Because of my connection with the amazing Melissa Foster and her most awesome support group, I was able to connect with another great writer, Ms. Sarah Elle Emm. In this interview, she discusses her newest book, Opalescent.
1. How would you describe your book to someone who has not yet read it?
Opalescent is book two from the Harmony Run Series and revolves around a seventeen-year-old girl named Rain Hawkins as she bravely fights against an evil dictator in the year 2050. I’d say it is exciting, intended for a teenage audience, and is the perfect book for a book club discussion.
My publisher wrote a great preview in the press release:
Opalescent doesn’t disappoint as we move forward in the exciting story of young people facing segregation and an evil opposition. The sequel starts right where the first book left off with new twists and turns, and loyalties being questioned.
Still enslaved in a mixed-race zone within the United Zones of the Authority, Rain Hawkins is part of a secret resistance preparing to take on the tyrannical President Nicks before plans to kill the mixed zones across UZTA are executed. When unsettling dreams and a mysterious voice begin to haunt the dark nights, Rain fears someone more powerful than she has discovered the resistance and their secret abilities.
With a known Authority spy on her heels, and her boyfriend, Jabari, suddenly acting strange, Rain doesn’t know who to trust and if the voices calling to her are friend or foe. As conditions across all of the zones get worse and the stakes rise, Rain embarks on a quest for answers that will either put the people she cares about most in more danger or take them one step closer to the truth and their eventual freedom.
2. Is there a message in your book that you want your readers to grasp?
Well, there are a lot of messages in the Harmony Run Series, but concerning Opalescent particularly, I hope readers grasp the idea of standing up for what they believe in and not being indifferent to injustice. I think the message of having hope, no matter how dark the times or situation may be, is also important in Opalescent.
3. How much of the book is based on real life (either yours or someone you know)?
The series takes place in the year 2050, when a tyrannical ruler has come to power, hydrogen-fueled hover crafts are the only mode of transportation, and the teenagers at the core of the story have discovered they have some extra abilities or talents to help them stand up to their oppressor. Despite all of these fantasy fiction elements, this story is still based on real life struggles that people in general will be able to relate to.
In real life, for example, people deal with depression, oppression, hatred, and seemingly impossible obstacles. People fall in love, teenagers argue with their parents, unexpected crisis can pop up and throw us completely from the path we are walking and send us in an entirely different direction. I think anyone reading the Harmony Run Series will be able to relate to the struggles these teenagers face, even if only on a small level.
4. How did you get the idea for the novel?
From the moment my children were born, people – even strangers – wanted to ask who they would identify with, African Americans or Caucasians, and which color baby doll would we buy for them? Some tried to figure out if they looked more white or black, and over and over when my husband wasn’t with us at the store, strangers asked me what their father looked like because they just couldn’t figure it out. When I would say he was African American, they would be dumbstruck. “Really?” To which I would say, “Yes, really.” I should know….I married the man, didn’t I? 😉
I got a bit tired of trying to explain we are all just humans. That is the point though: We are all just humans. Since it felt like there was too much interest on which box my kids should check, eventually, the thought popped into my mind to try to write a story where multiracial teens would be the stars of the show. Maybe the multiracial teenagers in my book could try to help get the message out to the world that we are all, in fact, just humans. (Well, aside from some of the Martian Men we have living among us.) 😉
To answer the question a little further, the Harmony Run Series was a story that had been brewing in me since the first time I stood inside the walls of a World War II concentration camp. I was twelve years old. I knew about concentration camps like the one we were visiting, Dachau, but I had no idea how it would feel to visit one.
Dachau wasn’t even a death camp, like some of the other Nazi camps. I saw where prisoners were forced to share wooden bunk beds, stand for hours in torture drills, tortured during medical experiments by Nazi doctors, and on and on. The stories I had been reading about in books suddenly came to life before me. In the replica gas chambers and crematoriums their heart wrenching murders cried out to me, consuming me with sadness.
Growing up, I devoured WWII books about Jews surviving in hiding, stories of hope and courage, learned about WWII in any way I could, and I visited Dachau on three separate occasions. Each time, the experience left me speechless, unable to put my emotions into words. I recall standing in front of my class at the age of seventeen trying to give a report about concentration camps. My classmates studied me with confusion as I cried the entire time I was trying to give my report. Just talking about those camps made me cry. I couldn’t help it. I know a million stories have been told about that era, but they left an impression on me.
I was also very moved by my visit to Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. I wanted to see every contraption devised to try to escape the East and was intrigued by this post war oppression. Other stories moved me…Slavery in America, the Underground Railroad, Nelson Mandela’s struggles and eventual freedom, and atrocities still happening around the world. The story of Shin Dong, who escaped a North Korean concentration camp, just seven years ago, breaks my heart. Here is a link to his story: http://www.businessinsider.com/survivors-liken-north-korean-prison-camps-to-holocaust-2013-2
My story might not ever help change this crazy world, but I think the idea is to get people thinking about the consequences of sitting by idly when people are attacked. It doesn’t matter what we look like on the outside. It doesn’t matter what box I check to label myself. I am a human. Just like you. And the person standing next to you.
5. Which came first, the title or the novel?
The novel. The characters made their grand appearance in my mind, as if they had stepped out of a painting and into my living room. I was snoozing on the loveseat, saw them, leapt from the chair, ran to my kitchen table, and filled up pages of my notebook with their story. Titling book one Prismatic was the easiest thing I have ever titled. It just clicked. This is a story about multiracial teens, alongside people of every color of the rainbow, working together to overcome oppression. I decided to name the entire series with the same general meanings…
Harmony Run Series in order:
Brilliantly colored; iridescent
Exhibiting a milky iridescence like that of an opal
Having a changeable luster; twinkling
Exhibiting lustrous or rainbow-like color.
6. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about your book?
YES!!! I would give myself more time to write this one! It is quite difficult to crawl inside of that writing cave of mine with kids, their activities, homework, etc. Plus, we moved from Indiana to Florida in the middle of this story. Aside from the time issue, I like Opalescent. This story is important to me. Of course, it has only been out for a few days. Those nasty reviews might come rolling in soon. Ask me then! 😉
7. What inspired you to write your first book?
My first published book was Marrying Missy and was inspired by people picking on people who don’t “look” like them and also by people who pick on themselves. Marrying Missy is about an unlikely friendship, women with low self-esteem, prejudice, people struggling to overcome the negative things their parents taught them, abusive relationships, the role of the modern day woman, (career versus staying at home), and marriage.
It is set in Atlanta in the spring time during the wedding planning of Missy. It’s a fast-paced, fun, easy read, and at the same time has some heavy issues for people to think about. Everywhere I have lived and traveled, I have met women, some worse than others, who struggle with low self-esteem and body issues. I am a mother and an aunt now, and I wanted to go ahead and put some thoughts out there about the consequences of negative behavior and getting caught up in the need for material excess. Prejudice is also an important theme in this book. Missy is a fictional character, based off of a multitude of experiences and hundreds of people I have met around the globe. Prejudice is very real, it does not exist within one race or culture alone, and it simply disturbs me. (If you hadn’t picked that up yet.) 😉
8. Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a writer from then to now?
I’ve been writing since I was young. Never did I stop to think about what would happen if I ever managed to get published. So of course, when I finally did, I wasn’t really prepared for the negative part that goes with being published…like nasty reviews. So here is the most important thing I have learned since then: It is not personal. My mom told me about a pastor preaching who uses a Q-tip for an analogy. He says Q-TIP means quit taking it personally. You can apply this to all areas of your life, from people with road rage to bad reviews. Who cares if you get slammed by a bad review? At least the reader was ticked off enough to take the time to write a review. Besides, reviews – good and bad – get the conversation rolling about your story… 😉
9. Considering a book from the first word you write to the moment you see it on a bookstore shelf, what’s your favorite part of the process? What’s your least favorite?
There is something about the process where I first meet my character or characters before I have even written the first word that is so exciting. It’s difficult to explain without sounding unhinged, but I know other writers understand. A character might come around to ‘chat’ or give me a glimpse of their story and who they are and then come and go. The moment that character is suddenly crystal clear in my mind, and I can’t get to my notebook or computer fast enough to write down the words, is the best moment ever.
My least favorite part is after I have completed the first draft, and I have to try to make sense of what poured on to the pages…(editing and revising.) Ugh.
10. What book are you reading right now?
I am reading The Last Supper Catering Company by Michaelene McElroy, and I have to tell you I can’t wait to finish this interview so I can get back to reading! In all seriousness, thank you for allowing me to chat on your blog today about Opalescent, but if you haven’t read The Last Supper Catering Company yet, go ahead and add it to your to-read shelf. I’m not sure I want her story to end.
11. What’s up next for you?
I am writing Chatoyant, book three of the Harmony Run Series, which is set for release next February 2014. The fourth installment, Nacreous, doesn’t have an official release date as of yet. Basically, if I’m not chasing one of my children, cooking healthy, juicing, talking someone’s ear off, (usually this is my awesome mother, Jacque, or my very patient husband, Charles,) reading, attending a school or church function, marketing, or snapping a photo for Sarah’s View from the Bottom, you can bet I am working on the Harmony Run Series. I think I had better cut something out of that list if I am going to meet my next deadline.
12. Do you have any advice for other writers?
Please, please, please don’t be intimidated by other writers and authors out there who you think are way ahead of you and seem to have all of their ducks in a row. You may not have written the next big thing or something that is going to immediately, or ever, gain the attention of the industry as a whole, but your story is your story. It is important to someone, and even if you just touch one reader’s life, making them smile or feel touched in a positive way, that’s all that matters.
13. Is there anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you. Thank you for reading my work. Thanks to those who make time to leave reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads. Thanks to readers who have passed any of my books to a friend or shared it with their book club.
The Harmony Run Series is technically young-adult, but I sure like hearing about adult readers enjoying Prismatic, looking forward to Opalescent, and sharing the story with younger readers.
Thank you very much, Mishael, for hosting me on your site today!
You can connect with Sarah Elle Emm
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/SarahElleEmm
By visiting her website: www.sarahelleemm.com