2017 Debut Authors Bash: The Thing With Feathers (McCall Hoyle)
Emilie Day believes in playing it safe: she’s homeschooled, her best friend is her seizure dog, and she’s probably the only girl on the Outer Banks of North Carolina who can’t swim.
Then Emilie’s mom enrolls her in public school, and Emilie goes from studying at home in her pj’s to halls full of strangers. To make matters worse, Emilie is paired with starting point guard Chatham York for a major research project on Emily Dickinson. She should be ecstatic when Chatham shows interest, but she has a problem. She hasn’t told anyone about her epilepsy.
Emilie lives in fear her recently adjusted meds will fail and she’ll seize at school. Eventually, the worst happens, and she must decide whether to withdraw to safety or follow a dead poet’s advice and “dwell in possibility.”
From Golden Heart award-winning author McCall Hoyle comes The Thing with Feathers, a story of overcoming fears, forging new friendships, and finding a first love, perfect for fans of Jennifer Niven, Robyn Schneider, and Sharon M. Draper.
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
As a teacher and mom, I see so many teenage girls hiding their true selves from their peers. So I wanted to write a hopeful story about a girl learning that true acceptance always starts on the inside and works its way out.
A few years ago, I taught a student who struggled deeply with the stress and worry caused by her sister’s epilepsy. At about the same time in a lucky twist of fate, my family inherited a golden retriever who was bred to do service work. The dog was more human than many humans. I began working with this amazing dog training him for agility and obedience. I became fascinated by golden retrievers and assistant dogs and did lots and lots of research and reading on the subject. I was especially intrigued by seizure alert dogs as seizure alerting cannot generally be taught and is greatly affected by the bond between the owner and dog.
I knew I had to write a story about a girl with epilepsy learning to love herself unconditionally the way her golden retriever did.
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
The service dog in my book, Hitch, is totally modeled after my own golden retriever. In hindsight, I probably should have just named him Chip. Both dogs have hearts of gold. Chip wants to please. He loves everyone equally. I have seen little girls who are terrified of dogs hug his neck after spending a few hours in his presence. I have seen him ignore warm chicken from the deli as drool rolled down his chest because he didn’t want to be scolded.
I do want to mention one thing about golden retrievers though. One of the characteristics that makes them such good service dogs is that they are extremely handler/human focused. They need to be near their people and thrive when they are mentally stimulated as are all dogs.
Sadly, many goldens are surrendered at Humane Societies and shelters because families purchase them for birthday presents and Christmas presents because they’re such cute puppies. But they get big, they shed a lot, and they’re very powerful. If they are bored, abandoned to the back yard, and develop the bad habit of chewing or digging, they can be extremely destructive. They are generally intelligent and easily trained, but they are not mind readers, and like any breed require basic training.
I love dogs and this breed in particular so much that I really needed to get that disclaimer out there.
But to answer your question, Hitch, Emilie’s service dog, was my favorite character to write. Readers who want a dog that adores them and pretty much everyone else and that can be trained to do most anything, might want to consider adopting or purchasing a golden if they have the time and energy to train a puppy.
YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel?
Emilie and Hitch’s story about unconditional love and hope definitely came first. One part of Emilie’s story involves a major research project with a super nice guy in her English class. Their teacher assigns them Emily Dickinson. I read and reread lots of Dickinson’s work as I wrote, and when I went to use her well-loved poem, Hope is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul; and sings the tune without the words; and never stops at all, I just knew it was perfect for the title. And amazingly, my publisher thought so as well.
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
I really put some thought into this question. If I write about my truly favorite scene, which is near the end of the book, it would be a huge spoiler. So let me just say, I really, really enjoyed writing all the scenes that involved Emilie’s dog, Hitch. Early readers seem to agree that they love Hitch as much as Emilie. He kind of tries to steal the scenes that he’s in. I also loved writing the scenes with Emilie’s crush, Chatham. He has a way of bringing the best out in Emilie.
YABC: What’s up next for you?
The next year is going to be super busy—just the way I like it. I’m conducting school, bookstore, library, and Girl Scout visits all over the Southeast. I’ll be presenting at a couple of state and national teacher and reader conferences. Readers can follow me on social media or check out mccallhoyle.com for more details.
Most importantly, a follow-up book to The Thing with Feathers will release this fall. The cover for Meet the Sky will be revealed any day now, and the book will be available for pre-order most everywhere books are sold.
It’s gearing up to be an amazing 2018. I look forward to sharing it with lots of Blink readers.
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
I’m a high school English teacher and love a good sentence diagramming challenge. Does sentence diagramming count? I can diagram The Pledge of Allegiance and the Preamble to the Constitution pretty darn fast. If that’s not a superpower, does stubbornness count?
YABC: Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
The Thing with Feathers is a hopeful book meant to inspire all readers but especially teenage girls with epilepsy and the family and friends who love them.
I would be thrilled if readers would visit the Epilepsy Foundation website at https://www.epilepsy.com/ for information on how to donate money and/or volunteer time to spread much needed awareness.
The Thing With Feathers
By: McCall Hoyle
Publishing Date: September 5th, 2017
Three winners will receive a signed copy of The Thing With Feathers (McCall Hoyle) ~ (International)
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