“Strong girls_________________.” (How would you fill in that blank?)
Strong girls build bridges and tear down walls.
Who was your first “author idol” and why?
My first author idol was my mother who wrote poetry and loved to share stories and poems about her own childhood — my father didn’t write but loved to share stories too. Friends and family members I’d never met were as real to me as our next door neighbor. But my first favorite book-author was April Oursler Armstrong who wrote Ben and the Green Corduroy Angel. A few years back, my sister bought me a copy from an out-of-print book site. I could still recite entire passages!
Why do you think the main character in your book represents a strong girl?
Serafina is a strong girl because she is true to herself – she isn’t perfect, but she is open to the world and hopeful that she can effect a positive change.
What compelled you to write about the topic/character in your book?
I knew very little about Haiti before the devastating earthquake of 2010. At that time, all reports emphasized that Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I set out to learn more and quickly discovered that Haiti is so much more than the sum of her disappointments and disasters. The Haitian culture is rich in hope and faith, in music and art. I wanted the world to adjust the lens clouding their vision and see more than dirt and dust.
How can girls become literary citizens–people who intentionally use words and story to promote goodwill in their lives, community and world?
The Girls of Summer Program is one great way for girls to recognize that each one of us has the power to create communities of compassion and acceptance. Every time we read a book we open the door to new ideas and experiences. Reading helps us discover that people, whatever their culture or lifestyle, are more alike than different. The words we write, the words we read and the words we share have the power to build bridges of empathy or walls of ridicule and distrust. Kind words create goodwill!
What surprised you most about yourself or your protagonist during the process of writing this book?
Writing Serafina’s Promise, reminded me that the true measure of a life, isn’t what we have but what we do with what we have and how we care for others. Of course, I always knew this, but in the face of so much devastation, it was remarkable to learn how full of faith and hope the Haitian people remain. Writing Serafina’s Promise humbled me. It made me appreciate all I have— not the least of which is fresh water at my fingertips.
What is your dream for this book or your writing life more broadly?
Our world is so troubled. It seems that every day we are bombarded with increasingly extreme examples of cruelty and oppression. Still, I firmly believe that each of us has the power to bring about positive change. I firmly believe that every act of kindness makes the world a better place. It would be wonderful if my characters could encourage readers to embrace the world with hope and the determination to overcome injustice in all forms.
What is the greatest challenge facing aspiring writers and do you have any advice on how to get past it?
Writing is hard work — words don’t always come easy and it may be that the greatest obstacle for young writers is a fear of failure or the discouragement that comes when our best and most sincere efforts are criticized or rejected. I myself have a drawer full of manuscripts that never found a home or any readers beyond the circle of my family.
Sometimes we need to take a day (or two ;)) to breathe some fresh air, but for me, the only real way to overcome discouragement is to listen to my own heart. All writers – young and not-so-young must resolve to be true to themselves and continue giving voice to the thoughts inside them that struggle for expression.
What was your first experience with the power of language?
I can actually remember the distinct moment when the the beauty and power of words first dazzled me. I was at church and very young, at that wooly age when the gibberish of grown-ups had just started to break into patterns which I could understand and contemplate. Our hearts are on fire, the people in the pews sang— I was young, but still old enough to know that hearts couldn’t really be on fire and amazed that so few words could capture so large a feeling!