Today I’m delighted to welcome Shelley Sackier, creator of the always entertaining blog – Peak Perspective – and author of the upcoming teen novel DEAR OPL.
SS: The blog title and tagline (Peak Perspective: trying to see above the fog.) was born of both sight and wordplay. I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’m surrounded by mountains, and living on top of one gives me a spectacular view, except when it doesn’t. Some days I’m fogged in, occasionally I’m above the cloud base, but most days, the scene is truly breathtaking and allows me a view of three counties. As I’m always staring out one window or another for a moment of inspiration, rare is the day when something remarkable does not flit across my field of vision. It’s a little like living on the live set of a National Geographic special filmed by the Weather Channel. Some days are truly spectacular. Some days are scary. A couple have made me think that it might be time to start doing bladder strengthening exercises.
JTT: Please send me a copy of those bladder strengthening exercises ’cause I need ’em. With those spectacular views there must be a lot of artists living in your part of the world however your illustrator, Robin Gott (who I just adore), lives in Essex England. How did you find him?
SS: I love the fact that Rob and I live in separate countries and have worked together for a few years but have never met. There’s something so remarkably “today’s business world” about that. We were introduced years ago and had almost worked together on a different project. The blog venture just sort of spilled out of that serendipitous past.
Robin is one of those incredibly multi-talented folks whose craft spills over into myriad dimensions. Animation, acting, drawing, writing. His work is prolific and I feel so fortunate to have this time to be creative with him. I’ve discovered what it feels like to work with someone whose brain will likely be preserved for science.
However long the blogging business keeps us artistically woven together, I can think of so many other missions I’d like the two of us to take a crack at. Time will tell. Fingers are crossed. Pencils are sharpened.
JTT: Blogging does provide us with some interesting bed fellows doesn’t it? Well, ”bed fellows”isn’t exactly the right term. Collaborators? Gads, that’s not much better… (help me troops!)
Speaking of blogging, I’ve been in awe of your blog for a long time. I wonder if you’d mind sharing some blogging tips and tricks (or is it top secret)? When did you start? How did you build your incredibly supportive audience?
SS: Well, firstly, thank you for saying so. That’s the hope of so many writers. Tips and tricks? I think, as with so many things in life, you have to be willing to stick your neck out and embrace vulnerability. And even more importantly, you have to be willing to fail. I’ve gotten pretty good at kicking myself out of safe mode, skinning both knees, and then moving on. There’s so much to learn when you make mistakes. Being careful does not make a terribly exciting life. And I crave challenge. And chocolate. I’m not sure which I devour more.
Also, it might be extraordinarily helpful to have a roadmap—a story grid of a sort. Why are you blogging? Is it to share wedding photos? A trip to Dubai? Your time in the slammer? It helps to understand what the end goal is.
My blogging exploits began strictly to develop a skill I thought I needed improvement with—churning out about 1000 words on demand. Butt in chair, holler to muse, write the damn essay, finish the laundry. When you devote attention to something every day, bit by bit the challenge begins to feel increasingly more comfortable. Welcome to the new normal.
And building the supportive audience comes from caring about what people have to say. There are so many wildly interesting people on our planet, each with a distinctive voice, and I find it’s like a funky orchestral hot mess when I engage with everyone. It’s a huge time commitment, and I’m not looking forward to the approaching day when I’ll have to back off because of other writing commitments—ones from people who are actually paying me to produce work for them, but I’m hoping to have at least created a community of people who can carry on the conversation if I’m not there and who have made worthy friendships simply from having had my blog site been their playground.
JTT: “Butt in chair, holler to muse, write the damn essay,” AMEN! However, you did manage to finish DEAR OPL while building your audience. Congrats on that major accomplishment. You deserve chocolate, lots of chocolate. However, I know from reading DEAR OPL (and your blog) that keeping our food safe, nutritious, and delicious are important issues for you. I don’t want to spoil the plot for potential readers but the main character, Opl,achieves some amazing things while battling a common bugaboo for many of us growing up: a negative self image. At first, I have to admit I thought the mother was cruel – always making a big issue of Opl’s understandable weight gain (I mean, she had just lost her father!) but by the end you managed to make the mother sympathetic. I think it had to do with Opl’s growing awareness that staying healthy need not be an arduous task. Was personal experience a motivation for writing DEAR OPL?
SS: I’ve had food issues for as long as I can recall, but not of the same type as Opl. Working in the entertainment industry, one gets judged every which way but Sunday. It was brutal. Costumes were measured and remeasured on a regular schedule. If you lost a pound of sweat during a show from exertion, and your waistband had a half an inch worth of give in it, it was immediately sewed shut. I survived for years believing that fat was an enemy and that tinned peas and Cream of Wheat was my culinary lot in life. This was horrifically rough for someone who grew up in a family full of caterers, butchers and chefs. I loved food, but was always being deprived of it because of the fearful sweeping top to bottom gaze of an unforgiving producer or director.
I was determined to raise kids with the idea of nutrition as the motivating factor for meal planning and food education, and didn’t want to create battles over what we put into our mouths. I knew that as my kids grew more independent I’d lose a lot of sway over what they’d be choosing to eat. I knew that layering information in small bite-sized chunks, and also walking the talk would be important components of whether or not they’d remember what I’d said, and did as I advised. Most importantly, indulging in food they knew I’d cringe at was a given, but I hoped that they’d pay attention to the correlation between what they ate and how they felt afterward. I know the pressures teens feel when trying to fit in with their friends, and that sometimes food issues become friendship issues. In my mind, I believed they’d make diet related decisions based on things other than what the crowd was doing. They learned to love good food, and cooking it themselves has been an ongoing joyful discovery.
JTT: You’re absolutely right – making decisions about what to eat based on how you will feel afterwards is far wiser than going along with the crowd but it is a hard lesson for many teens to learn. On your blog you’re doing an excellent job of what marketeers call “building your platform” and so I’m fairly confident this next question will be an easy one for you to answer, please describe Dear Opl’s ideal reader? Who are you talking to? What do you hope your readers take away from the book?
SS: DEAR OPL’s reading base is 9 to 13 year-olds, but I’m hoping to attract kids who may be in a similar situation as Opl—those who feel like they are either losing the battle with weight, or who feel they can’t stop eating junk food, but mostly kids who are desperately looking for a bit of direction. People don’t realize how much help is available and often give up before they’ve even begun.
My hope is that Opl will be able to communicate that there is no “magic pill,” and that change can happen in small ways that have a ripple effect result. If we expect to shift the habits of a lifetime, it requires education, support, patience and faith that you’re doing the right thing. (And a big dose of self-forgiveness when you don’t.) I feel that all too often we’re told by marketers to expect a miracle effect with their slick headline promises and a mind-blowingly easy overnight success. I’m hoping to impart some savviness.
JTT: You’re absolutely right – kids are bombarded by “lose weight overnight” ploys which are nothing by quackery. It’s horrible. Speaking of horrible, now onto the uncomfortable revelations part of the interview (just pretend I’m Barbara Walters). You’re a pilot and whiskey drinker, is that correct? Were you also abducted by aliens like other famous whiskey-drinking pilot drinkers, i.e., Harrison Ford? Please describe some close encounters of the third kind you’ve had while soaring through the clouds.
SS: Really? Ford was abducted?
SS: Well, flying and whisky have been a significant part of my life. Although, never at the same time for obvious reasons.
When I was first learning to fly, in order to gather up the courage to do solo night flying (which is incredibly different than daytime flying — you’ve got nothing but a Lite-Brite board beneath you), I’d belt out the theme song to Raiders of the Lost Arc while doing finals and preparing to land the aircraft. You have to acquire a fair amount of knowledge to fly and land an airplane, and a teensy bit more if you’re hoping to reuse it. But you also have to have an element of faith.
Also, having an old codger for a flying examiner was a lucky thing. I think he realized as I was taking my final physical flight exam that I was still too timid with the aircraft. He took the controls and shouted, “You’ve got to manhandle this beast, lass! And you’ve got to know its limitations.” He then proceeded to pull the plane up into a stall and let her do a falling leaf pattern for about twenty seconds before recovering the aircraft. Kept telling me, “She ain’t gonna break!”
I think that was about as close to an extra-terrestrial experience as I’ve ever had, as I was fairly sure I’d not live to walk on our planet again.
JTT: I love that story! My father was a pilot – he loved to get me into his little Cessna and do loop-de-loos! Okay, here’s your chance for revenge, what embarrassing question would you like to ask me?
SS: You see, this is where I’m struggling, Jan. I can find absolutely no dirt on you. You are one of the most impressive humans I’ve come to know. Your work with the Make a Wish foundation, your advocacy for at risk foster children, your books, your blog, your terrific writing … yeah, I got nothin’.
But maybe I’ll ask the question readers are probably wondering: how is it that you can get so much done in one lifetime?
JTT: How sweet of you but perhaps I should have given you my ex-husband’s phone number!
Whenever I hear the theme song from Raiders, I’ll think of you soaring across the skies! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me and best wishes for the release!
DEAR OPL is available for pre-ordering on Amazon here. The official release date is August 4, 2015. Here’s my review:
DEAR OPL is an honest look at a problem facing many young teens: negative self-image brought on by weight gain. It is also the story of a family trying to move ahead after a catastrophic loss. Young OPL (who left the “A” off her name in order to lose weight – LOL!) has a talent that surprises her classmates and gives her an outlet for the ongoing frustrations of teen life. She can blog! In fact, she rapidly becomes a blogging superhero as “Dear Opl” dispelling advice to her peers with an abundance of sass and wit. But she doesn’t just make a difference in her own life, she reaches out and makes a difference in the lives of others.
No update on the letters from Sweden – but as soon as I find someone to translate, I’ll let you all know!