Hello Bookworms and welcome to another Feature Friday! For those of you who don’t know about Feature Friday or if it is your first time on Bookwormstothemax, every Friday you can see posts about new bookish videos, announcements, authors, and etc. If you have any suggestions for a Feature Friday, let me know by leaving a comment below or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org !
This Friday, I’m excited to share with you my interview with Johanna Parkhurst. I first found out about her books a few months ago and I’m happy I did. If you haven’t read any of Johanna’s books before, I highly recommend that you do! Check out her website here.
Eileen: Thank you Johanna for joining all of us here on Bookwormstothemax! We are so happy to have you! First off, What made you decide to become an author?
Johanna: I’m not sure I ever decided to be a writer—I’ve just always loved making up stories in my head and putting them on paper. I wrote my first “book” when I was eight: The Story of Jackie, the Killer Whale. My mom said it was awesome, so I figured I’d keep up the whole writing thing.
Eileen: Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it and why?
Johanna: I can’t imagine writing horror because I can’t read a horror book without having to close it every five seconds (I scare really easily). Other than that, everything’s on the table. The best part of writing is that it allows you to be a part of so many different worlds.
Eileen: Harmony Ink Press publishes LGBT-related Young Adult Books. What inspired you to write YA LGBT novels?
Johanna: I didn’t initially set out to write Dusty Porter (in Here’s to You, Zeb Pike) as a gay character. Over many, many drafts Dusty just happened to end up falling in love with Emmitt…and thus I had written a novel about a gay teenager (I sometimes joke that my own character came out to me).
Then, at the same time that I was looking to get Here’s to You, Zeb Pike published, I was also bringing more and more literature with LGBTQ characters into my middle school classroom. A principal I was working with made the following plea to me: “Please don’t just bring in stories where the gay kids get beat up and bullied and commit suicide all the time. I feel like that’s all kids see these days. I want them to know that not everyone’s story is like that.” I’m not saying those types of stories shouldn’t be out there, and neither was my principal. Those stories are vitally important to teens who need to see the worst possible consequence of bullying behavior. They are also vitally important to those teenagers who have had such an experience and need to know they are not alone. But when I was writing Every Inferno, I decided I wanted to write another story featuring LGBTQ characters, and that this time I wanted to create a high school which leans towards acceptance and inclusion. So I created the character of McKinley, a gay 16-year-old who enjoys huge popularity in his high school.
Eileen: What advice would you give LGBT teens who are struggling with themselves and their identity?
Johanna: What a great question. Almost every teen I’ve ever known is struggling with defining who they are in what way or another, and the advice I often give to them is this: surround yourself with the right people. People who appreciate every aspect of your identity, even if that identity is changing in some way. People who will support you in the process of defining yourself. People who will stand by you. That’s not always easy to do. Not everyone has people like that readily available. So seek them out. Actively look for them. They’re out there somewhere.
Eileen: Here’s to You, Zeb Pike was your first novel. Can you tell the readers a little bit about it?
Johanna: Here’s to You, Zeb Pike is about Dusty Porter, a fourteen-year-old boy who is left to take care of his brother and sister by himself…and what happens when someone finally figures out what’s going on and Dusty’s life is turned upside down. It’s sad, and funny, and the characters in it were great fun to write.
Eileen: Your newest book, Every Inferno, was recently released. How is it different from Here’s to You, Zeb Pike?
Johanna: Every Inferno is a lot darker. While the topics addressed in Here’s to You, Zeb Pike aren’t lighthearted, that book has a decent amount of humor laced into it. Every Inferno is about an alcoholic teenager trying to solve the mystery of his parents’ murder, so the tone of that book is much more serious. Although, if you like sarcasm, you’ll still probably find it funny. JJ is pretty acerbic.
Eileen: What books are you currently reading?
Johanna: I’m just about to start Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin. It’s a YA novel about a character who’s born intersex, and it’s getting wonderful reviews.
Eileen: What is your strategy to get rid of writer’s block?
Johanna: It’s AWFUL. Most writers would say you should never do this!! Basically…I work on 2-3 projects at all times, and I jump back and forth whenever one stalls. While I would say that this strategy works for me, it also means that it takes forever for me to finish a draft of anything.
Eileen: How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
Johanna: I’m all over the place with names. Dusty’s name represents the fact that his life is in constant change—dust that hasn’t settled anywhere yet. But JJ’s name has no meaning whatsoever. I just liked the initials and started calling him that as I drafted the book. I didn’t even figure out what JJ stood for until the third chapter!
Eileen: What are you working on now? A new book? Project?
Johanna: Naturally, I’m working on two projects right now. One is my first attempt at a picture book! That’s taking some time, because I’ve never written one before. The other is a novel featuring a teenage girl who’s a history geek…and spends a lot of time with toilet seats. That’s all I’m going to say about that for now.