I love everything about this book and I will definitely be reading it in this years’s 12 Months of Indies.
Yes. It was directly inspired by Mike HuckabeeÂ’s ridiculous Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. I changed the name of the restaurant to Wings of Glory, but it takes place on the same dayÂ—August 1, 2012. I was living in Conway, AR at the time, attending college, and I swung by the local Chick-Fil-A to reassure myself that no one had turned out for the event. But they had. There were so many cars in line that policemen were brought in to direct traffic. It was a record sales day for that location. I went home and started writing that evening.
How long did this book take you to write?
Three years. Three very long years.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Walking the line between truth and stereotypes in regards to conservative evangelical Christians. I wanted to avoid anything that felt like satire, but I grew up in that kind of environment so I know firsthand that truth is often way way stranger than fiction. But thereÂ’s no getting around the fact that they come up with a lot of unintentionally hilarious tacticsÂ—standing up for their freedom by gorging themselves on fried chicken, for example. However, just because the punchline is easy doesnÂ’t mean the joke is funny. A lot of these belief-inspired behaviors have serious consequences for kids like Casper and Brant. So I wanted to make sure the parents and the pastor and other church members were coming across as humans not caricatures. These arenÂ’t stupid, hateful people. They really believe what they say they believe, and if you really believe in a fiery eternal Hell, then what wouldnÂ’t you do to keep your kid from going there? Nothing. Not if you love them. And thatÂ’s what I always went back to when I felt I was teetering on the edge of stereotype, and no matter how angry I was feeling toward people who donÂ’t support their gay children, it helped me get back to a place of empathy.
What was your favorite part to write and why?
The first kiss. And donÂ’t worry, thatÂ’s not a spoiler. This is a love story. There is plenty of kissing. But the first oneÂ… The first part of this book is all bottled emotion, the sort of thing you might expect to explode, but I always knew I wanted to be a scene of relief, a cold drink at the end of a very long day.
If this book is part of a series, tell us a little about it?
Okay, this is kind of weird so bear with me. Chicken is my debut novel, but itÂ’s the second book in a series that doesnÂ’t have an official name yet. I just call them the Hickory Ditch stories for right now because theyÂ’re all the set in the same fictional small town in Arkansas. The first book in the series is called The Natural State and will be published next. It takes place four years prior to the events in Chicken, but features main characters in their early to mid twenties, so technically it isnÂ’t YA like Chicken. Several secondary characters appear in both stories, and Brant Mitchell plays a big role in The Natural State, but I consider them companions rather than prequel/sequel/whatever because they both work as stand alone stories with separate themes. However, the third book, Demoniac, will be a sequel to both stories. Unfortunately, I canÂ’t say much about the overall story without spoiling Chicken, so IÂ’m waiting until more people have a chance to read it before I describe the whole trilogy.
What actors/actresses would you cast in your book’s movie?
I donÂ’t like to cast the kids because I think itÂ’s important for readers to form their own images, but I will say the actors for Casper and Brant would need to be actual teenagers. I think a great deal is lost when twenty-something actors are cast in roles meant for children, and with this particular story, I never want anyone to forget that itÂ’s happening to children. Yeah, theyÂ’re almost seventeen, only one year away from legal freedom, but their hearts and brains are still so new at everything, and I would want that to be reflected in the faces and bodies of anyone who portrayed them on film. I am, however, adamant that fellow Arkansas native Mary Steenburgen play Sister Bonnie. She was always the face and voice inside my head. IÂ’d be pretty distraught if the movie were being made but couldnÂ’t have her in it.
What is your favorite book?
Like Casper, itÂ’s The Black Stallion by Walter Farley.
What writers influenced you the most?
IÂ’m never sure how this questioned is intended. I think some people are asking who made me want to be a writer while others are asking who influenced my own style of writing. I canÂ’t really answer the second question. Of all the writers IÂ’ve ever read, who hasnÂ’t influenced my style in some way? It would be impossible to sort out. Now maybe an outsider could look at my body of work some day and say, Â“Oh, Night we clearly influenced by so-and-so,Â” but I just donÂ’t know. I canÂ’t untangle it. But I can tell you whose books made me want to be a writer. There was Farley, of course, but also Wilson Rawls and Jim Kjelgaard. I was crazy about boy-and-his-dog/horse adventure stories. CasperÂ’s relationship with his neighborÂ’s horse is definitely a nod to those books I grew up on.
When you read, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
Â If IÂ’m reading fiction, I want to smell the pages. If IÂ’m reading non-fiction, I prefer my Kindle because it makes it so easy to underline things and find them again. IÂ’ll sometimes read fiction on my Kindle, and itÂ’s not the end of the world, but itÂ’s also just not the same.
What book are you reading right now?
As IÂ’m writing this, I just finished A Little In Love by Susan Fletcher, and IÂ’m about to start Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.