a short story contest and I actually won! The story was called “One Small Torch”. You can read it today as chapter one of Forged by Fire.
ALLISON: You have received many honors for your writing work. What the first one you received? And what was that like? What was it like to visit the White House? And to represent the United States in Moscow?
SHARON: I’ve been blessed to receive many, many awards and honors. I am always a little awed, and always very grateful for the recognition of my writing. I guess the first really big one was to receive the New Talent Award by the American Library Association for Tears of a Tiger, my first book. The White House is awesome. The food there is unbelievably delicious, by the way. I’ve been to Moscow twice—it’s fascinating. I love to travel, but the best flight is always the one that brings me back home.
ALLISON: You have written stand-alone books and series. Which is your preference? How has the process differed?
SHARON: Some books need to be continued, and some say it all, and there is no need to further the story. Out of my Mind, for example, begins and ends with the same words, which literally brings it full circle. There is nothing left to say. But Panic, on the other hand, just begs to be continued. And so I shall.
ALLISON: According to some interviews, realistic fiction is your favorite genre to write. With fantasy being so popular among young people, have you ever been tempted to write it?
SHARON: Nope. I don’t think I’d be very good at it. I have no interest at all in even trying. I’ve always believed one should focus on what one loves, and the result will be wonderful.
ALLISON: How did you come up with the idea of Melody to have a Medi-Talker? Why did you wait until halfway through the book for this to happen?
SHARON: Many real children with disabilities use electronic talking devices. It is a wonderful help to those who have all their words and thoughts stuck inside. Modern technology is making these devices better every day.
ALLISON: Your daughter has a disability. Has she used the Medi-talker? Or other technology which has opened up her world?
SHARON: My daughter tells me to remind people that she is not Melody (even though she loves the attention.) But I do know lots of young people who do use such a device.
ALLISON: Several reviews have criticized the end as negative. Do you view it this way? Why didn’t you opt for a more positive end?
SHARON: The end is realistic. A child like Melody will not get “cured,” or change in any way. Her life will be difficult for the rest of her life. But as long as she can maintain her optimism and spirit, she can survive.
ALLISON: Some individuals with disabilities have made the statement that they would love if an author would write a book with characters who are like them and that would help others understand them. Your now having written a book about a girl who has a disability, what advice would you offer to other authors hoping to do the same?
SHARON: The world is full of characters and writing possibilities. But never write a story to “teach a moral” or to “make someone understand.” Write the story so the character soars and the reader can see the humanity of that character. The understanding will come effortlessly.
ALLISON: What are your favorite books which portray individuals with disabilities?
SHARON: I think Wonder is a really good book, but I’m not an expert on the topic. My next book will be about a different character is a different situation living in a different century. I’m not aware of other books about this time and place. I simply become an expert on what I’m doing at the time.