How One Writer Found Inspiration to Bring Life to Silenced Voices
I'm thrilled to introduce author Shannon Parker as our special guest today. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and Shannon is here to talk about her upcoming YA debut, The Girl Who Fell, about a high school senior who is swept off her feet—and into an intense and volatile relationship—by the new boy in school.
Shannon M Parker shares the inspiration for The Girl Who Fell.
It is such a small word. Three tiny letters. A conjunction. Nothing you particularly focus on when reading or chatting.
Until it balances something ugly, justifies something hard.
When a girl tells you she knows it’s wrong the way her boyfriend treats her, but she loves him—that is when you notice this word. I did.
In my work with struggling teens, I have heard this justifying ‘but’ pass the lips of the fourteen-year-old-girl who is staying with the boy who beat the twins from inside her belly because the boy has promised her forever. Her eyes light when she tells me about the engagement ring that will come. How they’ll be married. How his father will give them the trailer at the back of the property. She tells me this and I wonder if she notices how her hands can’t help but rub back-and-forth over the band of her stomach, flat now.
Her boy didn’t mean it.
He loves her.
He will never hurt her again.
I know the college-bound student. Smart and driven. I see her long-sleeved shirts in summer, the way she hasn’t met my eyes since she met her boy. She whispers this ‘but’—she whispers now—when she tells me she’s not leaving her rural town for college. She remembers being the girl who wanted to get out, get away. But she stays behind for the boy who is attracted to her light—the bright beacon of possibilities I see fading into shadows.
Her boy loves her so much.
He can’t let her go.
So he keeps her too close.
I’ve listened to the ‘but’ on the phone when the girl who was one credit away from completing her alternative high school credential calls again to say she won’t make it in.
Her boy can’t give her a ride.
He didn’t finish school so she doesn’t need to either.
He doesn’t need her having options.
These girls were never stupid or weak. They were in love and they could not see past that love. They could not see the worth that bubbled in them like a geyser waiting to jettison into the world. My debut is not their story. It is a work of fiction, though my inspiration for the book grew out of my time with these girls and so many others. Listening to their stories made one rise in me. And I hope my debut helps end a culture of blaming the girl—writing her off as damaged—just because she falls for the boy who wants to control her.
The Girl Who Fell is about a strong, powerful, beautiful girl who falls in love. Falls deeply. Physically. Mentally. Falls so hard that the line between Before Love and After Love starts to blur. Her priorities change. Her focus shifts. And why wouldn’t it? Who doesn’t want to feel love and feel loved?
The Girl Who Fell has swooning (and much of it).
There is love.
There is kindness and tenderness and trust.
Until there isn’t.
I want to thank Shannon for being our guest and sharing her inspiration for The Girl Who Fell! By way of introduction to our readers, here's Shannon's bio:
SHANNON PARKER lives on the Atlantic coast in a house full of boys. She’s traveled to over three dozen countries and has a few dozen more to go. She works in education and can usually be found rescuing dogs, chickens, old houses and wooden boats. Shannon has a weakness for chocolate chip cookies and ridiculous laughter—ideally, at the same time. The Girl Who Fell is her first novel.
If you're like me, this post raises questions in your mind. Fortunately, Shannon is here for a Q&A:
Julie: I loved The Girl Who Fell! Knowing what moved you to tell Zephyr’s story made it even more compelling, but it also made me curious! First, when did you realize you wanted to write? Did you always plan to write novels, or did your work with at-risk youth create that desire in you?
Shannon: Thank you so much for having me here, Julie! I’m thrilled that you loved The Girl Who Fell! I’ve been writing most of my life, for work and pleasure. I started writing novels about six years ago, mostly quiet middle grade novels that were honestly pretty boring. I really found my literary voice when I set out to write Zephyr’s story.
Julie: It must have been exciting when Zephyr’s story started to come together. Did you know right away that this story was “the one?” Could you tell as you wrote that this book was different from your earlier attempts? When did you first realize this was the book that would be your debut?
Shannon: Setting Zephyr’s story to paper was exhilarating and petrifying all at once. I wasn’t sure the story would sell. In fact, even after I sold the book I was totally prepared for Simon & Schuster to call and say, “Um…, yeah. We meant to send that contract to SHARON M. Parker.” Ha! Kidding, but not. My debut is edgier than anything I’d written previously, which made the entire writing experience different. But if felt authentic and that’s what kept me going. All along I was acutely aware that IF the manuscript ever sold, it would need to find a home with an editor that was willing to take risks. I’m forever grateful The Girl Who Fell found that editor in Nicole Ellul.
Julie: Thanks for that honest answer! I can’t help but also wonder what thoughts you had about reactions. I know Zephyr wasn’t inspired by any one girl, but did you ever imagine some of the girls you’ve worked with reading the book, and did you worry how they might react? Did thoughts about reactions from anyone else—family and friends, for instance--ever threaten your process?
Shannon: Oh, sure! I’m pretty much crippled with worry about my book. I was worried when my mom read it--no joke! It’s edgy. The main character experiences her sexual awakening and I’ve always feared the backlash for acknowledging a teenage girl’s sexuality on the page. I wanted Zephyr to own her sexuality and her experimentation and I knew that would cross a line for many people. This never hindered my writing process, though because the sexuality—the total intoxication of first love—had to read authentically. The reader has to believe that a strong, driven young woman could fall prey to a manipulator. So, it’s intense.
The greatest shock has come from feedback from early adult readers. Almost every woman who has read my book has told me about their story, their daughter’s story, their best friend’s story. All hauntingly similar to Zephyr’s story. So many women have lived a similar story. Survived it. The sheer numbers of woman who can relate has been a real eye-opener.
I want to thank Shannon for being our guest! Here's more about The Girl Who Fell, which releases from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse on March 1, 2016.
Zephyr is focused. Focused on leading her team to the field hockey state championship and leaving her small town for her dream school, Boston College.
But love has a way of changing things.
Enter the new boy in school: the hockey team’s starting goaltender, Alec. He’s cute, charming, and most important, Alec doesn’t judge Zephyr. He understands her fears and insecurities—he even shares them. Soon, their relationship becomes something bigger than Zephyr, something she can’t control, something she doesn’t want to control.
Zephyr swears it must be love. Because love is powerful, and overwhelming, and…terrifying?
But love shouldn’t make you abandon your dreams, or push your friends away. And love shouldn’t make you feel guilty—or worse, ashamed.
So when Zephyr finally begins to see Alec for who he really is, she knows it’s time to take back control of her life.
If she waits any longer, it may be too late.
Doesn't that sound amazing? I was lucky enough to read an ARC of The Girl Who Fell, and I can tell you that it is a powerful read.
And now I want to invite our readers into the conversation. What are your thoughts on books that deal with difficult issues? Do you have any questions or comments for Shannon? Please share your thoughts in the comments!