Monday, November 23, 2009

INTERVIEW: Environmentalist, Attorney and Author: S. Terrell French

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing his views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with S. Terrell French, author of Operation Redwood. A novel about an eco-adventure modern day fantasy book for ages 9-12.

The book is about young people, who put so much on the line in defending the importance of preserving our natural habitats. Our hero is a twelve years old; Julian Carter-Li who lives with his wealthy, high-powered uncle and finds himself embarks on a campaign saving redwood trees.

The author spends her summer sailing and swimming in the Chesapeake Bay, and loves to run around barefoot in the forest as a child.

S. Terrell French, is a graduate of Harvard College. She moved to San Francisco to work with a environmental organization. She loves her job so much that she decides to attend Berkeley Law School and finds a company that practice environmental law. She and her husband have three children.

E.I. Would you share some early insight into who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Please tell us more about S Terrel French-- the woman behind the “Operation Redwood” novel?

STF I loved to read as a child and a teenager. There wasn’t as much “Young Adult” literature then, so I read a lot of classics and Russian novels. In high school, I also played sports, babysat, sang in the school chorus, and worked every summer in different jobs – camp counselor, research assistant, tour guide at a doll house museum. After college, I was able to explore the outdoors more, mostly in California and Alaska, where I spent a summer working for the Forest Service at Misty Fiords National Monument. As a lawyer, I have worked on environmental issues throughout California.

E.I. What is it about the art form of writing eco-adventure modern day fantasy book that enchants you the most?

STF I enjoyed the challenge of creating an adventure plot while keeping the characters and setting realistic. The real world is a fascinating place and setting a book here can teach you a lot. In writing Operation Redwood, I learned all sorts of interesting things about tree climbing, John Muir, logging, environmental activism, and the latest research on the redwood canopy. When National Geographic came out with its October 2009 redwood issue and television special, I was excited because I felt like all this amazing material was reaching a new audience.

E.I. How do you imagine audience as you are writing your YA novels? Do you try to do character development, chapter outlines, various novel-related brainstorming? Do you have sheets of newsprint covered in a story boards all over your walls?

STF My imagined audience is really myself, or my kids. I wrote the first draft of Operation Redwood in a very linear fashion. I would write one chapter, then plan out the next in my head as I was doing other things. I had only the most minimal outline. Of course, in the editing process, the shape of the book changed somewhat and chapters were rearranged or added (for example, the e-mail chapters).

E.I. What was your biggest challenge in developing the character of Julian Carter-Li, Danny Lopez and Robin Elder in your book “Operation Redwood”? Did you work them out in advance, or did they evolve as you wrote the story? How did you overcome these challenges?

STF The children in the book appeared in my mind mostly formed. The main character, Julian, I saw as a boy who is led, quite by accident, into an entirely unexpected series of adventures. Much of his motivation centers around his yearning for something different from his own somewhat lonely life with his mother and his terrible life with his uncle and aunt. Danny was, in part, a composite of my son’s very funny and warm-hearted friends. I didn’t have a lot of boys in my life as a child and watching these boys close-up – their humor, loyalty, imagination – was a novel experience for me. Robin, from her first appearance, I imagined as brave and fierce and a little superior.

E.I. How much of Julian’s life is planned out in your head? How do you know where you will go next with any of your characters?

STF I’m still working on that!

E.I. If you were asked to read a page from “Operation Redwood ” is there one that you would personally select to share with your fans?

STF You can click on an excerpt of the book from the home page of my website: When I read at book stores or on school visits, I usually read the scene in Chapter 3 when Danny “improves” Julian’s first e-mail to Robin. The storm scene in Chapter 24 is one of my favorites, but I don’t usually have an occasion to read it.

E.I. How do you weave so much elements of information into your stories and yet you keep them so fast-paced?

STF I did a lot of research about redwoods for the book, but only put in information I found really interesting. In total, it probably doesn’t take up more than a few pages. I didn’t want Operation Redwood to be a preachy diatribe – kids are already pretty knowledgeable about and interested in environmental issues. In part, I was trying to write was a funny, fast-paced adventure -- who doesn’t like a page-turner? At the same time, the character of Julian really spoke to me, and the book is very much about his journey, his friendship with Danny and Robin, his exploration of what family means.

E.I. Many writers describe themselves as "character" or "plot" writers. Which are you? And what do you find to be the hardest part of writing?

STF I think I am probably a character writer, but in Operation Redwood there’s a lot of plot because I had my own kids in mind. Plot can be tricky in a modern, realistic setting but I was interested in writing a book where kids were engaging in the real world. I wanted to explore how people (including kids) find the courage to stand up for what they believe, where they get their information, how they sort out different messages and decide how far they’ll go.

E.I. Ms. French, thank you for contributing to my blog. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers?

STF Read wonderful writers and pay attention.

To learn more about S. Terrell French please visit her WEBSITE
To purchase her book please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Noble

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