Hi guys! I am super excited for this month’s LILbooKtalk! I had the amazing opportunity to read both of these excellent debuts, and they share so many similar themes and conflicts that I had to invite both of the authors in our February panel. Today, we have Corabel Shofner, author of Almost Paradise, and Leslie Hauser, author of Chasing Eveline, on the blog today to talk about “Healing through Stories: Two Novels of Uniting Families.” It was definitely a fun chat to moderate, and I hope you enjoy it!
About Almost Paradise
Twelve-year-old Ruby Clyde Henderson’s life turns upside down the day her mother’s boyfriend holds up a convenience store, and her mother is wrongly imprisoned for assisting with the crime. Ruby and her pet pig, Bunny, find their way to her estranged Aunt Eleanor’s home. Aunt Eleanor is a nun who lives on a peach orchard called Paradise, and had turned away from their family long ago. With a little patience, she and Ruby begin to get along―but Eleanor has secrets of her own, secrets that might mean more hard times for Ruby.
Ruby believes that she’s the only one who can find a way to help heal her loved ones, save her mother, and bring her family back together again. But being in a family means that everyone has to work together to support each other, and being home doesn’t always mean going back to where you came from.
About Chasing Eveline
Sixteen-year-old Ivy Higgins is the only student at Carmel Heights High School who listens to cassettes. And her binder is the only one decorated with album artwork by 80s band Chasing Eveline. Despite being broken-up since 1989, this rock band out of Ireland means everything to Ivy. They’re a reminder of her mom, who abandoned Ivy and her dad two years ago. Now the music of her mom’s favorite band is the only connection she has left.
Even though Ivy wavers between anger and a yearning to reconnect, she’s one-hundred percent certain she’s not ready to lose her mom forever. But the only surefire way to locate her would be at a Chasing Eveline concert. So with help from her lone friend Matt—an equally abandoned soul and indie music enthusiast—Ivy hatches a plan to reunite the band.
The road to Ireland won’t be easy, though. And not just because there is no road. Along the way they’ll have to win over their Lady Gaga-loving peers, tangle with some frisky meerkats, and oh yeah, somehow find and persuade the four members to play a reunion gig. It’s a near-impossible task, but Ivy has to try. If she can’t let go of the past, she’ll never be able to find joy in the present.
Questions are in bold
Kester: The first author we have today is the wonderful Corabel Shofner, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Southern Festival of Books last October. Her Middle Grade debut novel Almost Paradise released last summer, and I enjoyed it so much that I finished it in a day! Could you describe to us a bit about your book and yourself?
Corabel: ALMOST PARADISE is a Middle Grade contemporary novel with lots of whimsy, humor and heartbreak. In some ways it is a reverse coming of age story, since Ruby Clyde had taken on the adult role in her family and needs to reclaim her childhood. I am a wife and mother who lives in Nashville, TN. I had a very colorful life before I settled in the suburbs and I love it out here. ALMOST PARADISE is my debut novel although I have written law, short stories, essays and such.
Kester: Thank you, Corabel! It’s so great to be having a local Tennessee author here on the blog! We also have the amazing Leslie Hauser, who I was able to interview on my blog last summer. I loved her Young Adult contemporary debut Chasing Eveline, which I also devoured in a single day! Would you also like to share with us a bit about your novel and your background?
Leslie: Hi! Thanks for having me here. CHASING EVELINE is about 16-year-old Ivy HIggins and her desire to reunite her mom’s favorite 80s band. She thinks it may be the only way to find her mom who left Ivy and her dad several years prior, but also the music is a way to keep her mom present in her life. It also has some humor and heartbreak–sounds like a good companion to ALMOST PARADISE! I am a middle school English and history teacher in California and CHASING EVELINE is my debut novel.
Kester: Chasing Eveline and Almost Paradise are definitely great companions! (And you provided the perfect segue for my next question, Leslie!) That’s why as I read both of your novels, I noticed that each of your main characters share the common goal of healing their broken families. How do you want readers to be impacted by Ivy’s attempts at finding her long-lost mother or Ruby Clyde’s actions to help her mother avoid being imprisoned? How do your characters learn what it means to love those around you?
Leslie: Losing someone is difficult. I realized after my aunt passed away that every year, the memories became dimmer. It’s to the point now where I can’t even see parts of these memories (like the picture in Back to the Future! If you’re familiar with that movie.) Ivy’s quest to reunite Chasing Eveline is her way of dealing with loss and trying to keep her mom present. I wanted to write a story that shows that there are productive outlets for grief. I would hope readers would see that as a takeaway.
Corabel: Hi Leslie, I haven’t written anything with music as an element but I love the way Ivy seeks her mother through her mother’s favorite 80’s band. Reminds me a bit of Guardians of the Galaxy where he’s stomping through puddles listening to his mother’s old music, on an old player. Ruby Clyde is a self possessed little thing. She willingly steps up to care for her fragile mother but when the Catfish (mother’s rascal boyfriend) launches off on a cross country trip and gets them both arrested, Ruby Clyde is consumed with a longing for home and a growing realization that she might not be able to single handedly save her mother from prison. I want my readers to feel brave. Bravery is contagious.
Leslie: Sounds like Ivy and Ruby both have to step up in their families. Ivy feels compelled to take care of her dad in her mother’s absence. Bravery is definitely important when dealing with these struggles.
Corabel: Everybody loves the precocious child, the ‘little mother’ or the one who takes care of everything because a parent is damaged. People should realized that these children pay a price by losing their childhood. My sister did that in our family and it did not end well. I’ve since seen other children try to play this role and it breaks my heart. But their old personalities in the miniature bodies is often hilarious.
Kester: I agree. It’s definitely hard for both children and teens to take charge in their families and do their best to heal them, which brings me to my next question: Why did you choose for Ruby Clyde to be a child and Ivy to be a teen, rather than them being older or younger? What influence do their ages have on the shaping of the events and themes in Almost Paradise and Chasing Eveline?
Leslie: The idea for CHASING EVELINE actually started with my love of music. I wanted to write a book about trying to reunite an old 80s band. In searching for a way to craft a story around that, I fell into the idea of Ivy and her absent mother. When I was in high school, that’s when I really developed my musical tastes. Music has always been important to me, but I can’t imagine high school without it. That’s why I wanted this book to focus on teenagers. I wanted to celebrate the love I had for music as a teen and how important it was in my life, especially in those depressing times. The connection between music and healing is so important to me.
Corabel: Originally Ruby Clyde was 10 but my agent suggested that she be 12, which I agreed to so long as she was 100% prepubescent and could pass for a boy. No hormones, no crushes, only family problems which are beyond her abilities to solve. But she does not know this. She thinks she can do everything because she has such a powerful spirit. If she were older, this utter belief in herself might seem foolish. This is so fun, Kester!
Kester: Thank you! I’m glad you’re enjoying it!
Corabel: I’m just looking out at the Gulf Of Mexico.
Kester: Thank you! And that’s so nice! At least you’re away from all this snow up here!
Leslie, I could definitely relate to what you’re saying. As a teen, music means so much to me, too, and it’s often a refuge whenever I’m feeling stressed, down, etc. It’s great to have found a book that emulates that.
Leslie: I could put together an iTunes mix or mixed tape (for the 80s fans) and it would musically tell the story of my high school experience.
Corabel: And difficult to put in a book. You do it well.
Kester: And Corabel, seeing Ruby Clyde’s willpower was very inspiring. It shows that we have so much to learn from children at times, too, and we should never give up hope.
Corabel: As a writer, I believe that we have a sacred duty to give hope to children and we certainly get it right back from them. Lee Smith says writing is healing and I wholeheartedly agree. Not only does Ruby Clyde believe she has healing hands but I believe that writing and reading can heal the body and soul. I use that theme when I go into schools, which has turned out to be my most favorite thing to do. I’m going to cut and paste here what an 8th grade teacher wrote after I spent the day at her school.
“. . .Mrs. Shofner talked with students about how writing can heal us. She shared her inspiration for the character of Ruby and how it is not always good for children to be forced to grow up too soon. My students identified with both the idea of healing and the reality of being forced to grow up and take on adult responsibilities. Students have referred back to this repeatedly. One individual student who mentioned it in connection with our work in Revolutionary War book clubs, has been forced to be the responsible adult in her home. Mrs. Shofner acknowledging that she understands that some children do not have the parents or adults they need really spoke to my students. It validated them . . .”
Leslie: I love this! Making author visits to schools has turned out to be one of my favorite things to do as an author as well. One thing I love about books is how they connect at any age. Ruby’s willpower and hope match so well with Ivy. I love the a MG character and a YA character can have so much in common. I think this is definitely one reason books are so good at healing.
Corabel: Leslie, you are so fortunate to be on the frontlines, in the classroom making a difference everyday.
Leslie: It is like the frontline of a war sometimes, haha!
Corabel: I was speaking to third graders about characters, personification, animals, etc. and after a whole lot of talk a little boy raised his hand and asked, “What if I write a whole book and forget to put characters in it?!? Be still my heart — I loved that so much.
Kester: Since Ivy and Ruby Clyde create stronger bonds with their friends and family, why do you believe it is important to show young readers that there will always be someone to support you, whether it is a close friend or a family member? How does making Ivy and Ruby Clyde very unique in their own sense (such as their personality or their taste in music) help develop the themes about friendship and family in your novels?
Corabel: Oh that is interesting.
Leslie: Ivy is lucky in that she has Matt (her partner in crime). And she’s lucky that her dad is there for her. But I also hope CHASING EVELINE shows readers that even if there’s not a person there for shenanigans or support, sometimes there are other things. Ivy has music, and if Matt and her dad weren’t there for her, the music would be. The music really saves her and helps her through her grief more than anyone in her life.
Corabel: That Ivy and Ruby are unique goes more to their lovability than any theme. However, Ruby Clyde has developed her own philosophy on loving damaged people (especially her mother) : You have to love people in pieces. If you wait around for perfect you won’t ever get it.
Ruby’s tenacity works as an obstacle to working with the one person who can actually help her. She is somewhat afraid and untrusting of the ornery silent nun. Lucky she has Bunny the Pig.
Leslie: I love that idea of loving people in pieces! And I agree, quirkiness is what I hope makes these characters lovable.
Kester: I loved Bunny the Pig! I was dying when Catfish barged into the zoo and stole him for Ruby Clyde and her mother!
Corabel: See, she can’t stand the Catfish but he got her a pig and that’s something.
Kester: That’s where she realized that you need to look for the good inside of everyone and start loving each other in pieces.
Corabel: By the way, here’s my view. This is the advantage of being 64, with kids tuition behind me, and a husband who is cool as grits.
Kester: That’s awesome!!! The warm sounds so nice right now! It’s snowing outside for me, haha.
Leslie: Kester, I won’t tell you that it was 80 here yesterday, haha!
Kester: You all are away from this cold vortex!! It’s going to be in the single digits tomorrow here in Tennessee!
Corabel: Yes, Martin is freezing in Nashville. He’s flying down here soon.
Kester: That’s nice! My next question is did you base any of your protagonists’ encounters or personality traits off you and your personal experiences? If so, what are they?
Leslie: Ivy’s love of music is definitely something that is a bit of me in the book. The way she hears music and experiences it were both straight from my own heart. There is also a bit with her father (which I can’t explain so I don’t give away any spoilers!) that is based on a personal experience I had with my dad.
Kester: I won’t give away any spoilers, Leslie, even though I know which scene you’re talking about. 😉
Corabel: No, I think of my real life as being paint blobs on the palette from which I paint the stories. Little snippets. My daughter thinks I am Ruby Clyde but really, Ruby is the child I wish I had been. I did use family names, which is not common for me. Ruby Clyde Henderson was my grandmother with a full blown personality but she was nothing like Ruby Clyde. I had just been diagnosed as having MS when I began the manuscript and it became a work of healing for me. My prognosis has been really good and I attribute that to writing this book. Using names of people I love added to that healing. I also spent my summers in the Texas Hill Country and that informed my setting. People are always looking for an author’s real life in a book but the greater reality is in the fiction. Like that wonderful Big Fish.
Leslie: I also like to create characters with traits or aspects that I wish I had! Ivy is way more outgoing than I ever was in high school.
Corabel: Yes, Leslie sometimes a personal experience will get stuck in your craw and it finds it’s way out in various way. It’s not so much that you are reporting it but you are picking at it, trying to make sense of it. My sister gave a baby up for adoption. I revisit that indirectly so often in my writing. I met a silent nun once who had just returned from a silent nun convention!!!! Right now I am writing a ‘memoir’ of me and my two best friends and only a fraction of it is factual.
Leslie: Writing and stories are definitely ways to heal. ❤
Corabel: But we lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK assassination, Race riots, our 5th grade teacher was in the KKK, she bombed synagogs and was killed trying to bomb the house of a jewish leader. The point is that at 10 years old we were oblivious. Has everyone read the latest from Matt de la Pena and Kate DiCamillo?
Leslie: Not yet.
Kester: I haven’t been able to read it yet but I’ve heard about it.
Corabel: It’s so good. About writing sadness for children.
Matt tells his story, then asks Kate for a response. Both of them squeeze your heart big time.
Kester: I’ll definitely have to read their responses soon! That’s why I believe Middle Grade has so much power–because there’s something different yet special about writing about disaster and loss through a child’s perspective.
Corabel: KD: ” How do we tell the truth and make that truth bearable?
I have tried for a long time to figure out how E. B. White did what he did, how he told the truth and made it bearable.
E. B. White loved the world. And in loving the world, he told the truth about it — its sorrow, its heartbreak, its devastating beauty. He trusted his readers enough to tell them the truth, and with that truth came comfort and a feeling that we were not alone.”
Kester: Before we end this LILbooKtalk, would you both like to share any advice to young readers and writers who are viewing this discussion?
Leslie: Find a passion and surround yourself with people who truly care about you–who root for you no matter what. I think having at least one good friend and something to pour your heart into can make the difficult parts of growing up more bearable. I’d also say, don’t delay! Time moves fast!
Corabel: Writing is your own place, your very own place to discover your truth, not what someone else believes. Reynolds Price said that his writing is “explaining the universe back to God.” So read, write and stay with truth. There is no better journey.
Leslie: Much more poetic than mine, haha!
Corabel: Yes Leslie, I always told my children that they didn’t need to be wildly popular but they do need at least one friend who truly knows and loves them. I was the youngest of four very aggressive siblings and I spent way too many years waiting for them to tell me who I was.
Leslie: I love your advice about the truth and the journey. I’m looking forward to sharing Ruby’s journey and ALMOST PARADISE with my middle schoolers!
Kester: Thank you so much, Leslie and Corabel, for being a part of this LILbooKtalk! It was so great having you, and I am so excited to be able to share both of your books and this chat with the world!
Leslie: Thanks for hosting this chat, Kester. It was so fun to talk with you and Corabel and learn more about ALMOST PARADISE!
Corabel: Thanks Kester, what a treat to meet you in Nashville. You are really making a name for yourself with the writers.
Kester: Thank you both for your love and support! That means a lot! 🙂
Born in the early ‘50s as the youngest child of whimsical parents, Corabel Alexander Shofner was raised in a family of judges, farmers, and colorful women.
Brought up amidst formal tea parties and debutante balls of Jackson as well as the conflicting world of her wild Delta grandmother—who flew in the face of all convention—Corabel never learned to navigate the world of alcoholism, delusions of grandeur, and blatant paradoxes of her childhood. Somehow she missed the import of the civil rights movement which was happening right under her nose—in the middle of the social upheaval, at the age of 17, she simply hitchhiked away. After traveling around the world she landed in Manhattan, the first restful place she ever lived.
In the late ‘70s, after dating every single person in New York City, she enrolled in Columbia University and, though she had been a dismal student, a bright yellow window opened in her mind. She graduated with honors (magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa) after studying English Literature and Arabic.
She met and married a wonderful architect, Martin Shofner, who loved her exactly as she was. They moved to Nashville, Tennessee where she did well at the Vanderbilt University School of Law and reentered (more or less) “proper” society. She and Martin have three children. She likes to say that she took her retirement first and that is why she loves her ordinary life in the suburbs: she knows she’s not missing a damn thing.
She’s pleased to report that her first novel is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, and her shorter work has appeared or is forthcoming in Word Riot, Willow Review Habersham Review, Hawai’i Review, Sou’wester, South Carolina Review, South Dakota Review, and Xavier Review.
Order Almost Paradise today here:
I am a YA writer and middle school teacher. I have a B.A. in English from UCLA and a Master’s degree in Educational Administration. I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and currently reside in Los Angeles, California, with my dog Mr. Darcy.
When I’m not living in fictional worlds inside my head, I run all sorts of distances, torture my body at CrossFit, and DVR entirely too many television shows. I dream of one day returning to the Midwest to live on a farm. Or perhaps owning a cookie delivery service.
My debut novel CHASING EVELINE releases in 2017 from Pen Name Publishing.
Order Chasing Eveline today here:
Thanks so much again to Corabel Shofner and Leslie Hauser for agreeing to do this LILbooKtalk! I hope you all enjoyed this online discussion panel, and if you’d like to talk about any aspect or question of the discussion, please comment below!
Comment below, or find me in one of my social media pages, and let’s chat!