Selected for Summer/Fall 2020 Kids Indies Introduce List AND Fall 2020 Kids Indie Next List
It’s early September 2001, and twelve-year-old Abbey is the new kid at school. Again.
I worry about people speaking to me / and worry just the same / when they don’t.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I’m from the geographical center of Tennessee—a town called Murfreesboro, but I currently live in East Nashville, with my husband, two children, and dog. From parents who were both educators, I too found my calling in education, where I’ve taught various grade level students 7th through 12th, including college-level, and recently coached girls’ soccer. Other than teaching and writing, you can often find reading or outside playing or enjoying nature.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
The Places We Sleep is my debut middle grade novel-in-verse. It publishes August 25, of this year, 2020.
Pregnant when 9/11 occurred, I feared bringing a child into such a frightening and unpredictable world. In the next eight or so years that followed, my brothers and my brother-in-law were all called into active duty and deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. These events inspired Abbey’s story.
The novel opens in early 2001 in a small military town, and twelve-year-old Abbey is the new kid at school. Again. Tennessee is her family’s latest stop in a series of moves based on her dad’s work in the Army, but this one might be different. For the first time, Abbey has found a real friend: loyal, courageous, athletic Camille. And then it’s September 11, and Abbey’s aunt goes missing in the World Trade Center. While the country is under attack, Abbey’s first period arrives. As Abbey’s family falters in the aftermath of the attacks and her father prepares for active duty, Abbey must cope with the tragedy—and her body’s betrayal—on her own, as she searches for her place in a world that is falling apart.
How do you create your characters?
Fair warning friends and family, I often base characters on people I know. A hobby I enjoy is the fine art of observation (aka eavesdropping) to build characters. Another well from which I draw is the students I teach. From these people, I garner certain traits or quirks or physical descriptions, then I flesh out a—hopefully—rounded character. So far, the characters I’ve created in manuscripts are frankensteined together in this manner but are never fully based on one person.
What inspires and what got you started in writing?
The natural world inspires me to attempt to describe it with just the right words. I’m a word collector, and I enjoy keeping journals of words that I like the sound, look, or meaning of. Other artists, songwriters, and writers also inspire me to create. A meandering drive through the heart of a small town, a trip to an art museum, witnessing a heated conversation on a city block—almost anything might inspire me to write.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
I kind of write everywhere. My debut novel was chiefly written in the driver’s seat of my car, while my newborn son slept in the backseat. I’d take drives so he’d nap, and then I’d park and write. I also like to write outdoors, when the weather cooperates. And yes, it’s cliché, but I like to write in local coffee shops. Two of my favorites are Ugly Mugs Tea and Coffee and Kettner Coffee Supply in East Nashville. I do have a writing room upstairs in my 1935-era house. It has great lighting and windows. I generally like to drink black coffee while writing and gaze out the windows when I’m stuck.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
I get ideas by being observant of the world around me. I usually start with a character in mind or with a scenario with which I’m fascinated. Sometimes I’ll even dream plot details of a story. Nonfiction also gives me great ideas for fiction. When I have an idea, I’ll journal it and save it for the right story.
What do you like to read?
I like to read everything—fiction and nonfiction. Poetry too—such as Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson, James Wright, and Billy Collins. I tend to have a different book in each room of my house. I’m currently reading the timely novel The Plague by Camus on my Kindle, a book of poetry Battle Dress by Karen Skolfield, and On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation by Alexandra Horowitz, and I’m rereading the beautiful middle-grade novel The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin.
What would your advice be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
My advice to aspiring authors is write daily. Like any art, sport, or musical instrument, it takes practice. Then, once you have something you like, find readers, a writing group or a critique partner. Next, don’t be afraid of revision. Finally, be persistent when trying to publish. It’s a marathon. To become a published author, you learn that you must embrace not only writing, but also revising, the disciplined act of seeking an agent or editor, and publicizing your work.
Anything else you’d like to share?
One thing I’d like to share with parents and educators is that books in verse make great shared read-aloud opportunities. Such books offer yet one more way to inspire and hook a child on the joy of reading. They often can be great for reluctant readers because of their music and brevity. And you’re never too old to be read to or to enjoy reading aloud to someone else.