1. How did you come up with the idea for the story told in your debut novel?
As a teacher, I have met many students who have faced a lot of hardship in their short lives. What always amazes me is the utter resilience they display. They manage to navigate their way through problems that, as an adult, I am not sure what I would do about. My novel was inspired in part by that resilience and the idea that so many of us are going through our day with problems that we hide from the rest of the world. I am a firm believer in being kind to everyone since sometimes the person with the biggest smile is the person facing the greatest hardship behind closed doors. At some point we have to let others in because a hardship shared, is less of a hardship.
2. How would you describe your protagonist, Riley?
Riley is a teenage girl that has experienced a tragedy that has turned life as she knows it, upside down. She has a lot of emotions and feelings that she isn't sure what to do with, feels like she knows it all, and at the same time feels like she knows nothing at all. The teenage years are tough anyway; school, friends, relationships, trying to figure out who you are and what you believe and what you want to do with your life. There is a lot of pressure. Add a traumatic experience to that and you have a recipe for disaster. Riley is very typical in that way. She is balancing her emotions and trying to understand how you can love and hate at the same time. There is a very confusing duplicity to life and emotions, and Riley is learning that lesson early in life. She is scared to let friends and loved ones help because she has experienced loss and doesn't want to risk losing anyone else. I think that is a feeling that teens and adults alike can relate to.
3. As an English teacher, when do you find the time to work on your own writing?
I'm a full-time English teacher with a two-year-old daughter so life is certainly hectic. I keep a notebook in my purse and write when I have a spare moment: waiting rooms, when my daughter naps, lunch breaks. I still nurse my daughter, so I have to pump at work and I have gotten pretty good at balancing the pump and my notebook! At home I will get on my laptop for twenty minutes before I start getting ready in the morning or for a half hour before I go to bed. I might not have a huge block of time to write but all of those little sessions add up. I wrote The Other Side of Loneliness in about 7 months.
4. What audience did you have in mind as you wrote your novel--were you thinking of your students in this context as you wrote?
I was absolutely thinking of my students as I wrote this novel. As a teacher you don't just teach your subject area; you also give a lot of pep talks about handling life. I don't pretend to know it all, but I try to give my students good advice so they can make better decisions or try to get them to stand back and analyze a situation before acting. I think about what I wish I had known when I was their age. This book takes some of those life lessons and puts them into novel form. I think that young adults and adults will enjoy this book because the real core message is that we all have issues that we hide from the public; we all struggle and that is okay. It is okay to not know what to do. We can choose to stay stuck and suffer or we can accept our issues and figure out what to do from there. This book is about the importance of friends and support systems, forgiveness, and that understanding that no one is perfect. That is what makes us human.
5. As the school year comes to an end, what are your plans for the summer?
Well, contrary to popular belief, teachers do not really get the summer off! I will be teaching summer school a few days a week and spending some time planning for next school year. When I am not working, I will be spending a lot of time at the beach; I love being outdoors! I run and summer is really my training season, so I will be doing that in preparation for a half marathon in the fall. I have a two-year-old daughter, Lillian, and I love every single moment with her. I will be spending a fair amount of time finger painting, collecting bugs, and visiting the farmer's market with her. Of course, I hope to have some time to read and write and I'll be waiting to be inspired for my next novel!