As I wrote in the previous blog, this topic is close to my heart. I asked author Kc Sprayberry if she would grant me an interview to explore this and her other themes in more depth. Awesome lady that she is, she did! Many thanks, Kc!
A lot of your books have to do with teens brushing into the law, either directly or indirectly. Why have you taken on these themes?
Teens today, and honestly from as far back as the 60s, have more interaction with the police than ever before in history. The YA books I write involve coming of age problems such as underage drinking, texting and driving, bullying, child kidnap, and non-custodial parental abduction. It is a given that the police will be involved at some point. I draw on my experience from when I was a Criminology major in college and from local police officers that I know, and then combine this with a lot of research on the subject.
Do you find them a challenge to write about?
Yes, it is a challenge to write about these things. The biggest question is just how far do I go, and each story dictates that point where I stop. That’s where the challenge lies. Many times, I will take the story further than is in the finished product, to see if that will work, but as is very evident from my books, those sections are ruthlessly deleted or toned down a lot.
Generally speaking, what kind of research do you do?
First, I start with fiction books already available on the subject. How current are they? How were they received by the general public? Is my book going to be a repeat of an already popular book, or is the angle that I’m using new or different? Once I determine that the book I’m writing will be different enough to attract attention, I start on the tough research by getting to know my subject. Most of that is done online. In the case of Lost & Scared, I had a scene, set long before the actual story, and nothing else. Once I began looking into websites that contained the stories of children who had gone through non-custodial parental abduction, their feelings, how long they were gone, and the return to the custodial parent, the rest of the book began to put itself together.
Then there is the most important research, as I see it. I have the bones of a good story, but I needed the rest. That meant building my characters. I liken this process to an onion, how each layer is carefully molded around the next, and the whole thing holds together, but if there is one tiny flaw in that onion, it will fall apart. This is how I build my plot and characters, one layer at a time, each of those cementing to the rest, until the story holds together and appeals to the reader.
Your books address difficult topics from the kids’ point of view, and universally convey good information and a positive message to their intended audience without being preachy or disrupting the flow of the story. How do you, as a parent yourself, put yourself into these kids’ heads and lives? What inspires you? What inclines you towards these subjects?
As I said, these issues have been around a long time. I have memories from my childhood of people’s lives being destroyed by underage drinking. Texting and driving wasn’t around at that time, but we did have other distractions that could cause major problems. Bullying has been around since the beginning of time. School violence has its roots in the United States, beginning in a schoolhouse in 1700s Pennsylvania. Child kidnap and non-custodial parental abduction were around. One thing is different between then and now—people are more aware of these issues. Being connected internationally day in and day out has brought these issues to the forefront, made awareness more visible than it was prior to the internet.
As a parent, I was watching from the outside as my own children grappled with these problems. Their stories, the stories of their friends, and those I discovered on the ‘net gave me the sense of what kind of pressures a teen today faces. Once I have the basics of a story down, I can actually hear my characters talking to me, speaking about what they’re experiencing. Bringing a good outcome to their issue inspires me to look for ways they can solve the problem themselves.
I pick these subjects many different ways. It could be a news story, the cry of a child looking for help, a situation I’ve experienced either myself or through one of my children. I might jot down a note or two, and then shove the information into the back of my head until I learn of something else, and I’ll add that tidbit. It builds from there, and I’m actively seeking information, talking to people wherever I meet them, and seeking answers. Yes, I’m a nosy person in some ways, but I’ve also been the one who runs toward trouble instead of away from it, and I know many others like that. We can’t resist becoming involved in whatever way we can, to bring about a resolution.
Do you ever find yourself responding to your writing?
Yes. I know a story will be a success when I’m talking to my characters, feeling what they do. For instance, in Take Chances, while I was fleshing out the classroom scene, I blocked out everything around me for days. Nothing mattered except getting each word, every action, all the tense moments condensed into a scene that played out for chapters but only lasted six minutes. My husband came up the stairs, and he wasn’t quiet. I never noticed him, until he asked what I was working on. At that moment, I was quietly crying while I added the final elements to the early part of the scene and his voice grabbed me away in a way that I thought it was actually happening in my house. I screamed and nearly knocked a hole in the ceiling. He apologized profusely and wiped away the tears I didn’t realize were coming out of my eyes, then left me alone until the scene was complete.
That’s how I know a book will be a success, when I’m so involved that I don’t hear what’s happening around me, when I’m distant from everyone important to me.
How do you hope your readers will respond?
I hope my readers will feel they are part of the story and respond in a positive way. The temptation for teens to drink is extremely strong, yet in Softly Say Goodbye, Erin stands against all drunks, but teens most of all. She’s never been tempted, not even a little bit. It’s not hard for her to take a stand, but she has two friends who can’t resist the temptation. One of those friends makes the choice to walk away from that, to leave behind an issue that could cause her problems for the rest of her life, but I make sure that other teens see it isn’t easy.
For our readers, which of your books have addressed teen/child topics?
Softly Say Goodbye – underage drinking
Take Chances – school violence
Where U @ – texting and driving
Inits – bullying
The Wrong One – child kidnap
Evil Eyes – stalking
I hear that you have a new book coming out which concerns child abduction by a non-custodial parent. Could you please tell us about it? Like many of your other books, the topic is extremely timely and so important.
Lost & Scared is a novel about non-custodial parental abduction. That’s a very broad subject, and a heartbreaking situation. Families torn apart through divorce, or just a parent walking out and taking the children with them, never again to see their other parent, happens daily all over the world. 203,000 families experience this issue every year. Over 556 families every single day are thrown into the terror of not seeing some or all of their children. They don’t know when those children will return, if ever.
Oftentimes, the abducting parent is a criminal or has an addiction, and I included both of these elements in Lost & Scared. It’s not unusual for that parent to verbally abuse the custodial parent, questioning their ability to take of their children, or telling them that one day they’ll just disappear with the kids to “protect” them and they will never be seen again. Many people will scratch their heads and comment, “Just report them.” But that isn’t a solution. The laws regarding child custody and unsubstantiated threats from a non-custodial parent are soft at best. Taking one’s own child isn’t considered kidnapping, but custodial interference. Even when the children are returned to the custodial parent, the other parent still has the right to visitation. I’ve seen places where the non-custodial parent received nothing but a small fine and stern warning not to do that again. In some of the cases I read online, the children who found their way back spoke of multiple “kidnappings” before they didn’t return home for many years.
The life they have with their non-custodial parent while in this situation is often lonely. They might not attend school or have medical care. They’re hidden from sight. Or some have their names changed and are told their custodial parent is a “bad person” and they have to hide from them, or they might be hurt or killed. They’re not allowed to talk about where they came from, what they did, or even their relatives. They begin to believe that their captor is the one who loves them, and will protect them from the evils of their home.
Even when they come home, these children face a lot of problems. They discover that people missed them, but they went on with their lives. Things special to the child have passed them by: school events, sports, special family occasions. They will feel resentment, or are scared they’ll be dragged back into the horror they escaped. Time does heal some of these wounds, but complete recovery takes many, many years.
Release Date: Pre-order available 2/24/2015, Release: 3/3/2015. Ebook will be available on Amazon, print book on Amazon and CreateSpace.
You can contact me through my website: www.kcsprayberry.com
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Manic Readers: http://www.manicreaders.com/KCSprayberry/