Tag Archives: young adult fiction

Bullets, Blood and Stones: The Journey of a Child Soldier

The new year has already brought me a much-needed change in residence, and with it, a steady improvement in my health and a renewed desire to get back to work on my editing and writing projects, including blogging. In the coming months, I’ll be writing more about editing and self-publishing, as well as featuring author interviews.

Profile portrait of Samburu boy wearing genuine tribal ornaments and ivory earplugs, Kenya

I introduce you now to author Donna White, whose novel Bullets, Blood and Stones: The Journey of a Child Soldiervividly calls attention to the plight of child soldiers. To give you a little background, starting in 1987, rebel leader Joseph Kony displaced well over two million Ugandans from their villages and kidnapped, mutilated, and murdered tens of thousands of people. Among the victims were some sixty thousand children, who were recruited by Kony for his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to fight against the Ugandan government. Some of these children were as young as seven, and they were given no choice but to fight–it was kill or be killed. Kony’s reign of terror continued for about two decades. He was indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2005, but has managed to evade capture.

Recently, I spoke to Donna about Bullets, Blood and Stones.

CK: I know that you visited Uganda a few years ago. Can you tell me what took you there in the first place? Was the idea for a book about child soldiers already forming in your mind at the time, or was there some other reason for going?

DW: Yes, the idea for the novel was already brewing in my mind before I headed to Uganda in 2008. I had a general feel for the storyline, but I knew I had to go to Uganda and see these children and take in everything, the culture, the food, the land, and the people, for my book to have any substance. But it wasn’t until I met Charlie and heard his story that I knew what the true essence of the book would be.

After I wrote book one, I knew the story couldn’t end there so I travelled to Uganda again in 2015, this time focusing on the rehabilitation process of former child soldiers and taking in a safari so I could incorporate more of Uganda’s natural habitat into the book.

CK: As part of your research for Bullets, Blood and Stones, you actually spoke to former child soldiers. What was hearing their stories like for you? 

DW: Before I went to Uganda I tried to mentally prepare myself for these interviews. I knew the stories would be difficult to hear so I read and watched interviews online just to get an idea of what I was going to come upon. It was still difficult. There were times I had to stop and just sob in the middle of an interview. I couldn’t fathom the horror that occurred in these people’s lives. I didn’t want to. I have some stories written in my journal that are too awful to repeat. I haven’t shared them with anyone. I don’t know if I ever will.

CK: Would you say that Uganda is truly recovering from two decades of devastation wreaked by Kony? What signs of recovery have you seen?

DW: Oh, yes. Northern Uganda has been recovering since Kony left. The people are back to their land and have rebuilt their schools and houses. During my first visit I witnessed World Vision providing people with seedlings and livestock to help them get back on their feet again. It was lovely to see. On a whole, I think the former child soldiers are doing better. But it is a day-by-day sort of thing. It takes time. They suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and  must deal with the stigma that is attached to them. Some people still don’t trust them, and some families and communities have banned them from returning to their villages. So yes, there is change, but it will take time.

CK: The novel is intended for young adult readers, and I feel you’ve succeeded in making a difficult topic appealing to that age group–not an easy task. Can you tell me what qualities your book has that will entice young people to read it? 

DW: I’ve had young adult readers tell me that the book is really fast paced and is a real page-turner. So much that they’ve stayed up late into the night wanting to finish it. Even teachers have told me their classes groan when they’re told they have to stop at a certain chapter before they can continue on the next day. But I’ve also heard kids tell me that they love the “emotional roller coaster” it takes them on. One moment they’re sad, the next they’re laughing, and the next they’re shaking their fists. I like to hear that. Others have said they feel like they’re right in Uganda during the story because the imagery is so intense. And others have said they like it because “it’s real”. The violence is real. It really happened and they appreciate a story that tells it as it is and doesn’t sugar-coat it.

CK: What do you hope readers will ultimately take away from this book?

DW: I hope they’ll take away a number of things. One, of course, is a stronger social conscience. To challenge the way they view themselves and their place in society. To look beyond their borders and see what is going on in the world. But I hope it doesn’t end there. An understanding of world events doesn’t bring about change. Only a desire and a passion to make the world a better place does. I hope that after readers close the book they set out to instill peace in their own lives and to help others who because of war, prejudice, or other circumstances desperately need it.

CK: What can Canadians do to help child soldiers around the world? 

DW: Tough question, because in cases like this we can feel quite helpless. But we can make a difference by supporting programs with humanitarian organizations that are successful in bringing children, families, and communities out of poverty. When people are poor they will do desperate things, like selling their children to rebel groups, just to put much needed food into their bellies.

Another thing we can do is support an organization that helps with the restoration and reintegration of child soldiers. During my stay in Uganda, I saw many wonderful things happening with these young boys and girls who had escaped from the LRA. Through the rehabilitation programs thousands of children were given medical attention and counselling, and reunited with their families and reintegrated into their communities. This was all done through the hard work of World Vision workers and volunteers, whose commitment to helping these children was phenomenal. World Vision also works in countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan to help these exploited children.

CK: I understand that Bullets, Blood and Stones is the first in a trilogy. What can you tell us at this stage about book two? 

DW: Ah, book two! After I wrote Bullets and I returned to Uganda, I realized that Charlie’s story hadn’t ended yet. Although his body was free from Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, his mind was not. All of the children who escape from the horrors of being a child soldier suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In Uganda the Acholi people call it ajiji. And that’s what book two is about –Charlie’s ajiji and his attempts to free his mind from the flashbacks that come to him during the day and the nightmares that shake him awake at night. I also introduce the reader to another facet of child soldiers: the use of girls as soldiers and sex slaves in the LRA. It’s another intense read.

***

Donna’s stories may be intense, but they’re laced with hope as well. Her novel, Blood, Bullets and Stones: The Journey of a Child Soldier, is available on Amazon.ca.

Warrior Girl by Matt Lazar and Amanda Thomas

Authors Matt Lazar and Amanda Thomas released their young adult novel, Warrior Girl, last October. I chatted briefly with the authors to uncover the story behind their intriguing and unusual tale of a young woman’s coming of age under difficult circumstances.

CK: Warrior Girl is about a young Korean woman, Sun Hi, who attends Oxford and faces not only culture shock, but also a number of obstacles to her success and happiness, including a fiercely competitive academic rival and a hostile flatmate. She finds refuge in an online game called World of Warcraft (WOW). Is there something in your experience that inspired you to write the book? What gave birth to Sun Hi’s story?

ML: When I was in college (Dartmouth), I had a Korean roommate who was really into World of Warcraft. He introduced me to the massively multiplayer online game (MMO) genre. I learned that WOW wasn’t really a game in that it was absorbing enough that it could become as real to someone as their “real life.”

Part of what makes Sun Hi unique is that she’s the only protagonist I can think of who plays WOW–it was important to me to write a story that shows how playing a game like WOW impacts a person’s real life.

CK: I was a little surprised by the book’s title, as Sun Hi is actually rather timid and sensitive throughout much of the book, not bold and aggressive. What is it about her that makes her a warrior in your eyes?

AT: Yes, I think that despite her timid nature she shows great strength in overcoming the problems that she has. When everything is against her she keeps going and of course she is a formidable warrior on WOW. She is a multi-layered and resilient person who looks fragile on the outside and has a steely determination inside.

CK: Playing WOW is much more than passing time for the characters—I was really struck by how the game impacts Sun Hi’s vision of herself. It seemed to be an important factor in her growing self-confidence. There’s a lot of criticism of such games in the media—a lot of discussion about how they can trigger violence. Your book seems to suggest otherwise. Do you believe that these games can have a positive impact on young people?

AT: I think they can and I would hasten to say that our portrayal of the game and those who play it is neither an endorsement nor a condemnation of such games. They exist and people play them. Our interest was in exploring how this kind of gaming can affect the confidence of a person, in this case Sun Hi, who is otherwise virtually friendless and lacking in any other resource.

CK: Obviously, not everyone has the experience of attending university in a culture that is foreign to them. Yet some experiences the book depicts would seem to be universal. What aspects of your novel do you think young readers will identify with?

AT: I suppose that even if a student goes to university in their own country it can be a daunting time at first, and for the shy or those lacking in confidence a difficult time. I suppose it would be good if young people saw Sun Hi’s struggle and thought that they, with less of a mountain to climb, had the possibility to shine.

ML: Warrior Girl is really a love story with twists and bumps–none of the characters escape unscathed. I think young readers will identify with this.

CK: What sorts of messages do you hope readers will take away from your book?

AT: I suppose that perseverance and goodness will always triumph over evil.

ML: I hope readers come away with a feeling that getting to know someone from a different background can be fun and exciting. We wanted Warrior Girl to be a fun read that’s accessible to all kinds of people. Many of Warrior Girl’s fans have never played WOW.

CK: Studious Sun Hi finds herself in the unlikely position of being the cox for the Oxford rowing team. Your descriptions of rowing culture seemed very realistic to me, as if it were very familiar to you, and I have to ask if you have related personal experience or it’s just a case of excellent research.

AT: The research was exhaustive although it was research that was a pleasure to do!

CK: Tell me about your history as writers and what has influenced you. Is Warrior Girl your first book?

AT: No, I have ghostwritten many books for clients on subjects as diverse as kidnapping to a romantic novel set around Islamic finance! I love to write and in particular enjoy an element of intrigue.

ML: Warrior Girl is my first novel. My first book was my master’s thesis, An Oral History of the Cleveland Browns.

CK: Now that the book is finished, do you have other books in the works? Are they in the same vein as Warrior Girl? Can you tell me anything about them?

ML: I am developing a sequel to Warrior Girl.

AT: I am continuing with my ghostwriting work and looking forward to the day that I have the time to write something else for myself! I am working on a series of books on heavy horses for a client at the moment as well as an account of a British woman who opened a chain of massage parlours in Australia.

To read reviews of Warrior Girl or to purchase the book, click here.

 

 

New Book Release: The Infinite Knowledge of J.T. Badgley by Tiana Warner

Tiana Warner has just released her first novel, The Infinite Knowledge of J.T. Badgley. The 23-year-old author hails from Abbotsford, BC, and works as a software developer. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of working with the gracious Tiana on her book, a young adult science fiction novel. But The Infinite Knowledge is really so much more than this genre label suggests. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with Tiana about her book, and hope you will enjoy our interview.

CK: What was it that prompted you to start writing The Infinite Knowledge of J.T. Badgley in the first place, and how long did it take you to write the book?

TW: I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. When I was 5 I would write stories and staple the pages together and sell them to relatives. I started writing The Infinite Knowledge near the end of high school, when we studied classics like Gulliver’s Travels and 1984. I knew then that I wanted to write a book with a purpose—so I started with the topics I feel passionate about, and everything else followed. It took me six years because of university, but in the end I’m glad I was patient.

CK: In the book, the unsuspecting protagonist Jake (J.T.) plummets via a portal through space and lands on the planet Zielaarde, a planet very like our own in some ways. Through your portrayal of Zielaarde, what kinds of things were you trying to say about Earth and its inhabitants?

TW: I want the reader to interpret much of it for themselves, but I will say that I had a fun time exploring certain contemporary issues. Some of these issues are more light-hearted, while others I take more seriously and feel strongly about. The inhabitants of Zielaarde often reflect the way we humans regard the environment, technology, and each other.

CK: The book is an excellent read—it’s dramatic and suspenseful, and I wasn’t sure how it would end until it actually did end. As well, it’s often funny—the reactions the Ziels (inhabitants of Zielaarde) and Jake have to each other were quite amusing. But the book is also very thought-provoking and serious. Ultimately, what thoughts or impressions did you hope to leave readers with?

TW: I hope readers come away thinking about said contemporary issues, but I also hope they think about their own roles and abilities in this world. The book is primarily written for teens, so when I was writing it I wanted make sure I avoided telling the reader what to think, and focused on simply provoking them into thinking. Jake faces the same identity-crisis problems that so many teens face around the time of their high school graduations, and he’s at an age where he starts to gain awareness and scepticism of philosophy and religion. He is forced to gain a stronger sense of self in the book, and I hope Jake’s self-exploration also encourages such thinking in the reader.

CK: One thing I enjoyed about the book was your ability to really get inside Jake’s  experience. He suffers immensely, and the reader is keenly aware of his every thought, sensation, and emotion. Was it difficult to write in this intense sort of way?

TW: It certainly took more than one draft before I was able to fully portray Jake’s thoughts and emotions. It takes a lot of focus and imagination to pretend you’re an entirely different person in an entirely different place, and then to describe exactly how you feel and what you’re thinking at that moment. I find that it helps to imagine a situation using all of the senses.

It’s interesting when you’ve been pouring out the deep thoughts and emotions of a character for years, and then it comes time to actually let other people read it. It feels too personal, like they’re about to read into part of your soul. I guess that’s how you know you’ve really put everything into a character.

CK: Tell me about your fascination with astronomy and how you’ve brought this into the book.

TW: It’s funny, because when I was a kid I hated learning about space. I was afraid of it and tried to avoid thinking about it, because I couldn’t understand how space and time were even possible. I still can’t understand it. I guess writing this book was a way to overcome that. I pushed my own fear and uncertainty onto Jake. When you pick a topic that you feel very strongly about—whether that feeling is of love or hate or obsession or fear—you write about it more passionately. What strengthened the passion was when I decided to take an introductory astronomy class in my last year of university. It was without a doubt one of the most interesting classes I’ve taken, and also a very sobering one because it makes you realize how small we are in such a vast universe. By the time that class was done I had already written most of The Infinite Knowledge, but I was still able to apply some of the science I learned to the story. It’s fun inventing concepts when you write science fiction, but what’s more fun is when you can relate your made-up concepts to real science.

CK: Your love of animals was really obvious to me in the way you portrayed certain creatures in the book. Can you tell me a bit about this love, and how it informs the book?

TW: There’s never been a time in my life where I’ve been without a pet, and I think a dog will always be my perfect companion. It takes owning a dog or a horse to really understand the bond you can have with one. As Betty White once said, “Animals don’t lie. Animals don’t criticize. If animals have moody days, they handle them better than humans do.” I tried to portray such human-animal friendships in a couple of ways in the book. An important, loyal character doesn’t always need to be a person.

CK: Which writers do you like to read, and which have been most influential on your work?

TW: My favourite author of all time has to be J. K. Rowling. I’m a Harry Potter superfan. In general, I tend to enjoy a wide variety of books and authors, although I mostly find myself reading YA. I wouldn’t say any one writer has influenced my work, though. Everyone has a writing style and I tried to distinguish my own, as well.

CK: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

TW: I think a person has to have a certain level of obsessive passion in order to write a full novel, so my advice is “Don’t hold back.” The best part of writing—and especially sci-fi—is that you get the freedom to create whatever you want to create. It’s your book and you control everything inside of it, so do what you want with it! Immerse yourself in your book’s world. Tape outlines and photos and maps to your walls, write down ideas in your cell phone as they come to you, make a playlist that inspires your characters, get those Crayola window crayons and write inspiration on your mirror—whatever it takes for your book to materialize. Then, when you write your first draft, don’t even pause to think about the format or spelling errors. Just let those creative juices fly, and do your editing later.

CK: Are you currently working on another novel? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

TW: I’ve been harbouring an idea for about a year, but haven’t had the chance to give it a good go. I’m very excited about it. It’s different from The Infinite Knowledge, however, and has a more mature theme. That’s all I’m going to say, since I’m still outlining the plot at this point! I’m also trying to convince a friend of a friend to let me write a story based on his very interesting life.

For more information about Tiana Warner and The Infinite Knowledge of J.T. Badgley, please see the author’s website: http://www.tianawarner.com.