Today on the blog, I have a treat for you, and that is an interview with the LOVELY Tara Ross! Tara and I have been following each other’s journeys for awhile now, and her debut novel, Fade to White, is releasing THIS MONTH on May 30th! I had the privilege of reading an advanced reader copy (ARC) of this book, and guys, this is certainly one you won’t want to miss out on. Without further ado…
Hi Tara! It’s so nice to have you on the blog today!
T: Thank you so much for inviting me into your magical corner of the writing world!
When did you first decide you wanted to write? Was it your first career choice or were you planning on doing something else?
T: I never intended to become a writer. When I was younger, I loved books for the sake of reading, but they were my imaginary friends, not my real-world aspirations. In high school, I voluntarily took English in summer school as I didn’t want to waste time reading old books. I needed to jam my head full with what I considered the more important old knowledge of Chemistry (gag) and Physics (faint). All that changed when I finished six years of University and I planted myself within my nice scientifically safe career. I was desperate to rekindle the wonder that books had sparked for me as a young person. I needed to reignite my creative side. I apologized to my English teacher, joined tons of book clubs and fell back in love with reading. Only then did the idea of writing emerge.
Tell us a little bit about your debut novel, Fade to White. What is it about?
T: Fade to White is a contemporary Young Adult novel with a touch of magical realism and a dusting of inspirational hope. It is the story of Thea Fenton, an anxious teen girl who despite having a picture-perfect life is falling apart on the inside. Wracked by anxiety no one seems to understand or care about, she resorts to self-harm to deflect the pain inside.
When a local teen commits suicide, Thea’s anxiety sky-rockets. Unexplainable things happen, leaving her feeling trapped within her own chaotic mind. The lines between reality and another world start to blur, and her previously mundane issues seem more daunting and insurmountable than ever.
Then she meets Khi, a mysterious new boy from the coffee shop who seems to know her better than she knows herself—and doesn’t think she’s crazy. His quiet confidence and unfounded familiarity draw her into an unconventional friendship.
Khi journeys with her through grief, fear, and confusion to arrive at compassion for the one person Thea never thought she could love.
What inspires you to write?
T: I share on my blog, that reading hope-filled prose forever altered the trajectory of my life. I wanted to write with this same objective in mind. There are stories which are written to entertain. Then there are stories which challenge us to examine our own lives and travel with characters through similar struggles or experiences to our own. I want to entertain, but my passion is to enter into a reader’s emotional journey and hopefully partner with them for small transformational moments.
When I first began writing Fade to White, I was not in a good mental head space. I used writing as a cathartic tool to work through some of my own anxiety. I love writing with this passion behind my words. It forces me to measure each character’s experience and reaction to those of my own or to another person I have journeyed with in life. It makes me accountable to share each word with an extra level of measure.
Who are some authors that inspire you to become a better writer?
T: Those authors who can absorb me into their words, to the point where I need to reread a paragraph for several minutes just for the beauty of their prose, are radiant in my eyes. Some of the classics include C.S. Forster, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Madeline L’Engle, but then there are contemporary masters like Anthony Doerr, Shawn Smucker, and Nadine Brandes. From a craft perspective, I also love Donald Maas and James Scott Bell.
Who was your favorite character in Fade to White?
T: I resonate most deeply with Thea, therefore as painful as some of her scenes were to write, she will always rest closest to my heart. I love that she is an amalgamation of so many vibrate young women that I know in real life. She also holds many facets of myself, including a love for tea, running, and the dramatic arts. However, beyond her hobbies, anxiety and affection for a furball named Woolie, our stories and lives veer apart.
What is the hardest part about writing for you?
T: Given that I do not have a background in English, the technical side of writing is always the hardest. I have studied passive voice and comma usage multiple times. I have taken courses in syntax and still my brain can not parse sentences into independent and dependent clauses. Thank the Lord for editors!
How would you describe your writing style?
T: I am a planner through and through. I love mapping out a story arc and writing up character profiles and searching for setting inspirations on Pinterest. The irony of all of this is that I create an entire story before the story, but then once I start writing it out, it changes. Almost inevitably, my story takes on a brain of it’s own and refuses to comply with all my planning. So perhaps more accurately, I would be a misbehaving planster?
Do you have a favorite snack or drink you enjoy while writing?
T: It is a rare sighting to spot me at my computer without a cup of tea and some expression of cocoa. My favorites are vanilla rooibos tea with almond milk and a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie on the side. (My mouth just started to water).
Just because I’d like to include it for readers’ purposes, what would you say your target audience is for your book? Is there any content I should warn readers about?
T: Fade to White is intended to be a clean read that would appeal to readers 13 to 18. When I wrote it, I pictured a 15-year-old girl who was feeling rather invisible within her suburban high school, but I have readers aged twelve to 65 who have shared that they found connection points within their own lives.
I have included an author’s note in the opening pages of Fade to White and on my Goodreads’ book page about specific content warnings. There are mentions of suicide, self-harm, anxiety, depression and suggestive sexual comments. All mentions are clean, without any graphic details or language and are intended to share a contrast from within Thea’s life.
What is some advice you can give aspiring authors out there that you wish you had known when you began your writing and publishing journey?
T: You can write a book. You should finish your book. Your story is important and needs to be shared. But reading is such a powerful starting point. Read within your genre. Read masterful authors. Read craft books and research the world of publishing prior to writing ‘The End’.
In Fade to White, you portrayed anxiety and OCD through Thea both realistically and sensitively. As someone with these mental illnesses myself, I was curious as to what led you to writing about it in Fade to White?
T: Thank you for sharing this. It is the best feedback. When I first started writing Fade to White, I used the advice ‘write what you know’. I’ve struggled with anxiety and perfectionism throughout my life. In University, I became so fascinated/obsessed with how the brain worked that I switched my minor to psychology. I went on to work within the psychiatry department at a prominent Toronto hospital during my last three years of school. I learned how common mental illness is in our culture and how we are reaching epidemic levels when we look at anxiety within teens and young adults.
I also wanted to share more diverse experiences with mental illness, beyond my own story. Through volunteering with youth over the past 10 years, I was able to pull from the experiences of countless young people who have also struggled with their mental health.
What would you like readers to take away from Fade to White?
T: This story is my way of honouring the stories I have heard from both youth and close friends. For readers, I hope that it reminds them that despite how your life may look, you are allowed and will likely experience times of mental illness. But, you do not need to remain within that diagnosis or make it who you are. You are never alone, despite what your life circumstances may look like. There is always hope.
Do you know what’s next for you and your writing/publishing journey? I’m not sure if you can say anything yet, but I would love to know if you do have books planned in the future!”
T: I have plans. Oh, the plans I have. I am currently revising my next Contemporary YA novel, which may or may not be connected to Fade to White in a small but significant way. Sorry, that is super vague! I continue to explore themes of faith and mental health, but rather than discovering that internal light, this next story explores reigniting an ember of faith through real tangible relationships, rather than through worldly approval. I am getting ready to query this story, so I can’t share too many details yet, but the second I can, I will be sure to post on Instagram and my blog!
Thank you so much, Tara, for letting me interview you! You were such a pleasure to have on the blog. READERS, be on the lookout for a book review on Fade to White in June! And be sure to check out Tara’s links below!
Tara K. Ross is a perpetual Toronto suburbanite, despite her best efforts to escape. She works as a school speech-language pathologist and mentors with local youth programs. She is blessed with a ridiculously supportive family that grants her time to create stories which tackle the interplay of faith and mental health. Her debut novel, FADE TO WHITE, will be published by Illuminate YA (an imprint of LPC) in spring 2020. When Tara is not writing or reading all things YA, you can find her rock climbing the Ontario escarpment, planning her family’s next jungle trek or blogging at www.hopeprose.com.
Website/Links to Books: https://www.tarakross.com/