I’ve been married for 25 years to my high school sweetheart. We have three grown daughters who are all off pursuing their dreams of being a college professor, writer, and nurse, respectively. During the school year, I teach 5th grade Language Arts in a bilingual education program in a small district in East Texas. I live in a house our family built several years ago, right on the edge of the Piney Woods of East Texas. I write books during the summer and whenever I can carve out the time. I love both my jobs!
I’ve been writing all my life. I wrote mostly poetry when I was a child and young adult. I really began writing short stories when I was going through recovery for childhood sexual abuse. It helped me process the excruciating pain I was in as I struggled to accept that people who were supposed to love and protect me had not chosen to do so. At the same time, I had also started working out (I used to weigh about 100 pounds more than I do now, and one of the first things I worked on in therapy was no longer stuffing myself with food to numb my feelings). I would read books while on the treadmill, and one day I went into my daughter’s room to check out her bookshelf to see if she had anything interesting to read. I saw a book called Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher (Greenwillow, 2003).
Reading Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes was an epiphany for me! Here was something unlike anything else I’d ever read: a gritty, realistic story for teens, told in a way that spoke to my heart. One day my therapist suggested I try writing a novel. It took me about 4 months of being stuck inside my head, unable to pull myself out of my own feelings of grief, disbelief, and rage. One day, I decided to try imagining someone else’s story. What if the main character was a teen girl who got out of her abusive situation much earlier than I did? What if the story focused more on her first tenuous steps into recovery, and how she carved out a new life for herself with the father she’d never known until CPS removed her from her home? That’s how I met Ashley Nicole Asher, age 15, and ended up creating the fictional small town of Patience, Texas.
3. Tell us about your most recent/upcoming release?
Hope in Patience is coming from WestSide Books in late October, 2010. It’s already available for preorder on Amazon and Barnes & Noble! Hope in Patience is the story of 15 year old Ashley Nicole Asher, who has been sexually abused by her stepfather, Charlie, since the age of 9. At the point that Hope in Patience starts, Ashley’s been living with her dad, David, stepmom, Bev, and stepbrother, Ben, for about six months. Some readers may be aware that before Hope in Patience, I wrote Courage in Patience. It was published by a company that is now out of business, called Kunati Books. Courage in Patience is the story of Ashley’s first tenuous steps into recovery from childhood sexual abuse, right when she is removed from Charlie and Cheryl’s home. The book I wrote when my therapist first suggested it was Courage in Patience. It’s still available from private sellers on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but it’s officially out of print. Hopefully at some point WestSide will want to reissue it. You don’t have to have read Courage in Patience in order for Hope in Patience to be meaningful to you, however.
Hope in Patience finds Ashley at a crossroads. She’s recovering from Charlie breaking her arm when he and Ashley’s mom, Cheryl, tried to take Ashley from Patience back to Northside, the suburb of Dallas where they live. Ashley has to face Charlie and Cheryl in court because of him breaking Ashley’s arm. Ashley’s mom is very devoted to Charlie, and this is a very hard reality for Ashley to deal with. She’s working through the pain with her therapist, Scott “Dr. Matt Matthews”, and using cross-country running as a way to relax and cope. Another reason she likes cross country is Joshua Brandt, a cute guy on the team that she admires from afar, but she doesn’t know what she’d do if he asked her out.
Ashley’s friends include Zaquoiah “Z.Z.” Freeman, whose family is one of the few African-American families in Patience. Roxanne Blake is 4’6” tall, and she has scars on her face from a car accident that killed her parents when she was ten. Roxanne’s boyfriend is Kevin Cooper, who is a gentle giant. He’s not the brightest crayon in the box, but he’s crazy about Roxanne. T.W. Griffin quit the Patience Panthers football team, and his dad, the head football coach, is still angry about it. Krystle “K.C.” Williamson is newly arrived from Houston, and dealing with parents who think that K.C.’s being a lesbian can be cured by a quick trip to J.C. Penney’s to get some skirts for her instead of the jeans and Nirvana t-shirts she usually wears.
When a horrific accident occurs, Ashley is brought face-to-face with the reality of her situation, and she must decide whether to embrace the new life she has with her dad and his family, or retreat to hiding in the pine wardrobe dresser that is the closest thing to a closet she has in Patience. (When Ashley was a child, when she was scared or trying to keep Charlie from molesting her, she’d hide in her closet. She slept there most nights.) Hope in Patience is the story of hope triumphing over fear, and it is a story for everyone. It is a survival story.
4. Do you plot out in advance, or just start writing and see where things go from there?
It’s a combination of both. I know what the ending will be, and I know the major plot points. I map out a basic idea of what is most important to me to communicate through the story. As I write, it may change, or I may drop some plot points if they do not contribute to the strength of the story. For example, with my current work in progress, the third Patience book called Truth in Patience, I intended to include a sub plot of church burnings, based loosely on a series of church burnings we had in the East Texas area last spring. However, once I began plotting out the book, I realized that the church burning story would take away from Ashley’s story—so out they went.
One thing I heard from readers about Courage in Patience was that anytime the story took them away from Ashley, they were mildly irritated—which is great because it means that they connected to her so strongly, they didn’t want to leave her storyline. I listened to them and kept that in mind when I wrote Hope in Patience. When I get stuck, I ask myself what happens next. Sometimes it’s quite surprising!
5. Many authors have told me that their characters talk to them, or sometimes even have different ideas of where the story should go than the author. Do you hear your characters?
I do hear them in my mind; they usually sound like the people I had in mind when I crafted the character. My characters are usually combinations of people I’ve known, but not always. Marvella Brown, for example- the Patience High School secretary and mischief maker—I have no idea where she came from, but I know exactly what she looks and sounds like!
6. Who is your favorite character (of your own)?
Oh, gosh, that’s like asking a mom to say which of her children is her favorite! I love all of them , with the exception of Charlie, because of what he put Ashley through.
7. What hobbies do you have when you’re not writing?
I am traveling more and more, since all three of my kids are going to college out-of-state. Around the house, I like to garden. I have a flower garden every spring and summer. My husband and I planted a bunch of pine tree saplings a few years ago, and I nurture those. Because we live in the woods, we have a lot of wildlife come up to eat, and we enjoy watching them. We have two dogs that I like to walk, and I just enjoy nature. I also like doing things that support the East Texas Crisis Center, which provides services and shelter to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and I’m on the Advisory Board of Survivors in Action, which likewise provides help to abuse victims. I also support Lavender Power, a support organization for abuse victims and survivors, the Texas Freedom Network, and the Human Rights Campaign.
8. If you had not become a writer, what would you have done instead?
I’d have stayed a teacher, because I love it so much. I also really loved being a stay-at-home mom when my kids were small.
9. Where can authors find you online?
My website is http://www.bethfehlbaumya.com ; I’m on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ beth.fehlbaum ; and Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/bethfehlbaum
10. Your turn. What question do you have for readers of Want My YA?
What is most important to you when you read a novel? Is it characters? Voice? Whether its told in 1st or 3rd person?
Thanks so much for stopping by Want My YA today. It was great to be a part of your blog tour. :) I hope everyone takes a moment to check out Hope in Patience. It sounds like an inspiring read.
Have a great blog tour, and readers, don't forget to leave a comment and answer Beth's question.