Emily for Real Blog Tour! Author Interview with... Sylvia Gunnery

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I'm very excited to be sharing a Q&A today with the very sweet and friendly Sylvia Gunnery, Canadian author of Emily for Real! Already released in Canada a few months ago, Emily for Real will soon be hitting shelves in the U.S. as well, and if you're in a need of a quick contemporary read, then you'll certainly want to consider adding the book onto your to-be-read shelves.

Thanks to Pajama Press, I was able to ask Sylvia Gunnery a few questions about her latest novel...

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.

1) After Emily's grandfather passes away, family secrets begin to rise to the surface, shattering her life as she knows it. While I was reading, I kept wondering how everything was related to the book's title and if there was a particular reasoning behind it. How did you come up with the title Emily for Real?

Emily is 17 before she finds out about family secrets that definitely connect to how she sees herself. That’s the thing about secrecy I’ve always found compelling—when there’s something you don’t know, it’s like the life you’ve been living is not actually real. In this novel, Emily works herself through that space where she has to get a grip on who she is and redefine how she sees herself. The title works for me also because “for real” is an expression lots of teens use, so I liked the sound of the title.

2) To me, one of the most surprising aspects about the book was how a romance didn't form between Emily and Leo. Why did you decide to focus on a budding friendship between the pair instead, one which seems so unlikely at first?

I’m glad you were surprised. That makes things interesting—as long as you weren’t disappointed.

I’ve always believed that friendship can be a very powerful relationship between guys and girls (and adults, too, of course) and it doesn’t get a lot of attention in books. It’s almost a cliché that male-female friendships eventually turn into romance. I wanted Emily to have the experience of a male friend’s point of view as she worked through her break up with Brian. And I agree that the friendship is unlikely, mostly because of Leo’s reluctance to connect with people in this kind of significant way. It was fun watching them take those very cautious steps toward their friendship. I can see them still as friends when they’re thirty.

3) One of my favourite moments in Emily for Real is when Emily meets Leo's adorable little sister on Halloween night. What was your favourite scene to write?

Thanks! That was a fun scene to write, with the awkwardness between Leo and Emily and the bit of fun with the “little pink candy-eating rabbit.” It’s hard to choose a favourite scene. I enjoyed Emily’s visits with Meredith at the nursing home, probably because it was like another visit with my Mom who had been in a nursing home for three years before she passed away. I also liked writing the scene in the school cafeteria when Emily “casually” walks past Brian and simply says hi. I was really cheering her on as she did that. (Are you getting the idea that I have a lot of favourite scenes? Better stop right now.)

4) As a Canadian, I definitely have a fondness for books set in Canada! Was there a particular reason why you decided to set the novel in Halifax, Nova Scotia?

I was born in Halifax and lived there until 1990 when I moved to Crescent Beach on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. Though I had not planned to place this novel in Halifax, it just naturally came to the page. As Emily moved around her neighbourhood, it was my childhood neighbourhood. The bus trip she takes downtown is one I’ve taken thousands of times. Though I haven’t hitchhiked to North West Cove, it is one of my favourite places, not only because it is a beautiful fishing village but also because a dear friend and fellow writer, Budge Wilson, lives there.

5) In an earlier chapter, Emily and Leo work together to find the perfect theme song for a school project. What songs would be featured on a playlist for Emily for Real which helped to inspire the book?

For me, songs don’t inspire what I write and I usually don’t think about which songs would be on a playlist, though I’d be very keen to hear what readers might choose for Emily’s story. Perhaps the list would include strong instrumental acoustic guitar—something Leo would play: chaotic at times, melancholy, and then calmly hopeful as it ends.

6) How has your experience as a teacher influenced your writing and making your characters feel more realistic?

The influence of the hundreds and hundreds of teens I meet through my teaching is right at the top of the list of why I write what I write. What a privilege it is to have those very real connections with young people, especially in writing workshops where they’re exploring their own voices and themes…working through what matters to them. I learn so much! A bonus of being a writer is the chance to do author visits at schools and libraries all across Canada. Next spring, for example, I’m one of 30 authors, illustrators, and storytellers touring for TD Book Week 2013: www.bookweek.ca Very exciting!!

There is another way that being a teacher has influenced me as a writer. In my early teaching years, I clearly saw that my students just didn’t have stories that reflected their experiences. I wanted to hold up a mirror and say: Here you are. You count. Your lives are worth putting in books. Of course, readers will want to read all kinds of stuff from writers all around the world—fantasy fiction, thrillers, adventures, and lots more. I just wanted to make sure my students had the choice to read themselves. 

7) Have you already started brainstorming ideas for your next YA novel? 

Yes! Since May, I’ve been thinking about and making notes about my next book. Have you ever walked out on new lake ice—tentatively, holding your breath, listening for the least whisper of sound, noticing how the ice changes under your feet? Well, if you have, you know what I’ve been doing as I begin this next project. Not long ago, I wrote the first few pages. Everything is still tentative, but I can see the three sisters who are my main characters, and I know a bit about how they relate to each other and who they are separately. Now, it’s just a matter of making myself sit in this chair in front of this computer and get the work done. :)


Thanks so much to Sylvia Gunnery for answering my questions! (And I'll definitely be on the lookout for your next YA book!)

For more information about the author or Emily for Real, you can visit the Pajama Press website. You can also purchase the novel at Chapters/Indigo, Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, etc.

Here are the participating blogs on the Emily for Real Blog Tour, where you'll want to keep an eye throughout the month of August for author interviews, guest posts and giveaways:

*Credit: Author photos have been taken from the Pajama Press website.*

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  1. I haven't heard of this one before but I don't think that this is my type of book. Thanks for sharing.

    Magical Urban Fantasy Reads

  2. The book sounds good! I like the cover .

    the interview was really good ;)