If readers have enjoyed a writer’s book, I’ve noticed that there are two questions they repeatedly ask. The first is usually some variation of, “So what’s your next book about?” and the second is, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Recently, I decided to redo my website (currently in progress) and took a stab at responding to these two questions for a new “In the Works” section. Here’s a brief description of Leisha’s Song:
On scholarship at Stonefield Academy, a prestigious New England boarding school, academically gifted seventeen-year-old Leisha has fallen in love with singing and become close to Ms. Wells, her vocal coach and mentor. So, when Ms. Wells suddenly resigns and disappears with no warning or even a forwarding address, Leisha is shocked. And worried. She needs to track her teacher down, make sure she’s okay.
Cody, a sensitive cellist from an ultra-wealthy conservative white family, insists on helping her. Sparks fly, clues multiply, and romance blossoms, despite the disapproval of their families.
Leisha’s desire to be with Cody and pursue music rather than medicine puts her on a direct collision course with her African-American grandfather, the only parent she’s ever had. But an even more immediate threat looms—because as Leisha draws closer to the truth about her teacher’s disappearance, she puts her own life in grave danger.
And now here’s what I wrote about where I got the idea and inspiration for this story:
Years ago, I was standing in line at Port Authority in New York waiting for a bus to Connecticut. A pretty African-American teenage girl stood in front of me clutching a battered-looking suitcase. Her grandmother was with her, and the two were arguing. From their conversation, I gathered that the grandmother was putting her reluctant charge on a bus to attend a prestigious boarding school in Connecticut. Her granddaughter didn’t want to leave her old neighborhood and friends. The grandmother, however, was insistent. Her granddaughter was gifted, had been awarded a scholarship. This was her shot at getting a first class education and a ticket to a better life. As I eavesdropped, I had the sense that this devoted grandmother had poured all of her ambitions and deferred dreams into her young gifted granddaughter.
I thought a lot about what it would be like for this inner city girl to be shipped off to a boarding school attended by predominantly white students from well-to-do families. I imagined that no matter how gifted and smart she was, the culture would seem strange, and there would always be students who treated her as an outsider. I hoped for her sake that she’d find supportive friends and teachers there.
The idea for Leisha, an academically gifted scholarship student from the Bronx attending a New England boarding school, grew out of the interaction I observed between this grandmother and granddaughter. In Leisha’s case, it is her grandfather who’s raised her. Devoted to his granddaughter, he dreams of her becoming a successful physician. He has her entire future mapped out for her.
The growing conflicts between Leisha and her grandfather as she begins asserting her independence were inspired not only by my own life, but by the experiences of many students I’ve counseled over the years whose parents were not supportive of their passion for the arts. Leisha’s grandfather opposes her interest in pursuing music rather than medicine and certainly doesn’t want her inviting trouble by investigating the disappearance of her missing teacher. Nor does he want her getting involved with a white boy like Cody.
But Leisha falls in love, not only with music, but with Cody. Again, my own experiences in the arts inspired the story of their romance. Despite their racial and socioeconomic differences, Leisha and Cody’s shared love of music draws them together. They are soul mates who share similar values, passions, and dreams.
Finally, I was inspired to write this story because of my African-American grandson, as well as my students of color. They are hungry for books that feature main characters who look like them. As one of my African-American teen beta readers told me, “We’re so sick of being the sidekick!” I enjoyed shaking things up in this regard. In Leisha’s Song, it’s no accident that it’s the white guy who’s the sidekick and the feisty black girl who’s the hero.
So now you know my personal answers to the two most common questions we writers get. I’d love to get your reactions to my responses!