Amy Christine Parker first made a splash with her stunning debut GATED, the story of a young girl caught up in a cult, and growing increasingly aware that fact. Kirkus gave it a starred review, Amazon picked it as a Best Book of the Month, and Pretty Deadly Reviews called GATED, “unlike any other YA book out there. It isn’t afraid to push the limits, or to go as far as it needs to go to stay honest. Gated is a candid look at the inside of a cult, an unflinching reflection on today’s society, and of course, a masterful thriller.” It’s sequel, ASTRAY, is equally stunning, psychological and suspenseful, and is out in trade paperback today(!), thus spurring me to invite Amy Christine Parker here to talk about publication and her remarkable journey. (For those of you already familiar with Amy’s work, you can look forward to a new novel, SMASH & GRAB, out in 2016!)
And now, I present:
The Ultimate Author High by Amy Christine Parker
Today my second book, ASTRAY, releases in paperback and given that it also marks the second full year I’ve been a published author, I find myself reflecting a little on the whole experience and which parts have been most meaningful. When I started this journey to get published I was focused on all of my pre-publication perceived author high points: getting an agent, getting a book deal, my book on a shelf, book signings, launch parties, and author appearances. Heady stuff for sure. What surprised me most was that while all of these things were wonderful, they didn’t end up being my highest highs. Yeah, they were up there, but as for the top five? Not one made it. The strangest, most wonderful part of this whole process was discovering that the best things about being a published author had very little to do with surface publishing bits and had everything to do with how having a book out in the world opened me up to new people and experiences. Seeing your book on a Barnes and Noble shelf can’t compete with standing eye to eye with a kid who’s loved your book enough to drive several hours to meet you. With that in mind, I’d like to take this day, my paperback release date to highlight a program that came to my attention because of my books and has become my highest publication high.
About a year ago, I was struggling to write ASTRAY—seriously struggling—and riddled with fear because for the first time in my life I was writing something with a deadline attached to it. There were also what I perceived to be a certain set of expectations from both those who had read my first book, GATED, and those who published it. I wanted nothing more than to make that deadline and meet those expectations, if not exceed them, but the problem was that like so many newbie authors, I didn’t have the confidence that I could pull it off. Maybe GATED was a fluke. Maybe it was all I was capable of writing. At a time when I should’ve been reveling in all the good things that had happened I was strangely depressed because the fear was infecting it all. Then one day I got an email from an organization called Reading for Life, a diversion program for juvenile offenders that uses literature to help teens make better life choices. A group of their teens had chosen GATED for group and the kids had read it and liked it.
The email was short and heart felt and made me cry. It basically said that reading my book had helped the group open up about their issues with their parents and had led one teen to realize that sometimes parents (or people) are so broken that they can’t or won’t fix themselves and that sometimes it’s the kid that has to lead the way. The idea that a book I wrote impacted troubled teens for the better was overwhelming and touching in a way that none of the other highs I’d hoped for could be. It felt real. It made what I do feel larger somehow and the fears I had about writing something else feel instantly smaller. It made me remember what it is about stories that I love so much—enough to spend my life trying to write them. They have the power to change the way you see the world and your place in it. They can make you feel as if they were written just for you because they resonate so strongly inside your soul. When I was younger I wasn’t at risk the way these kids are, but I was struggling to find where I belonged. I always felt like I was on the outside of things looking in, more observer than participant and I moved often which didn’t help. One of the few places I really felt comfortable was in the school library reading the latest Stephen King or Dean Koontz. I used novels the way some people now use cell phones: as a social shield, an escape, a companion (as I’m sure any of you born pre-millennia have done). They were windows into the lives of characters who overcame struggle with determination or fear with bravery. They showed me what it meant to be flawed and heroic and human. Funny, I never dreamed that my books might someday be used by others the same way, but here was this email saying that they were.
Over this past year I had the privilege to do a Skype visit with the kids who read my books and later, to actually travel to Indiana where the program is located and meet with them in person and hear their stories. They asked me to sign their copies of my books. One even had me address his “To Mom” before I signed! What struck me most was the way they gripped those books—like they were prized possessions, like what I’d written was valuable to them. It was the most humbling thing because the truth is when I was writing GATED and ASTRAY I was wrapped up in my own fascination with cults, doomsday prophecies, mind control, and my hopes of getting published for all the reasons I listed earlier. And yet, this self-indulgent thing, this creation in the hands of others—like the amazing staff of Reading for Life—somehow became more in spite of that. That’s the magical thing about art of any kind. You make it because it makes you happy and you put it out into the world because it’s a way of letting people know you and of course to hopefully find a way to feel validated, but once it’s out there it grows a life of its own, one far better and more meaningful than what you had planned for it. In the end, as much as my books supposedly helped the kids at Reading for Life, they actually helped me more. They gave me all the inspiration I’ll ever need to keep writing, to keep chasing what they gave me this past year, that ultimate high and for that I am forever in their debt.
If you’d like to know more about the Reading for Life program, please visit their website at http://www.readingforlife.us/
If you’d like to know more about GATED or ASTRAY or me, visit my website: http://www.amychristineparker.com