(What better way to start our Teen Author Boot Camp 2015 Coverage than with two of its founders? First up is Jo Schaffer, whose book, Against Her Will, releases today! So, go buy it. She has some pretty fantastic thoughts on writing, her worldview, and how young writers can have fun. Plus, she will be doing a panel discussion and book signing at the King’s English in Salt Lake the night before TABC).
What was the one event in your life that got you writing?
There really wasn’t one event. I always kept a journal as a child and started writing stories by the time I was in elementary school. My older sister, Heather, would always tell the most imaginative bedtime stories and I think that really helped kindle a lifelong love of storytelling.
I was also an avid reader early on. My mother has a Masters degree in English Literature and exposed me to wonderful books in my formative years.
When I became old enough to babysit my mob of cousins and neighbors, I became popular with the children for my stories. I started to write them down in the form of interactive, choose-your-own-adventure type games. That was a hit and I was hooked.
All through high school I wrote poems, short stories and personal essays. I enjoyed the process and people seemed to like reading them. I had a lot of encouragement from family and teachers.
Later, as a university student living in London, I was immersed in good literature, interesting people and beautiful places. The very first novel I wrote (which is awful and hidden for all time) was based on that experience while studying abroad.
Are there themes that you are drawn towards in your books?
I love stories of redemption and self-actualization. The genre doesn’t matter as much to me. It can be paranormal, historical fiction or contemporary realism, but the main characters have to make an inner journey, coming to an understanding of themselves, their own culpability and be empowered by it. It isn’t until a person truly owns their shadow side that they can be at their most powerful and at peace with their potential.
I really enjoy exploring paradigm shifts and moments of enlightenment that build the character and make them more self-aware and “other” aware. I also like to dissect relationships and the effect of amity and enmity on the main character.
How does your worldview play into your writing?
I suppose I can’t separate my writing from the way I think. The things that I value or that I’m opposed to, will come across in the stories I write. But I do try to balance what I think and what characters with opposing beliefs and world views would think. Writers, like actors, need to have empathy if they want to be able to write believable characters. I hope to capture authenticity and truth in what I write. By truth, I don’t just mean the perceived absolutes of right and wrong in the universe. Truth is what is. An honest look at the human experience. Sometimes for me, means writing things that may demonstrate that what I hold as true as having a possible downside or contradiction. Other times it means that things that are generally accepted by our current culture as good are not as innocuous as we tell ourselves. Hopefully, if I write honestly… nobody is safe.
How do you deal with criticism and bad reviews?
Unless a friend points out–hey listen to this good review–it may be a bad idea to listen to negative reviews. However, if the criticism is sound and comes from a trusted source, I’m all about considering what they say if it can improve my writing. Sometimes, I can be too close to my work and fresh eyes are helpful.
But you can’t please everyone and some people are just going to hate it no matter what.
What advice will you have for the teen writers at TABC?
Have fun writing! Learn all you can about the tools of how to write well and to reach your audience.
Write about things that matter to you and never stop working on your craft. Don’t worry about reviews or what people will say—you can’t please all readers and everyone is a critic! Don’t even worry about if you will ever get published. Just write for the love of it and pursue publishing if that is what you want—there are so many options for getting your stories to readers now. Most writers will never achieve fame or fortune. Do it because you love it.
Tell us about your book. Where can people get it?
Teen psychiatric wards can be “throw-away” places for kids whose parents can’t or won’t deal with them. In Oak Dale, teens battle their inner demons and not all of them win.
The concept of Against Her Will came from the experiences of co-author, Serita Stevens who has worked in a teen psych ward for many years. It was interesting and fun to develop characters based on some actual patients she had known and put them together into a story line and a plot that will hopefully show the emotional journeys of teens who struggle with mental illness and other challenges.
The main characters have all experienced different forms of bullying. Cassidy, from a wealthy home, has parents who have no time to show her love. Their primary concern is that she upholds the proper image. Her parents manipulate and shame her until she acts out and makes a string of bad decisions. Rather than trying to understand or support Cassidy, her parents have her locked up. Tony comes from serious domestic violence which has left him feeling powerless so he turns to pyromania to feel in control. Gina, is a defiant trouble maker who becomes a bully herself after enduring a childhood in the foster care system, in and out of unsafe homes. Erin, the anorexic, was horribly bullied and humiliated by peers from school and controlled by her perfectionist mother. And Julia is an endangered child, exposed to drugs and prostitution because of her mother’s lifestyle. They all play off one another within the walls of Oak Dale where unfortunately, some things only get worse.