Writer Wednesday: Beth FehlbaumPosted on March 9th, 2011 3 comments
Currently reading: Sunday’s New York Times Magazine (for some reason, I’m between books)
This week’s featured author also celebrated her birthday yesterday. So I’ll start with a big “Happy Birthday” to my wonderful imprint-mate, Beth Fehlbaum. I’m so excited to have her as a guest on the blog today. Her book, Hope in Patience, has been honored by YALSA as a Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers and Beth has been very busy reaching out to readers, both in Texas, where she lives, and in cyberspace.
I write fiction for young adults, although the fiction I write is rooted in truth. Even though I’m no longer a teenager, I still see the world through the lens of a teen, and that enables me to shine light on parts of life that some adults would prefer to keep hidden. I am a teacher and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I drew on both experiences to write my debut novel, Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse. My newest book, Hope in Patience, released late October, 2010, from WestSide Books! I’m currently at work on Truth in Patience.
About Hope in Patience:
Ashley Asher is fifteen years old, and is sent to live with her father and his family, after being sexually abused by her stepfather for four years. She seems to be making progress, with the help of her therapist and her new family, but she still struggles with trying to forget the abuse she’d endured for years. With her guard built up, she starts school in her new hometown of Patience, Texas, where she meets all of these new people including her soon to best friend, ZZ. She joins the cross country team with her new friends, when a special boy catches her eye. Josh is cute, funny, and attractive, but Ashley has no confidence in things working out with him. Will she soon learn that forgetting about her past isn’t an option anymore? Will Ashley see that there is still hope for her in Patience? Or will she end up losing herself, the progress she’s made, and Josh to something that never should’ve happened to begin with?
On to the interview…
1. Hope in Patience had a prequel, Courage in Patience, that was published by a different publisher. Can you tell us about how you found WestSide Books for “Hope?”
Courage in Patience was first published in September, 2008 by Kunati, Inc., a small independent Canadian publisher. Kunati folded in mid-2009, and all rights to Courage in Patience were reverted to me. My agent, Gina Panettieri of Talcott Notch Literary Services, began shopping it around, and one of the publishers she submitted to was WestSide. I was very interested in WestSide because I read a few of its titles, including Running for My Life, One Wish, and The Ring, and I knew without a doubt that Courage in Patience would fit in well. I completed work on Hope in Patience, but neither my agent or I thought about shopping it separately from Courage in Patience, even though it was written so that it could be a stand-alone or a sequel. By January, 2010, we still had not heard back from WestSide, and I sent an e-mail to the submissions e-mail address, complimenting WestSide on the titles I’d read and telling the person on the receiving end of the e-mail –who turned out to be Evelyn Fazio– that my agent had submitted to WestSide and I just KNEW that we would be a good fit for each other. Turns out, through glitches and e-mail address changes, Evelyn had never received the e-mail query from Gina. WestSide was more interested in Hope in Patience at that time, since it had never been published. By late spring, Hope in Patience was sold to WestSide!
2. Did your daughters know about your history of abuse? When did you share these books with your family? Was it difficult to do?
My daughters found out about the abuse a few months after I entered therapy in November, 2004. I did not handle telling them as well as I could have. I was a complete mess at the time. My relationship with my extended family imploded when I told my parents that I was having to face being sexually abused as a child, because it was destroying my marriage and my life.
It started with me –at the age of 38, married for twenty years, with three teenage daughters– asking my stepfather to no longer comment on my body, because he still did that. It was the first boundary I had ever tried to set with him. Just the fact that I dared acknowledge that he had abused me as he did—that I would no longer pretend that nothing had happened—was too much to ask. It was an awful time in the life of my little family—our nucleus of my husband, our kids, and me. My kids lost their relationship with their maternal grandparents, and they had been very close to my mom. I thought I was close to my mom, too. But that all depended on me living this lie, and I was killing myself with food and experiencing a myriad of disorders in order to do that. I weighed 100 pounds more than I do now, and I was binge-eating constantly. It took me six years of therapy to overcome the abuse and learn to manage the scars I have as a result.
My husband and two of my daughters read Courage in Patience. My youngest daughter heard me read an excerpt of one of the early chapters at an event, and she had to leave the room. She has never read either of my books. To my knowledge, none of my daughters have read Hope in Patience. They all have copies that I gave them when it released, but it’s very intense for them because they know that Ashley, the protagonist, and I share many of the same experiences and feelings. I respect their need to keep distance from it. They are very proud of me and my work as an author—and that feels great!
3. What’s the nicest thing someone has said about the book?
Besides my husband and kids being proud of me, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) named Hope in Patience as a 2011 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, and that’s pretty nice! I love getting letters from readers who say that they couldn’t put it down.
4. Have you gotten any letters or reader reactions that surprised you?
I’ve gotten letters from women in their 70s who realized that they still needed to deal with what happened to them as children. They have gone their whole lives feeling this sense of shame and guilt that they could never shake, and they knew it was related to being abused, but they could never find the strength to go through the process of recovery. Many of them have realized that they are strong enough, just by virtue of having survived what they did, and that gives them the courage to take that first step.
5. Where did you grow up? When you were 15, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was born in Dallas, Texas, and spent my teen years in DeSoto, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. When I was 15, I was already involved with Daniel, who I married when I was 18 (we just celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary), and all I knew was that I wanted to marry him and have his babies. I pretty much clung to this idea of making it out of my house in one piece, getting married, and living happily ever after. Of course, real life is a lot harder than that!—but that dream is what kept me from checking out a few times.
6. Where did you go to college? What was your favorite course there?
I went to college at the age of 29 when my youngest daughter started Kindergarten. I started at a community college, then transferred to the University of Texas at Arlington. I started out wanting to be a kindergarten teacher, but once I got into the writing classes for my English degree, I knew I wanted to teach older kids. I majored in English and minored in Secondary Education. My favorite classes were American Literature, Rhetoric, and Secondary Language Arts Education. In 2006, I graduated from Texas A & M- Commerce, with a Master’s in Elementary Education—Reading. My favorite courses there were the Reading courses taught by Dr. Joseph Vaughan. He changed the way I thought about teaching and ingrained in me the Socratic Method of teaching.
7. Besides writing, what do you do to fill your days?
I teach fifth grade now (I taught 7th & 8th grades for the first seven years of my career). I teach English Language Arts in a bilingual education program in a medium-sized district in East Texas. It’s my job to transition my kids fully from Spanish to English reading and writing. My students have to pass the English standardized test in Reading in order to progress to 6th grade, so my job is sometimes very stressful, trying to get my kids where they need to be. I honestly don’t do a lot of writing during the school year. I work on Truth in Patience-- my current work-in-progress and the third book in the Patience series– on holidays and as the spirit moves me, but my job takes so much out of me creatively and in every other way, I just don’t have the “umph” it takes to write the emotionally demanding world of Ashley Nicole Asher. I have a stack of notes that I have been making, and I add to it when I think of something for Truth in Patience. I think about it all the time, writing the story in my mind, but I don’t sit down and regularly work on it. During the summer months, I treat my writing like a regular job and establish a routine of writing every day. I’m about 4 strong chapters into Truth in Patience; I have the entire book written in my mind; it’s just a matter of getting it on paper! I hope to finish it this summer.
8. If I told you tonight’s dinner was your last meal ever, what would you request? (appetizer, main course, dessert).
Wow, that’s hard! I think I would want fresh, cold, sweet pineapple and watermelon for an appetizer; steak and chicken fajitas for the main course, and a Braum’s frozen yogurt twist in a waffle cone for dessert.
9. And the important question: Favorite Chocolate–Dark, Milk or White?
Mmmm— probably milk.
Is there anything else you want to talk about?
I just want to tell you that your book, Change of Heart, was a book that I couldn’t put down. I read it in about two days! I have a really hard time concentrating and staying focused if a story doesn’t just reach out and pull me in—and Change of Heart definitely did that for me! Also, thank you for having me here! I invite your readers to check out Chapter 1 of Hope in Patience (Chapter 1 of Courage in Patience is there, too!) by going to my website, http://www.bethfehlbaumya.com I’m on Facebook (beth.fehlbaum) and Twitter (@bethfehlbaum), too!
Thanks so much, Beth–both for the compliment to Change of Heart, but more for the honesty with which you answered the questions. Abuse is not an easy subject to deal with–in real life or in fiction–and it seems like you are doing both beautifully.
Stopped by to say hi to Beth and visit your great blog! Beth’s book is a fantastic read and she’s a super writer. Thanks for this post.
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