Apr 5, 2011

Author Interview & Giveaway: Sherry Shahan with Purple Daze

Sherry Shahan in high schoolToday I'm happy to present an interview with the amazing Sherry Shahan! She is the author of the phenomenal YA novel Purple Daze. Without further adieu:

1. Purple Daze is a very unique concept, combining personal accounts with historical events & context documentation as well as verse. Did you choose to write the story this way or is this just how it came out?

While cleaning out a closet, I found an old shoe box filled with letters from a friend who was in Vietnam during the mid-1960s. I spent hours rereading the gut-wrenching accounts of his physical and emotional nightmare. I can’t believe I kept his letters nearly 50 years.

Since his letters inspired Purple Daze, I decided to use that form of expression for his character. At the same time, I started writing character sketches about other high school friends. Once I began scribbling, I was living in a constant flashback. Bam, bam, bam. Memories slammed me twenty-four-seven.

During a later draft, I ran across factual events that I wanted to include. In 1965, for instance, the Pentagon authorized the use of Napalm B in Vietnam. That year the FBI launched an all-out campaign to discredit Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These entries are juxtaposed against musical references, such as concerts and the story behind Arlo Guthrie's song,“Alice's Restaurant.”

2. What parts of yourself, if any, do you see in your myriad of characters?

It’s not a coincidence that Cheryl’s name is so close to my own. Like Cheryl, I used to crawl out my bedroom window at night to meet friends. Sometimes six of us would pile into a car and hit the streets of Skid Row in Los Angeles. We’d walk around at 2 A.M. for no particular reason. During the Watts Riots we drove the freeways looking for a break in the National Guard barrier. We wanted to see the fires and devastation up close. We were such adrenaline junkies.

In one of Ziggy’s pieces, a teacher discovers a hot dog wearing a condom. Yep, that really happened.


Mrs. St. Johns faints in Home Economics

when she opens the refrigerator and sees

her Oscar Mayer wearing rubbers.

I mean, grow up!

3. You’re well versed in writing for several different types of audiences, from small children to adults. Was there a change in your writing style for your YA novel?

Most contemporary YA novels are written from the point of view of a single character. But I wanted my readers to be as close to Phil (in a trench Viet Nam) as to Cheryl (in a high school classroom). I wanted them to have access to the private thoughts and feelings of all six characters.

Each character demanded his or her own story arc -- with a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end -- yet I had to weave each story smoothly into the whole. It was quite a challenge.

Because of this unconventional story form, white space played a significant role in shaping emotional content.


Mick has no class,

treats Ziggy like trash.

I don’t know why she

puts (out) up with it (him).

This entry is only four lines. Yet they sum up Phil’s feelings about how Ziggy is treated by her boyfriend. Perhaps better than if I’d written it in margin-to-margin prose. Fewer words on a page tend to stand out. It’s as if the white space is framing what’s important.

4. What’s the next big adventure on the horizon?Sherry in San Simone

I’m in a long-term relationship with a man who served in Vietnam in the 1960s. At eighteen he was hauling fuel in a 5,000-gallon truck over a highway bobby-trapped with land-mines. We’re planning a trip from Cam Rahn Bay on the coast, zigzagging to Qui Nhon and onto Anh Khe, one of his driving routes during the war.

5. If you could only take three things with you on your next adventure, what would they be and why?

Camera, because a picture really is worth a thousand words. Corkscrew, because life’s too short to drink wine from a box. Down pillow, just because.

Thank you so much to Sherry Shahan for stopping by to give us an inside look into her wonderful YA novel Purple Daze. You can read my thoughts here. And because Sherry's so awesome, she has even offered up a copy of her fabulous book for a giveaway!

Purple Daze coverOfficial Rules:
  • You must completely fill out the form.
  • You must be 13 or older to enter.
  • You must be a US resident.

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