Interested in learning more about Farrah Penn and her debut novel, Twelve Steps to Normal? RKR chats with her below!
Congratulations on your debut novel, TWELVE STEPS TO NORMAL! How did you come up with the story?
Thank you! TWELVE STEPS TO NORMAL was the book I started writing after receiving multiple rejections on other YA books I’d gone on submission with over the course of a few years. I think every author can relate to the fact that rejections are disheartening, but I wasn’t going to let myself give up, so I started writing this with the idea of creating a contemporary story about a father/daughter relationship that was broken and needed to be mended. Everything else fell into place from there.Using Alcoholic’s Anonymous’ well-known 12 Steps to Recovery as a model of Kira’s own steps to try and make her life normal again was such a unique and effective tool to make the recovery process relatable and easy to understand. Why did you decide to incorporate this model as a central part of Kira’s story?
Kira’s steps were one of the most challenging things to nail down. I think the heart of the twelve- steps recovery program is learning to live life in a new way so you don’t revert back to old behaviors, but Kira’s problem is wanting her old life back exactly how it was. That provided to be an interesting part of her experience, and incorporating her own twelve steps helped guide her in her own journey.
All of Kira’s different relationships help influence her choices as she deals with returning to her old life, but they also make her self-aware, acting as mirrors for her throughout the book. Which relationship of Kira’s was your favorite to write?
Oh, this is tough! The romantic side of me enjoyed writing about the dynamic between Alex and Kira, but I also really loved taking a closer look at the complexity of Kira’s female friendships with Whitney, Raegan, and Lin. Some of my favorite father/daughter relationships exist in THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY by Laurie Halse Anderson and LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Stephanie Perkins, so I also enjoyed creating Kira and her father’s story and writing those scenes.
You tackle several issues in the book, such as recovery, lose, change and growing up. Was there one issue that was more difficult to write about than others?
Yes, absolutely. Forgiveness was the hardest, I think. Like Kira, I’m also the child of an alcoholic. When someone you love is struggling, you feel SO many emotions: Hurt, anger, selfishness, sadness, betrayal, guilt. This isn’t my story, but there are elements I’m familiar with on a personal level. There’s one scene in particular toward the end of the book that takes place in a garage, and I remember it was so, so challenging to add more emotional depth to it because it hit close to home.
Kira receives several pieces of poignant advice from the people around her throughout the story, often from unexpected sources. Which do you think is most meaningful and important?
I think there are two pieces I’d consider the most meaningful. Toward the end a character tells Kira, “you don’t have to go through the tough and terrible things alone.” There’s always someone out there who is willing to help you, even if you find it’s hard to ask. Also, another character mentions how it’s important to forgive your own mistakes. Everyone is flawed, and we’ll continue to make mistakes, but we don’t have to constantly beat ourselves up for them.
In your Author’s Note, you mentioned that your father, like Kira’s, suffered from alcoholism. What was it like writing from your own experience?
When I first started writing this book, I didn’t fully see how much of it connected to me. Because I was writing fiction, it was like, “okay, this is Kira’s story.” And it is one thousand percent. But the strong emotions Kira feels and goes through stemmed from not only my own life, but also from reading forums and forums of other experience from children of alcoholics. At the end of the day, I tried to create an authentic character in Kira and an authentic story as possible.
Did you learn anything about alcoholism and recovery during the writing process of this book that you didn’t know before?
Absolutely. Because I’ve never been through the twelve-steps program, I learned so much talking to those who have. There’s a statistic from AACAP that says 1 in 5 adult Americans has lived with an alcoholic relative while growing up, and it’s still pretty uncommon to talk openly about it whether out of embarrassment, guilt, or confusion. I hope this book can open those doors to conversation.
What’s next for you?
I won’t reveal TOO much, but I've been working on another YA contemporary that centers around sisters and — I hope — contains a lot of female empowerment!
Click here to buy Twelve Steps to Normal.
James Patterson is stepping up his game. The author and philanthropist will be personally donating $2 million to classroom libraries this year (up from $1.75 million in past years) in the fourth installment of the School Library Campaign, announced last week by the Associated Press. This year's focus will once again by on classroom libraries: 4,000 teachers will receive grants of $500 and 500 Scholastic Book Club Bonus Points. The program and partnership with Scholastic Book Clubs was started in 2015 as part of an ongoing initiative to keep books and reading a priority for children in the United States. To date, Patterson has donated $7.25 million to school libraries.
Applications must be submitted by July 31, 2018 and can be found here. Winners will be announced on September 5, 2018.
Interested in learning more about Scott and John and their Sci-Fi Junior High series? Check out a Q&A with them below.
1). The intergalactic world you created in Sci-Fi Junior High Crash Landing is so creative and humorous. Were either of you huge science buffs growing up?
Scott: Not so much a science buff, but a science fiction fan for sure. I loved the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and all the other Universal monsters. I was also a big fan of the 50’s and 60’s “outer space/alien” movies such as The Forbidden Planet, The Thing from Another World, Them (giant ants! I mean, how cool is that!) and so many more. And don’t even get me started on the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion animation movies!
John: Yes, I was a huge Sci-Fi movie fan. I loved everything from Star Wars, Star Trek to Godzilla and other mutant monsters. As a youngster, I was always a poor student, especially in science and math. However, I fell in love with the art on science book covers and interiors. I would study the artwork of earth strata levels and lava flow charts, dinosaur and planetary renderings for the colors and brush strokes.
2). Kelvin struggles with the fear of not meeting people’s expectations, especially because both of his parents are scientists and his little sister is a genius. Can you offer advice to kids who relate to Kevin’s fears?
Scott: All you can be is the best that you can be. If that isn’t good enough for some people, well, that’s their problem, not yours. Worry about trying to meet your own expectations. Those are the ones that matter the most.
John: I like to tell kids: “Hang in there kiddo! You’re not the only one who is insecure! Your individual strengths will shine through eventually, even if your parents are scientists and your little sister is a genius.” I also tell college level students to, “learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Stories and anecdotes like these remind us that we are not alone!
3.) How did you come up with the idea of writing the Sci-Fi Junior High Series? What made you want to write for kids?
Scott: John and I talk about this stuff all the time. We had nearly identical childhood interests, and Sci-Fi Junior High is just an offshoot of those interests. We both really love everything monster/science fiction/superhero related and always have. As for the age group our material is aimed at, it just seemed natural to write to my own maturity level.
John: Scott and I wanted to work on a story where a classroom full of unusual kids would deal with the same issues we deal with. Then I thought of the title and rough premise of Sci-Fi Junior High. Viola, Sci-Fi Junior high with weird and crazy alien kids with middle grade dramas was born. Our process could be described as a creative collaborative stew.
To answer the second part of your question, when I was a kid I always loved to draw and create my own mini comic characters. My Saturday mornings were spent watching cartoons and drawing monsters and superheroes. I was avoiding homework but I didn't realize that I was really working towards a future career. Later in life I went on to study art at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit Michigan and became a successful illustrator. As an adult I met Scott Seegert, through our daughters who were playing softball together. We couldn’t believe how much we had in common with all of our childhood pop culture influences. We decided to give this storytelling thing together a shot.
4.) What were some of your favorite books growing up that inspired you to write and got you excited about reading?
Scott: Dave Barry was my inspiration to get into this writing business. He is the only writer who has ever made me laugh out loud while reading. I’m talking tears running down the cheek level guffawing. And when he pointed out that his typical work attire was boxer shorts and a bathrobe, I knew I needed a change in careers from engineering to writing.
John: My favorite books that inspired me were mostly comic books and magazines such as Spiderman, Hulk, Thor, Iron man. Bat man, Mad magazine, Famous Monsters of Film land and comic strips. Novels and pulp novels like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Doc Savage were a staple in my teens. When I was really young I was inspired by Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are.
5.) Everyone’s writing process is different. As co-authors can you tell the readers of RKR what your writing process is like?
Scott: John and I are actually “co-creators” of Sci-Fi Junior High. We came up with the nuts and bolts of the concept together and then I write it and John illustrates it. We throw ideas around and see what sticks. There is a lot of back and forth involved and quite often his art concepts lead to plot/story ideas as well. And it only helps this process that we have studios right next to each other in an eclectic old (leaky) building. We even have a “secret” door between the two spaces so we can get together without even entering the hallway. CRASH LANDING is the sixth book we’ve done together. We also have a blowharded supervillain series called VORDAK THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE. MUAHAHAHAHA!!!