The Book Pixie: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Steve Cushman: I was born in Massachusetts, but grew up in Florida (St. Pete and Orlando) and currently live in Greensboro, North Carolina with my wife and son. My wife and I moved here ten years ago so I could attend the UNC-Greensboro MFA program in Fiction Writing. For the last seventeen years, I have worked as an X-ray Technologist and currently work at Moses Cone Memorial Hospital. Yes, I work full-time and write as much as I can. My favorite band is the Avett Brothers, and the TV show The Office makes me laugh out loud.
TBP: Give us a brief description of Heart with Joy.
SC: Heart With Joy is about cooking and bird watching, about writing and pottery, and the sacrifices we all make. But it's also about falling in love and finding your passion in life, about following your heart, and trusting it will take you where you need to go.
The basic story is that 15 year old Julian Hale's life is turned upside down when his mother announces she is moving from North Carolina to Florida to help run her parents' motel and finish the novel she has been working on for years. Julian wants to go with her but she tells him he has to stay with his father, whom he has never been particularly close to. Over the course of three months, Julian and his father do develop the sort of close relationship they have never had before. Also with the help of an elderly neighbor, Julian learns that the most important thing in life is to follow your heart. And Julian's heart leads him to a passion for cooking and a young cashier at the local grocery store even as his own parents drift apart. By the end of the novel, Julian is forced to choose between going to live with his mother or staying with his father.
TBP: What inspired you to write Heart with Joy?
SC: All I had when I started the novel almost 8 years ago was the idea of a father and son who hadn't been particularly close being left alone together and seeing what would happen. As writers we're always looking for ways to put our characters into situations that force them to confront some problem/issue. I wasn't sure what was going to happen between Julian and his father but I was hopeful that they'd grow closer somehow. I just didn't know how. That took me about six years to figure out.
TBP: In Heart with Joy, the characters all have something that 'fills their heart with joy'. Some of the passions are cooking, bird watching, pottery, and writing. You are obviously passionate about writing but are you, yourself, interested in any of the others? If not, what inspired you to choose those particular ones?
SC: This was a very enjoyable novel for me to write in many ways because most of those things you mentioned--cooking, bird watching, and writing--are things that I enjoy and try to spend some time each day doing. So this book really gave me a chance to show this. Many of the thoughts on writing, for example, are what I think about writing: some times it's great but other times you want to pull your hair out and scream why bother. And many of the dishes that Julian cooks in the novel are dishes that I cook regularly.
TBP: Do you have anything in common with your main character Julian? Shared characteristics or situations? If so, what?
SC: Like Julian, my parents split up when I was teenager. I was a bit of a mama's boy (and still am). And of course, as mentioned before--the interest in cooking.
TBP: Do you plan on writing any more books for young adults? If so, do you currently have anything in the works?
SC: Yes, I do. I have written the first draft of another novel that feels like it could be a young adult novel, not that I necessarily know what makes a book 'young adult'. When my agent was shopping Heart With Joy around many adult editors told him it was too young adult and then when he sent it to young adult editors they said it was too adult. As I wrote Heart With Joy, and this new novel, I wasn't trying to write for adults or young adults, I was just writing stories with these younger narrators who are going through struggles. But I think many of these struggles--dealing with parents, finding your purpose in life--are things that we grapple with well past our teen years. But if Heart With Joy is a young adult book, then the next one is too.
TBP: If you could co-write a book with any author, who would it be and why?
SC: There are so many writers and books I love, but for today I would say Sherman Alexie. He is smart and funny and one hell of a writer. I love so many of his stories and poems. I'm not so sure I could keep up with him, but it would sure be fun trying.
TBP: If you could go back in time to spend a day with any author that's no longer living, who would it be and why?
SC: Raymond Carver. He was a short story writer, and poet, who died in the 1980's. His writing had a huge impact on me and was really the reason I started writing in the first place. One of my teachers was his student and she told me how he was this gentle giant of a man. Sounds like someone I'd like to follow around for a day.
TBP: What is one of your absolute favorite books and why?
SC: Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian." I read it in one sitting a couple weeks ago. I love the book because it made me laugh and cry and made me root for the main character and when I closed the book I felt better about the world for a while. What else can we ask of a book?
TBP: Anything else you'd like to add?
SC: Thank you, Briana, for being so kind to me and for reviewing my book on your blog. My biggest, simplest piece of advice is to never, ever, give up on your dreams no matter what anyone else tells you.
And thank you Steve for approaching me about your great YA novel and allowing me to interview you!
Also, a big thanks to all of you who have stopped by and taken the time to read this post. Remember though, I won't know you read it if you don't comment. :P Hope you all have a wonderful weekend and if you want to learn more about Heart with Joy, check out my Review and Noteworthy Passages.