Appalachian teen Rowan Slone’s story continues in award-winning author Tracy Hewitt Meyer‘s new novel A Life, Forward. Below, she shares more on what inspired her to delve into self-harm, toxic family relationships, and teen pregnancy as well as what’s to come in the series.
“A piercing and heartwarming sequel.”— Kirkus Reviews
About A Life, Forward:
Appalachian teen Rowan Slone has left her dysfunctional, violent past behind. She’s ready for her senior year in high school, she has a new job that she loves, and a safe place to call home. Rowan is close to achieving everything she’s ever wanted—a sense of family, a sense of purpose, and a sense of self.
But there are cracks in Rowan’s new life as relationship issues threaten to send her future crumbling to the ground, including managing self-harm impulses. When her long-held secret is discovered, Rowan must find the courage to fight for the most important thing yet—herself.
- Rowan works at an animal shelter and her love for animals is clear. Why did you choose for animals to be so important in her life?
Animals are important in my life, so it was a natural extension to incorporate them into Rowan’s. How a character interacts with animals can add layers to character development without being too blunt or obvious. Not to mention, Rowan’s story is heartbreaking, and it can help the reader (and author!) cope knowing the main character has this emotional support. Further, I have always owned and cared for pets. I currently have two cats, Fred and Lucy, and two dogs, Lila and Edward. They make me smile every single day, regardless of what is going on in my life.
- The characters in the book truly bring the story alive. Tell us more about them. We’re especially interested in learning more about her complicated relationship with her sister and her dad.
- Jess: I wanted a female friendship that was supportive and positive. It’s not catty or bitchy like female relationships are often portrayed. They genuinely love and support each other, and that’s important to see unfold.
- Trina: It was fun writing Trina’s story. She is the antithesis of Jess. Unsupportive, vindictive, and manipulative. But she is a sympathetic character as well. She learned to behave the way she does in order to survive in that household. It’s all about survival, and she became a master at that, at Rowan’s expense.
- Mike: Mike is a good ole guy. Cute. Athletic. Popular. A character like his is often portrayed as shallow and egocentric, but Mike’s character shows there is so much more depth to people than these descriptives. In today’s society, we love to label, but he breaks those labels when he falls for Rowan. For example, when society would expect him to be with the head cheerleader, he veers in the opposite direction, makes his own choices, is confidant in them, and doesn’t care what others say. And rather than be scared away by Rowan’s issues, he becomes a compassionate support, and that is exactly what Rowan needs.
- Dad: Similar to Trina’s story, I enjoyed creating Rowan’s dad. He’s loosely based off a person I have encountered in my personal life. It’s not someone I’ve actually met, but someone who has impacted a loved one’s life. With this kind of starting point, I was able to create a fictional character around him. The interesting thing about his character, and a theme I hear far too often during my work as a therapist, is that he is a father who simply doesn’t know how to love, because his own father didn’t set the example, and his father’s father didn’t set the example, and on and on. Even though society’s expectations of the males’ roles in families has and is changing, it can take far longer for those changes to take place at the root level, and within the core family.
- It’s clear that toxic relationships is a theme in this series. Why did you choose to explore this in a young adult series?
Toxic relationships can happen in romantic relationships, friendships, and between family members, and so on; no matter the age, sex, race, culture. It’s a relationship most people will encounter at least once in their lives, and it was important to see this in Rowan’s life. Toxic relationships can be debilitating to self-esteem and self-worth, issues teens often deal with in general. Toxic relationships can create a web that catches us unaware, ensnares us in its trap, and can be difficult to extricate from. But in the end, Rowan extricates herself, and we can too—with knowledge, awareness, patience, and commitment. And maybe a little therapeutic support as well.
- Teen pregnancy plays a large role in this series. Why is this an important topic?
Because teens have been getting pregnant since the beginning of time, but there is still stigma attached to teen pregnancy. We need to become comfortable with discussing teen sex, among ourselves, and with our teens. Abstinence is great, if teens practice it. If they don’t, they need to understand what safe sex is. They don’t need to sneak and hide, feeling shame and guilt. Further, if pregnancy happens, we need to know how to deal with it. Again, without shame and guilt. We’re so quick to criticize in today’s society. We need to be educated, aware, accepting, and nurturing. Not rigid and punitive, because that approach often leads to more shame and guilt which can be debilitating to a young psyche.
“I absolutely loved both book 1 and 2 and if you like emotional, gut busting, tear spilling reads then these books and this author is a MUST read in my opinion…”— The Romance Vault
- The Appalachian area figures prominently in your writing and the book takes place in West Virginia. What is it about this area that is so special to you?
I was born and raised in southern West Virginia. I spent hours outside when I was younger, playing in nature, walking in the woods, inhaling the crisp air, absorbing the mist and dew on an early morning. I honestly believe the landscape cultivated and nurtured my creativity. I’m sure I would’ve still been an author had I grown up somewhere else, but I don’t think that any other landscape would speak to me and shape my creativity like those West Virginia mountains. It is a magical, mystical land and, simply, a character within itself that provides a backdrop to every novel I write.
- Character development is clearly one of your strengths. What’s the secret to creating memorable characters like Rowan?
It can take months of thinking about a character before they become fully realized in my mind. What do I mean by fully realized? They genuinely seem like a real person. I know their mannerisms, the way they speak, how they’ll react. Rowan was such a real person by the time I finished book #1, A Life, Redefined, that I felt she was a friend. When I can see them in my mind’s eye almost as clearly as I can see a real person standing in front of me, I know I have that character fully developed.
- This is the second book in the series, the first being A Life, Redefined. How is A Life, Forward different from the first book?
Rowan is stepping into her own in book #2. In book #1, she was surviving. Book #2 finds her growing as a young woman with a new identity and increasing self-esteem, and, most importantly, self-worth. She has to rewrite the dialogue of her entire life and she is learning to live with that in A Life, Forward.
- What do readers have to look forward to in A Life, Freed, the final book in the series?
A satisfying resolution for our beloved Rowan Slone!
Q&A With Tracy Hewitt Meyer:
Tracy Hewitt Meyer talks about book one in the series, A Life, Redefined, in this author Q&A.
About the Author:
Tracy Hewitt Meyer is an award-winning author of young adult fiction. She has a B.A. in English and a Master of Social Work, but her true passion lies in the reading and writing of books. Tracy lives in the mid-Atlantic region with her family, and spends far too much time lost in her daydreams.
Check out her website for more information on her, her books, news, and events!
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