by Sarah Mandell
The McElroy brothers find trouble easily. Dylan plunges headfirst into it, while Daniel cleans up behind him. That’s the way it’s always been, ever since their mother left them to be bounced around the foster system, causing trouble wherever they went. The soon-to-be euthanized giraffe they just stole from the Northside Animal Park may be their biggest predicament yet, in more ways than one, but there’s no undoing what’s been done.
Lost in Nebraska without a plan, clueless how to care for the ornery old beast in the back of the trailer, the well-meaning brothers stop to rest at an abandoned-looking barn. A pretty redhead with a snappy temperament and a shotgun discovers the boys and their sixteen-foot stowaway. Her name is Josephine, she lives on this farm with her father who is spoken of, but never seen, and her root cellar has more locks than a bank vault. She’s got a way with animals and plenty of secrets, not to mention the interest of two brothers who swore they’d never let some girl come between them.
Daniel and Dylan McElroy snapped their eyes open only to be blinded by a billion-watt flashlight aimed in their faces. It might as well have been the sun. They scrambled to their feet, unable to see who or what was behind that blazing white light. They shielded their faces, begging for mercy.
A female voice came from behind the painful brightness. She managed to get out, “What in the hell…” before the beam of light shifted upward, illuminating Millie’s unimpressed face. The giraffe’s long eyelashes blinked downward, inspecting the people below. Her nubby horns cast strange shadows on the ceiling of the barn.
While the beam of light from the girl’s torch shown upward still, locking Millie in the spotlight, Daniel got a good look at the person holding it. She was a teenager with fiery red hair all mussed up from sleep that fell well below her shoulder blades. Her eyes were pale in color, but he couldn’t be sure if they were blue or hazel in this severe lighting. She had delicate features, a snobby little nose, and a pair of pink lips parted in astonishment as she gazed upward at the out-of-place creature. This girl, a member of the Larsen family perhaps, was a pretty thing, but she was not in good spirits being woken in the middle of the night only to find two strange young men and a reticulated giraffe in her family’s barn. She had a shotgun at her side, which she now raised up and aimed at Dylan.
Daniel cleared his throat, ready to say just the right words to save young Dylan from certain death. Again. “We didn’t mean to cause no trouble,” Daniel explained, palms open with vulnerability. Daniel had always been the spokesperson when trouble found them, or more likely, when Dylan found trouble. He was the explainer of the mischievous pair.
“Am I hallucinating, or is that a giraffe?” the girl demanded to know.
“That?” Daniel asked, glancing upward in hopes she was referring to something else. “Uh. Yeah. That would be Millie. Millie the giraffe.”
Sarah Mandell is a professionally trained artist with a background in commercial interior design. She’s also the brains and busy hands behind a thriving indie craft business called Once Again Sam in Greenville, SC. Even with an ever-expanding collection of creative outlets, she’s truly the happiest when she’s writing. Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe is Sarah’s second novel. Her debut novel was Celia on the Run (Untreed Reads, 2012).
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Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I was born in Rome, Italy, and lived in Copenhagen Denmark for a few years as a child, but for the most part I grew up in the Baltimore-Annapolis area in Maryland. Since 2010, my husband and I have called the upstate of South Carolina our home. It’s so beautiful here, I don’t know that we’ll ever leave!
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe is my second published novel, and it’s a quirky coming-of-age story about the complications of love, loss, and new-found independence. Everything I’ve written to date is somewhat bittersweet, and just a little offbeat, but this particular story also mixes in romance and humor.
How do you create your characters?
Each character has some admirable qualities, but I didn’t want any of them to be perfect, so I was sure add hardships to their backstory, and flaws to their personalities. I think that balance is critical for fiction – even likeable characters have to have some baggage. They should balance each other out, and that can be done through tension between them, or even attraction. There are only a handful of characters in my new novel Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe, which helps the reader stay focused on the ones that really matter (which is everyone listed in the title of the book!).
Daniel and Dylan McElroy couldn’t be more different, so I was sure to highlight that, not just with their appearance descriptions but also with the way they carry themselves and the way they speak. They’re both likeable for completely different reasons, but both have plenty of imperfections that keep the story interesting.
Josephine Larsen, the redheaded farmer’s daughter, is completely self-sufficient, but even though she’s book smart and independent, which is admirable, she’s got a lot to learn in life. I wanted her character to be pretty, but I also wanted her to be a little awkward, not your typical movie star heroine.
Millie the giraffe is a supporting character in this story. She’s the reason the brothers end up on Josephine’s farm. I didn’t want this book to become an animal story, so I was careful to give Millie just the right amount of personality without making every scene about her. She’s present in so many scenes, but more so as a supporting character in the background who brings a little comic relief.
What inspires and what got your started in writing?
I’m a sucker for peculiar stories and unusual characters, and it’s not always easy to find that combo in the YA genre, so I started writing my own stories about 7 or 8 years ago. It was just a creative outlet, but once I finished my first manuscript, I decided to dive right in and do another one. The stories kept coming to me, so I kept writing them, and eventually thought it might be worth trying to publish. My debut novel was Celia on the Run, which was published in 2012 by Untreed Reads, and my new book, Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe was released May 12th of 2016. I’m inspired by so many things, and enjoy books for many genres, but so far my two published novels are both contemporary YA with a bittersweet storyline.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
I get a lot of mileage out of watching documentaries. I’ve never been inspired to write an entire book after watching one, but I have certainly been interested enough in various subjects that these subjects get mentioned in my novels. For example, in Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe, things like colony collapse syndrome, cattle farming, and tornados, are mentioned, and those elements we on my mind thanks to a documentary.
What do you like to read?
I’m a big fan of most fiction, especially if it’s unpredictable. Happy endings can get pretty boring sometimes, so I’m looking for an emotion ride when I read a book! I also have a soft spot for anything that has to do with circus or carnival life at the turn of the 20th century, or stories that take place after the “end of the world”. Two of my favorite books are The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
Don’t rule out self-publishing. I made this mistake! My giraffe story was originally under contract with a publisher, and things weren’t working out, but I felt like in order to have my book taken seriously, I had to stay the course. For years, I became more and more frustrated with the whole situation. I lost sleep over it, and even stopped writing for a while because I was too distracted and upset to get my ideas out on paper. Eventually, I terminated the contract in early 2016 so that I could self-publish and I wish I had done that sooner. Doing things yourself is the only way to ensure you have full creative control, and that the details like release date, cover art, and marketing efforts are well planned.
Anything else you’d like to share?
When I’m not writing, I’m earning a living as a small business owner and designer, so I’m always thinking visually. While writing Two Brothers, One Redhead, and a Stolen Giraffe, I had a little side project going where I created a fictional photo album to go along with the novel. Some of the photos are ones I took myself, some are stock images I purchased to create composite images. Each photo gives a snapshot of a certain scene, and I’ll be sharing them individually on social media and my website, along with a relevant excerpt from the book. It was such a fun project, and I’m looking forward to sharing these!
Sarah Mandell will be awarding 5 of her handmade laser etched wooden pendants that she is launching as a new collection in conjunction with the release of the book to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.