Rummanah Aasi
 Today I'm pleased to introduce you to Sylvia Gunnery, the author of Emily for Real. The book is currently out in Ms. Gunnery's native Canada and soon to be released in the U.S. Before we get to the interview, here's some information about Ms. Gunnery (as found on the publisher's website): She is the author of many novels for teens and children. Often, the themes and characters in her books have developed from her classroom experiences with junior high and high school students. A recipient of a Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence, Sylvia has written a teachers' resource, Just Write! (Pembroke, 1998) as well as guided reading books for Curriculum Plus. She has presented at conferences, libraries, and schools across Canada and works on curriculum development and assessment initiatives with the Nova Scotia Department of Education. Ms. Gunnery is here to talk about her writing style and her latest release, Emily for Real. I hope you enjoy the interview!

Welcome to Books in the Spotlight, Ms. Gunnery.  How do you incorporate important issues in your book without making it too serious yet realistic?

I’m really happy that you see the issues in Emily For Real as realistic and yet not overly serious. That is always one of my goals while writing. It can be so easy to moralize or try to “teach a lesson.” Of course, all our lives involve issues, but I try my best to keep myself in a kind of teen mindset without all the layers of adult judgement or expectations. For teens, a lot is being experienced or observed or considered for the first time. They can sometimes be more objective, even neutral, so issues don’t have the same weight they do for adults. This story was written from Emily’s point of view and she sees things differently from me. I really enjoyed looking at what was happening in her life through her eyes and watching her responses.

Out of all of your characters, which one could you relate to the most? Which was the hardest to write?

The character I relate to the most is Emily, perhaps because I was inside her world, listening to her thoughts and observations for so long. I also gave her a lot of experiences straight out of my own life—that first walk around the block wearing her new raincoat and rubber boots (even with her Mom phoning “Mrs. Day over on Robie Street”), shovelling snow with her Dad, hitchhiking with a guy, visits in a nursing home, taking the bus downtown, seeing people feed ducks in the Halifax Public Gardens right next to a sign that says “Please do not feed the ducks.”

   The character I found hardest to write is Leo. As I mention in the acknowledgements for the novel, Leo is based on a former student of mine named Theo. Theo’s the type of person who doesn’t say much but is always so observant, very bright, and basically a good person though his anger issues could blur that. It wasn’t easy to show readers, through Emily’s eyes, all those same qualities in Leo. I might have come closest to portraying him in the cafeteria scene where he convinces Emily to casually say hi to Brian and then nonchalantly walk on by. Leo really did understand why she felt so insecure, and he wanted her to get past that. A real good friend.

Strong friendship between boys and girls are rare to find in literature. What makes Emily’s and Leo’s relationship so special?
I agree that these relationships are rare in literature, but in real life I don’t think they are. I had lots of guy friends when I was a teenager (and now, too). As a teacher, I saw strong friendships between guys and girls in my classrooms—admittedly, a few of them did turn into romantic relationships and even marriages. Friendship is a great basis to build a romance on, for sure. I see Emily and Leo’s friendship lasting a very long time and not changing into a romance.
   The timing was really right for both Leo and Emily to become friends. He’d just switched to a new school where he knew only a few people, and he also had heavy responsibilities at home with not much room for friends. Emily was changing—the break-up with Brian and the shift in her friendship with Jennifer were, for me, symbolic of her moving from one place in her life to another. Both Leo and Emily were open to a friendship that would give them lots of room to be independent and yet be supportive when support was most needed. I’ve had those kinds of friendships and they’re really great.

 I really liked your top 10 tips for writing YA. How did you come up with your list and which would you say is the one that is often neglected by writers?

Glad you liked those tips. Thanks! Coming up with the list was easy…limiting it to only 10 wasn’t. J Basically, I thought about what I try to do to make my novels authentic. Writing YA is a complex process, just as all writing is, and respecting my teen audience is a very important part of writing for them.
It’s hard for me to say what other writers might neglect. Sometimes, though, I have wondered whether some authors put aside their adult perspectives and really do get inside the teen world—“Be a teenager thinking.”

What message would you like your readers to take away from your book? 

I do shy away from the idea of a “message.” Each person comes into a book with unique experiences and expectations, so in some ways, everyone is reading a different book. But I hope people who read Emily For Real have a chance to think about how family secrets may not need to be secrets at all and take away a strong sense of caring for family and friends.

Besides writing, what do you like to do? What are your hobbies and interests? 

I do a lot of reading. When I was studying writing at the Banff Centre in Alberta, one of my instructors was Alice Munro and she said to me, “When you’re not writing, read.” I came to
recognize that both writing and reading engage your mind in much the same way—like musicians going to concerts or basketball players watching NBA games on television.

My partner Jim and I have flower gardens that give me a break away from my desk during the spring and summer. Though I do own gardening gloves, I love digging in the dirt with my bare hands. Also, I enjoy long walks, sometimes alone and sometimes with my neighbours’ dog Willie. I live very close to two beaches and a provincial park, so there are lots of choices for where I can wander. There’s lots of time to daydream about my characters and what they’re up to when I’m gardening and walking.

I'm always curious to see what other people are reading. What is on your to be read pile? 

I’m almost finished re-reading Leon Rooke’s short fiction collection, The Last Shot. I love his control and pace—I just counted 12 lines for a single sentence. Perfectly smooth. I’ve recently begun Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, switching from my habit of mostly reading Canadian-authored books. Last week, my sister loaned me two novels: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain and the historical novel Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin which is written in the voice of woman who inspired Charles Dodgson to write Alice in Wonderland. They’ll be next. When I’m working toward deadlines (like I am right now for a junior novel ), I get a bit distracted from reading books and I switch to magazines. September’s The Walrus and Quill & Quire just arrived, so I’ll probably be reading those until my rewrites are finished.

 What is your next project? 

My next novel started on its way in early May with a bit of daydreaming and wondering when I was in Vancouver. I’ve made some notes and even written a few pages, but everything is so tentative right now. Vague. Three sisters are involved (ages 16, 17 and 21) and they’re driving from Halifax to Vancouver, something my own sister and I did with her German Shepherd dog, Max, when we were in our twenties. I wanted to minimize the world of these three sisters basically to the size of a car and always moving forward, and then explore who they are and are becoming. The other day, I gave them a hitchhiker and his dog to add to the mix. I’m curious about how things’ll work out for all of them. That’s the fun of it!

Thank you so much for stopping by, Ms. Gunnery! I wish you the best of luck with Emily for Real. Readers, if you would like more information about Ms. Gunnery or  Emily for Real, you can visit the Pajama Press website. Emily for Real can be purchased at Chapters/Indigo,, and Barnes & Noble.

Definitely check out the  following blogs participating in the Emily for Real Blog Tour running during August: Open Book Toronto, YA Booklover Blog, Pub(lishing) Crawl, Midnight Bloom Reads and Musings of a YA Reader

Seventeen-year-old Emily’s world crumbles when her boy friend dumps her, and when she thinks her life can’t possibly get any worse, a series of secrets are revealed that threaten to tear her beloved family apart. Emily’s heart has been broken into a hundred pieces and she feels like there is no one to turn to, until an unexpected friendship blossoms with a troubled classmate named Leo. Sometimes moody but always supportive, Leo is Emily’s rock in an ocean of confusion and disbelief.
   But Leo doesn’t have an easy life either. He struggles to be both mother and father to his little sister while his mom battles her alcohol addiction. His deadbeat dad darts in and out of the picture, and Leo would rather he stay away, permanently. The two friends lean on each other, and in the end discover the inner strength to face whatever life throws at them.
   With incredible insight into the teenage psyche and speckled with pitch-perfect humor, author Sylvia Gunnery has created a heart-warming coming-of-age story that explores the intricacies of family and friendship.

2 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    I definitely have not read too many books that feature a solid male/female friendship that doesn't evolve into something more, so I'm excited to read about Emily and Leo! And I wish I lived near a beach, my two dogs love the water and would be in doggie heaven if they could be close to it more often!

  2. Oh I had some good guy friends growing up so I agree IRL, it's not too rare.

    I've also traveled with my dog and it's quite fun. It also breaks the ice when you talk to strangers. Yes, I do that. :D

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