April 1, 2016

Dana Elmendorf's SOUTH OF SUNSHINE hits shelves today!

Dana Elmendorf's debut is the story of two girls who fall in love in a small Tennessee town. Aside from its fantastic and moving love story, it's also a wonderfully intimate portrait of both the joys and the drawbacks of small-town Southern life.

The Story
In Sunshine, Tennessee, the main event in town is Friday night football, the biggest party of the year is held in a field filled with pickup trucks, and church attendance is mandatory. For Kaycee Jean McCoy, life in Sunshine means dating guys she has no interest in, saying only “yes, ma’am” when the local bigots gossip at her mom’s cosmetics salon, and avoiding certain girls at all costs. Girls like Bren Dawson.

Unlike Kaycee, Bren doesn’t really conceal who she is. But as the cool, worldly new girl, nobody at school seems to give her any trouble. Maybe there’s no harm if Kaycee gets closer to her too, as long as she can keep that part of her life a secret, especially from her family and her best friend. But the more serious things get with Bren, the harder it is to hide from everyone else. Kaycee knows Sunshine has a darker side for people like her, and she’s risking everything for the chance to truly be herself.

The Reviews
"Equal parts sweet and sassy, South of Sunshine explores the struggles and triumphs of self-discovery and first love with a heap of Southern charm."
--Jessica Love, co-author of Push Girl

"Readers will relate to both Kaycee's desire for secrecy and Bren's desire for acknowledgement, which provides the novel's most believable tension." 
--Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2016

"The novel's biggest strength is the way it allows characters to grow and change as they reevaluate what it means to be a friend, parent, or resident of Sunshine. A compelling portrait of a small-town teen learning that she doesn't have to choose between loving her roots and loving who she really is." -
--Booklist Online, February 10, 2016

"An earnest look at the courage it takes to love who you love…and it's all wrapped up in southern charm. Adorable, y'all." 
--Robin Mellom, author of Ditched: A Love Story

The Interview
Q: Where did you get the inspiration for your book?
Inspiration came at a SCBWI LGBT meeting, when Ellen Hopkins pointed her finger at me and told me to “Write that. Write that story. Write what scares you.” I had walked into that meeting with no intention on writing a LGBT book but every intention of stalking an agent who was there. (At the time I had a paranormal romance I was about to query.) In that meeting someone was talking about how straight people didn’t think they could write LGBT because they weren’t [LGBT], but they also weren't vampires and yet they wrote about them. (Obviously this was all during the Twilight era.)

I expressed to them in that meeting that I was scared to write LGBT because I didn’t want to offend an already offended group. I was scared I’d get it wrong. But I was mostly scared because if I wrote a story like that, it would have to be set in the rural south. In doing so, I’d have to show an honest portrayal of where I came from. I’m proud of my southern roots, but not the harsh mentalities that are often associated with it. After that conference I told myself there was NO WAY I was going to write that story. Forty-five days later, I finished South of Sunshine.

Q: Describe your writing process, from idea to final draft.
When I begin a story, I usually have some vague since of an idea. Like a book I’m working started as: A teen girl in New Mexico who lives off the I-40 uses her measly college fund to buy an abandoned drive-in theater. Then I start writing. I’m a pantser, and outlines stifle my creativity. The first part of the book is the easiest and fastest to write. During that time I nail down who the main players are in the story, what this story is about and how I want it to end. While I’m writing I jot down notes or scenes, not all make it in the book. About 10-15k words in, I realize I have NO idea what happens in the middle. At this point I try to make some organized sense of my notes, which is usually 3-6k words. Then I trudge through writing the middle until I finish. It’s funny because even though the middle is the hardest to write, it’s needs the least revising later. I do not edit as I go along, ugh, that’s the worst for me. My final raw rough draft goes to a trusted critique partner. Then I revise it accordingly, sending it to one CP at a time, revising in-between. Usually it sees 2-4 CPs before it goes to my agent. She’s a wonderful editorial agent who gives me an overall “here’s what’s wrong with your story” notes. Then I revise…again. By the time I have a final draft, it’s been through 7-12 drafts and 30 plus rereads. You keep thinking with each book you write that you’d streamline the process a little better, but that doesn’t happen.

Q: Tell us about your journey, from finding an agent to publication.
I had no idea I wanted to be a writer until I was thirty-six. In a nutshell, I saw Twilight, loved it. Found out they were books, loved them. Discovered Stephenie Meyer was a stay-at-home mom so I thought “Hey, I can do that.” Little did I know how freaking hard it was to be a writer. (Oh, na├»ve Dana.)

With absolutely no formal training I started writing. It took five novels and four years before I wrote a book that I thought was good enough to be published. That was South of Sunshine. It took a year of querying before I found an agent. Essentially it was 58 queries, 20 full/partials and 1 offer. Lauren MacLeod is a perfect fit for me. After we revised my story, it went on sub. It went through four rounds of submissions over a fourteen-month period. I had almost given up hope that the story would never sell and then Albert Whitman swooped it up. I couldn’t be more pleased with my editor and publisher. By the time South of Sunshine hits the shelf, it will be a little over four years since I put the first words down on paper.

Q: Why would someone want to buy your book?
Kissing. There’s plenty of kissing and humor. First loves, everybody can relate to falling in love. But more seriously, and most importantly, this type of story needs to be out in the world. LGBT is underrepresented in the publishing industry, particularly stories with happy endings. This story shows how everyone falls in love the same, no matter what your sexual orientation. It also shows teens how to find the courage to be who you are despite the negative the world throws at you. My book could be a mirror for a teen whose story isn’t represented enough. But I also hope my story can be a window, for those who might see another perspective or viewpoint they might not otherwise experience.

Q: What are your favorite books? What are you reading now?
Favorite books: The Summer I Turned Pretty series by Jenny Han, the unrequited crush is so heartbreaking. Boys Next Door by Jennifer Echols, the main character is hilarious and the summer romance is too perfect. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. Recently I finished Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, so so good. Obviously I’m a YA romance kind of girl. I’ve always been a hopeless romantic.