The Bennett Series (The Partition of Africa and The Marshall Plan) wonderfully captures young adulthood and the sometimes difficult process of maturation, when we discern fully who we are and what principles will guide us. Often, our convictions are tested for the first time. What about this stage of transition compels you to write about it?
I’m so glad that you mentioned this, and so early in the interview! It’s one of my favorite topics.
Even though nothing truly extraordinary happened to me while I was there, my time in college felt so turbulent. I went in as a smug seventeen-year-old know-it-all, and I was spit out four and a half years later with an engagement ring and no ideas for what I wanted to do next. During that time, I wanted more than anything to find a fictional character who was going through these generation-specific ordeals—marrying young in the twenty-first century, trying to find a job in a dried-up economy, dealing with the fact that a bachelor’s degree isn’t as valuable as it was twenty years ago.
C.S. Lewis is quoted as saying, “We read to know we are not alone,” and for the first time in my life, I felt like that truth was failing me. None of the YA heroes or heroines could help me, and neither could those of mainstream adult fiction. I felt lost somewhere between those two worlds, and I found myself yearning to bridge that gap. What I ended up with were two “coming-of-age in your twenties” stories, with one more on the way. I wasn’t sure how they would be received, but the feedback I’ve heard tells me that I wasn’t the only one stuck in that in-between place. That makes me happier than I can tell you.
Both The Partition of Africa and The Marshall Plan manage to address morality, including sexual morality, without being moralizing. What role do you think fiction plays in expositing right from wrong?
I’m so happy to hear you say that, because that was one of my goals in crafting both pieces. I desperately wanted to address these issues, but in a way that would provoke thoughts and discussions among my readers. I didn’t want to tell them how they should think. My greatest fear was failing, because really, there’s no greater turn-off than an arrogant, judgmental narrator.
Sexual desire, action, and identity are all touchy, polarizing subjects that are incredibly difficult to address in the public arena. When it comes to these and other controversial topics, fiction is an incredibly powerful, irreplaceable tool. It allows authors to explore their own worldview through the actions and dilemmas of their characters, and it allows readers to digest these ideas in a safe environment. People with opposing worldviews who might never enter a civil discussion about one of these topics can read the same book and walk away with similar conclusions. Through the removal of labels, politics, agendas, and reality, fiction allows people to entertain ideas without becoming defensive. In this way, I think it achieves much more than non-fiction ever will.
You seem to read in a wide variety of genres and styles. What are you current favorites?
Oh, gosh! It’s like asking me to pick a favorite child. I used to read adult fiction of all genres almost exclusively, but lately I’ve been gravitating more and more to YA [Young Adult] and NA [New Adult] lit of all genres. Protagonists in these age categories seem more likely to have quirky, individual personalities, and that’s something I find really refreshing. The last new series I went ga-ga over was The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, which I devoured over my Christmas break.
Compared to me, you’ve come to fiction writing from a young age. What has driven you to pursue your writing aspirations? What kind of support and encouragement (from family, friends, teachers, etc.) has nurtured those dreams?
I can’t remember a time when writing wasn’t an ambition of mine; it’s always been there in the background, just waiting until I was ready to be serious. I’ve been blessed with an abundance of support through all the different stages of my life. Barbara Purvis, my fourth grade teacher, looked at my little notebook of poems and stories at my request and told me I was going to be a writer. Over the years, we ran into each other every so often and she would always ask how my writing was coming. It felt so nice to finally tell her, “I have a book out now!” I’m also fortunate enough to have a family that has always valued education and academic achievements.
The person who really pushed me into finishing my first novel, though, was my friend Karin, also known as K. B. Hoyle. She is an author in my area, and I became acquainted with her after reading her fantastic YA fantasy series The Gateway Chronicles. Before I met her, I always thought of authors as lofty, ethereal beings with no needs or responsibilities other than writing. When I saw that she not only worked full-time but also mothered three (now four!) rambunctious little boys and still managed to churn out at least one book per year, I realized it was something I could do if I really wanted it. She continues to inspire me daily!
Like every author I’ve interviewed thus far, you juggle many responsibilities. Unfortunately, we can’t do it all. What have you had to let fall by the wayside – for better or for worse – in order to make time for your novels?
This is going to sound very silly, but I’m not able to cook near as often as I like. I enjoy trying out new, occasionally complicated recipes. I’m able to do this in the summer, but when I’m taking courses for my graduate degree, working full-time, and writing, sometimes I just have to stick to the basics. When I do manage to cook, it’s usually crock pot fare or something simple, like sautéed chicken and rice. I also don’t get to watch television and movies much anymore, which is sad, because I enjoy those as much as I do reading, in a way.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m working on finishing up This Dread Road [release date 12/21/2016], the third and final installment in the Bennett Series. I am also in the planning stages of writing two novellas, one a Cold War romantic suspense, the other a chick lit Christmas story, both of which will hopefully be available in November.
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