Thursday, March 14, 2013

Paula Hennessy - Harper Lee and Peppermint Candy - Author Interview

Author Interview 

1. How did you come up with the title?
Harper Lee and Peppermint Candy is the name of the book club Addie and her granddaughter, Megan, started together due to Megan's frequent hospital admissions and Addie's concern over Megan missing so many days of school. It came about quite by accident. Megan was on the psych unit, in restraints, and Addie came in waving a bag of peppermint candy (Megan's favorite) and a copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird" which was the novel her class was reading at school. When Megan asked what Addie had for her she replied 'Harper Lee and peppermint candy' and it stuck. The book club is the cornerstone of their relationship and also becomes Megan's salvation when she starts one for the other patients on the psych unit.

2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
There are many messages in this book I would love readers to come away with. The first is to always question the situation you find yourself in and most importantly, question those providing the answers. I am a nurse and have constantly found myself frustrated with the hesitancy many people have questioning medical personnel about their condition, options and possible outcomes. These patients vent their concerns all day long on the units and we encourage them to write them down and when the white coats walk into their room, "Poof!" they magically disappear. It is not possible to make informed decisions without all of your options laid out on the table, even if you don't want to hear some of those answers. Second, never give up. Hope is a wonderful thing, and life can be surprising and end up giving you what you need even if it wasn't what you thought you wanted. And last, but not least, reading is such an important part of growing and developing,not just during childhood, throughout our whole lives! In this fast paced world in which we find ourselves, I hope  people take the time for reading. A good book is always entertaining, enlightening and can strengthen the bonds of family and friendship, just by opening a book and consequently, our minds.

3. How much of the book is realistic?
Since I've spent over 25 years working in various fields of the nursing profession it is a very realistic account of what patients providers encounter every day. All of the characters and the dilemmas they face are products of my imagination but all of the situations presented are very real.

4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
No. I can honestly say that I am very happy with the result. Even though this was my first novel, I feel I achieved in sending the messages I wanted to be heard. Obviously, since this was my first attempt at writing, I do wish I could have channeled Wally Lamb or Toni Morrison for their sheer power in prose, but after speaking with many people who read Harper Lee and Peppermint Candy, I think I was successful in what I set out to achieve; a glimpse into life on an adolescent psych ward and end of life care and the powerful lessons to be learned at critical junctures in our lives, if we open our minds and allow ourselves to continue to be taught.

5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part was convincing myself  I could actually write a book. I was not lucky enough to have taken courses in college, or later, that would have made the process easier, but with a little help from the book "On Writing" by Stephen King and an online grammar tutorial, I began. And once I got started, it was hard to stop. I found writing as pleasurable an experience as reading and was constantly surprised by what my characters would come up with and how the plot took on a course of its own. The whole experience left my feeling like a scribe, which was really an incredible feeling.

6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned that just because you've never attempted something before doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't try. It is never too late to pursue a dream if you don't let self-doubt rule your life. Just finishing the novel was a huge accomplishment for me and I've found it has renewed my confidence in other areas in my life as well.

7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I have been a reader all of my life and pretty much all of my heroes have been writers. I think it is critical to read, a lot, if you want to write. There is so much to learn when you open a book, it really does give you the world at your fingertips, even if you are not willing or able to leave your backyard (literally and figuratively). I wish I had started writing earlier, but perhaps I wouldn't have been able to start or finish had I begun at another stage of my life, so "what ifs" are now a moot point, and for that I am grateful.

8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I have so many, this really is a tough question for me, but I would have to say Stephen King. He can write anything from horror, to baseball, how to write a book, to gun control and pretty much any other subject that strikes his fancy and conveys his messages both with humor and profound insight.

9. Tell us your latest news.
I am working on the "sequel" to Harper Lee and Peppermint Candy ( I put sequel in quotation marks because it takes place 7 years later and there is a whole new set of characters and issues). I am happy to say that this time around the writing has become an even more enjoyable endeavor, if that is possible!

10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
First, I would like to thank everyone who has read "Harper Lee and Peppermint Candy" and for their feedback, especially the book clubs I have been lucky enough to attend and discuss in person. I would also like to encourage anyone to pursue a dream without the fear of failing, because "failing" is a relative term and even the process of embarking upon that dream is a an invaluable experience.

About the Book

When seventeen -year-old Megan Murphy, a diagnosed borderline personality disorder, is admitted to the psych ward once again, she assumed she’d be “home” for the holidays. But her burned-out mother, Laura, and her newly re-married father, Michael, have made it quite clear they’ve had enough. Even Megan’s port-in-the-storm grandparents, Addie and Henry, are tired of the redundant saga of her so-called life. At the same time, Addie wonders when, and if, there is a good time to die. She finds it ironic, when faced with her own grim diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, that society celebrates a “due date” but runs screaming when they see the inevitable “sell by” date. Addie had always vowed to bow out gracefully when her time came, but with Megan a virtual orphan on an adolescent psych ward and her grandmother her only remaining lifeline, will Addie be able to face the end as courageously as she’s lived?

Enlivened by an eclectic group of doctors, nurses, mental health specialists, and fellow patients, both Megan and Addie begin to swim out of the twin tsunamis of mental illness and end -of-life care. And after a final and unexpected twist of fate at the inevitable intersection of living and dying, Megan and Addie finally find their way “home.”

Prices/Formats: $2.99 ebook
Pages: 219
Genre: Contemporary Women's Fiction
Publisher: self-published
Release Date: July 31, 2012
Buy Links: Kindle

About the Author

I have been an RN for over 25 years and have worked both with the terminally ill and on adolescent psychiatric units. I also was a school nurse for many years while raising my own family. I wrote this book after leaving the psychiatric facility as an homage to those staff members and patients with whom I worked and was both humbled and invigorated by what we were able to accomplish and also by what we weren't. I remain an advocate for the importance of reading in the development of children and adolescents.I have seen kids transformed by the power of books and feel their relevance in today's world of instant gratification is vital in nurturing the mental health of our next generations. I am also appalled by the lack of choices given to the terminally ill when making end-of-life decisions. I would like people to be empowered with the knowledge that they do have control over the second most important event in their life: their death. Most importantly, I wrote this book because I have found people are more open to discussing uncomfortable life situations when they are presented in "story" form with a lot of humor thrown in. Stressful situations are easier to ponder and dissect when they are happening to someone else and ultimately the reader can make some of the decisions and outcomes certain characters make their own.

Personal Anecdotes:
I had to leave the psychiatric unit on which I worked because I am unable to get a flu shot. Both of my parents died of ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease, which is unprecedented, and a flu shot could potentially wake up something I wish to keep slumbering. I was devastated on my last day and when I walked in the door after work my husband looked up and said, "Now, are you going to finally write that book?" So I did, and am happy to report that not only did the writing experience exceed my expectations, self-publishing was easy and incredibly gratifying. I am hard at work on the sequel to "Harper Lee" and look forward to my next self-publishing experience.

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  1. Thank you so much for the opportunity to be interviewed on Tribute books.It was my first and I really enjoyed the experience .
    Paula Hennessy

    1. You're very welcome, Paula! Thanks for stopping by :)