YA Debut Authors Bash – an interview with Kathryn Holmes

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Today’s 2015 Debut Author’s Bash post is focused on an incredible debut by Kathryn Holmes, The Distance Between Lost and Found. Before we get to the interview, let me say this: I. Love. This. Book.

And the crazy thing is, I didn’t think I would. I was intrigued by the blurb and by a character named Hallelujah, but I am so uncomfortable in outdoorsy situations that I thought this would be torture for me. It so wasn’t, though. I loved the writing and the storytelling and the character building. I was even surprised at my investment in the characters without a first person POV, which I tend to favor.

The best part for me, though, is that this book so openly and honestly depicts teenagers in real, hands-on faith struggles without being anti-religion. Holmes has my sincere respect for that – it was so refreshing.  This story is hopeful and strong and sweet and inspirational, and I hope it’s wildly successful.

As usual, make sure you read to the bottom of the interview for a chance to win some good stuff!


 

An interview with Kathryn Holmes, author of The Distance Between Lost and Found:

  • For those who haven’t read The Distance Between Lost and Found yet, can you give a brief synopsis?

Hallelujah “Hallie” Calhoun has been a bullied outcast since the incident with the preacher’s son, Luke Willis, six months ago. Now, on a youth group hiking trip with all of the people who have been making her life miserable, Hallie manages to get lost in the Smoky Mountains. With her: former friend Jonah, who abandoned her when everything went down with Luke, and new girl Rachel, who doesn’t know anything about the incident. Hallie has felt lost and powerless for months, but wandering in the wilderness without enough food or supplies changes everything. As the days pass with no sign of the trail or of rescue, she’ll have to learn to trust Jonah and Rachel if the three of them want to have any hope of making it home in one piece.

 

  • Please share one quote from the book that would give potential readers a good feel for it:

THIS IS SO HARD! Here’s what I settled on:

The rain starts: sharp, hard drops that sting Hallelujah’s arms. It feels like an attack. Like they let their guard down, and now nature is back with a vengeance.

But Hallelujah breathes in deep. Limps along. Tries to think of her skin as armor. The rain can’t pierce her. It can’t break her. She’s not the same person she was two days ago. That girl ran from rain, fell down mountainsides, scrambled in the mud, blind and gasping and scared.

This girl, this new Hallelujah, is still scared, but she watches her footing, and she holds on to Jonah and Rachel instead of pushing them away. She watches the rocks grow closer. For once, she knows where she’s going.

(p190-191)

 

  • What’s your favorite thing about your debut? Why? It could be a part of the book, or a part of the publishing process, or anything.

My favorite thing about the debut experience has been hearing from readers. It’s amazing that this story that spent so long as a document on my computer is now out in the world. Every time I hear that Hallie’s journey has resonated with someone, I am so grateful. Now that my second book is available in ARC form, I’m excited to begin the process of connecting with readers all over again!

 

  • The main character’s name is Hallelujah, which drew me in but also made me afraid that I was in for something cheesy (but it wasn’t cheesy). How did you decide on Hallelujah for a name?

Hallie is named after a real person! When two of my friends gave their baby Hallelujah as a middle name, I couldn’t get it out of my head. What if that were someone’s first name, the name everyone called her? How would a girl live up to—or fail to live up to—a name like that? The entire story came from that one germ of inspiration: a teenage girl saddled (burdened? blessed?) with the name Hallelujah.

 

  • Personally, I typically connect better to books with a first person POV. The Distance Between Lost and Found is probably one of the 3rd person narratives I’ve connected with the best. Why did you choose to write in 3rd person? What do you think we gain as an audience from that choice?

The short answer is that from the very first draft, I heard Hallie’s voice in my head in third person. But I also realized, as I wrote, that I wanted Hallie to keep the reader at a little bit of a distance, especially at the start of the book. She’s put up this wall around herself in response to being bullied and humiliated. She doesn’t want to reveal her heart or her guts to anyone. Thus, first person POV almost felt too close. The challenge, of course, was to show Hallie opening up over the course of the book and to let the reader in bit by bit as the pages turned. I’m so glad to hear that it worked for you!

 

  • What I love most about The Distance Between Lost and Found is the power and healing that come from the troubled “lost” times, and how the characters are really only able to move beyond those times when they open up, discuss, evaluate, and communicate. I can see there being a huge potential in this book to reach readers that have gone through difficult circumstances, but the dialogue and internal struggles couldn’t have been easy to write. Can you give us some insight into your writing process for this? Was there specific inspiration for these difficult situations?

You’re definitely correct that Hallie’s internal journey was a lot harder to write than her external journey! For that reason, the first couple drafts really focused on getting the “lost in the woods” plot right. Once I felt confident in the unfolding of physical events as things went from bad to worse for Hallie, Jonah, and Rachel, I was able to weave in their difficult conversations and chart Hallie’s internal growth. The emotional arc mirrors the physical arc in so many ways, and I needed every intense conversation or painful argument or character revelation to feel like it couldn’t have happened at any other moment along the physical journey.

One of the themes of the book is the importance of finding your voice. Hallie didn’t speak up for herself when it mattered, and she regrets that intensely. The story starts with her having closed herself off and mostly silenced herself as a form of protection. I had to let the ordeal in the mountains crack her open and peel back her layers, revealing the anger and sadness and ultimately the strength and hope that were hidden underneath.

Luckily, none of the events in this book were inspired by actual events in my life. I’ve never been lost in the mountains, and I made it through high school without facing the intense bullying that Hallie experiences. But I was a shy, introverted teen who would let things fester inside me rather than opening up to anyone about how I was feeling. Certain passages in this book (as well as in my next book, HOW IT FEELS TO FLY) were written both by and for that version of myself that tends to hold in pain and anxiety rather than letting it out.

 

  • Finally, how does it feel to be a published author, and what has surprised you most since The Distance Between Lost and Found’s publication?

It feels amazing to be a published author! :) Having a book on the shelves is something I’ve always dreamed of and yet for a long time couldn’t quite see happening—and I am so proud to have made it happen. Even more than that, having written something that resonates with people I’ve never met is just such a cool feeling.

What has surprised me most since DISTANCE came out in February wasn’t really a surprise at all. I have been so amazed by the generosity and kindness of the kidlit community over the past year. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by fellow YA and MG authors, debut and veteran alike, who are so welcoming and so passionate about this work we all do. And beyond that, I’m thankful for the bloggers and readers who care so much about all of our books. It’s a great community to be part of, and I hope to get to be part of it for many years and many books to come. :)


NOW – enter for a chance to win a copy of THE DISTANCE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND: a Rafflecopter giveaway
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…AND enter for a chance to win a copy of Kathryn’s next book (due out in June 2016), HOW IT FEELS TO FLY: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Hurry! BOTH contests end on December 20th, so get all your entries in now!

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Tour Guest Post: Truest by Jackie Lea Summers

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Before I introduce Jackie and her wonderful YA debut, Truest, let me just say that I really, really loved this book when I read it back in June. You can also see her Debut Author’s Bash post here for more info. Truest is just a really special book, in large part due to the care she took with her characters. In the same way that Augustus Waters is an unforgettable character, so is Silas Hart, and so I asked Jackie to tell us a little bit more about him: where the idea from him came from, how he drove the story, and to share some fun extras from his POV (they’re password protected and only meant to be read AFTER you read Truest).

Following Jackie’s guest post, you’ll see all the details (and an excerpt! and a GIVEAWAY!) about Truest so you can run out and get it for yourself. :)


Jackie Lea Sommers on Silas Hart:

Silas Hart. He’s nerdy, gorgeous, funny, thoughtful, and aggravating– and he’s the cornerstone of Truest for me.

Let me back up.

As 2011 wound to its close, I had just started writing a new novel, one meant for an adult audience– though most of the books I was enjoying most were YA. When January 2012 arrived, so did The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I loved it. I bawled. Augustus Waters, the hero of the book, was such a perfect character that I scrapped my novel for adults (that had centered around an idea) and began a new novel– for teens, one that centered around characters. John Green and Augustus Waters had taught me that lesson, and it’s one I will never ever throw away.

So I started with Silas. I set out to create my seventeen-year-old self’s dream boy, and Silas absolutely met the mark for me.

Everything else– solipsism syndrome, the bell tower, the street dance, even the other characters– would come in time, but everything started with Silas. He was my book’s genesis and the foundation on which I built the novel. Someone asked me in an interview question, “How would the book be different without Silas?” and I answered, “It wouldn’t exist.”

I only hope that he’ll throw your heart wide open and make himself at home there, the way he has in mine.

Fun bonus: even though Silas was always my most important character, I somehow knew that the novel wouldn’t be from his perspective but from West’s. That said, I got curious enough to explore Silas’s point-of-view and so I re-wrote two critical scenes from Truest from Silas’s perspective so that readers could understand the other side of the story at those moments. If you’re interested, you can read them at www.truestnovel.tumblr.com. The password is the last word of Truest. It should go without saying that these are spoiler scenes and should only be read after reading the novel. I hope they are a fun treat for readers!


 

 

TruestTruest by Jackie Lea Sommers

Genre:YA realistic contemporary

Published on September 1st, 2015

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

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Silas Hart has seriously shaken up Westlin Beck’s small-town life. Brand new to town, Silas is different than the guys in Green Lake. He’s curious, poetic, philosophical, maddening– and really, really cute. But Silas has a sister– and she has a secret. And West has a boyfriend. And life in Green Lake is about to change forever.

 

About the Author:

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Jackie Lea Sommers lives and loves and writes in Minnesota, where the people are nice and the Os are long. She is the 2013 winner of the Katherine Paterson Prize. She dislikes OCD, horcruxes, and Minnesota winters. She likes book boyfriends, cranky teenagers, and Minnesota springs. Truest is her first novel.

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Read below for an excerpt from Truest:

It didn’t take long to confirm that Silas was absolutely crazy.

One morning he showed up at my house wearing an honest-to-goodness windbreaker suit straight out of the nineties: purple, mint green, and what is best described as neon salmon. I curbed a grin while Silas gathered our detailing supplies from my garage. “What?” he deadpanned. “What are you staring at?”

“Your windbreaker is just so …”

“Fetching?” he interjected. “Voguish? Swanky?”

“Hot,” I said, playing along. “The nineties neon just exudes sex appeal.”

“Well, I thought so myself.”

And after the sun was high in the sky and the pavement was heating up, he took off the windsuit, revealing shorts and a New Moon T-shirt beneath, Edward Cullen’s pale face dramatically printed across the front. “Vader’s competition,” he said, shrugged, and started vacuuming the floors of the Corolla left in our care.

He also talked about the strangest things: “Can you ever really prove anything? How?” or “I read about this composer who said his abstract music went ‘to the brink’—that beyond it lay complete chaos. What would that look like? Complete chaos?” or “You know how in Shakespeare Romeo says, ‘Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized’? He’s talking about his name, but baptism’s bigger than that; it has to be. It’s about identity, and wonder, and favor, you know?” or “A group of moles is called a labor; a group of toads is called a knot. Who comes up with this stuff? It’s a bouquet of pheasants, a murder of crows, a storytelling of ravens, a lamentation of swans. A lamentation of swans, West!”

One morning I was late coming downstairs, and Shea got to Silas first. The two of them sat drinking orange juice on the front steps and discussing Shea’s question of whether fish have boobs. “I think,” Silas said, sounding like a scholar, “they do not, since they’re not mammals. But mermaids do, since they’re half-fish, half-mammal.”

Mermaids aren’t real though,” Shea said, the tiniest bit of hope in his voice that Silas would prove him wrong.

Who told you that?” said Silas sternly.

You think they’re real?” Shea asked.

I can’t be sure,” Silas said, “but I might have seen one when I used to live in Florida. Probably best not to jump to any conclusions either way.”

Behind me, Libby giggled. Silas glanced at us over his shoulder through the screen door and grinned. “Libby,” he said, “what do you say? Mermaids, real or not?”

I don’t want to jump to conclusions either way,” my shy sister said, then turned bright red.

Smart girl,” said Silas.

That afternoon, Silas and I sat in the backseat of a dusty Saturn, trading off the handheld vacuum as we talked—or rather, shouted—over its noise. I ran the hand-vac over the back of the driver’s seat, while Silas said, “I used to think I was the only one with a crush on Emily Dickinson until a couple years ago.”

“You have a crush on Emily Dickinson?”

Durr.

“Did you just ‘durr’ me? Is that like a ‘duh’?”

He nodded as I handed him the Dirt Devil. “But then I read this book that says it’s a rite of passage for any thinking American man. And then I read a poem called ‘Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes.’”

Just the title made me blush; I averted my eyes to focus on the vacuum’s trajectory.

Silas, unruffled, sighed unhappily.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, frowning, chancing a glance at him.

“I finally made it into the backseat with a girl,” Silas cracked, looking hard at the Dirt Devil. “This is not all I was hoping it would be.”

I slugged him in the arm, and his wry smile gave way to laughter.

The Giveaway:

One signed and annotated hardcover of Truest: a Rafflecopter giveaway
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YA Debut Authors Bash – an interview with Jackie Lea Summers!

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For today’s Debut Author’s Bash post, please enjoy this interview with debut author Jackie Lea Sommers! Her novel, Truest, came out in September and is truly lovely. It’s a great book to settle in with for a chilly weekend!

Make sure you read all the way to the end for a chance to win a prize from Jackie!

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 1. For those who haven’t read Truest yet, can you give a brief synopsis?

Absolutely! Truest tells the story of three teens: Westlin Beck, the pastor’s daughter who is having a frustrating and lonely summer; Silas Hart, the beautiful, fun, maddening boy who steps in to change that; and Laurel, his mysterious twin sister, who suffers from a rare disorder that makes her question the nature of reality.

2. Please share one quote from the book that would give potential readers a good feel for it:

 

Instead of just one, here are three that show why Silas Hart is so swoonworthy: 

“He wasn’t loud, drew no attention to himself, but I heard every note as if he were singing into my ear. His voice was a paradox—at once, angry and brave, sorrowing and confident—and yet, the song spread over him like a blanket and rushed forth like an anthem.”

“He pulled his hood off now and treated me to that grin of his—the one that made me want to take flight, the one that felt like a storm cell was raging in my chest, thunder and lightning and hurricane-strength winds and all.”

“And then he kissed me—soft, sweet, seeking—and there was only room in my thoughts for one boy, this boy: Silas Hart, whose kiss was exploding my heart from a bud into a blossom with such alacrity that I marveled I could be so full without bursting.”

3. What’s your favorite thing about your debut? Why? If could be a part of the book, or a part of the publishing process, or anything.

My favorite thing is watching my characters become real for other people. I love having readers talk to me like Silas and West and the rest of the Green Lake gang are truly their new friends. I’ve spent so many years with them; I’ve been delighted to introduce them to the rest of the world and find that people enjoy them just as much as I do. I love hearing from readers. It makes the whole emotional rollercoaster of writing and publishing worth it!

4. What I love most about Truest is your characters. They break down stereotypes, they’re flawed like the rest of us, and they jump off the page with their authenticity. Can you give us some insight into your character building process? How did West, Silas, Elliot, and Laurel end up feeling so real?

Thank you so much! Everything started with Silas. He’s part Augustus Waters, part a boy I once loved, and entirely my favorite character in Truest. While it’s true that I created him, there are some parts to him that he seemed to bring to the table himself, especially his flaws. You know, there was a little part of me that wanted him to be perfect, but he continually reminded me he was not. For Laurel, I drew on my own experiences with mental illness. In many ways, Laurel is me, untreated. So I didn’t have to look far to craft her, but that’s scary in itself! West was the biggest mystery to me– but being that she is the narrator of the story, and that she is unsure of herself, writing the book was a journey of discover for me and her both. As West discovers herself in the pages of the novel, I was learning right along with her. As far as my character-building process, it involves asking a lot of personal questions of my characters and learning more about their motivations and their histories than actually lands on the page. I found that I had to write a miniature “History of Green Lake” before I could move forward with some of the other characters’ storylines (like Elliot and Whit). Knowing plenty about them made them feel more full and robust to me, and I think– hope!– that translated onto the page!

5. Now, let’s get specific about West and her interactions with Silas. They were electric. I’ve already asked you to share more about Silas and the inspiration for him (check back on December 13th for this post with fun extras about Silas!), but can you go into this relationship a little more deeply without giving TOO much away?

Electric. I love that you used that word for them. Thank you. I love their dynamic too. They’re both pretty headstrong, but there was always this spark of intrigue and desire between the two of them, so when they finally fell in love, their love with headstrong too. I like that it takes them a while to figure things out. I like that they argue, even after they fall for each other. I like that they have a fun, playful relationship where they can do the most ridiculous, goofy things and feel completely comfortable with each other as they do them. When two people in love can play, that’s my favorite.

6. Finally, how does it feel to be a published author, and what has surprised you most since Truest’s publication?

I barely know where to start answering this question. I have felt every single emotion in this journey: from absolute elation to devastating loneliness to the crush of feeling like a fraud to the drive to put my head down and write book #2. I have always felt everything too deeply, which is good and hard and ultimately probably fuel for my writing life. And here’s where I get really real: I’ve been most surprised by the self-doubt. I guess once upon a time I had dreamed that being a published author would make me feel as if I’d arrived. A giant stamp of approval. But instead, in a lot of ways, I’m still self-doubting Jackie, wondering if anyone will like my art. Don’t get me wrong though: I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.

Enter to win a signed copy of TRUEST: a Rafflecopter giveaway
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