Interview with Joy Hensley, Debut Author of RITES OF PASSAGE

To cap off this week’s interview blitz, I spoke with Joy Hensley, whose YA Contemporary debut, RITES OF PASSAGE, will be out from Harper Teen on September 9th, 2014!

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Sam McKenna’s never turned down a dare. And she’s not going to start with the last one her brother gave her before he died.

So Sam joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She’s expecting push-ups and long runs, rope climbing and mud-crawling. As a military brat, she can handle an obstacle course just as well as the boys. She’s even expecting the hostility she gets from some of the cadets who don’t think girls belong there. What’s she’s not expecting is her fiery attraction to her drill sergeant. But dating is strictly forbidden and Sam won’t risk her future, or the dare, on something so petty…no matter how much she wants him.

As Sam struggles to prove herself, she discovers that some of the boys don’t just want her gone—they will stop at nothing to drive her out. When their petty threats turn to brutal hazing, bleeding into every corner of her life, she realizes they are not acting alone. A decades-old secret society is alive and active… and determined to force her out.
At any cost.

Now time’s running short. Sam must decide who she can trust…and choosing the wrong person could have deadly consequences.

ImageJoy N. Hensley is a writer, teacher, mother, wife, and all around super woman. She lives in Virginia with her kilt-wearing Aussie husband, two young boys, and two crazy dogs. She does everything in her power to avoid doing anymore push-ups.

Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for your debut book?

Basically it boils down to me being 19 and stupid. 🙂  I took a $25 dare to go to military school and instead of writing a really wimpy main character who tended to cry a lot, I wrote a kick-ass main character who wasn’t going to let the boys show her up!

How did you come up with your title? Were there any you considered first?

The title was a lot of brainstorming between me, my agent, Mandy Hubbard, and my editor, Jennifer Klonsky. In life we’ve got lots of things we live through before becoming “adults.” Military schools are basically mini-societies and there are lots of things you have to prove yourself in before they’ll accept you there. That’s basically what it boils down to. There were a lot of options but we kept coming back to this one.

What was the hardest part of writing this particular book?

I met a lot of amazing people at military school–people who really made me see what I could become. It was hard to not base all my characters after them and just make it a book about how amazing my recruit brothers and sisters were. With anything I write, I put myself into the pages, but Sam’s story is definitely not my story. I think distinguishing the two different lives was pretty hard for me.

Is there anything that helps you get into the writing zone – music, for example?

For this book especially, I listened to a lot of music I heard at military school. I don’t want to spoil it because my playlist is very special and relates a lot to the book, but it was lots of heavy-hitting music. Definitely nothing happy or cheery. It scared my kids when they heard me listening to it if that’s any help. Some of it’s in German and really quite scary. 🙂

What is it about young adult fiction that draws you in as a writer?

Ha! The answer I SHOULD say is that I love that age and wish I could be there forever, right? The truth is, I think that those years in high school are so pivotal. When I was a teen, I thought every decision made by anyone was directly related to my life. I felt like my world was spinning out of control. I wanted to be treated like an adult, but I still made some pretty big mistakes. Being on that precipice is scary. I just feel like young adult, especially today, need stories to read. Stories that touch them, that reach them, and that can help them become the best person of themselves they can be.

Was there ever a time when you seriously considered giving up on your writing dream?

I’ve known I wanted to have a book published since I was in third grade. I don’t know that I ever wanted to really give up. It took me until I was in my twenties to realize, though, that if I actually wanted to be published, I needed to get serious about it. Writing is easy to have as a dream. I fall very easily into the “If only I had time to write” void, where anything and everything else can become an excuse, especially when I work full time, commute three hours a day, have two kids to raise when I get home, and everything else that comes with the job. I don’t think I would have become a writer any sooner than now. Until I started treating the dream of writing like a job, I never really believed it would happen. Would I stop now? Never. Do I still struggle? Every day.

Do you have any advice for writers trying to get published?

Write. Write. Write. Read. Read. Read. And never, ever give up.

Can you say anything about your next project/s?

I can’t say much at all, but here’s the gist: it’s about a girl who has to enter her brother’s dangerous world of mixed martial arts in order to save him. But to do this, she must be willing to risk the life of the boy she loves.

Thank  you so so much, Joy!

Be sure to add RITES OF PASSAGE on Goodreads. You can find Joy on her website, or on Twitter!

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