Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book? When did it come out? Where can we get it?
Softly Say Goodbye is a story about one teen’s determination to make a difference in her high school, to stop underage drinking. She jumps into this with all her heart because she feels it’s wrong for a small number of students to intimidate the rest. Little does she realize her quest can cause heartbreak, but it does not once but three times. Still, she persists. Softly Say Goodbye released in ebook format in October 2012 and in paperback January 2013. It’s available at Amazon, Solstice Publishing, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble (ebook only).
Solstice Publishing: http://store.
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/
Is there anything that prompted your latest book? Something that inspired you?
Several things prompted Softly Say Goodbye. The characters jumped into my head, their lives, their dreams, what makes them happy or sad, but without a reason for a story. Then I saw a Facebook status that kicked me in the backside, started the story. Finally, I heard the song "Here We Are" by Breaking Benjamin, and the full story unfolded. But it wasn’t as easy as writing it out. Softly Say Goodbye went through six major rewrites before it became the tale it is today.
So, when did you know you wanted to write? Or has it always been a pastime of yours?
Writing has always excited me. I absolutely loved working over my essays for English class, spent most of my homework time on them. Getting a diary at thirteen gave me another opportunity to jot down my thoughts and ideas. This evolved to an interest in creative writing, but I didn’t really get into this passion full time until I moved to Georgia.
Do you have any favorite authors?
Several. I love Penny Estelle’s fresh perspective on problems, especially in At What Price? Robert Jordan hooked me on his Wheel of Time series back in 1991, and I just finished the final book, co-written by Brandon Sanderson after Mr. Jordan’s untimely death in 2007. Stephen King is another favorite. All of his work is good, but 11/23/63 was especially good.
I have an office, and I spend most mornings in there, and some afternoons – depending on where I am in a project. I work best in the early hours of the morning, when it’s peaceful and my teen isn’t blasting his music. However, when it comes to editing, it’s the backside firmly planted on the sofa with a legal pad, pen, highlighter, and my current work in a binder. I’ve found there are less distractions there.
Are there any words you’d like to impart to fellow writers? Any advice?
Read first, whatever you can get your hands on. We have a large personal library, nearly 1400 books. I’ve always been a reader and am more so now. Then never give up. Writing is not only telling a story well, it’s also staying with the constant rejections, the feeling you’ll never be published. Don’t stop because a publisher couldn’t find a place for your work – keep on submitting. And while you are, work on the next project, pen short stories and find homes for them, track down anthologies that might fit your work. But never give up.
Here is the blurb for Softly Say Goodbye.
Erin Sellers, an eighteen-year-old high school senior, hates teen drinking. She and her three friends – Bill, her guy, Shari and Jake - decide to use Twitter to stop a group, the Kewl Krew, from using their high school as the local bar. But the members of this group are just as determined to stop anyone from messing up their fun. Despite veiled threats to her safety, Erin continues her crusade.
To make matters worse for her, the stress of school and extra curricular work mounts and suddenly, shockingly, booze-fuelled tragedy strikes. Erin is now under greater pressure as she spends all hours to produce a mural and other work to commemorate the death of a teen friend. Bill, Jake and Shari support her in all this...
But more tragedy lurks nearby… until it’s time to softly say goodbye.
And at last, we’re giving you a sneak peek of Softly Say Goodbye. Enjoy!
The sound of liquid gurgling and a thunk distracts me as my art teacher, Mr. Janks, says he has a major announcement. An overwhelming urge prods me to confront the offender, but she'll deny my accusation, even though everyone in the vicinity knows she just chugged some vodka.
Do it! My hands clench into fists. Tell Laura to quit!
High school drunks totally piss me off. The urge to deal with the offender overcomes common sense. I start to turn around to give her a piece of my mind but stare in shock at my teacher instead.
A week before Valentine's Day, the most romantic day of the year, I want to throw my books into the nearest trashcan and run until my legs give out. Here I am, sitting in my art class, and Mr. Janks announces we have to do a term project but not just any term project. Oh no! We have to develop a major project like cleaning up the Rec Center's playground and painting a mural on the huge cylinders kids climb all over. Worse, I swear I heard something about a video. Who has time to do all that and a video?
“Tell me Mr. J didn't say that,” I cry.
The now protesting students echo my feelings. The new issue drives all other thoughts out of my head. Oh yeah, I heard right, and the timing is rotten.
Tuck Amstead rolls his eyes and glances at me. “Total pits, Erin.”
“Maybe we heard wrong?” I offer.
“Mr. Janks, we can't possibly do this,” Tiana Bolton protests. “It'll…it'll… You're asking us to give up all of our free time and ignore studying for our EOCs. And you want us to show you what we did on the same day we take the EOCs!”
Boy, does she have that right. EOCs, end of course exams, make up a significant portion of our final grade. To top it off, we also have to take the state's graduation test — a mind-numbing horror challenging us to remember every single thing we have ever learned since our very first day at Landry High School. The idea of planning and executing a major art project due at the same as those dreaded tests gives me the worst scary feeling of my life.
“Why can't you do like everyone else?” I ask. “This is worse than impossible.”
“But we have to do all our other studying,” Tiana cries, interrupting him. “When will we have time for your project?”
Slender, sweet, and conflicted, Tiana's cap of brandy brown hair frames her porcelain complexion. Oh, so jealous here. She never has to worry about her hair bushing up on a humid day or the sun giving her freckles like I do with my shoulder-length red hair and uber-pale complexion. Even her eyes drive me nuts. Instead of green like mine, which everyone says look like the local pond's algae, Tiana's are gray. She has more than high school to worry about. Her mom won a court decision only a week ago, forcing Tiana to visit her in prison. The timing can't be worse. The first visit is the same day as the Valentine's Day Dance. Poor Tiana not only has to miss the most romantic dance of the year, she has to listen to her mom grouch about how a judge forced her into a plea deal that keeps her in prison for ten years. The dummy never should have driven when she was drunk. The family she hit is still recovering from their injuries.
“You also have a long term art project,” Mr. Janks says with what sounds like very little patience for our issues. “Now, I have a few things to say about the project since it sounds like most of you can't remember what you signed last August. It will be a major part of your final grade. Just like all your other EOCs.”
Shocked beyond belief, I scribble what he says in a desperate effort to make sure I pass this very important, blown off exam. Who ever thought I, Erin Sellers, would panic at the thought of an art project? I churn out assignments in this class without a second thought. Art is my passion, the one thing I live for, the way I relax. With everything else going on in my life, and all the issues at school, I don't need an announcement I never expected.
Usually, I love school. No wasted moments pass before I dive into the planning sessions with my crew for all major projects, the people I share each and every secret with. This time, I'm alone except for Tiana, and she sounds like she wants nothing to do with art.
“Why can't we just do what we usually do?” she asks. “It's not like we'll ever use art again.”
Oops! Major faux pas. Boy, is she about to hear it. He lives and breathes art in every form.
“All of you were included in this class for your artistic abilities.” His voice sounds colder than a late January snowstorm. “I expect you to do this assignment or join me for summer school while the rest of your friends enjoy their vacation, Ms. Bolton. Now, if you're through whining, I need to finish explaining this assignment before the bell rings.”
Whoa! Mr. Janks never talks like this. He is far cooler than any other teacher, and he dresses the starving artist part. Shoulder-length blond hair with a few gray streaks highlights a thin face. Cheekbones stick out under his super-pale blue eyes, and stubble on his chin makes him look so laid back. Until this moment, I've never heard him tell a student off like he just did.
“Yeah.” Tiana slumps down in her seat. “Whatever. Like I'll have time.”
How I wish for the old days, when nothing got her down. She went into a total slide after her mom went to jail for the DUI. My crew and I want to help, but her home life is such a bummer. Her dad smokes pot from the time he gets off work until he passes out around ten or eleven every night. And she has to deal with her mom's stupid remarks whenever the woman calls, and her dad's drug addiction, but she is so cool about staying off the stuff herself.
“Does everyone understand I won't tolerate any reason for avoiding this project?” he asks.
His voice warms up a little. Almost like going from minus one to zero on the thermometer. Like me, the rest of the class sits quietly with pencils or pens poised above notebooks. No one wants to piss him off any more than he already is.
“Fine.” He searches the top of his desk as a question occurs to me.
“Uh, Mr. Janks?"
“Yes, Erin.” No patience in his voice, just a lot of suppressed anger, like he thinks I'm about to make trouble.
No one, but no one, can accuse me of causing problems on purpose. If anything, I go out of my way to avoid notice and trouble, except telling off any teen drinking booze. The urge to say “it doesn’t matter” almost makes me change my mind, but I really have to know something.
“Will we have to get permission from the city to do this project? I mean, you used the Rec Center as an example. We can't just go in and do what we want unless someone approves it. Right?”
“You're right.” His voice softens. “Thank you for mentioning that.” He holds up a folder. “I have a list of places the city wants cleaned up. Mayor Flaggins agreed to let you kids—”
The whole room erupts into moans and groans. None of us like someone calling us kids, not with most of us already eighteen.
He laughs instead of getting upset. “Sorry. All right, class, here's the list. I'll call out a location, and the first person with their hand up gets it. I have enough locations for everyone to work alone, except one. Two of you will have to share.”
I sit back and go over possible locations in my mind. One sticks out. The park across from the police station on Main Street. There's a fantastic in-ground fountain for kids to play in during the summer and a bunch of concrete benches around it with walking paths and short walls. The fountain has a huge jet in the center and shoots water in a long stream over the nearby area. It also has smaller jets with bubbling water around the basin. But it's so plain, and the perfect place for a fantastic mural about living in a rural area.
“The old Long John Silver's near the Red Foods,” Mr. Janks says. “Mayor Flaggins thought something related to farming there.”
“Me!” Tuck waves his arm back and forth. “I have this fantastic idea. Maybe something including Jackson Valley and all the farms down there.”
Wallis County has a lot of small farms, nothing more than five to ten acres for people to put in enough vegetables to feed their families and sell the rest at truck stands. Tuck's suggestion brings up a visual of a long winding road beside a creek with houses against small hills and open fields to either side. In the summer, during the height of growing season, it looks fabulous.
“Okay, Tuck has the Long John Silver's.” Mr. Janks makes a note. “Let’s get on with the rest.”
The list of places to decorate sounds boring, and like Mayor Flaggins wants free labor to clean up some pretty nasty parts of town. Yeah, the economy stinks, but why do we have to volunteer to do something the mayor can put people sentenced to community service on?
“Okay, just two more,” Mr. Janks says, jerking me back to reality. “Next, the fountain near—”
My hand shoots into the air, and I wave my arm harder than Tuck did.
“Looks like Erin's hot for this one,” he says. “Okay, Erin. Want to share your idea?”
“Not sure yet,” I say. “Something including kids and the fountain. Definitely green.”
“Good.” He nods. “I like the idea of using green products. Now, last but not least is the Rec Center playground. Definitely a two-person job. Tiana?”
“I guess.” She sounds less than enthusiastic. “But it's a huge job. I can't even think of a single thing kids will like there that won't take me hours and hours I don't have.”
A loud crack of gum snapping jerks everyone forward in their seats. My eyes roll, and I want to grab the gum-cracker’s “water” bottle and throw it out, preferably in another state. A drunk in class is bad enough, but a gum-chewing drunk makes me crazed.
“I guess I have to bail out Tiana,” Laura Wiley says. “Whatever.” She buffs blood-red fingernails against her sweater. “This better not mess up my manicure.”
The queen of the Kewl Krew checks in. Oh great! So not.
What a wonderful world it is to have books. Imagine one without imaginations devoted to giving children a place to discover new worlds, make friends, and see a wider view. That was my life until I learned to appreciate books as a child and now I work hard to share my stories with them. So many things interested me, so many adventures beckoned that I had no idea how to discover all of them at once. College brought dreams of photo/journalism but a diversion to the military took me to Europe for five years. Finally, after many years of putting it off, I took the plunge and committed those stories to paper at almost 40! Now over 50, I live in LaFayette, GA with my husband and youngest child, a teen. We also have a near human cat, Fireball.
Thanks again for visiting us, KC, on Writing in the Modern Age! Your book sounds great!