Friday, November 14, 2008

Author Visit: Courtney Sheinmel

Please welcome author of MY SO-CALLED FAMILY, Courtney Sheinmel!

About the book:

Leah Hoffman-Ross just moved to New York and she wants her new friends to think she’s a typical thirteen-year-old. But Leah has a secret: she doesn’t have a father, she has a donor. Before Leah was born, her mother went to Lyon’s Reproductive Services and picked Donor 730. Now Leah has a stepfather and a little brother, and her mom thinks that they should be all the family Leah needs.

Despite her attempts to fit in and be normal, Leah can’t help but feel like something is missing. When she finds the link to the Lyon’s Sibling Registry, Leah knows she has to see if she has any half-siblings. And when she discovers that one of the other kids from Donor 730 is a girl her age, Leah will do anything to meet her—even if she has to hide it from everybody else.

While writing MY SO-CALLED FAMILY, did you ever have a moment of “Oh, my gosh. I don’t know if I can do this!”?

Writing a book is really daunting – at least it is for me. And the worst part is the middle of it. The beginning comes rather easily, and the end is exciting just because I’m so close to being done, but the middle is always a struggle for me. Around chapter 7 or 8 of this book, I started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to get through it. And the feeling lasted an awfully long time. I wish it was just a moment, but I tortured myself much longer than that – weeks, months! Even now, when I hold the book in hands, I can’t believe it is real. I can’t believe I made it to the end.

Which character in MY SO-CALLED FAMILY was the easiest to write? The most difficult?

Charlie was probably the easiest character to write and I had a blast with him.  Being an older sister myself,

it seemed very natural to give Leah a younger sibling (although she has a brother and I grew up with
a sister). And even though Charlie is only five years old, some of the things he says came directly out
of my friends’ mouths. He’s very smart for his age – Leah mentions that Charlie has a genius IQ –
so I hope my friends don’t mind that I gave their lines to a kindergartener. As for most difficult – there
wasn’t a character that was most difficult for me, there were just some scenes that were harder to write
than others.

You’re a part of the Class of 2k8, you blog and do other types of online and in-person marketing. Do you think it’s important for authors to promote their own books?

I think so – this is my first book, so I don’t really have the experience yet to know what works and what doesn’t. But I do think it’s important to stand behind your work. And being a part of the online community has certainly introduced me to a lot of other writers, which has been invaluable. For example, I got to meet (at least in the virtual sense) the spectacular Jessica Burkhart!

Your parents divorced when you were nine. Does this affect how you write for kids or ever influence the topics you choose?

Divorce and single parenthood are recurring themes in my books – I think it’s easier for me to imagine families like that because I didn’t grow up in a house with two parents. I lived with my mom and my sister in New York, and my dad lived across the country in California. It was a very emotionally charged time. This was back when it was fairly expensive to make long distance phone calls. We didn’t have a lot of money, and in the beginning my dad would call us once a week. There was always great anticipation for Saturday mornings, when my dad would call. I remember wanting to reach through the phone. I think that’s part of the reason why I write for kids – because I remember so much about that time in my life.

The idea for MY SO-CALLED FAMILY came from a segment I watched on “The Today Show,” and I don’t think my parents’ divorce was a big influence on the book. But the narrator of my next book, POSITIVELY, has divorced parents. And my middle grade novel that comes out in 2010, SINCERELY, SOPHIE/SINCERELY, KATIE, is in part about a sixth grader whose parents decide to separate.

Tell us about your work with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

Thanks for asking me about it. The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) is amazing!
It was founded in 1988 by three remarkable women – Elizabeth Glaser, Susie Zeegen, and Susan DeLaurentis.
I learned about it nearly 18 years ago, when I was 13 years old. I read an article about Elizabeth Glaser in People Magazine.
She was married to the actor Paul Michael Glaser. But she was also a mother who was infected with AIDS, and she had unknowingly
passed the disease onto her two children. After her daughter died, Elizabeth and her friends started the Foundation to try and save
’s son. I thought it was one of the most incredible and hopeful stories I had ever heard, and I began sending monthly donations
from my baby-sitting money.

Over the years my involvement has grown – I’ve volunteered at the Foundation’s office and at

different events, got my friends and family involved, and helped organize benefits to raise money for
pediatric AIDS research. And Elizabeth’s son, Jake, is now twenty-four years old and a very good friend
of mine.

What was the writing process like for MY SO-CALLED FAMILY?

I wrote MY SO-CALLED FAMILY while I was still practicing law, so it was basically written on the
weekends. I wouldn’t set my alarm clock, but as soon as I woke up in the morning, I would turn my
computer on. I tried to finish a chapter each weekend.

What’s next for you? Share!

I just finished going through the copy edits for my next book, POSITIVELY, which comes out September 8, 2009

– it’s about a 13 year old girl named Emerson who is living with HIV. It was a very tough, emotional book
to write, but I’m really proud of it. And I’ve just started working on a new book about a girl who lives
with her mother and sister, and is transplanted from New York City to Lancaster, PA (Amish Country!)
for the summer.

About Courtney:

Courtney Sheinmel grew up in California and New York. Her debut middle grade novel, My So-Called Family (Simon & Schuster, October 21, 2008), follows eighth grader Leah Hoffman-Ross, who has a donor instead of a father, and goes in search of her half-siblings. Courtney is also the author of Positively (September 8, 2009), and Sincerely, Sophie/Sincerely, Katie (Fall 2010). She lives in New York City.

Visit her Website and blog for more! Find My So-Called Family here!

Thanks for stopping by, Courtney! Please come back! :)


Keri Mikulski said...

Great interview.. Adding this to my TBR list. :) Have a great weekend! :)

Lenore Appelhans said...

Such a great premise and I enjoyed the interview.

Barrie said...

Terrific interview. See you in real life tomorrow, Courtney!

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