Sunday, March 18, 2012

Suffer the Children: An interview with contemporary YA author Sheila Welch

Today, I'm talking with Sheila Welch about her contemporary YA novel, WAITING TO FORGET.

1) Please tell us about your book.

Here's a brief description:

Wait. Wait. The word echoes his heart beat as twelve-year-old T.J. sits in a waiting room, wondering if his unconscious little sister, Angela, will ever wake up. Their adoptive parents are with Angela in the Emergency Room while T.J. struggles with memories of the difficult life they led with their birth mother, who often lied because it was easier than telling – or facing – the truth. But now he doesn't feel as if he belongs with Marlene, who insists on calling him Timothy, or Dan, who seems to want a more responsible son. Back and forth between then and now, T.J.’s story unfolds – until the past catches up to the present. And T.J. is faced with his own truth.

WAITING TO FORGET is a realistic, contemporary novel for readers ages ten to fourteen. It explores the emotional turmoil that results when children live in an unstable environment, are placed in foster care, and eventually are adopted. The story begins and ends in a hospital and takes place all on one day.

2) What inspired this book?

My husband and I have seven children; six were adopted and most of them joined our family when they were already of school age. Their experiences before we met them were often difficult and sometimes traumatic. Although we wanted to provide a better life for them, their memories and loyalties to their past lives made this an extremely challenging task. Our children are all adults now, but they definitely inspired me to write this book.

3) What is the fundamental theme your book explores?

I suspect every novel has more than one theme or underlying truth. WAITING TO FORGET is fundamentally about the loss of trust and the power of hope. It also explores the complex role that truth and lies play in human interactions. But if I could ask T.J. to tell me the basic point of his story, he might say, “Keep hoping. Give yourself a chance and cut others some slack.”

4) There has been some some controversy in YA and MG circles about thematic darkness. Though you do not dwell in some of the more unfortunate possibilities that can exist with kids in the foster system, especially compared to some other foster care narratives such as WHITE OLEANDER, your story isn't exactly light fare. Did you have any concern about such aspects when you were writing your story?

Although my characters spend time in foster care, those years are covered in just a few chapters in the book. T.J. and Angela's worst days are with Billy, their mother 's boyfriend, and the story includes realistic darkness and violence that have caused a few adult readers to question the age of the intended audience.

While writing the story, I was determined to create an honest portrayal of my characters' lives. During the revision process, I began to consider how readers might react to such an intense account. Fortunately, I found the right editor who suggested I soften some scenes and have others happen “off screen,” and most adult reviewers recommend it for ages ten and up.

5) Voice is paramount in YA work, and even more so in a story like this. Did you find it challenging to manage TJ's voice?

I chose to tell T.J.'s story in third person, although I wanted readers to feel as if they were – to some extent – inside his head. Third person, limited point of view affords a small measure of distance, granting T.J. a degree of privacy. I didn't feel that he was ready to share his whole story. If I'd written it in first person, T. J. would have been an unreliable narrator, and that label didn't seem fair to my character. My editor, my oldest son, and my critique group offered good comments that helped me develop a consistent “voice” in this novel.

6) Your book has a slightly unusual structure. Could you comment on that and tell us a bit about why you decided on that structure?

As a reader, I have enjoyed books with unusual structure such as Avi's NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH, Godden's TAKE THREE TENSES: A FUGUE IN TIME (which I read as a teenager and still remember), and Van Draanen's FLIPPED. My novel is concerned with the past and how it has shaped the present, so it made sense to tell the kids' “now” story with extended flashbacks, using T.J.'s Life Book to help clarify the switches in time.

7) If you had the power to reform our foster care system, how would you change it?

My knowledge of the foster care system is based on what I learned from our children when they opened up and talked about the lives they'd had before we met them. I also did research for this book. But the emphasis of my novel is on the unique circumstances that led to the kids' placement in foster care temporarily until they were adopted. While I'm sure the foster care system is not perfect, I don't feel I can offer informed suggestions for reform.

8) Can you briefly tell us about your other work?

My first short story was published in 1983, and I've been writing and illustrating ever since. I enjoy creating work for a wide range of ages; my published stories and books are for beginning, middle-grade, and young adult readers. I am now revising a novel, IN A SOMETIMES PLACE, for middle-grade children, and I have several picture book projects that are looking for publishing homes.


Thanks for stopping by, Sheila.

WAITING TO FORGET is available from the publisherAmazon, and Barnes and Noble.

If you want to see more from Sheila, you can follow along her blog tour. For details, please see:


Chrystalla Thoma said...

Very interesting interview, thank you both! :)
Darkness in YA is an very interesting topic - as both adults and young adults read such books. I think as long as there is a warning up front, it's best to be honest with violence and the themes. Everyone needs to be aware of them. Your story is on my TBR list!

J.A. Beard said...

Thanks for stopping by, Chrystalla.

Unknown said...

This book sounds amazingly gritty, real and eye-opening. Coming from an extremely dysfunctional childhood, it has taken me years to be able to read books that bring up these feelings and emotions, but I've found them cathartic and a way to realize that I am not alone.
I thank you, Sheila Welch, for having the courage to write something that brings about awareness, and perhaps hope and healing. This book is on my must buy list!

Gena Robertson

laura thomas said...

I come from a family that had some conflict. I see things differently now. I just read a wonderful book, The Center of the Storm, and while it covers the dark side it is uplifting as well I would love to read this book. Thanks to both of you for the wonderful post:)
Laura Thomas

Krystal Wade said...

This sounds like an incredible read, dark, but real.

Sheila said...

Thanks so much, J.A., for interviewing me and hosting a stop on my blog tour. You asked great questions!

I appreciate the comments that each of you -- Chrystalla, Gena, Laura, and Krystal -- have made about my novel and how it might relate to your own life or help you understand someone else's situation. I hope you all have a chance to read it. Thanks lots for commenting!

J.A. Beard said...

You're welcome.

MyFavoriteBooks said...

Great interview Sheila and J.A. fantastic post. Thank you