Okay folks, here it is! We're proud to formally present for the very first time, the super-fun -- and quite intriguing -- cover of Merriam Saunders's first mg novel, "TROUBLE WITH A TINY t!"
Yay! This is such a fun cover with so many hints about the story... Can you give us a quick summary?
Thank you! In this story, eleven-year-old Westin finds a magic pouch among his missing uncle’s things and soon discovers that it brings his thoughts to life, but not in a way Westin can seem to control. All the little creatures soaring above his head on the cover are some of what he impulsively conjures—a tiny T.rex, a headless plastic army and a six-inch Thor, all battling in his bedroom. Westin is an artist, and the cover illustration by Frances Castle does a terrific job of referencing his love of drawing…and also is a hint about how to control this unwieldly magic he’s found. Tell us a bit more about your main character. What inspired Westin -- and the story? Westin identifies as someone who’s frequently in trouble. He has ADHD, resulting in something he calls “Vacation Brain”—his brain is off kayaking the Nile instead of being where it should be. He doesn’t encounter a lot of empathy about his ADHD-impacted behavior, and the magic he’s found—combined with his impulsivity—only makes things worse. He was inspired by my husband and children and the hundreds of clients I’ve seen as a psychotherapist working with ADHD. Some of the non-magic things he does were plucked directly from our lives, such as the scene where he absentmindedly cuts his grandmother’s sheets. But, like my hubby and kids and clients, he has a big heart. He wants to do well. And—he’s super creative and funny! You are also a therapist. How has this affected your writing -- in approach, and in choice of subject? My work as a therapist gave me a desire to help people in a different way—through writing for children. I’d hoped that if children with ADHD symptoms could see themselves authentically in a story, perhaps they would feel understood in a different way. But I also want readers to see Westin solving his problems by using his talents and strengths. So many kids with ADHD so heavily identify with the “trouble” they get into that they stop seeing how smart, how caring, and how creative they also are. And, sadly, so do those around them. So, I also hoped to touch the non-ADHD reader by creating empathy for how difficult it can be to live with these symptoms and be misunderstood.
You also have two picture books. Why is it important to you to portray kids with different brains in your books? They key word in your question is “different.” So often, different is misunderstood, and different is feared, and different is considered bad. Friends, family, classmates and teachers sometimes aren’t sure how to deal with different. In my picture books, one dealing with hyperactive ADHD and the other with inattentive ADHD, I showcase two different techniques that I use with clients with these differences, by folding them into the stories of a day in the lives of Charlie and Sadie and how their parents help them to see their strengths by using these techniques. It is my way of showing that different is not bad, and of sharing these techniques to far more people than I can reach in my therapy office! I love that these tiny magic creatures are hiding - and growing - in West's room, and that they crave lunch meat! It's a preposterously funny set-up. Do you have any hints for writing humor? And why is humor such good therapy/a good way in for kids to talk about tough stuff? Humor is a classic defense mechanism and one that many people use to either hide from or broach difficult emotions and situations. Since “different” can sometimes make people uncomfortable, a story that focuses on “different” may be easier to access if it is couched in humor. Humor relaxes us and creates a shared experience. If a character makes a reader laugh, the reader may more readily empathize with that character and not see them as so different. Newbery Award-winning author Gennifer Choldenko once said in a workshop I attended that she could write from the perspective of a 12-year-old boy because secretly inside, she was a 12-year-old boy. That resonated so much with me! My younger brother and I have always shared that sort of “farts are hilarious” kind of potty-mouth humor and even at my ripe old age, it is the humor I access most easily. I don’t think humor can be forced. As a writer, the best bet is to understand the type of humor you love and write from that place. If it is authentic, it will probably make others laugh too. You are the one who first started the database of A Novel Mind. What prompted you to start this, and how did the idea develop?
In my years as a school counselor, it was so important to reach to that bookshelf and share a story with my client that allowed them to see their situation through the eyes of the character on the page. But, finding that perfect book wasn’t easy, and online searches took me down major rabbit holes. So, the idea for a database of kidlit sorted by mental health issue was born! I could think of no better person to partner with on this endeavor than author, Sally J. Pla. Her own passion for neurodiversity and its representation in kidlit, coupled with her beautiful ability to portray it in a story, made her the perfect choice! The additions of Kate Piliero and Margaret Lennon, under Sally’s steadfast championing, have turned the website into such a helpful resource. And we’re only just beginning! Wild card question! Tell us anything you want! My passion for helping people with ADHD has led to my first three books being about characters with ADHD. As much as I love the topic, it isn’t the only thing I write about! However, if this is an area where you’d like to read more, I blog a bunch for ADDitudemag.com. While I may develop another ADHD novel in the future, my agent is currently shopping two non-ADHD manuscripts, and I’m working on another story now. Fingers crossed! Lastly, as I write this, an eleven-year old deaf and toothless Chihuahua with a heart condition named Gigi sleeps on my lap. We adopted her last year and she brings us so much joy. Maybe Gigi needs to show up in one of my next books! You can see her cute photo on my website, www.merriamsbooks.com
Merriam Sarcia Saunders, LMFT, is a family therapist, college professor and author of the picture books My Whirling, Twirling Motor and My Wandering, Dreaming Mind, both affirming stories about children with ADHD. She is also co-founder of A Novel Mind.
Merriam and her husband live in Northern California with their three kids, one silly lab, and a tiny chihuahua with no teeth. This is her first novel. To learn more about Merriam, visit merriamsbooks.com.