Congratulations on your book The Story of My Face ($13.95, Second Story Press). The young adult book has been out for about a year now. What has been the response to it from teens, who it is directed toward, as well as the general public?
Thank you! I have heard from teenagers who said they relate to Abby’s body image and friendship struggles. And a few adults have told me they had teenage angst flashbacks because they felt I nailed the world of high school. In terms of the general public, I’m pleased that the novel has had pretty good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
Q. Why is this an important read for teens?
A. I think the theme of self-acceptance is timeless, and so important for today’s teenagers when there are so many pressures on them, especially with social media thrown into the mix.
Q. What do you hope that age group takes away from the story?
A. First of all, I want teenagers to know they aren’t alone in feeling self-conscious. But each of us has the capacity to find our inner core of courage and switch the narrative of the inner critic that says, “You don’t measure up” to “You are perfect just as you are, flaws and all.”
Q. In addition to being mauled by a grizzly bear, almost dying and living through seven surgeries and then the separation from her boyfriend, main character Abby Hughes has a whole lot to deal with when she returns to high school including some escalated bullying from a former boyfriend. Why was it important to include those incidents in this book? Did you ever consider abandoning those parts? Why or why not?
A. As the Russian author Vladimir Nakabov said:
“The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.”
I admit I threw a few rocks at Abby. The bear mauling and surgeries are backstory in this novel – they happened close to a year before the story begins. I didn’t consider eliminating any subplots in the story. The greater the challenges Abby had to face, the greater personal rewards at the end when she surmounted the difficult hurdles she had to face.
Q. Do you think what Abby goes through with this boyfriend is typical high school? What would you say to potential Abbys about bullying and what they should do about it?
A. I’m not sure if this kind of bullying is typical, but it definitely happens. Abby learned a few things along the way about protecting herself from cyberbullying by blocking a social media account. But I would advise youth who are in the same situation as Abby to tell a trusted adult if they are being bullied. In the novel, Abby felt that telling an adult would escalate the bullying. But things escalated regardless, and could have been dealt earlier had Abby spoken up. A great resource about bullying is the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) website.
Q. You started your professional writing career writing scripts for TV and film, but later switched to writing for teens. What do you like about writing for this age group?
A. Well, my psyche is kind of stuck in ninth grade, so it’s a good genre for me. Coming-of-age stories fascinate me. I especially love exploring that bridge between adolescence and adulthood.
Q. According to a blog post on your website The Stuff About Me from A – Z, mountains are where you feel most at home, which, I am assuming, may be in part that your hometown is Calgary, Alberta, and you currently live in Victoria, B.C., mountains play a big role in Abby’s life as well and not just the location. What is it about the mountains that make you feel at home?
A/ I think most people relate to a certain geography that makes them feel most at home, whether it’s prairies, ocean or big cities. For me, it’s mountains. Having grown up in Calgary, my family camped every summer and skied every winter in the Rocky Mountains. It’s in my bones.
Q. When coming up with the idea for the book, what came first the location or situation?
A. For this novel, story and setting are pretty intertwined, but the story came first.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for The Story of My Face?
A. Two things came together for this story. First, I knew I wanted to explore the theme of body image and self-acceptance, but I didn’t want to write an “issue” book. And second, years ago I read a memoir called The Bear’s Embrace by Patricia Van Tighem, which is about her experience being attacked by a grizzly bear and the aftermath of living through it. Van Tighem’s story was so powerful it stayed with me for years. So both of these elements coalesced for The Story of My Face.
Q. What sort of research did you do in order to write it?
A. I researched everything I could about living with a facial disfigurement, which included many hours searching Google. Memoirs Autobiography of a Face by writer Lucy Grealy and Facial Shift by Dawn Shaw were very informative. The Bear’s Embrace by Patricia Van Tighem was invaluable in terms of understanding the physical and psychological trauma of surviving a bear attack. I also watched a powerful documentary called “My Beautiful Face.” And through the organization About Face, I interviewed someone who was born with a severe facial disfigurement, which gave me a firsthand account.
Q. This is your first published novel. What was the process from writing to finished product (and roughly how long did it take to get there. How many drafts?).
A. The process from writing to finished product was just a whole lot of writing and revising. It took me over a year from start to finish. I worked on the novel on vacation, almost every weekend, and many evenings after work. How many drafts? Too many to count.
Q. What is your favourite part of the process?
A. Like most writers, I love it when I’m “in the flow”. I know this sounds corny, but sometimes when I’m in this state, it feels like the characters are leading me by the hand and telling me where to go next. Hours fly by. Unfortunately, I don’t “flow” every time I sit at my computer. Much of the time, writing is about slogging it out in the trenches.
Q. I read on your website that you have a new young adult book coming out from Red Deer Press titled Last Words. Can you tell us about it? What was the process for writing this book? Where are you in the process of this book?
Yes, I’m excited to say Last Words will be published in the fall of 2019. This novel tells the story of 16-year-old Claire Winters who must come to terms with existential life questions when she witnesses a young man commit suicide. This is the first novel I wrote, so the process was very long and arduous because, basically, I had very little idea how to write a novel.
I have had to apologize to my writing friends who read some pretty rough early drafts. After I worked and reworked the novel and felt it was in good shape, I sent it to Red Deer Press. I was thrilled that editor Peter Carver liked the story immediately. Where are we at now? After a few rounds of revisions with Peter, the manuscript is now being copy edited in preparation for production and then publication.
Q. In the same blog post, you said you try to write two to three pages in your journal each day and spend an hour a day with your nose in a story. What do you enjoy about doing these two things and why are they important, particularly for aspiring writers?
A. For me, journaling is like self-therapy. Three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing can uncover so many thoughts and feelings. Journaling can also uncover new story ideas or help work out problems with works in progress. In terms of reading, I don’t think you can write well without being a reader.
Reading helps me explore different forms, styles and voices. As well as reading YA, I read lots of literary fiction. I am so inspired by writers who excel at their craft.
Q. Do you follow a set of rules when it comes to your writing?
A. I have no rules when it comes to my writing. Unlike many writers, I don’t write every day. Writing is my priority, but life often gets in the way, and I’ve made peace with that. I write when my muse nudges me, which luckily happens on a regular basis.
Q. Do you have another job other than writing?
Yes, I work for Open School B.C. (B.C. Ministry of Education) as an educational writer and project manager. An important note to new writers – don’t quit your day job.
Q. Where do you get your ideas for stories from?
A. get story ideas from many different places: dreams, articles or books, journaling, thoughts that pop into my mind, snippets of overheard conversation, social media posts, etc.
Q. Are you working on anything right now? Is there anything you would like to share?
A. I’m writing my fourth young adult novel set in San Francisco. I have two very weird and wonderful characters, Billie (girl) and Finn (boy), who are taking me on quite the journey. At this point I have no idea where we’ll all end up.