Sway, Amber McRee Turner's 2012 novel, grabbed my attention on the first page. Anything that describes "tired eyeballs" as feeling like "they've been rolled in corn-bread crumbs" has the potential to be a uniquely descriptive book. I wasn't disappointed. Turner's witty, unusual language provides a great contrast to the novel's often heavy subject of divorce.
Ten-year-old Cass spends the early part of her summer waiting and longing for her mother, who volunteers with a local relief organization, to return from her latest mission. Cass adores her rescuer mother while finding her part-time janitor, part-time meat salesman father to be dull as dirt. Her mother's homecoming quickly goes awry, forcing Cass to reluctantly spend the summer traveling in a beat-up RV, named Roast, with her father. Through random shoes on the side of the road, famous soap slivers, and the extraordinary power of Sway, Cass slowly realizes that not everything, or everyone, in life is what you expect, and sometimes a hero can be disguised in a fraying 70s green-and-yellow-striped suit. Turner's first novel is by turns heartbreaking, enchanting, and just plain awes (that's awesome for you Sway newbies).
Amber McRee Turner's latest novel, Circa Now, comes out today! In celebration of this event, she agreed to have a little chat with me to answer some questions:
What inspired you to write your first novel, Sway?
I love the way God puts imperfect people in our own imperfect lives. We all make mistakes, some big and some small...even parents do. But there’s still so much good all around us, even in the midst of really hard times. The real magic is the hope that he gives us that things will work out okay, even if it’s not the way we thought it was going to be. It might end up even better than we hoped.
(Detail-wise, there have been many recurring tidbits that have made an impression on me for my entire life...most of them taken in on road trips throughout the American South. In other words, ratty old RVs + small hotel soaps + abandoned roadside shoes + sudden storms + What if? = SWAY.)
You did such an adept job of writing Cass’s perspective of her parents, idolizing the deserting parent and blaming the remaining parent, which is a dynamic many divorced parents can identify with. Is there a particular place from which you drew that experience?
Thank you, Joy.
I drew inspiration for the heartache from my own mother’s childhood experience. She had a father that left their family permanently when she was young, after a violent encounter. My mom later found out that her dad had secretly started several other families in different states. Thankfully, it was clear to my mother from the beginning that her own stalwart, hard-working mother was not to blame for his actions. So, for the particular “blaming” relationship dynamic, I guess I just put myself in Cass’ shoes and imagined how I might feel had I idolized my mom for so long, only to have her disappear.
How is your latest novel, that is coming out today, influenced by your first work? Or are they a completely different and separate experience for you?
Writing CIRCA NOW was quite a different experience for me, primarily because of the photographic nature of the novel, which Disney was kind and trusting enough to let me illustrate myself. (I will always be grateful to them for that.) The story is full of photographs, some very personal to me, that I have doctored up in silly ways to help tell the story of Circa and her friends. Circa calls them simply, “The Shopt.” It’s a dimension, much like our own, where anything is possible.
Where CIRCA NOW and SWAY do run parallel, though, is that they share in common a hope that can prevail over any natural, or man-made disaster.
What are you working on now? Another middle grade novel or a new direction?
If by working you mean drinking coffee and eating strudel and putting down about a dozen words a day, then yes I am working on a new book. It will be another middle grade, but nonetheless a departure for me. It’s my first foray into the action/adventure world. Truth be told, I’m actually bouncing back and forth between two concepts. One has my heart, and the other has my gut right now...and they are fighting for control of my head. I hope to know a winner very soon. In a nutshell, it’s “submarine vs. big-rig” in my brain right this very minute.
Which children’s books or children’s book authors inspired you as a child?
I was particularly fond of Shel Silverstein as a child. His poems opened a window to me. To see how someone could use silliness to convey big, important concepts. “Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” I love that.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
I thank you for the honor of being a part of your blog! I’d like to include that all are welcome to visit my web site at www.ambermcreeturner.com, where they’ll find a collection of printable “Shopt Story Starters” to try. I’d love to hear what your followers can come up with!
Thanks so much, Amber, for chatting with me here at The Book Children! Amber's books, Sway and Circa Now can both be found in The Book Children's Store in the Books with Strong Females section.