Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Interview with McCall Hoyle, Author of The Thing with Feathers + Giveaway (US only)

It is my utmost pleasure to introduce McCall Hoyle to the blog today to celebrate the exciting release of her debut novel, The Thing with Feathers from Blink, HarperCollins's YA imprint!

Welcome to Books à la Mode, McCall! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief bio with us?

McCall Hoyle writes honest YA novels about friendship, first love, and girls finding the strength to overcome great challenges. She is a high school English teacher. Her own less-than-perfect teenage experiences and those of the girls she teaches inspire many of the struggles in her books.

When she’s not reading or writing, she’s spending time with her family and their odd assortment of pets—a food-obsessed beagle, a grumpy rescue cat, and a three-and-a-half-legged kitten.

She has an English degree from Columbia College and a master’s degree from Georgia State University. She lives in a cottage in the woods in North Georgia where she reads and writes every day.


It's amazing to get to feature you today! Readers, here's a bit about the book, which hit shelves in September:

Emilie Day believes in playing it safe: she’s homeschooled, her best friend is her seizure dog, and she’s probably the only girl on the Outer Banks of North Carolina who can’t swim.

Then Emilie’s mom enrolls her in public school, and Emilie goes from studying at home in her pj’s to halls full of strangers. To make matters worse, Emilie is paired with starting point guard Chatham York for a major research project on Emily Dickinson. She should be ecstatic when Chatham shows interest, but she has a problem. She hasn’t told anyone about her epilepsy.

Emilie lives in fear her recently adjusted meds will fail and she’ll seize at school. Eventually, the worst happens, and she must decide whether to withdraw to safety or follow a dead poet’s advice and “dwell in possibility.”

From Golden Heart award-winning author McCall Hoyle comes The Thing with Feathers, a story of overcoming fears, forging new friendships, and finding a first love, perfect for fans of Jennifer Niven, Robyn Schneider, and Sharon M. Draper.

What inspired you to write The Thing with Feathers?

As a teacher and mom, I observe so many teenage girls hiding their true selves from their peers. So I wanted to write a hopeful story about a girl learning to a accept herself for who she was. I taught a student whose family was greatly impacted by her sister’s epilepsy and learned about the unique challenges of living with a covert disability that isn’t immediately visible to strangers and acquaintances.

I also love dogs. By chance, my family inherited a golden retriever who was bred to do service work. The dog was more human than many humans. I began working with this amazing dog training him for agility and obedience. I became fascinated by golden retrievers and assistant dogs and did a tremendous amount of research and reading about service dogs and the people they love. I was especially intrigued by seizure alert dogs as seizure alerting cannot truly be taught and is greatly affected by the bond between the owner and dog.

I knew I had to write a story about a girl with epilepsy learning to love herself unconditionally the way her golden retriever did.

What's behind the title?

The title is a line from a well-known Emily Dickinson poem. She writes: “'Hope' is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul." When the title came to me, I knew it was perfect. Everything about this book and about Emilie, the main character, is about learning to find hope even in the most difficult circumstances. And reading poetry and studying Emily Dickinson have a major impact on Emilie’s emotional arc in this story.

Thankfully, my agent, editor, and publisher also agreed the title was perfect. I don’t personally think a title is going to make or break a book, but I love a nice title—especially one that’s somehow connected to the theme of the book and that readers have to uncover the meaning of for themselves. And I think this title does just that.


As a writer, was it difficult to combine romantic elements with the exploration of Emilie’s condition?

This is an excellent question. First, I wanted this to be Emilie’s story. I wanted it to be a story of strength and resilience and hope. I did not want the romance to overshadow Emilie’s emotional growth. But in my experience, relationships are a central part of who we are. We’re constantly starting, developing, and ending relationships. Emilie’s story is about opening up, taking risks, and learning to hope. Taking a risk on friendship and first love were a natural part of her growth as a human being. I feel like it worked. Epilepsy is a big part of Emilie’s life, but it’s not her entire life. She’s a perfectly average teenage girl. Yes, she has epilepsy, but she’s also dealing with all the things teenage girls deal with including boys.


Do you feel like your book depicts a pretty realistic view of what life is like for a teen with an illness or a disability?

I’ve taught middle school and high school for twelve years. I’ve raised a teenage daughter, and I was a teenage girl. On an average day, I spend more time with teenagers than with adults. Also, I experienced some of the greatest trials of my life during my teenage years. It’s actually frighteningly easy for me to put myself in the mindset of teenage girls. So I feel really confident about the teenage girl part.

As far as living with epilepsy is concerned, I interviewed several students who either have epilepsy or love someone with epilepsy. I also did lots and lots of research and had several parents of children with epilepsy read the book. Because there are so many types of epilepsy and types of seizures, almost everyone who has epilepsy has a unique story.

Emilie struggles with managing the challenges of her epilepsy and her seizures, but in my experience, most teenage girls are struggling. When I write, whether it’s about a girl with epilepsy, or a girl struggling with grief, or a girl struggling with body image issues, I try to tap into the emotions I’ve experienced in similar situations and write from those emotions. And above all, I aim for honesty. I want teenage girls to know that no matter how flawed they feel, there is a place for all of us. And there is always room to hope.

Blog babes, click "Read more" to find out what research went into the book and McCall's best advice for aspiring writers. We're also hosting a giveaway for a finished copy of The Thing with Feathers, so you don't want to miss that either!

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing Emilie’s story? Any interesting facts that you found out in your research?

As I mentioned, Emily Dickinson’s poetry plays a central role in the book and in my main character’s emotional development.

Emilie, the protagonist of The Thing with Feathers, must complete a research project on Emily Dickinson for her English class. I’m an American Literature teacher and thought I knew a lot of the basics about Dickinson as a reclusive poet, but I still needed to verify things like when she died, where she went to school, etc. In the process, I came across a biography published in 2011 that hypothesized based on several poetry references that she suffered from a disability of her own and went on to explain that the disability could very possibly have been epilepsy or some type of seizure disorder.

I don’t think anyone will ever be able to confirm this one way or another, but it certainly added to the already growing connection between Emily the poet and Emilie my main character.


How you do think this book will open dialogue among teens about mental health and disability awareness?

I hope that The Thing with Feathers will open dialogue concerning the invisible and covert nature of mental health issues and a wide variety of other illnesses. Mostly, I want teenagers to realize that growing up can be really painful but really beautiful as well. I want all of us to remember that just because someone doesn’t wear an illness, or disability, or emotional wound on the outside doesn’t mean she isn’t carrying one on the inside. Mostly, I wish we would all learn to be a little gentler and kinder with one another and with ourselves.

Is this your first book? Do you have advice for aspiring first-time novelists?

This is my first book. My advice isn’t flashy or groundbreaking. It’s just good, old common sense: You have to commit to writing pretty much every day—butt in seat is what I tell myself. Even if I sit and stare at a blank white screen, I make myself sit there for a designated amount of time. Also, you have to be willing to revise, revise, revise, and revise again.

What's next for you?

I love the Outer Banks setting of The Thing with Feathers and am working on another book that takes place on the ruggedly beautiful barrier islands of North Carolina.

In this story, two teenagers with very different outlooks on life, and death, and love are trapped on the islands, cut off from the rest of the world in the face of an oncoming hurricane and have to learn to put their differences aside in order to survive.


Where can you be found on the web?


It was a pleasure to be able to get to know you better today, McCall! Thank you again for dropping by, and best of luck with future endeavors!

Giveaway!


Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy of The Thing with Feathers—woohoo! To enter, all you have to do is answer tell me in the comments below:
What is something you were ashamed of as a teenager, that you wish you embraced now?
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. McCall and I really want to hear your thoughts! :)

I was (and still am) insecure about a lot of things, but a small one would be my taste in music. I've always loved oldies, folk, and later in high school got into indie and alternative, but I always thought they were weird because no one else I knew liked them. I tried to keep up with the latest pop and hip hop songs to seem "cool," as well as things my friends liked such as showtunes, to fit in. Sounds super silly now because I'm proud of my music preferences, but at the time it seemed like a big deal!

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publicist—a huge thank you to the lovely folks over at PR by the Book!
Giveaway ends November 15th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US residents only. Sorry, everyone else! Please check my sidebar on the right for a list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide—there are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!