Gritty Contemporary Christian YA: Interview with Author Brian McBride

 

Haunted by the last question their mother ever asked them, the Greyson brothers struggle to cope with their grief and adjust to life after tragedy.

Semi-popular sixteen-year-old Liam spends his nights performing as the lead singer of his high school indie alternative/rock band, Liam and the Landmarks. But something happened to Liam four years ago at his friend’s house – a secret Liam will take to his grave. But in small towns like Summit, Colorado, secrets always seem to find their way out.

Twenty-four-year-old Ezra thought that he could cure his grief when he left Summit behind for a prestigious art school in Chicago, but things only got worse. Now a college dropout working at a gas station mini mart, he turns to alcohol, prescription painkillers, and meaningless one-night stands. But Ezra can’t run forever – life always catches up with you.

With abrasively honest dual-perspective narratives, Every Bright and Broken Thing illustrates the unbreakable bond between brothers and the power in coming home.

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Bookstagrammer, blogger, and author Sunny Huck shared about Brian’s work on her Instagram and peaked my interest so I had to talk with him.

DJS: Your novels are contemporary and gritty. What drives you to write about the issues you do?

BM: Some of it is personal experience; a lot of the issues I write about are things that myself or others I know have faced. Depression, self-harm, mental illness, sexual abuse and assault, domestic violence, addiction, etc… 

But some of it is also that there’s a severe lack in the YA market – specifically the Christian YA market – of stories that deal with these things. I can’t name even five Christian YA Contemporary novels that could be comparable to, say, the stories John Green, Amber Smith, or Stephen Chbosky write. The Christian Fiction industry seems to think YA Fantasy novels are the only kind worth publishing. I disagree. I doubt I can fill this gap completely by myself, but maybe I can encourage other Christian authors of YA Contemporary to share their stories, too – THEN we’ll fill the gap!

DJS: What has been the most gratifying about writing realistic Christian fiction for young people?

BM: Hearing the stories of how my books have given people a new view of themselves, of the value of life, of faith and hope, and most importantly of Jesus. Hearing all those stories has been the highlight of this experience. 

DJS: Liam and Ezra go through some pretty harrowing times before they begin their healing journey in Every Bright and Broken Thing. Will you write any more of their story?

I don’t have any new stories simmering for Liam and Ezra right now. But I have a short story or novella I may or may not be planning to carry on Lincoln’s story. But anything is possible. If a good idea comes, I won’t say no to revisiting my boys in Summit. 

DJS: Every Bright and Broken Thing is the story of two brothers dealing with loss and how they react. In a few sentences, what would you say to those who want to support families going through grief?

BM: Hold onto them and don’t let go. I remember a time when I was far away from the Lord and was getting into some bad stuff, but my parents refused to let go. Some parents will kind of back off and say, “oh, well they’re adults now. They have to make their own choices.” But my parents weren’t about to let me go. They held on for months and months. I literally would not be alive today if it weren’t for the fierce, fighting kind of love my parents have for me.

In Every Bright, we see Mr. Greyson grapple with his own suffering and even come to realize how he allowed his grief to cause him to not hold onto his sons like he should. Mr. Greyson had to determine once again that he was going to hold onto his boys. In that, we see a father who was broken become strong again.

So, if you know someone who is suffering, hold on and don’t let go. Sometimes that means telling them the hard truth. Sometimes that just means listening and letting them cry on your shoulder. Whatever the case, hold on and don’t let go.

Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us today, Brian. Keep writing. I expect great things to come from your work.

A winner of the 2016 Wattys Award, Brian published the award-winning Young Adult Contemporary debut, Love and the Sea and Everything in Between, in 2018.
Born and raised in Oregon, Brian moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at 16-years-old. He’s been writing since he was thirteen-years-old and has been reading for longer. Brian is pursuing a degree in Social Work, which he hopes to use to help rescue children and families. Perhaps he’ll work to better the US’s foster care system? Or maybe he’ll join an organization that fights human trafficking? A fourth generation pastor, he is deeply passionate about the Church and is also pursuing his Minister’s License. It was this passion that compelled him to launch the Pioneer Mvmt, a social-media-based faith movement. Among other things, he is also passionate about iced tea, animals, adoption, and the arts.
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Agent Hope Bolinger Gives Publishing Tips

Part two of my interview with agent and author Hope Bolinger is up over at Almost an Author.

Click here to go to Almost an Author and read article titled The Path to Publication.

Read part one to learn more about Hope and her new book.

 

Interview with Hope Bolinger ~YA Author and Literary Agent

This week I was super excited to talk with literary agent and author Hope Bolinger about her recent release, Blaze. 

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From the Back Cover of Blaze

If you can’t stand the heat, don’t walk into the fire.

Danny knew his sophomore year would be stressful . . . but he didn’t expect his school to burn down on the first day. 

To make matters worse (and they were about to get a lot worse), he — and his three best friends — receive an email in their inboxes from the principal of their rival, King’s Academy, offering full-rides to attend the town’s prestigious boarding school. Danny wants nothing to do with King’s Academy and says no. Of course his mother says yes. So off he goes to be bullied and picked on for not being part of the popular and rich “in crowd.” 

From day one at King’s, Danny encounters hazing, mocking insults from girls at the “popular and pretty” table, and cafeteria food that, for such a prestigious school, tastes as if it were purchased from a military surplus supply warehouse. If he survives, Danny will have to overcome his fears of failure, rejection, and loneliness—all while standing strong in his beliefs and walking into the fire.

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DJS: As I read your book, I often found myself chuckling at Danny’s wit. Was it difficult to write humor or did it come naturally? What experiences did you draw on to write humor into your story?

HB: I love humor. I actually started writing as a comedic playwright. If you know me at all, I crack jokes all the time, which does draw many eyerolls from my younger brother as is the tendency of most younger brothers. I think you just have to have a sense of humor to make it through this industry. Certain rejections are simply funny. It’s like publishers are just desperate to come up with a reason not to take on your book. I literally had a publisher say, “There’s nothing wrong with this book. It’s perfect. But we’re not going to publish it.” A lot of awful stuff happened right before I wrote Blaze, and I had two options: to wallow or to poke fun at the ridiculousness of it all. I think all those humorous situations just pent up and turned into Danny.

DJS: Blaze is set in a boarding school, King’s Academy.  What was it about the boarding school culture that drew you to write a story in this setting? 

HB: I wanted to create a modern-day Babylon, and in the original story of Daniel, they basically live in the King’s palace for their education. It just felt like a boarding school. I also wrote it in college, which is basically a boarding school for adults. I think I just had to release some frustrations about the lack of AC in our forty-five year old dorm when the campus kept building such nice things for all the visitors.

DJS: As a writer, it’s easy to become attached to our characters. Can you tell us about one of your characters who tugs on your heartstrings? If you could meet them face to face and tell them one thing, what would it be? 

HB: I love all four of the characters in Blaze. Rayah really tugs hard on my heartstrings because she went through something somewhat similar to me. Throughout the series, we witness the falling out of her parents and how the divorce affects her. Because she’s so shy and timid, she doesn’t often let on how much it affects her. If I could meet her, I’d tell her she’s far stronger, smarter, and more beautiful than she thinks.

DJS: Friendship is a theme in your novel. What advice about friendship do you have for your young readers?

HB: Friendship is so important. Keep your friends as close as possible, and be there for them during the tough times. Friends can help you through the most difficult times of life. If I didn’t have a body of wonderful friends surrounding me during my parents’ divorce, I don’t know what I would’ve done.

DJS: Great advice, Hope. We all need friends to lean on in tough times.

I enjoyed reading Blaze. Thank you so much for spending time with us. Wishing you the best of luck with your novel!

Guys, next month be sure to pop over to Almost an Author for more of my interview with Hope Bolinger when we talk about writing.

Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University’s professional writing program. More than 350 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer’s Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column “Hope’s Hacks,” tips and tricks to avoid writer’s block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young’s blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze,” (Illuminate YA) just released, and they contracted the sequel for 2020. Find out more about her here.

Facebook: @therosewoman Twitter: @hopebolinger

Instagram: @hopebolinger  Website: hopebolinger.com

 

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Giveaway and Interview With Author Donna Everhart

THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET by Donna Everhart

“Readers will find The Road to Bittersweet to be a lovingly crafted coming-of-age novel set in the unforgiving Carolina hills. Everhart understands the mindset of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood as her world fills with hardship, betrayal, and the wonderment of growing up. Readers will be struck by how beautifully Everhart captures the dialect of her well-drawn characters and the landscape – both harsh and beautiful. Here is a story that tugs at the heartstrings with its believability and evocative prose, leaving readers believing there is always hope when a family stands together.”- RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

“Everhart (The Education of Dixie Dupree, 2016) is a good storyteller and makes her characters and their experiences come alive.”  Booklist

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I loved this book! I won a signed copy of Donna Everhart’s The Road to Bittersweet from the facebook group A Novel Bee, no strings attached. I enjoyed this novel so much, I asked Donna if she would come and chat with us a bit.

If you like coming of age stories with a strong voice, you should check out Donna’s work. I think The Road to Bittersweet is a great selection for book clubs.

~ GIVE AWAY ~  GIVE AWAY  ~ GIVE AWAY! ~

I thought you guys might like this book, so I decided to GIVE AWAY a kindle copy. Details below.

 

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Listen to The Pretty One by Pam Tillis, written about the book, The Road to Bittersweet.

 

 

As a reader, I seem to be drawn to historical settings. The Road to Bittersweet is set in the 1940s. Have you always been interested in that particular time in history?  

Not so much 1940 in of itself, but really anything from the 70s or earlier.  For instance, all of my books take place in the 40s, 50s or 60s.  I like writing about those times because while there were complex issues going on relative to what might have been in the news, lifestyles were much simpler than today.  For example, there were two, maybe three channels on TV to watch, and TV was the only medium – compared to the hundreds of channels today, plus we have all of these various devices on which we can watch those hundreds of shows.  Here’s another one – Oreos.  It’s a strange example, but an Oreo cookie used to be this one type of cookie, dark chocolate wafer with a cream filling.  Then came Double Stuff. Then came vanilla wafers.  Then mint flavored filling.  Then colors for holidays.  Just the other day I saw . . . Cherry Cola flavored.   I bet there might be fifteen varieties of the Oreo cookie now.  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

I love Wallis Ann’s resilience and grit. Where did you find the inspiration for her character? 

Partly it came from books I’ve read where hardship was overcome through sheer will and determination.  For instance, some of my favorite characters who are similar to Wallis Ann would be Julie Harmon from Robert Morgan’s GAP CREEK, or Ruby and Ada in Charles Frazier’s COLD MOUNTAIN.  They were confronted by what seem like impossible situations, yet managed to overcome it by working hard, and keeping an attitude of persistence.  So, Wallis Ann certainly came from the influence of those stories, plus my own desire to create characters people can relate to and admire for their endurance and fortitude.  I would also say there’s a bit of me in these characters I write about, because I’m always thinking, how would I react?  What would I do?  Would I do this – or not?  Etc. etc.  Also, there is nothing better, in my opinion, than to have readers come away from a story feeling wrung out, yet happy with how it all turned out.

When you were researching for this book, what historical tidbit or event did you find most interesting? 

Some years ago my husband and I hiked to a historic cabin in Doughton Park, NC off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The structure survived the 1916 Basin Cove flood, and this cabin was the impetus for the story.  The family that lived there consisted of eight people, two adults and six children, and it was fascinating to know how they lived and thrived there before the flood.  It was a very rustic cabin, no bigger than about three hundred square feet.  The closest town was eight miles away.  They were true survivalists, killing for meat, growing vegetables and fruit trees, hauling water, chopping wood, preserving foods, sewing their own clothes, milking cows, and on and on.  Their job was never-ending, but they were used to that hardscrabble life.  And yet, I could see how a flood would be an incentive to leave because all they’d worked for would be gone.  How would they expect to get back to where they’d been?  What if they’d stayed?  Could they have recovered?  It was interesting to explore these questions.

What life lesson did you learn while writing your novel? 

I had no idea where this story was headed at times, or what I was doing, but I kept at it, persevering like Wallis Ann.  In a nutshell, perseverance is a wonderful thing – as long as you know when to try a different approach if something isn’t working and don’t beat yourself up over it if the goal you intended to reach shifts – or changes altogether.

What are you working on now?

Well, my third book is done.  It’s a story that takes place in 1955, on a cotton farm in Jones County, NC.  All of my books are coming of age stories, and my main character in this one is a twelve year old girl named Sonny Creech, a girl who loves cotton farming, her family’s land, and knows how to divine water.  After a tragedy, she and her family become entangled with a reclusive, bigoted neighbor.  I’m really excited about that story.  It’s in the production phase, meaning I’ve already been through the copy editing part.  I’ll soon receive page proofs, the final step before it goes to print.  The title is THE FORGIVING KIND and it’ll be out in February of 2019.

My newest project is in the really (I mean REALLY) ugly first draft stage.  This story’s main character is sixteen year old Jessie Sasser and she’s quite unhappy with her lot in life.  Born into a family legacy of moonshining, she wants no part of it because she’s certain this is what killed her mother.   So far, I’m having fun with it, while trying not to pull my hair out.

Donna Everhart is a USA Today bestselling author who writes stories of family hardship and troubled times in a bygone south.  A native of North Carolina, she resides in her home state with her husband and their tiny heart stealing Yorkshire terrier, Mister.  Readers can visit her at www.donnaeverhart.com.

 

 

Thank you for visiting with us, Donna! I can’t wait to read The Forgiving Kind. 

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Giveaway Time! I am giving away one kindle copy of The Road to Bittersweet. Click here to go to the entry form.

Here’s a question for my readers. I love coming of age stories. What’s your favorite coming of age novel? Do you have one you recommend?

 

Interview with YA Author Diana L. Sharples

Running Strong

Flannery Moore rides a dirt bike and can’t remember the last time she wore a dress. She’s also in love with her best friend, Tyler Dorset. While nothing else could make her do so, Flannery decides to change herself into the kind of girl she thinks Tyler would fall for. When her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Flannery knows she has to make sacrifices. But will that include giving up on Tyler? Can “less than” ever really be enough?

Available June 29, 2018, through all major outlets.

 

 

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I fist encountered Diana Sharple’s work when I read her young adult novel, Running Lean. The book stuck in my mind. I would hand Running Lean to any young person to read and feel it is a good book to spark conversation about a serious issue many of our teens face. Running Lean is a Christian young adult novel told from the point of view of the boyfriend. Running Strong is the long awaited sequel.

Diana hit a few bumps in the road, but has been working triple time the last year. She has already had one book come out earlier this year, and four more are on the way.

She is an amazing woman. I appreciate her taking time out to come and talk with us.

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You tackled a tough issue in Running Lean. What was your inspiration?

Running Lean and Running Strong were both “born” at the same time. Years ago, I envisioned a series of books following a group of teenagers at a small, rural high school, and for one book I experimented with an ensemble cast, each member of which either modeling or strived toward the attributes described in the Beatitudes from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. I modeled Stacey’s character and problem around “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Except that Stacey’s hunger and thirst was for an unrealistic standard of beauty which causes her to reject food and water. As I wrote, though, it became apparent that Stacey’s story could not be adequately handled in an ensemble situation. Her story needed to be in the spotlight. (Writing an ensemble piece turned out not to be my best idea, anyway!) Thus I took her, and her devoted boyfriend, Calvin (Blessed are the pure in heart…) and dove headfirst into the research necessary to write a realistic story about a girl suffering with anorexia. I needed to know all the hows and whys, and so that research was extensive, consuming, and often heartbreaking. After that, however, the other stories remained to be told! And out of that first ensemble cast came Tyler (Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness…), and his awkward relationship with one of his best friends. Running Strong has changed considerably since then, but I always envisioned Tyler as a musician hoping to break away from his small, small world, while that world refused to let him go.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about the next titles in the series?

Actually, most of the books I’ve been writing over the years were birthed in that initial series, although I’ve had to make some choices that divided them into different series. Running Strong is a stand-alone sequel to Running Lean, in which the two best friends sort out their awkward relationship and discover more about themselves in the process. (This was a subplot thread intentionally left dangling in Running Lean.) But I needed more than just the fluffy teen drama of a girl falling in love with her best friend. My personal battle with breast cancer gave me the deeper life aspects I needed to explore for the story. And so, the teen drama is interrupted by a parent’s diagnosis, which causes Flannery to realize the sacrifices that sometimes have to be made for love, and Tyler to realize that his small, small world is bigger than his own dreams.

Running Strong is scheduled for publication on June 29, 2018.

Because…Anonymous is the first book in a series of YA mysteries, which takes the bad-boy Romeo from Running Lean, Noah Dickerson, and gives him his own spotlight for growth. While Noah and his mother are in hiding from his alcoholic, abusive father, and Noah is trying to sort out how that negative influence has impacted his own life and personality, he finds himself caught up in a series of mysteries at school. And, of course, there’s always a female crush involved.

Because…Anonymous is available now, and the other two books are coming in the next few months.

And finally, Finding Hero is yet another story that came out of that ensemble cast, but I’ve had to make major changes the characters and the setting, so it is now the first book in its own series. Daniella is a diva forced to move from her artsy environment to a small Appalachian town after her mother inherits a large tract of land there. Devon is a Cherokee boy living in near poverty, whose mother used to work for Daniella’s grandfather. These two have almost nothing in common, but they’re forced together after human remains are found on the Cooper family property, and solving the mystery could send loved ones to jail.

Finding Hero will be available on September 11, 2018, from Clean Reads Publications.

You have several books coming out this year. Do you have a favorite character?

Oh dear, I really do love them all! But I’d have to say that the one character I connect with the most on a personal level—the one that I think is nearest to my own personality—is Flannery from Running Strong. She’s a tomboy, a biker chick, and a romantic dreamer rolled into one. Add red hair and green eyes… yep. You’ve got me in a nutshell. Except I don’t obsessively read cowboy romance novels.

What has been your most challenging project?

The research for Running Lean, as I mentioned above, was heartbreaking and terribly important. I think that book stands above all of my others for the significance of the issue. I believe that body image and self-esteem issues are at the heart of so many problems teenage girls face today. I feel that I barely scratched the surface of the problem of eating disorders, but when I receive an email or message from a young woman who says my book helped her in some way… that is my reward.

However, just from a writing standpoint, the Because… mysteries have proven to be a major challenge! I’ve had to adjust my ways of structuring a plot to accommodate all the subtle clues and miscues and red herrings. It’s a much more complicated method of plotting than I’ve done before!

On a personal level, having been through a battle with breast cancer and having that innate understanding of what Flannery’s mother and her family are going through, Running Strong is the novel that pushed me to dig deepest into myself.

But I think, in order to write compelling stories in any genre, the author has to get personal and find the character’s within herself. Revealing that bit of one’s heart is what connects the story with the reader’s heart.

 

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Thank you Diana!

 

Diana Sharples lives in north Georgia with her husband and daughter, and a house full of rescued pets. She wrote her first teen novel at the age of thirteen. Although she holds a degree in communication design/illustration from the Atlanta College of Art and has won awards for her science fiction and fantasy illustrations, she never lost her love for storytelling. Her debut novel, Running Lean, won several pre-publication awards and was released from Zondervan Books (a division of Harper Collins) in 2013. After a battle against breast cancer, she is resurrecting her career in 2018 with five new books being published. Diana is a motorcycle enthusiast and can be found riding her Harley around the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Visit her website for more news and samples of her artwork, www.dianasharples.com.