Read on for a Q&A with Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave author Jen White and a giveaway of 3 ARCs of the book (3 winners will be chosen, US only, ends 6/21/2015).
About the book
After their mother's recent death, twelve-year-old Liberty and her eight-year-old sister, Billie, are sent to live with their father, who they haven't seen since they were very young. Things are great at first; the girls are so excited to get to know their father – a traveling photographer who rides around in an RV. But soon, the pressure becomes too much for him, and he abandons them at the Jiffy Company Gas Station.
Instead of moping around and being scared, Liberty takes matters into her own hands. On their journey to get home, they encounter a shady, bald-headed gas station attendant, a full-body tattooed trucker, free Continental breakfast, a kid obsessed with Star Wars, a woman who lives with rats, and a host of other situations.
When all seems lost, they get some help from an unlikely source, and end up learning that sometimes you have to get a little bit lost to be found.
Q & A with Jen White
Read Now Sleep Later: Normally, I'd just start the Q&A right off with the questions, but I have to give you a little backstory on my first question.
I was lost once in our local supermarket when I was about 3. In the Philippines, supermarkets are crazy big. I marched up to the customer service desk and told them my grandpa ("lolo" in Tagalog) was lost, and that they needed to make an announcement to find him. They made an announcement and "found" him. The "my lolo is lost" story got repeated to every one of my siblings and cousins from then on as a survival strategy...)
Now the question--Have you ever been lost? How old were you and what did you do about it?
Jen White: I love your “my lolo is lost” story. Also, so great that your family used that experience as an example of how to respond. I think the feeling of being forgotten or lost is a universal emotion or worry. The idea for Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave came from my own “lost” story. When I was twelve and on vacation with my family, I was accidentally forgotten at a remote gas station for six hours. Luckily, I did have my younger sister and cousin with me. My parents didn’t see us get out of the back of our camper truck to use the restroom and they drove away without us. They thought we had fallen asleep and didn’t realize we were missing until they reached their destination, three hours away. We were, obviously, terrified. Eventually, a police officer (in normal civilian clothing) came and took us to the police station. At first, we wouldn’t go with him because he didn’t look like a real police officer. But eventually, we saw his police car and decided that he was a policeman. After being interviewed at the police station, he took us to a foster home where we ate bean burritos and watched Mary Poppins. Soon we were reunited with our family. Now, thirty years later, we can laugh about it. But at the time, it was quite traumatic.
RNSL: Liberty has a very methodical, scientific approach to life. Is Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave a conscious attempt to encourage young girls to pursue a STEM career or is that just icing on the cake?
JW: No, it was not a conscious decision. I love that idea though, and wish I could take credit for it, but it was definitely a subconscious thing. I think girls should pursue whatever career they choose, and how great it is if SSOTAB opens the door even wider to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) possibilities. I once read that young girls are able to imagine themselves capable of achieving what they see other women accomplish. Because of that alone, it is important to have successful women in every field of study and more opportunities for girls. If I have somehow contributed to an ‘I can’ attitude, then that makes me very happy. And as a mother of girls, I think that it is very important.
RNSL: Billie and "Bertie" have a very strong bond despite their age difference. Do you have a sister, and do these characters mirror your relationship? If not, what informs how you wrote their characters?
JW: Yes, I have two sisters and two brothers. As the oldest of five, I feel like Liberty’s semi-bossy nature I come by naturally. I also have five children (four daughters), so I think I have a pretty good handle on the sister dynamic. That being said, I feel like Liberty and Billie are their own creations. I didn’t imagine a particular person as I wrote them, but I know my experience as an older sister and a mother of girls surely influenced how I wrote Liberty and Billie, albeit subconsciously.
RNSL: There are quite a few secondary characters that help or hinder the girls on their journey. Which was the most fun to write and why?
JW: In some ways they are all my favorites. There’s a true emotional connection behind each character. I would say I really loved, Star Wars Kid (Roger) and didn’t want his story to end. I hope I can create some form of Roger again in my future writing. I also loved Lavender Lady and Orson. They made me laugh and were a great duo to write. And finally, I’d say, I loved Tattoo Guy. I love him because upon first observation he seems intimidating and scary, but as the book progresses we get the whole picture of who he is (compassionate, funny, and smart). In the beginning he is not who he seems. In general, I think this is true about most people. There is so much more to a person than what we see on the surface Deep down, everyone has a story that is relatable.
RNSL: When did you begin developing this story, and can you tell us a bit about the journey to publication?
JW: I began writing Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave during the last semester of my MFA program. For some reason, I was really scared to write it. But Liberty’s voice was so persistent and compelling that I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I finally became brave enough to write her. I think part of my fear was that I wasn’t sure where the story was going. When I began to write, I had more questions than answers, and that felt really unsettling. Now, I know that’s just how I write: with a list of questions beside me. After I finished my MFA, I attended a writing retreat for experienced writers in my hometown. The visiting editor was Joy Peskin (who, by the way, is now my editor). That is where she read the first twenty pages of SSOTAB. She then asked for a full. Did I mention that I was crazy excited about that?! After she read the full, she had a lot of questions about the book. She suggested I revise (and, hopefully, listen to some of her revision suggestions) and then send it back to her. It took me a really long time to figure out what I was doing with SSOTAB. I went on to write two other books before I could figure out how to get Liberty and Billie through the desert safely. Once I figured that out, I wrote SSOTAB quite quickly and then sent it to Joy. It had been so long since we had last spoken that I was afraid she wouldn’t remember me. But she remembered. :) She read the full and then took the manuscript to acquisitions. The rest is history. (It was much harder and more traumatic than it sounds.) Just picture an exhausted, bleary-eyed, chocolate covered writer… that was me.
RNSL: Are you working on anything new?
JW: When Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave was purchased it was part of a two-book deal. So yes, I am working on Book 2. It is not a sequel to SSOTAB. It is a whole new middle grade animal. I’ve been having a lot of fun writing it. There are some great secondary characters. Maybe, that’s my thing? And (now that you mentioned it in the previous question) I have another, what you might call, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) main character. Maybe, that’s my thing, too? :) She is anxious, damaged, and smart.
After I spent so much time with Liberty and Billie in SSOTAB I worried that I wouldn’t love my new main characters the same way, but I’ve found that I do. I guess it’s like when you have a second child. You never imagine that you can love another baby as much as the first but, when the second comes, you do. You love them all.
RNSL: Cake or Pie?
JW: Definitely cake. Any cake, anytime. I’m not picky, but if I had my choice it would be a homemade dark chocolate cake with ganache frosting. If you’re ever in town, I shall make it for you. It is divine.
About the Author
Jen White grew up in California, the oldest of five siblings. In kindergarten, during a parent/teacher conference, her teacher told her mother, “She’s a little bossy.” Unfortunately, Jen thinks that same assessment might still be made today. She blames it on birth order.
When she was young she wanted to become an author and a teacher. One of her earliest memories was learning how to read. She remembers how excited she was when she realized she could read the signs she saw through the window when she was in the car with her mother. She also remembers how her stomach hurt when she read out loud because she read with such gusto.
Jen has a degree in English teaching and also earned her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in writing for children and young adults. Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave is her debut novel and was born from the real experience of Jen being accidentally forgotten at a gas station with her younger sister and cousin. Jen currently tries not to boss around her five children and husband in San Clemente, California.
Three lucky winners will get a copy of Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave. US addresses only, ends June 21, 2015.
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