YA Author Shalanda Stanley on Drowning is Inevitable
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“A literary knockout with the loudest of beating hearts”—that’s what John Corey Whaley, Printz Award winner of Where Things Come Back calls the new book, Drowning is Inevitable, by Shalanda Stanley. After reading it, I can see exactly why he said that.
This well written, heartfelt, sad but hopeful book tells the story of 17-year-old Olivia. She lives with her grandmother in a small town in Louisiana and spends her life trying to get to know—but also escape the shadow of—her mother who passed when she was just days old. Thrown into the mix are circumstances that lead her to escape with her friends and boyfriend. I don’t want to give away too much about the book (I only skim a book jacket before I dive in—I like to be surprised when I read), but what you’re sure to find like I did is a unique and compelling story of love, loss, friendship and so much more that will likely keep you turning the page.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Shalanda Stanley (featured below) about her debut book. In addition to being a YA author, Stanley has a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Louisiana State University and is a current assistant professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Here are some highlights from my conversation with this talented—and impressive—woman.
EZ: Besides growing up in Louisiana, are you at all similar to your protagonist, Olivia? If yes, how so?
SS: There are pieces of me in all my characters. I’m like Olivia in that I’m introspective and don’t always make the right decisions, but I always do them for the right reasons. But there are parts of me in Jamie (Olivia’s best friend)—he’s reserved and quiet and a writer like me. I wanted to be more like Maggie growing up. Maggie is fierce. She’s the bull in the china shop, and you never have to guess what she is thinking. Max is a combination of different boys from high school.
EZ: What was the hardest thing about writing Drowning is Inevitable?
SS: The hardest part about writing the book was tapping into Olivia’s grief. The book was very cathartic for me in that respect. In the novel, Olivia loses someone very close to her. Several years ago my brother was killed in a car accident and I used a lot of those feelings to articulate what Olivia goes through over the course of the novel. It was hard to go back to that place emotionally, but I’m so glad I did. I feel like Olivia and I are better for it.
EZ: Have you always been a writer? If not, when were you bitten by the writing bug?
SS: I was born a writer. There was never really a beginning.
EZ: When, where, and how do you typically write? Do you set daily writing goals?
SS: I write everywhere (always with music on). I bring my MacBook with me wherever I go. Our dining room table is my desk. I’ll write at my kids’ extracurricular activities. I aim for a word count (1,000 words a day) while drafting—that’s achievable for me. At work, I have a chart hanging on my wall and literally give myself a gold star when I hit my goal. I like that it’s visible and makes me accountable. When I’m doing revisions, my goal is 3 to 4 pages a day.
EZ: What has been the most exciting/rewarding part of writing your first novel?
SS: Everything has been the best thing. Getting an agent, getting a book deal… each step has been better than the last. Seeing the book cover for the first time… I almost died, literally! I was walking on campus and checking my email on my phone, as one does. When I opened the email with the cover, I gasped, stepped into the street and almost got hit by a truck. Seeing it was like seeing a baby’s face for the first time.
School visits have been my favorite thing about promoting the book. I love hearing feedback from teens who read the novel.
EZ: What’s up next for you?
SS: My next book, It Didn’t Have to End This Way, about two teens who are on the run from authorities and running out of time is slated for publication by Knopf in the fall of 2017. It’s a Bonnie and Clyde inspired story and I’m having so much fun writing it.
To learn more about Shalanda Stanley and Drowning is Inevitable, visit her website, www.shalandastanley.com.
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