Wednesday, January 06, 2010
I like to be able to relate in some way to the story’s narrator or main character. In my latest book, Lip Reader, the narrator is a 12-year-old girl named Sapphie Traylor. She sees the world through innocent eyes and speaks simply. In order to write with Sapphie’s voice, I had to immerse myself into the world of a preteen girl. What were my thoughts and feelings as a 12 year old? How has my perspective changed since then? Doing these things lent credibility to the character.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
When I was much younger, I used to spend hours in front of the bathroom mirror pretending to host my own TV channel. I spoke into a makeshift microphone made out of a pencil with a pencil foam curler on top. Holidays, friendship issues, and make-believe stories were dictated into this microphone. Years later, I interned at a TV news station, and my dream as an on-air personality came full circle, albeit for a few months.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
At the age of seventeen, I entered a short story writing contest for Seventeen magazine. I spent hours on my bed writing on a steno pad about the adventures of a teenage girl working as a hospital candy striper who befriends a lonely janitor. It didn’t win.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
Memoirs are my favorite. Anything written by Maya Angelou or the late Frank McCourt. I also enjoy fiction, with The Wholeness of a Broken Heart by Katie Singer being at the top of the list.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
A Cup of Comfort books has published four of my short stories. My unpublished nonfiction book, All Roads Lead to Home, tells the story of four generations of my family dealing with mental illness.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
I pray; I invite friends over for coffee. Jesus is my focal point in the sometimes beautiful, but often confusing world we live in.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Typically, I choose whatever best fits the character’s personality. Sapphie in Lip Reader is short for Sapphire, her mother Rea’s favorite jewel. Rea is short for Rondalea Jean, with Jean being my late grandmother’s name.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
I manage to live life to the fullest with progressive hearing loss, diagnosed when my oldest child was newborn. My three children, ages 8, 5 and 20 months, are my jewels. My husband of 13 years, Scott, is also a prize.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
A kangaroo, because I am always hopping from one project to the next. My family comes along for the exciting, sometimes bumpy ride, sitting in my front pouch.
What is your favorite food?
Remember Jerry Seinfeld’s ever-present boxes of cereal on Seinfeld? That’s me! I love cereal, from the healthy, whole wheat kind to the sugary stuff that my mother wouldn’t buy when I was a kid.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Bouts of depression kept my mind tied up in knots for years. It wasn’t until I admitted I needed professional help and got it that my writing mind was uncaged and free to explore.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Join a writing group that supports where you are at in the process. Search online or locally for groups that offer advice to beginners and manuscript critique services. Then participate regularly and faithfully.
Tell us about the featured book?
Please give us the first page of the book.
Someone knocked at the door.
“Please don't be Mom, please don't be Mom,” I whispered to myself.
Miss Joanie got up to open the door. She acted like she knew who would be leaving school early for the day. The boy in front of me snickered like he knew, too. The classroom went from being quiet into a zoo of sixth grade animals.
“How come she always gets to go home ’fore we do?” said the chubby girl two rows behind me.
“It’s because her mom is…” A boy in front of me pointed a finger toward the door then waved it in a circle next to his head and mouthed the word “crazy.”
Chubby girl strutted over and slapped a high-five with the boy. Then they both covered their mouths and snickered.
My heart pounded right along with the door knocking. My arms filled with goose bumps, so many that I could feel them popping up underneath my sleeves. I wondered if I’d pass out right there at my desk.
“Class, keep it down,” Miss Joanie said as she reached for the doorknob. Her fake smile barely moved from her face, but it wasn’t as wide as it was the last time Mom visited my school.
How many kids’ parents have gotten hauled into the principal’s office for punching a classroom door and cussing out a teacher? How many kids’ parents have had the cops called on them for spitting in a secretary’s face and telling the principal where he could go? I wished it wasn’t my Mom, but it was.
Behind the door, there was a cough that sounded like my sister Roni’s. That meant Mom must have stopped at Happy Patsy's Daycare before coming to the school. The clock over the door read ten o’clock; thirty minutes before music class started. When Mom had a bad day, she usually picked me up from school closer to two-thirty. She was almost five hours early today.
“Sapphire,” Miss Joanie said to me, “you can collect your workbook from your desk and get your bag out of your cubby.”
Mom pushed against the door and from the large crack in the wood, I saw Roni’s tear-soaked cheek pressed into Mom’s shoulder, her eyes half-closed like she was about to take a nap. Mom was wearing the tan coat with the fake mink collar Dad bought her last year. Her hair, which she called auburn in the summer and chestnut brown in the winter, was parted down the middle and curled in loose waves in the back. When Mom parted her hair like that, it made her round face look like a perfect pumpkin. Her small eyes were covered in long mascara lashes, and they were squinting so much, some of the black mascara wiped onto her cheeks. Her fingernails were filed into half moons and painted a light pink that sparkled in the room’s greenish lighting.
She pointed one of her long nails at Miss Joanie.
“Don’t tell my girl what to do!” Mom shouted. “And for your information, her name’s Sapphire like the jewel, but everybody calls her Sapphie. You call her Sapphire again, and I’ll kick this door down!”
Mom talked so loud, my ears started to ring and I wasn’t even standing next to her.
“Mrs. Traylor, if you will calm down.” Miss Joanie’s smile was gone, and her thin eyebrows were raised into high arches. “You know I don’t like these interruptions at school. This is the second time you’ve come to my classroom in two weeks, and I don’t want to get the principal involved again.”
The class got so quiet, I heard my snow boots thumping across the carpet toward the cubby. It was as if I was marching, but I was the only person in the parade. Maybe if I ran out of the classroom really fast, the kids would look at their workbooks again, and Miss Joanie wouldn’t have to tell Mom to calm down. Maybe I could pretend Mom wasn't having another problem with Dad.
“Is that a fact?” Mom said to Miss Joanie, but her voice didn’t sound like it was a question. She tucked her lips in, and I could tell she was about to say something that wasn’t nice. Yesterday when Mom tucked her lips in, Dad stomped out of the house madder than I’d ever seen him.
Mom acted like she was about to say whatever was tucked behind her lips, but stopped as I walked up to her with my backpack. It was unzipped, and part of my Spanish workbook was sticking out.
Miss Joanie flashed me a smile, but I could tell it was for pretend. I wanted to stick my tongue out at her and all the kids in the class, but that would be another habit she would write about on my report card—that I couldn’t keep my tongue to myself and I’d better nip that in the bud.
So what if the kids thought Mom was crazy, and that Dad said that he was tired of it all and found himself a new place. She was still my Mom, so I had to go with her.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
Find me on my blog at http://shannagroves.blogspot.com/ . An excerpt from Lip Reader, along with other stories I’ve written, are featured there.
Thank you for spending this time with us, Shanna.
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