Jeffrey Blount was inspired to write Hating Heidi Foster after observing a shared moment between his daughter and her best friend. Yet the theme of friendship is the weakest part of his book. Instead, Hating Heidi Foster excels in its portrayal of family, loss, and grief. This is a gentle and sometimes slow-paced story of how Mae loves her dad, hurts when she loses him, and eventually finds peace.
The back cover of Hating Heidi Foster tells readers that Mae and Heidi were the best of friends: “Their relationship was the stuff of storybooks, legendary even, in the minds of their high school classmates.” However, in the first chapter we meet Mae, her mom, her grandparents, and family friends. In other words, we meet everyone but Heidi. When Heidi is finally introduced briefly in the second chapter, we discover that Mae hates Heidi because she blames Heidi for her dad’s death. For that reason, Mae doesn’t understand why anyone would even associate with Heidi. How it is that Heidi is responsible for the death of Mae’s dad? Apparently, Heidi was trapped in a closet in her burning house and Mae’s dad sacrificed his life to save her. Whether you agree with Mae that her dad should have left Heidi’s rescue to firefighters isn’t the issue. Mae needs to channel her grief somewhere, and hating her best friend makes fine sense. Except, Mae’s choice puts Jeffrey Blount in a difficult position as an author. How does one write a story about two best friends if throughout most of the book neither friend will talk to the other? Blount relies on flashbacks, meaning that the bulk of this short one-hundred-page story is about past events. This is not a story-telling format that excites me. Moreover, even when Heidi’s health begins to suffer as a result of Mae’s rejection, Mae continues to ignore her. Mae only finally comes around and allows Heidi back into her life because of a contrived situation involving a videotape. So, this whole storyline fell flat for me.
On the other hand, the back cover of Hating Heidi Foster also tells readers that the book is about grief, and this is one area in which Blount excels. Mae slowly shuts down—pushing away friends, giving up on team sports, neglecting schoolwork—and begins to live on the memories of her dad. The immensity of Mae’s pain is evident and natural. Yet it’s not only Mae that is suffering here, but also her mom and both sets of grandparents. Unlike most books for young people, Blount acknowledges this reality by showing how the adults in Mae’s life handle grief. Mae’s mom refuses to look at photographs, watch family videos, or store up memorabilia of Mae’s dad. The grandparents send text messages, make phone calls, and one set even visits. Everyone has questions, feels alone, and shares grief. Mae scoffs at the idea that time heals all wounds, but eventually that truth is made real even to her. When she returns to school after a long weekend, Mae finds that her hate is weakening. The longer she watches the videos of her dad, the more she has to admit that her memories of him are becoming blurred. Loss of loved ones hits hard, but most of us find a way to make peace. Blount stays well-focused on his depiction of that journey. I particularly like that one way the family starts to find peace is by talking to neighbors and rescue workers who had witnessed the attempt by Mae’s dad to save Heidi.
The back cover of Hating Heidi Foster doesn’t refer to the value of family in our lives. Yet the portrayal of family is much stronger than that of the friendship between Mae and Heidi. Naturally, because the first chapter starts with the funeral, Mae’s relationship with her dad can only be shown through flashbacks. This portrayal is enriched by how the death of Mae’s dad brought her mom, her grandparents, and even friends of the family closer together. In that way, Blount is able to bring the story into the present. Other ways include Mae’s growing insatiable need to know why her dad ran into a burning building, which leads to a search to find those who had last seen her dad, and Mae’s conflicts with her family. Her mom worries about Mae’s withdrawal, her grandparents worry about Mae’s rejection of her mom’s decision to date again some months later, and friends try to convince Mae to talk with Heidi. All these events happen in the moment and, despite sometimes overly-formal dialog, work well. Mae has a strong-knit family who survive their loss because they pull together. In a literary landscape full of dysfunctional parents, Blount has given readers two parents that make exemplary role models.
The depiction of friendship in Hating Heidi Foster disappointed me. One can find far better options. But, having lost my own mom, I greatly appreciated the honest depiction of grief. I also love the beauty of Mae’s family. Hating Heidi Foster is worth seeking out.
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
I’m always uncertain about how an interview will go. If an author has limited web presence, I find myself often stuck using generic questions which can inspire generic answers. Yet it’s not necessarily better for an author to have a bountiful web presence, because then I struggle to ask something new and creative but also meaningful and personal. So, it’s always exciting when I receive a response to my interview that makes me smile. I enjoyed this interview with Jeffrey Blount, author of Hating Heidi Foster, and hope you will too!
ALLISON: What is your one publication besides Hating Heidi Foster of which you are most proud?
JEFFREY: That would be my first novel, Almost Snow White. How did it come about? It is about a young, mulatto (bi-racial) woman in the 1940s who passes for white for a better life. As a child, I listened to a conversation between my grandmother and father in which they discussed the lives of people who passed for white. What would happen if the person was found out and banished from the white society? Would the black people they left behind take them back? If they couldn’t come home, what kind of life would be left? I carried that conversation into adulthood when I decided to create a story around it.
ALLISON: You have won awards for your documentary projects. How is the process different for writing fiction and nonfiction?
JEFFREY: For me it comes down to research and facts. Nonfiction requires significant research and a dedication to a factual representation of the subject matter. Although there are factual requirements in my fiction, such as city buildings, monuments, rivers, etc., the main focus for me is the story I create in my mind which may have no basis in reality. For me, fiction offers the opportunity for greater creativity, although I do enjoy them both.
ALLISON: Those documentary projects took the form of scripts. How is the process different between writing a book and a script?
JEFFREY: Writing the documentary script requires hours and hours of listening to interviews, reading books and newspapers, studying film and photographs. I do intend to tell a story, but in the end, I become a history major writing something akin to a thesis. When it is time to write the script, I write to the media that I have, meaning my words have to have a visual support. I have to consider this fact while researching and writing. In the end, it is a visual medium and that must be respected throughout the process. Writing fiction is a very different. I don’t have any restrictions and although I do see in my head what I am writing, visualizing scenes, I am free from facts and the notion that I have to worry about what video I might use. It’s my hope that the readers will create the images in their minds.
ALLISON: You are also a director. Talk about a typical day or highlight a single best and single worst moment.
JEFFREY: A typical day includes many possibilities. I am in the news business, so I could be directing interviews, overseeing the creation of graphics, doing set designs, production standups for correspondents, advising on other show issues and finally the actual pre-production and directing of news broadcasts or talk shows, press conferences, etc. I don’t have a single best moment. There are too many over the years. Maybe this will suffice. I have met every living President and some that have passed on. I’ve spent many hours in the Oval Office and even the personal quarters at the White House. Certainly, growing up on a farm in Virginia, I never thought I’d be in those rooms. I have also had too many bad or strange moments over the years to pick one. Here’s an example though from a local station that I worked at early in my career. We fade up from black to open the newscast and an overhead light explodes and the filaments fall onto the anchorwoman’s head which is covered in hairspray. I don’t think I need to go any further!
GETTING TO KNOW YOU QUESTIONS
ALLISON: Describe your personality in ten words or less.
JEFFREY: Kind and thoughtful. Happy yet reserved. Open.
ALLISON: Besides writing, what are your interests?
JEFFREY: Family. Watching football and tennis. Playing tennis. Reading. Movies and documentaries.
ALLISON: What are your pet peeves?
JEFFREY: Bad play by-play people during football games and tennis matches. As if I could do better!
ALLISON: If you were to live anywhere outside of the United States, where would it be? Paris, France. Why?
JEFFREY: Because each view is like a beautiful painting and I do find it to be truly romantic. My wife and I adore it.
HATING HEIDI FOSTER
ALLISON: Hating Heidi Foster was inspired by the friendship between your daughter and her best friend. What are some of your best memories of childhood friendships?
JEFFREY: I had a friendship like my daughter’s, but instead of one best friend, I had two, Jim and Sonny. My best memories are of us just hanging out together at each other’s homes. We were the three Musketeers. Recently, I happened to chat with one of my high school teachers whom I hadn’t seen in years. The first thing she remembered was that great friendship. And yes, I am in touch with them both and I love it that I am Facebook friends with Jim’s daughter, Nikki, who was one of the first readers of Hating Heidi Foster.
ALLISON: Now that you’re an adult, what is one relationship tip you’d like to share?
JEFFREY: The universal tip. Take the time to say I love you and to find nice ways every now and then to let that special person know just how special they really are to you.
ALLISON: Hating Heidi Foster is about loss. What has been the biggest loss in your life? Did you draw on that experience to write this story?
JEFFREY: My grandmother. My mom’s mother , who my daughter, Julia, is named for. Yes, I did draw on that while writing the story.
ALLISON: Because you love to write, you decided to write a book to honor the friendship between your daughter and her best friend. How did you convert that seed of an idea from real life into a full-blown fictional book?
JEFFREY: I knew that I wanted to explore the depth of connections between human beings. Connections for the most part that we take for granted. I haven’t asked, but I think that Julia and Emily probably went about their friendship like I did with Jim and Sonny. You just enjoy each other without getting overly serious about the connection. But because you don’t investigate that, you lose track of how much the person means to you. I wanted to remind them of that. So I created a scenario that could bring that attachment to the forefront. That scenario included the death of Mae’s father which was the catalyst for the story.
ALLISON: You talked about being overcome with emotion when you wrote Hating Heidi Foster and being worn when you finished writing it. Some writers live on chocolate to get through a novel. How did you sustain yourself?
JEFFREY: Ha! I should try the chocolate method. I just love a good story even if it makes me sad sometimes. When I felt the emotion, I felt as though I was on the right track and that alone was enough to sustain me. It’s like a day on the tractor, cultivating the crop. At the end of the day, you stand by the tractor in the setting sun, smiling and nodding and taking pleasure in a job well done.
ALLISON: Finally, what’s next?
JEFFREY: Working as hard as I possibly can to make Hating Heidi Foster a success and then I do have another book in mind, but that’s a surprise!
Author of several novels, Daniel Wright apparently was repeatedly admonished during childhood by his mother to stop telling stories and quit stretching the truth. However, he enjoyed fictionalizing events so much that as an adult he turned it into a passion for writing novels.
ALLISON: You grew up in Texas. My husband and I visited it this past November for the first trial to attend a dog agility trial. What do you consider are the best sights to see? We had hoped to bring back one souvenir from Texas. What do you associate with Texas?
DANIEL: If you go to the northern part of the state, I’d suggest Palo Duro Canyon up in the Panhandle or, if you prefer beaches, maybe Port Aransas just below Corpus Christi along the Gulf coast. In my estimation the highlight of any Hill Country trip in the central part of the state would have to be San Antonio. It’s rich with history and things to do – the Alamo, Spanish governor’s palace, Majestic Theatre, the River Walk, Breckenridge Park and other attractions too numerous to mention. Now, as far as Texas memorabilia is concerned, the Lone Star set inside a circle is popular in jewelry and large versions adorn the exterior of many homes across the state; also, anything with bluebonnets on it – paintings, ceramics, etc.
ALLISON: I have been to vegetable and fruit farms but not a cotton one. What was life like growing up on a cotton farm?
DANIEL: It’s interesting you ask this because of the recent news reports of the massive sand and dust storm that swept across the Panhandle-South Plains region. That’s where I grew up, near Lubbock. I’ve always said, “When the weather is good on the Plains, it’s the best in the world but when not, it’s the worst.” As a youngster, I couldn’t wait to get off that farm. I spent whole summers cutting weeds from cotton rows, moving irrigation pipe, and spent many days during my teen years with my butt planted on a tractor seat doing some type of field operation, plowing, cultivating, etc. In those days only the very wealthy had cabs on tractors. I never did. I was kept company by boiling dust, gnats and sweat bees. Now, looking back, I do so fondly. It was a good life, and still is for my childhood friends who decided to stay on the farm. Oddly, I now am somewhat jealous of them.
ALLISON: You worked in both radio and television. How did the two fields compare?
DANIEL: I started in radio at KCBD in Lubbock on Christmas day 1969. I was a 19-year-old disk jockey. It was fun, at first. But, if you think about it in terms of sitting in a walk-in closet for four to six hours a day six days a week then, surely, you can understand how the job lost its gloss in a hurry. My entire radio career lasted about a year and a half. By the time I turned 21 I landed a news reporter job with KLBK in Lubbock. Television was much more exciting, especially in those days before Cable and Satellite. Our station had a fairly consistent 60%+ share of the market. (share definition: % of households with tv sets actually turned on and watching something. Rating definition: % of total television households whether or not sets are turned on.) I mention this because within a month, everyone in Lubbock and across the South Plains knew who I was. I actually ad libbed my first on-air weathercast after only about a month or two on the job. It was certainly a different era. That sort of thing would not even be considered these days. The progression of jobs within the industry included all forms of on-air work, news, sports, weather, hosting interview programs, telethons, election results and on and on. I went to KFDX TV in Wichita Falls in 1973 and became an advertising account executive in 1983. I ended my television career as sales manager at KWTX TV in Waco in 2002. So, to actually make a fair comparison between radio and television is impossible. But, kind of like my retrospect on farm life, I think, now, it would be fun to host a morning radio program at some small radio station somewhere close to home. Yep, I’m going full circle in my thinking on several fronts.
ALLISON: You also worked in various positions. Which was the most interesting? Why? How do your job experiences help you now as a freelance writer?
DANIEL: I’m a morning person. So my favorite job in tv was doing early weather cut-ins during the Today Show while I was in Wichita Falls. Even after I went into sales, I continued with that part of my on-air work until I left that station in ’91. As a novelist, I’ve drawn heavily on personalities I’ve known over the years from the early farm years and throughout the broadcast career. I love stories that bring together improbable allies from divergent backgrounds which has been made simpler by living such different lives.
ALLISON: What is your favorite area in which to write? Why appeals to you about science fiction? Why did you decide to write for young people?
DANIEL: Since I consider myself to be a novelist, no other area of writing appeals as much to me. I love creating characters and stories then inviting the reader to join me in following fascinating people navigating trials and troubles in an entertaining way. I haven’t settled on a genre specialty. I may someday, but not yet. I ride the crest of creative winds, whichever way they may be blowing. So far, I have had published 1 mainstream drama, 2 sci-fi, 1 middle grade paranormal, 1 suspense/thriller, 1 action/adventure, 1 historical drama, and 1 young adult. “Annie’s World”, the one you are about to review, was written as the first in a series (number yet to be determined) and will metamorphose into a sci-fi young adult, but I’m not so sure it could slot comfortably in that genre with the first book because it mostly follows Jake Henderson when he encounters Annie at ten years old. So, I’m just calling it soft science fiction. I do enjoy writing YA, because the formative years for teens and twenty-somethings is an exciting time of life when all things are fresh and new and everything is an experience.
ALLISON: You are of retirement age. You have written a post about today’s educational system. How do you feel school compares to when you were growing up? What is advice that you would offer to young people growing up today?
DANIEL: I’ll keep this short. Our elementary, middle and high schools are turning out graduates that can’t read, spell, balance a checkbook or even point out countries on a globe, yet they have diplomas. And, to heap further injury, college tuition prices have turned advanced education into something reserved for the elite and wealthy. By the time I graduated from high school, I had a well-rounded general knowledge in many areas. I even knew about construction, electrical, plumbing, crops, livestock, welding and a myriad of other subjects beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. Now, we’re putting kids on the streets who can’t even read their own diploma. I could fill up several pages with this rant. So, I’ll stop.
ALLISON: When you retired, you took up writing full time. How do you spend your time besides writing?
DANIEL: I obviously enjoy reading. But, I also enjoy things of a more artsy nature, too. I’m a wood turner. I enjoy taking a hunk of wood, chucking it into a lathe and making goblets, bowls, jewelry boxes, etc. I also was a gym rat for many years and still enjoy weightlifting and working out.
ALLISON: What’s next?
DANIEL: I’m currently working on book number 2 in the “Annie’s World” series. When not working on that, I have a love story, “Zero To Love In A Day”, that I have just begun shopping publishers with. I think I may even try to find an agent for this one. I’ve only had an agent once. It was a bad experience. But, it may be time to try again.
Jennifer Fry has described her debut novel, A Part to Play, as a contemporary re-imagining of The Phantom of the Opera. For fans of this famous tragedy, this is excellent news. For everyone else (myself included), take heart. The Phantom of the Opera connection means, of course, that there is a romance with a troubled musician, but there are other issues too as you’ll discover later in my review. For now, I’ll also confess that A Part to Play was so well-written that I found it difficult to pinpoint what aspects to feature as part of my review. Finally, I decided on these three outstanding ones: complex relationships, purposeful descriptions, and realistic handling of emotions.
Let’s start with the complex relationships. After her sister’s death, Lucy is shipped off to boarding school, because her parents are unable to handle their grief. Never mind that Lucy herself is still just a teenager and so could use adults to shepherd her through this difficult time. Instead her parents view her as the strong one, meaning apparently the best choice they can make for her is to send her away. The result is that Lucy must deal not only with her grief, but with perceived parental rejection as well. At this point, some authors would have kept Lucy’s parents behind the scenes to preserve reader dislike. Other authors might have instead brought them back onstage where they could magically transform into perfect parents. Neither happens, which feels true to life. Unfortunately, not all of the relationships are as believable. The one that is a bit too cliché for my tastes is Lucy’s unexpected rivalry with the former leading drama star Nicole. For no valid reason, Nicole makes Lucy her most hated nemesis on first sight. Throughout three-quarters of A Part to Play, Nicole is the quintessential antagonist. Then one day Lucy hears Nicole in the bathroom crying, decides to befriend her, and suddenly the world is right between them. I don’t think so! Although Fry did fail with this one relationship portrayal, she was successful with multiple others.
Turning to purposeful descriptions, Fry showed off her mastery of craft in Chapter One. Her first two lines alone show the main character, set the scene, and build intrigue: “Rain drops splattered the windshield and violent wind forced the SUV across the yellow lane divider. The unseasonal storm matched Lucy’s mood.” In such a short space, we already know that Lucy’s miserable, the weather is bad, and the family is struggling to stay on the road. Her parents are introduced like this: “His furrowed brown, his mouth in a permanent frown. No humor in his eyes. They hadn’t said two words to each other the entire ride. Not much different than the last few months. In between the endless silence, the only sounds in her house were the shuffle of those damned slippers her zombie of a mother wore.” Forgive me for so extensively quoting passages, but there are so many ineffective ways Lucy’s family could’ve been portrayed that I wanted you to read Fry’s writing for yourself. But that’s not to say Fry always delivered. For example, she resorted to a lackluster summative paragraph for Lucy’s first improvisation: “Students began whispering when she didn’t start the scene. She couldn’t do this and didn’t even care how she looked. So she turned and walked off the stage.” Blah, how dull is that? Overall though, by the time I’d finished reading A Part to Play, I wanted to learn as much as I could from Fry’s writing style.
Last, there is the realistic handling of emotions. For a first-time novelist, Fry certainly undertook some challenges. Readers will only tolerate a story’s main character wallowing in self-pity for so long. How then does an author stay true to reality, while also keeping readers engaged? Fry walks a tightrope when she allows Lucy to reject parents, friends, studies, and clubs, but also to explore the origins of music drifting through the school’s old heating system and become infatuated with a troubled young musician. Sometimes I feel that Fry wavered, but mostly Fry maintained an amazing balance. Fry also faces a risk, when she creates a romance for Lucy. The simple resolution for a plot about a lonely young woman would have been to have a man rescue her. At first, and perhaps for too long, this even seems the route Fry will take. Then Chris turns out to have troubles of his own, which create a twist in the plot. Even here, the simple and “feminist” solution would have been to have Lucy turn into an independent woman. Yet Fry mostly dodges that route too. Sometimes tackling a challenge can backfire; in Fry’s case, it worked in her favor.
English: Lon Chaney Sr. and Mary Philbin in “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925) http://www.archive.org/details/ThePhantomoftheOpera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I’d be remiss if I ended my review without referring to the A Part to Play’s parallels with The Phantom of the Opera. In the famous musical, leading lady Christine begins hearing a voice at the Opera House which sings and speaks to her; this voice belongs to a Erik, a physically deformed and mentally disturbed genius who was one of the building’s architects. Similarly, in A Part to Play, Lucy is moved by haunting music drifting through the boarding school’s old heating system. This music belongs to Chris, a troubled young man who is one of the school’s maintenance worker. At this point, the two stories somewhat digress, but to explain how would spoil the story. Not being a huge fan of The Phantom of the Opera, I had to search out a synopsis and felt surprised at how many parallels there were. A Part to Play should please Phantom fans. At the same time, it’s a riveting and dramatic story in its own right, and so others should take delight in it too.
Is A Part to Play flawless? No. Fry had some less than glorious moments. Overall though Fry impressed me with how unflinchingly she portrayed the real life repercussions of sorrow, loneliness, passion, and love. For that reason, I greatly enjoyed her contemporary re-imaging of the “Phantom of the Opera”.
My rating?Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
This month I am featuring mostly new authors. Starting off that list is Jennifer Fry, author of A Part to Play. My email to her went straight to spam and so this interview almost never happened. I’m glad we finally established contact, because I think you’ll agree that she’s an interesting person!
ALLISON: You balance a lot of professional commitments: graphic design business, teaching art, writing books. Imagine spending one day taking a break from professional commitments. What would that ideal day look like?
JENNIFER: I would take a day trip somewhere with my husband. We’ve been wanting to get down to Big Sur, maybe hike around in the redwoods, have a picnic lunch. Sometimes we just like to take scenic drives and talk or listen to music–not even have a real destination in mind. Eventually, we’d find a cool, unique spot to eat dinner, soak in the local ambiance, and just enjoy each others company. Any work discussions would be banned for the day. It would be all about being in the moment.
ALLISON: You have two dogs and a cat. What is your funniest pet story?
JENNIFER: It’s hard to choose just one! They make me laugh constantly, which is exactly why I have them in my life. They are pure joy, with a little mischief mixed in. Here’s a few standouts:
We came home one night to find both dogs on the front porch. Apparently, they escaped the yard, had doggie adventures that involved them being covered with mud and burrs, and then returned because they were hungry.
If I hold my kitty near my shoulder, she will crawl up onto my shoulders and ride around. Sounds really cute until she nearly loses her balance, then it’s nothing but cat claws in the back of my neck.
My younger dog, Bowie, is small and a super fast runner. Our older dog, Rory, is sort of bumbling. So sometimes Bowie will run in circles in the yard as fast as he can, and since Rory can’t keep up, she barks at him as he runs past.
Most of the time, the kitty doesn’t want much to do with the dogs, but one night Rory was sleeping on the floor on her side and kitty decided to rub all over Rory’s back paws. She rubbed her cheeks for probably five minutes and Rory didn’t even wake up!
Rory will sometimes pick up one of her stuffed toys and carry it around in hopes of instigating play with us or with her younger brother. Or maybe it’s just to be cute. Either way, it works!
ALLISON: After your first book was released, you celebrated by going out to a restaurant with your husband. What are some of your other favorite ways to treat yourself?
JENNIFER: Probably my most favorite non-food treat is a deep-tissue massage. I also love to relax by putting on my pajamas and getting cozy in a big warm blanket, then watching a feel good movie I’ve seen a million times or reading a great book.
ALLISON: How has your life changed since having a novel published?
JENNIFER: Not all that dramatically, really. I have less free time now because I devote so much time to book promotion and building my audience. I feel more pressure to keep writing now because there are people that want to read what I’ve written (which is awesome). And the coolest thing is how so many people I talk to think publishing a novel is a real accomplishment–it’s something I worked hard for and can never be taken away from me.
ALLISON: Your bio indicates you are a graphic artist and art teacher. What has been the biggest challenge for you as a graphic artist? How do you draw upon your own experiences as an artist to help art students?
JENNIFER: The biggest challenge as a designer is getting my clients to trust my artistic judgment. I hope they hire me because they like the work that I create, but often times I am told to make a specific change to a logo or website that I don’t think looks great visually. However, the reality is, when someone hires you, they are the boss. Thankfully, my experience as an art teacher is very different. I use my artistic training to help my students improve their own work, and although I make suggestions, I never require them to make a change that they are not ultimately happy with, even if I disagree with their choice. I want my students to own their artistic style.
ALLISON: How did your students react to your book? Has being a published author changed your relationship with your students?
JENNIFER: You know, I haven’t really heard from my students about my book. I was nervous about promoting it to them because it contains content that some parents may find objectionable, so that could potentially be really difficult. Most of my current students don’t even know that I am a published author, so it hasn’t changed my relationship with them. Maybe I should reach out more, but there’s a part of me that feels like the student/teacher relationship is student-centric, and as such, I don’t feel comfortable sharing personal details when I’m in my teacher persona.
ALLISON: In an interview, you stated, “All of my stories tended to have a darker element – my characters experienced the breadth of human tragedy.” What draws you to writing about tragedy? How did you draw upon tragedies in your own life to make Lucy a believable character?
JENNIFER: I’m drawn to tragedy because I write about my big unanswered questions: What if my sibling died? What if my parents couldn’t deal with that sibling’s death and basically left me on my own to deal with my grief? How would I handle losing my own child? I want to understand people better–why they do the things they do, and how do they get better when bad things happen, which they inevitably do?
Thankfully, I never experienced anything as tragic as the events in Lucy’s life, but I did use some personal experience around issues with my parents to help me frame Lucy’s hurt and anger about feeling abandoned. I actually admire Lucy–she has so much inner strength. She confronts people when it’s warranted and learns how to value herself and move forward even when everything she knows has crumbled.
ALLISON: Your main character Lucy Carter is shipped off to Edmond School for Performing Arts. What do you think are the benefits of the arts (literary, visual, or performing) for students?
JENNIFER: This is such a great and important question. In my opinion, art is a foundation of culture. I believe that the arts are a powerful force to foster creative problem-solving, critical thinking, keen observation, innovation, and all forms of communication skills.
ALLISON: Lucy is an actress and a musician, but you have a different background. What experiences or research did you draw upon to make these attributes realistic?
JENNIFER: I spent my junior and senior high school years participating in all aspects of theater, from set building, to light board operation to acting on stage. I may not have had the talent Lucy has for acting, but I certainly had enough experience to draw on for my book. In fact, a drama teacher friend of mine asked me if I had ever participated in theater, because she thought that I portrayed it so authentically. In terms of musical experience, I sang in choir in high school and college, and I played guitar with a beginners rock band. I used what I knew about music and also based some of my story on experiences from my musician friends and teachers.
ALLISON: What’s next?
JENNIFER: I’d like to write another book about Chris’s experiences after this story ends, because there is more to tell about him and his back story didn’t get much exposure in this book. After that, I don’t have anything concrete enough to share, but I am working with several ideas at the moment.
Américas Award for Children’s & Young Adult Literature
CLASP founded the Américas Award in 1993 to encourage and commend authors, illustrators and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States.
The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children. It was established by in 1936, in memory of the great Scottish-born philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.
The Christy Awards are awarded each year to recognize novels of excellence written from a Christian worldview.
Coretta Scott King Award
The Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples. It is given to African American authors and illustrator.
children and young adult blogger literacy awards
Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award
The Dolly Gray Children’s Literature Award was initiated in 2000 to recognize authors, illustrators, and publishers of high quality fictional and biographical children, intermediate, and young adult books that appropriately portray individuals with deve
Hans Christian Anderson Award
The Hans Christian Andersen Awards is given to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature. The award is the highest international recognition an author can receive.
Kate Greenaway Medal
The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955, for distinguished illustration in a book for children. It is named after the popular nineteenth century artist known for her fine children’s illustrations and designs.
Middle East Book Award
The Middle East Book Award recognizes quality books for children and young adults that contribute meaningfully to an understanding of the Middle East and its component societies and cultures.
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award
Honors fantasy books for younger readers, in the tradition of The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia
Newbery Medal Award
The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Pura Belpré Award
The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. It is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino experience.
Red House Book Award
The Red House Children’s Book Award is a series of literary prizes for works of children’s literature published during the previous year in England.
Sydney Taylor Award
The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.