My blog this month is an interview with fellow author Shelby Londyn-Heath. Shelby has written a harrowing tale of the failures of our foster care system. Not an easy read, but a worthwhile one for anyone interested in protecting our most important resource; our children. Shelby currently lives and works in Hawaii.
What made you decide to write a novel about foster care? Did you consider writing a non-fiction book instead?
I have always dreamed of emulating Charles Dickens. He was a British writer who changed society through his fiction. For instance, when he was alive, entire families were imprisoned for not being able to pay their debts. Charles Dickens saw the cruelty in this practice, and through his fiction, convinced the British people that this system needed to be changed.
I see practices inherent in the foster care system that need to be changed, but only by touching readers’ hearts, can this awareness of needed change spread. This is my hope, to take the “institution” out of foster care and replace it with compassion for those involved in the system.
I know you were a teacher, counselor and social worker. Is this book autobiographical?
I think all books are written based on a combination of an author’s experiences, imagination, familial relationships, and personal dreams of a richer, more vibrant world. For this reason, it is difficult to delineate where reality begins and where it ends when authoring a book. For example, characters appear in my books that have their own wills and their own ideas about themselves. When I try to connect them to people in my life, I may see a figment of a character I once knew, or I may see figments of several people rolled into one character. And then again, I may not see my characters’ traits in anyone I have known. For this reason, I give my characters room to express themselves and I only rein them in when I revise. It is akin to letting children run amok in their comfortable overalls, then dressing them up for social functions so they will fit in properly.
You crossed the Sahara Desert on the back of a salt truck. How did that come about?
At the time I crossed the Sahara Desert, the desert was the property of the Spanish. There were Spanish soldiers constantly moving between the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory, to the Sahara Desert bordering the outskirts of North Africa. It was two dollars to travel with the soldiers, so a group of us piled on the boat for a cheap boat ride. We had to stay on the top deck and roll over massive splashing waves in the night. When we landed, we realized at once that we were not welcomed by the locals, and there was a terrible tension everywhere. We slept outdoors and wondered if we would be killed under the dark sky. In the morning, we took the first ride going across the desert – a salt truck.
What was it like living in the Canary Islands? Why were you there?
The Canary Islands was a warm and welcoming place to be. There was blue water everywhere, and a winding road that led travelers through quaint fishing villages after leaving the main city of Tenerife. The fishermen hooked their lanterns on small boats in the evenings, and we could hear them singing as they rowed out towards the horizon until their bobbing lights disappeared.
The Canary Islands was an unhurried land with much laughter and a bright, sharing spirit rippling through it. The only bad experience I had was when the sand storms blew in from Africa. The sand was like a thick fog, hanging in the air for days, making everyone cough and feel irritable. When the storm ended, the settled sand coated everything: our backpacks, our pots and pans, our clothes, and even our skin.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?
As soon as I became aware of the written word, I wanted to write. There is power in literature: the power to convey feelings, to deliver promises not found in reality, to dream with unbounded freedom, to escape time and the awful monotony that exists within its imposed limitations.
What is the first thing you wrote?
I used to write short stories and draw pictures when I was in the second grade.
Are you dedicating all of your time to writing or are you still working at another job?
I am writing, but I also started a blog with book reviews and promotions for other writers. I like to help, and more selfishly, I like to get to know other authors who are also struggling to be recognized. Getting to know other authors takes away my feeling of isolation that accompanies the writing process. My blog can be found at: http://www.surfsupbookshelves.com. I hope other writers reading this will visit, and also let me know if I can help promote their writing in any way.
What type of books do you enjoy reading?
Everything. Right now I am reading THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I just finished THE LOST BOY by Dave Pelzer. I think reading is fun, but it is also necessary homework for writers. There is rhythm in the written word, a rhythm that is transposed and translated through the reader’s experiences, and converted into raw writing material for a future time. `
Who is your favorite author?
I love all authors, but the one, like I told you previously, who inspired me the most is Charles Dickens. He showed me the power of the pen, the tremendous possibilities of readers’ ennobled hearts, the faith of a writer to start and finish his first and last line, and to polish his final manuscript into a timeless thing of beauty to inspire generations.
What book do you wish you had written?
I wish I had written the books in my head. There are so many of them. They are hauntingly present and realistically absent. Sometimes I am overwhelmed and want to shut the world out in order to write them, but more often, I am drawn away by my love for family, people, and the world. I have always been easily distracted. I think the writer’s torment is the choice: to write or not to write.
What are you working on now?
I am trying to create an anthology of stories from those who have been involved with Child Protective Services. I want to reveal the beauty and the pain, the truth and the disappointments of those who have been in the system. Child Protective Services often gets a bad rap, but so do foster parents and foster children. It is time to acknowledge the tremendous courage and sacrifice it takes to be in the system, and to keep what is bold and good about it, and discard the rubbish that is no longer needed.
Do you paint or play any musical instruments? Do you have any hobbies?
Right now, my blog is my hobby. I have put down my musical instruments of late, but am considering taking them up again. I used to play guitar and piano. I also used to make jewelry, but I have also have put that hobby down. Looking back, I realize that my book THE TWILIGHT TSUNAMI has taken all of me, every cell and nerve fiber of mine has been obsessed with completing this book. And still, I am not done. I am revising it once again, and will not stop until I know there is nothing more I can do for it.
What do you like to do to relax?
Luckily, I live in the country. I am surrounded by meadows and trees, and the magnificent beauty of this great earth. I walk outside and I am instantly relaxed. I also like to do yoga and meditate but I am by no means disciplined when it comes to scheduling these activities into my life. I have learned that five minutes of quiet breathing can do wonders to calm down a writer’s hyper-brain, and ironically, can also inspire new writing ideas.
I also love children. I take children on outings – In the summer, I take them to the beach and bowling. I take them to the movies and on hikes. Luckily, parents trust me and I try to fit as many children as I can into my car and include them on my jaunts. I think the greatest thing we can give children is their “childhoods.” Too often, in today’s modern world, children are under increasing pressure to perform and achieve. They are being robbed of their foundations, the very thing that will protect their mental health and feelings of security later – childhood, which should be full of rich, imaginative, joyful play and fun.
What made you decide to settle in Hawaii?
I love the culture and the people here. Hawaiians prioritize differently than most Americans do. Family comes first, aina, the land and sea, come second, and any money or profits that happen to appear are shared with loved ones. This has always been an unhurried land full of song and laughter. However, this is changing as more people from the mainland and Asia arrive to buy up the land and cause prices to rise.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Thank you for an interesting interview that is not run-of-the-mill.
You can find Shelby on Facebook by clicking here
Her website is www.surfsupbookshelves.com
To see her book on Amazon, click here