Today we are pleased to shine the light on author Sherry Shahan!
Sherry Shahan graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2007. She has written several novels, including Purple Daze, a gripping story set in the 1960s about war, feminism, riots, love, racism, rock ‘n’ roll, and friendship.
Her Alaskan-based adventure Ice Island (Random House) features teens and their faithful huskies. As a travel journalist, she has ridden horseback with zebras in Kenya, snorkeled with penguins in the Galapagos, and hiked a leech-infested rain forest in Australia.
When not writing or traveling around the world Sherry spends her time at dance conventions. Even though she’s never won a contest—at least not yet—she loves to dress up in sparkly clothes and wear false eyelashes.
Her new novel Skin and Bones is just out from Albert Whitman. This quirky story features teens in an Eating Disorders Unit of a metropolitan hospital. The main character Jack (aka ‘Bones’) is a 16-year-old male suffering from anorexia. His roommate ‘Lard’ is a compulsive over-eater. [Sarah shared her thoughts in an earlier post.]
AND NOW FOR THE Q & A…
WOTS: How did Skin and Bones come to be?
SHERRY: Skin and Bones grew from a short story I wrote years ago. Then titled “Iris and Jim,” it sold quickly to a major literary journal. Later, a London publisher included it in their YA anthology, and later in their Best of collection. In total the story has appeared eight times worldwide. My agent kept encouraging me to expand it into a YA novel.
WOTS: Smart agent! But why did you choose a male protagonist?
SHERRY: Anorexia and bulimia are often considered a ‘girl’s disease.’ So I wanted to delve into the psychological mindset from a different perspective. According to The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, this disorder affects approx. 25 million Americans, in which 25% are male.
WOTS: While reading, I felt like I was in good hands—that you knew your material. Can you share your research process for Skin and Bones?
SHERRY: Fortunately, I’m one of those writers who enjoys research, which was extensive in both Purple Daze (set in the tumultuous 1960s) and Ice Island (dog sledding in Alaska). For Skin and Bones I read memoirs written by males and females with all types of addictions. I noticed certain commonalities. Self-centeredness, for instance, and refined skills of manipulation. Guilt, which often spirals into self-loathing, feeds the vicious circle. I spent countless hours online scouring medical sites about the long-term effects of eating disorders. I was astounded to learn that one anorexic girl became so thin that her body produced fur to keep her warm.
WOTS: This is tough stuff. Do you have any words of advice for those struggling with an eating disorder?
SHERRY: I empathize with those who have become obsessed with their body image. Although it is understandable since we’re constantly bombarded with images pressuring us to look perfect, from film celebrities and magazine models to ads for Victoria’s Secret. Thankfully, treatment is available throughout the country. The Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) lists eating disorder support groups by state. A free brochure “How to Help a Friend” is available to download. ANAD website: www.anad.org. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Helpline: 630-577-1330. [SEE MORE RESOURCES LISTED AT THE END OF THE INTERVIEW]
WOTS: As a writer of books for all ages do you have any suggests for those considering this path?
SHERRY: My career began with shorter writing forms: magazines and newspaper articles, short stories, essays, etc. When I decided to try writing for children young nonfiction seemed natural. Moving back and forth from short nonfiction (younger readers) to novels keeps me on my toes; I’m never bored. Also, shorter projects, such as picture books or easy readers are a nice break from novels. I have two Step-into-Reading titles coming out from Random House, A Little Butterfly and Feeding Time at the Zoo.
WOTS: I love your versatility! What are you working on now?
SHERRY: A painfully complicated YA novel about the psychological effects of short- and long-term abduction. Right now I’m buried in research.
WOTS: Ooooo! Sounds intriguing. Thanks for visiting today, Sherry!
SHERRY: Thanks so much, Sarah!
Other resources for people struggling with eating disorders:
The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders, Inc. (NAMED)