Friday, December 3, 2010

Giveaway and Interview with Carol Millward author of Star in The Middle

Star in the Middle
Star in the Middle by Carol Larese Millward

Carol was nice enough to answer some interview questions for the blog, and as an extra bonus to my readers-- you get a chance to win!

Carol Larese Millward is a writer who for several years taught life skills and best parenting practices to teen parents. As a family advocate and parents educator, Carol worked with young adults and their babies up close and personal in their homes and in group settings through Family Support and Education Centers.

Her first young adult novel, Star in the Middle (October 2009, WestSide) masterfully tells the story of teen parents Star and Wil and the many struggles they encounter.

A member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and The National League of American Pen Women, Inc., one of the earliest books Carol remembers is Out of My Window – a little golden book by Alice Low. She grew up in Pennsylvania and wrote an essay, Whistle Prayers, which highlights her father’s hard work in the coal mines to support her family; Pennsylvania Magazine published the piece in the May/June 2009 issue, and it has appeared in several other publications through the years.

Before becoming a full-time novelist, Carol co-owned and operated Tumble-In Nursery in Chestertown, Maryland. Her career also included working at a family center where she tutored and tested adult education students before they began GED classes, and working as a Parent Educator, teaching parenting classes on-site and as an outreach program.

The mother of two and grandmother of six, Carol has been married to her high school sweetheart for 40 years. She and her husband live in Maryland with their two cats.

And now our interview:

You spent several years teaching life skills and best parenting practices to teen parents. How does that experience play a role in your debut novel Star in the Middle?

When I worked with teen mothers, I was struck by a sense of underlying sadness and guilt in many of our conversations as they talked about their lives, both past and present. Many of the teen parents had “accumulated layers” in their young lives that may have contributed to their at-risk behaviors. “Layers” that burdened them as they attempted to care for themselves and their babies. Some were victims of child abuse and neglect, and other serious problems including sexual abuse.

I believe that this book, through its characters, will help students examine at-risk behaviors, and the serious consequences of those behaviors. The book speaks to the heartbreak felt by hard choices facing many teens today – heartbreak felt by the teens themselves, as well as those around them. It is my hope that teens will also talk about words and phrases that may have become just that to them – words and phrases – rather than actions and behaviors that may change their lives in very serious ways.

Star in the Middle is much more than a captivating story for teens. Can you tell us about who else the book is meant to reach?

I wrote this book for teens, as well as parents of teens. I hope that the characters, and the experiences they encounter in the pages of Star in the Middle, will help young adults ask themselves some tough questions about what they want for themselves. It’s so important to have dreams, and a plan on how to make those dreams come true.

While writing the book, I visited bookstores and was so pleasantly surprised to find both mothers and daughters in the YA section buying books. They shared with me that reading the same books helped start dialogues about topics that were not always easy to talk about. So, I hope that this book will provide those positive interactions between teens and their parents – as well as teens and their peers.

Why did you decide to write for young adults?

I think teens make a great audience. They are such savvy readers. I became interested in writing for this group while working with young adults, because I have so much respect for them and the issues they voiced. There are several YA authors that I admire. I think they help bring focus to so many challenges facing teens.

Your main character, Star, was dealing with a painful secret in her life. Why did you choose to add that particular storyline?

Sometimes things happen in a girl’s life, against her will, that put her at a higher risk for becoming a teen mother. Research shows that Star’s secret is one of those indicators. It is a very serious problem that all too often targets both genders. Star kept a secret that she should have not have kept. This type of abuse can escalate and should be reported immediately to a parent, or some other adult that can help.

Abortion is such a hot topic in America today. Did you worry about how teens might view your characters’ points of view on the issue?

Absolutely. Because it’s a very personal decision, and it’s so important not to judge anyone for the tough decisions they feel they must make for themselves. But, again, I think that teens are very thoughtful readers. They understand that this is fiction, and that there are lots of real stories out there in the world with different outcomes. I think the dialogue should be less about right and wrong and more about making good choices. This is something that you can control. If you choose to become sexually active, choose to protect yourself against an unplanned pregnancy and/or STD’s.

Do you think that Star made the right decision to keep her baby?

I hope readers will ask themselves that question. The reality is that many teens that become pregnant keep their babies – that’s the story I wanted to tell. I thought it was important to talk about the care and commitment it takes to be a parent. There are also couples that want to adopt and give a baby a good home. Adoption would be a very positive outcome for any mother that is not ready, or doesn’t have the resources to raise her child.

What is your No. 1 piece of advice for teen parents?

Your are not in this alone. There are people and resources available to you and your baby. If you haven't finished high school, make every effort to do so again, take advantage of any resources available in your area. Your school nurse or guidance counselor can help you locate services. Parenting is not an easy job, but it's a very rewarding one. Taking good care of yourself is such an important part of being a good parent to your baby.

Do you feel Star and Wilson should get together at the end of the book?

Another reality, and a harsh reality at that -- teen mothers more often than not end up raising their babies without the help of the babies’ fathers. So, without giving anything away, I will let readers come to their own conclusions about how this story should end. There are lots of clues throughout the story to help readers understand the probability of Star and Wilson’s relationship lasting.

As a successful debut author, what advice to you have for aspiring first-timers?

When I just can't seem to get motivated to tackle a new writing project, or I'm stuck and can't seem to move my characters forward, I take some time to read several good books. There are so many authors I truly admire, and I learn so much about what makes a good book work just by losing myself in the stories that they've skillfully crafted.

I think it's important to be true to your characters, and for me, that means taking some time to get to know them and the stories they want to tell before committing them to paper. I find that walking helps me clear my head, and helps me see my characters more clearly.

Join a writing group, and attend writing conferences. I had a manuscript critiqued at a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference. The author who critiqued my work contacted me when information about WestSide Books came to her via e-mail. Although WestSide Books didn't published that manuscript, I sent the publisher a proposal for Star in the Middle. I was thrilled that she was interested in seeing the completed manuscript, which lead to my first contract!

I tell student groups to always have more than one dream, and to enjoy their lives while they're waiting for their dreams to come true. Beyond that, believe in yourself and your writing, and enjoy the process. I wish you every success.

--What are some of your favorite books? Do you still have much time to read?

Some of the books I read years ago are still the ones that stick with me, and are among my favorites. I was asked to name five of my favorites recently and the following books are the first that came to mind -- Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler (Random House/1982), Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill/2006), The Secret Lives of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (Penguin Books/2003), Lost Legends of New Jersey by Frederick Reiken (Harcourt, 2000), and The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom (Hyperion/2003).
            I felt really invested in the characters and their stories. I depend so much on that connection with characters as I read.
I feel I have to make time to read so I can write. Reading good books inspires and motives me to write. I like books with strong characters development—voice is extremely important to me as both a reader and a writer.

--If a fairy godmother told you your life could be like a favorite book for 24 hours, which book would you pick and why?

Let’s see—I’m torn between Cinderella and Morris’s Disappearing Bag! I love children’s books! Cinderella for obvious reasons—glass slippers, a fairy godmother, that gown and coach, and a night out with a prince!
And what would be better than getting a disappearing bag for Christmas? Morris, the youngest, finally was able to enjoy his day—and he was a hero to his siblings at he same time!

--Do you need anything to write (music, coffee, etc)? Are there any songs on "Star in the Middle playlist-" songs that inspired you or that were playing while you wrote?

I really didn’t listen to music while I wrote Star in the Middle. It was such an easy story to write that I didn’t need much inspiration other than my experience working with teen parents and their little ones. Their voices were in my head, and although I didn’t tell their stories—it was important for me to explore the issues that they faced in their young lives with my fictional characters. The characters told the stories that they wanted me to share with readers.
In my workspace, I have a photograph that is very inspirational to me. It is a photo of three very strong women in my life – my mother, my grandmother, and my older sister. All have passed away – and all have had such a positive influence on my life.
I’m not a coffee drinker, but I drink a lot of tea while I work.

--If you could have any superpower what would you choose?

            I would definitely choose super hearing so I could hear unspoken thoughts. I would hear the unspoken thoughts of the father who recently kidnapped his three sons… and return those children to their mother, or bring her closure.
            That would be where I’d start. I would use my power to solve cases, and return children to their parents. I want so much for children to be safe, and cared for—and loved!

And now for the contest!

One lucky winner will win a copy of Star in the Middle!

Details: Open until 11:59pm EST Dec 17th
-US Only
-Fill out FORM to enter
-Extra entries may be gained by promoting contest (+4 for own blog post. +2 each for twitter, facebook, etc), meaningful comment on interview or review, following me on facebook or networked blogs (left sidebar) +1 each
-Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for doing an interview with me, Brandi. It was fun--and an honor to be your guest!

    I'm anxious to share a copy of Star in the Middle with the winner of your giveaway!

    Many thanks...


I would love to hear from you! (I always try to visit your blog back) I love links, so feel free to link to your blog or a post you like.
Sorry, but I am award and tag free zone, I do not have the time to return. Comments are reward enough :)