Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Speaking with Chelsey Shannon, Author of Teen Memoir, "Chelsey"

When Chelsey Shannon's only surviving parent her beloved father was violently murdered days before her 14th birthday, her life was forever changed. Chelsey struggled to make sense of her personal tragedy and find a way to flourish despite the odds.

The author of Chelsey in the "Louder Than Words" series, Chelsey Shannon is currently editing a play to be produced by her school The School for the Creative and Performing Arts and is beginning her first novel. "It's something I never actually thought I would do, so that's pretty exciting," she says.

The Louder than Words series, edited by Deborah Reber,, is the first-ever series of teen-authored memoirs, written by teens for teens.

What led you to start writing?
I've been writing since I was in grade school, but I started writing even more after my dad's death. It was a good outlet for my emotions. While it was also therapeutic and important for me to cry and talk to my loved ones about my feelings, I really poured my heart into writing because I felt like it produced a positive result — a creative piece of work — from something so devastating and negative.

How did you decide which parts of your experience to include in your memoir?
Really, it was a surprisingly organic progress. When I first sat down to write the outline to follow for my book, I just kind of jotted events down as they came. I added a few more and switched things around, but for the most part, I included the things that instinctively struck me as significant in the book.

What was your favorite part of writing the book? The greatest challenge?
The most difficult part of writing my book was the beginning, the first few months after my dad's death. My favorite part was writing about the healing that began to occur about a year after he died. The writing actually helped me see for the first time how far I'd come from the grieving, painfully shy girl I was for about a year after my dad's death, and see all the positive changes that came from moving to SCPA.

Each author page has a "play list" for her book. Why did you choose those songs for your soundtrack?
Many of them are songs I listened to shortly before or after my dad's death, so I've come to connect them with him. Others, such as the Phantom of the Opera selection, sum up my situation pretty perfectly. Plus, it's my favorite musical.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
Victor Hugo, Kurt Vonnegut, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vladimir Nabokov.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?

Hm…probably don't be afraid to try to be funny. I don't think find my book boring; I think the tone is appropriate for the subject matter. If I'd been a total jokester it would have cheapened the meaning of my story. But I don't think it would have hurt to have thrown a few jokes in during the second half of the book, even if they weren't really that funny.

Advice for young writers?
Don't be afraid to write a poor first draft. In that initial first rush of creativity, all that matters is getting everything down. You can polish it up later on.

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