Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Author Interview: Sherry Shahan, author of Purple Daze

Please join me in welcoming author Sherry Shahan to A Few More Pages today! 

Sherry Shahan is the author of more than 30 books, including adventure novels Frozen Stiff and Death Mountain. When not snorkeling with penguins in the Gal√°pagos, or riding horseback with zebras in Africa, she can be found studying ballet at a local dance studio. Sherry lives in a funky beach town in California. Purple Daze is her first historical verse novel.

Her newest book, Purple Daze, is being released today and she kindly and enthusiastically agreed to answer a few questions for us! Thanks Sherry!

Q. If you had to describe your book in one sentence,what would it be?

Set in 1965, Purple Daze is a story about a volatile cultural revolution -- war, riots, feminism, racism, rock ‘n’ roll, love and friendship -- as experienced by six high school students.

Q. What inspired you to write about teens in the Vietnam Era?

I unearthed a shoe box stuffed with letters written by a friend who had served in Vietnam during the 1960s. I’d kept his letters nearly 50 years! I spent hours rereading his gut-wrenching account of the physical and emotional struggles he encountered daily. I began to recall my own experiences from that time. Don't tell my mom, but like the character Cheryl, I used to sneak out in the middle of the night to meet friends. As in the novel, we searched for a break in the National Guard barrier, hoping to witness the Watts Riots firsthand. Crazy stuff!
At age 18, Sherry's friend drove a 5,000-gallon fuel tanker over land mines in Vietnam in the 1960s. (Note the bullet hole in the door!)
Q. I am always interested in the amount of research that goes into a historical novel. What was
your research process like?

Once I began writing, memories assaulted me twenty-four-seven. It wasn't until a later draft that I began adding descriptive pieces about historical events in 1965, such as the Pentagon’s authorization of Napalm, the FBI’s all-out war to discredit Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the assassination of Malcolm X. These pieces are juxtaposed against musical references: rock concerts and the story behind Arlo Guthrie's famed song “Alice's Restaurant.”

I hope Purple Daze will inspire readers to further explore this tumultuous and sobering time in American history. A brief timeline begins and ends the book, along with a historical chronology.

Q. Why did you decide to write Purple Daze in verse?

After reading my friend’s letters, I began playing around with viewpoints of other people I'd known in high school. I wanted to be inside the heads of each character to explore their innermost thoughts and feelings -- I chose journal entries, letters, free verse and traditional poetry. To me, verse mirrors the pulse of adolescent life. Teens are emotional and self-absorbed. Condensed metaphoric language on a single page reflects their dramatic, tightly-packed world.

Q. Which scene in Purple Daze was your favorite to write?

Favorite? Hmmm, that’s a tough one. In one of the early scenes, Cheryl and her best friend Ziggy are piercing each other’s ears. They’re using frozen potatoes to numb them, sort of an earlobe sandwich. (Yes, we really did that!) They’re sipping Sloe Gin, while the Animals wail “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” Here’s a short single-page piece, yet it says so much about the character:
Love is like sticking
your car keys in a pocket with
your sunglasses and thinking
your glasses won’t get scratched
Q. If you could invite any three historical figures to lunch, who would it be and why?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his tireless commitment to ensure equal rights. Joan Baez for decades of political and social activism and the universality of her music. Tim O’Brien for The Things They Carried. I’d love to hear about his writing process as he blurred the lines between memoir and fiction.

Q. Are you working on anything new at the moment?

An Alaskan-based adventure novel called “Ice Island.” I was in Nome for the end of the 1,049-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Afterward, I flew to a remote island in the Bering Sea. I was amazed to see native men repairing walrus-skin boats and polar bear hides drying on racks. I remember thinking, Someday I’ll use these details in a story. “Ice Island” will be out in 2012.

Sherry, thank you again for answering all of my questions! The book sounds fantastic and I am looking forward to reading it!

And for those of you who are also looking forward to Sherry's book, here are the publication details:

Purple Daze by Sherry Shahan
ISBN: 9780762440719
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Pages: 208
Publication Date: March 22, 2011
Publisher: Running Press
Book Description (from the publisher):
Purple Daze is a young adult novel set in suburban Los Angeles in 1965. Six high school students share their experiences and feelings in interconnected free verse and traditional poems about war, feminism, riots, love, racism, rock 'n' roll, high school, and friendship. Although there have been verse novels published recently, none explore the changing and volatile 1960's in America-- a time when young people drove a cultural and political revolution. With themes like the costs and casualties of war, the consequences of sex, and the complex relationships between teens, their peers, and their parents, this story is still as relevant today as it was 45 years ago.
Advance praise:
"Shahan's Purple Daze puts us on the front lines of funky times, from Los Angeles to Da-Nang. A far out, implosive, psychedelic trip that ends in indictment. This is spectacular."
-- Rita Williams-Garcia, author of One Crazy Summer, National Book Award Finalist, Newbery Honor, Scott O'Dell Historical Award, Coretta Scott King Author

"A raw and stunning portrait of the 60’s. For those who lived them, Purple Daze will bring your past to life. For those who didn't, this story will make you feel as though you did."
-- Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of 14 novels, including Pay It Forward

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