A Q&A with Colleen Nelson

A Q&A with Colleen Nelson

Posted on March 17 by Colleen Nelson in Teens
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Tell us a little about the overarching theme of your work, and why you felt compelled to explore it.

Finding Hope began as a very different story, but through many rewrites it became the book that was published. Throughout all the drafts I knew I wanted to write about a girl who was bullied to a point where she considers taking her own life. There are too many cases of online bullying these days, especially with the advent of social media and the false sense of anonymity it brings. I’ve often wondered what compels people to say nasty and unkind things to someone online, things that they might never say to their faces.

Books about bullying are plentiful. Authors know that bullies make complex characters, and if the plot involves a triumph over a bully, so much the better. An underdog standing up to his aggressor makes readers want to stand up and cheer, but for many children and teens, there are no cheering onlookers. Bullied children feel alone and trapped, unable to speak out. Bullying can be overt and aggressive or subtle and manipulative, online or in person, often occurring under the noses of parents and teachers —   and it can have disastrous consequences. I believe that books with an anti-bullying message have an impact. They show young people that there are ways out of bad situations, giving them confidence to stand up to bullies and have their voices heard.

 

How did you research your book?

I read a lot of resources on cyberbullying, the motivation for people to bully others, and first-hand accounts of people who have been bullied. There are some tragic cases of young women who were cyberbullied to the point where they took their own lives. I think that these occurrences are more common than anyone would like to admit.

As for Eric, I needed to get inside his meth-addicted brain to write his character accurately. He has fallen into a place where feeding his addiction is his main concern, replacing his love for his family and himself. I found reading the blogs of recovering addicts and watching documentaries about the devastating impacts of drug addiction to be helpful in writing his character.

 

What inspired you to write your first book?

I began writing when I was on my first maternity leave. My husband traveled a lot for work, so I was at home with a newborn and needed an intellectual outlet that didn’t involve discussions about sleeping patterns or dirty diapers. Thinking I might like to write children’s storybooks, I took a writing class at the Manitoba Writers Guild. When my instructor assigned us to write the first chapter of a YA novel I knew this was a better fit. I’d been teaching Grade 8 for many years and had three teenaged stepchildren, so writing for teenagers came naturally. I wrote every day late into the night, not because I had dreams of it getting published, but because I loved being able to create characters and worlds where none had existed before.

When I finally did have a finished manuscript, I read Twilight and realized two things: that nothing beats a great idea, and that I could write at least as well as Stephenie Meyer. She got published, why couldn’t I? So I owe a thank you to Stephenie Meyer for her great ideas and so-so writing ability. ;)

People often tell me that they’d love to write a book or that they have an idea for a great story but don’t know how to get started. The secret is that the only way to get started is to write, write, and write some more. Even if you’re not very good at it or you never get published, the point is to write – to express your ideas and thoughts, and enjoy the freedom of putting them on paper. Taking a class or finding a writing partner to bounce ideas off of are also great ways to stay motivated, but ultimately being a writer comes down to perseverance and determination.

 

What's the best advice you've ever received as a writer?

That writing is re-writing. I’m not sure who should get credit for that nugget of wisdom, but in my case, is it ever the truth. My stories go through numerous drafts, and always come out stronger than when they started. I’ve learned never to get too attached to a phrase or a character, because if the story demands that something be cut, then so be it.

It’s hard to work on a book and then take a critical look at it and realize a good chunk of it is crap. Sadly, this happens to me a lot. So after I have a little pity party I go for a run, sort things out somewhere between miles 3 and 4, and get back home determined to make the book better. I often tell myself that a story isn’t going to write itself, so I can either shelve it (what a waste of many months!) or take a deep breath, put on my big girl pants, and get to work.