Sunday, May 23, 2010

Interview: Author Shawn Goodman, 2009 Delacorte Prize Winner

I met Shawn Goodman last January when I went to New York for the SCBWI Winter Conference, and I really enjoyed talking with him. His intelligence shows when he speaks though he's not at all pretentious. He's warm, modest, and a nice guy all around. He's been inspiring to me, really, and I'm so happy to be able to share an interview with him. His book Something Like Hope won the Delacorte Contest in 2009 and will be coming out in spring 2011. My prediction: big things in Shawn's future. He's definitely going places.

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Shawn Goodman is a writer and school psychologist. His experiences working in several New York State juvenile detention facilities inspired
Something Like Hope. He has been an outspoken advocate for juvenile justice reform, and has written and lectured on issues related to special education, foster care, and literacy. Shawn lives in Ithaca, New York, with his wife and children. Visit him online at

D.S.: Tell us about
Something Like Hope.
S.G.: Something Like Hope is about a girl who wants a second chance but thinks she doesn't deserve one. It's about the strange and complicated relationships that form between desperate people. It's about the colossal failures of the juvenile justice system to protect and educate kids, many of whom have survived years of abuse and neglect.

D.S.: What inspired the story?

S.G.: I wrote
Something Like Hope while working as a psychologist in a girls juvenile justice facility. The impetus was the lack of YA books (at the time) that reflected their experiences. The only one that came close was The Coldest Winter Ever, by Sister Souljah. The girls absolutely loved that book, but it was summarily banned.

D.S.: When did you first see yourself as a writer?

S.G.: I'm not sure when I first saw myself as a writer. I've always told stories, and I am pretty sure I subverted the process of writing them through the obsessive pursuit of different interests and hobbies. It wasn't until I burned out on those things that I turned seriously to writing. My identity as a writer is still a fairly private thing, though I suspect it's mostly because I work full-time in a school and few of my colleagues know that I write. It was the same when I cranked out humor columns for an alternative newspaper under a pseudonym: no one in town knew I was that guy.

D.S.: What was your reaction when you found out you won the Delacorte Press Contest?

S.G.: When I got the call about the Delacorte contest I seriously under reacted. I was at my job, trying to finish an evaluation, trying to get out of work on time to pick up my kids, and my head was completely stuck in the daily grind of working through that particular day. When I had a chance to think about it, I was genuinely surprised that the editors had chosen my book. After all, the idea of a hard-edged look at the juvenile justice system through the eyes of an extremely vulnerable yet tough and unreliable narrator... well, it's not necessarily an easy sell.

D.S.: What are you working on now?

S.G.: Right now I am working on a book for older boys, though it should appeal to girls as well. It's got a little of everything in it: action, adventure, romance, humor, violence. I set out to write something that I would have enjoyed reading when I was 16 or 17. If you think about it, most boys hate to read but absolutely love movies. Specifically, they love movies that are filled with action, adventure, humor, and sci-fi. I think they're pretty clear, too, about what interests them, as well as what holds no interest. I hated to read as a kid, and I think it was mostly because I didn't have access to books with stories and characters I could relate to. They probably existed, but I didn't know about them.

D.S.: Do you have any advice for new writers?

S.G.: There's little I can offer by way of advice that isn't cliche. That said, it's extremely important to find personal reasons to write and keep writing. Reasons that are outcome oriented, on the other hand, like getting published, or making a certain amount of money, or being able to write full-time, are bound to result in disappointment. So be wary of goals that have a built-in anxiety or feel-bad-about-yourself-as-a-writer factor. Also, limit the amount of time you spend on-line or in person with competitive people. There's nothing inherently wrong with competitiveness, but it can get out of control and lead you away from the great personal reasons that brought you to writing in the first place.

* * *

Thank you, Shawn, for the interview. I'll be buying a copy of
Something Like Hope as soon as it comes out and bringing it to a future conference to get your autograph!

* * *

More on
Something Like Hope (from Shawn's website):

Seventeen-year-old Shavonne has been in and out of juvenile detention since the eighth grade. Angry and confused, she turns to Mr. Delpopolo, an overweight, sad-eyed man who is struggling to accept the reality of his own shattered life. With compassion and honesty, he helps Shavonne understand the connection between her self-destructive behavior and the shame about her past that burns through her with so much intensity. For the first time, she tells the truth about her crack-addicted mother, the baby she delivered straight into the foster care system, and the pain she feels about her role in her brother's accident.

But even as Shavonne comes to understand the past, her present--life in the Center--threatens to explode in even more violence and confusion. Her fellow inmates, who have suffered their own unspeakable tragedies, can't seem to escape the abusive guards and careless counselors who corrupt the system and make it impossible for even the most well-meaning employees to make a difference. But as her eighteenth birthday draws nearer, Shavonne is touched by a series of unexpected kindnesses that shift her vision of the world. She begins to believe that maybe she, like the goslings recently hatched on the Center's property, could have a future beyond the barbed-wire walls of the system.

This gritty and unflinchingly honest look at life in juvenile detention, winner of the 2009 Delacorte Contest, will break your heart, change the way you think about "troubled" teens, and ultimately, leave you feeling something like hope.


Anonymous said...

Great interview! I am really looking forward to Shawn's book. And a big congrats for the delacorte prize!

I have a particular interest in these kind of books since I worked with kids in the special ed. and social service systems for so many years.

Diane said...

Wonderful questions. Sounds like an informative book. :O)

Susan Fields said...

Something Like Hope sounds great! It's wonderful that he's got a real heart for these kids, and he's making a difference by writing about it.

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

Oh, this sounds intense and very moving. Wonderful interview. I'll be on the lookout for Something Like Hope. Lucky you to have met him ;)

Sherrie Petersen said...

Sounds like a wonderful book. Thanks for the interview! I'm glad Delacorte is still doing this contest even though they stopped doing the Yearling one.

Paula said...

Wow, the book sounds like an emotional one, I look forward to reading it and my daughter will too. Great interview.

Marsha Sigman said...

The book sounds incredible and so does he. Awesome post, Dawn!

Stasia said...

Great interview. I look forward to reading this book!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Shawn, this is fabulous. I have the deepest respect for you and look forward to reading your work.

Dawn, thanks!

Susan R. Mills said...

Great interview! Thanks for sharing.

Jackee said...

Wonderful interview. I too truly believe that there should be a pivotal book for every person out there. I hope this one fills the void for girls like Shavonne everywhere.

Thank you!

Hema Penmetsa said...

Thank you, Dawn, for a wonderful interview -- great questions! I especially liked Shawn's advice about being wary of spending too much unproductive time online, and writing with positive outcomes as goals.

Also, you have an award at my blog (in one of my posts from last week, titled: "And the Award Goes to..."). I really appreciate your continued support of my blog!

Dawn Simon said...

I'm so glad you guys enjoyed Shawn's interview as much as I did. :) He's a great guy. I love the advice he gave about finding personal reasons to write and keep writing. He's very wise. Thanks for all the comments.

Hema, thanks for the award. I'll check it out!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wonderful interivew, Dawn! my sister lives in Ithaca. I'll have to see if she knows him. She's working on her PhD in linguistics...

I have an award for you over at my blog. :)

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful interview. Shawn seems very understanding towards the youth he works with.

Molly Hall said...

This is wonderful. I feel so thankful that people like Shawn are out there in the trenches, working with kids like this--kids who really need an advocate. Then to write a book about them, that is incredible. That will open eyes and shed light on the problem. I really can't wait to check out the book. I will be telling people about! Thank you, Dawn!

Kiki Hamilton said...

Hi Dawn,

I loved your interview with Shawn! and woooweee - winner of the Delacorte contest - I didn't know that - awesome! I've met Shawn through some of the 2011 debut sites and he is an awesome, thoughtful guy. It was great to read about how he came to write SOMETHING LIKE HOPE and I can't wait to read it.

How'w your writing going?

Dawn Simon said...

Thanks again for the comments, guys. I, too, can't wait to read Shawn's book. And that cover is beautiful.

Sharon, thank you for the award.

Kiki, congrats on your book that's coming out in 2011! The writing is going well, thank you. I hope to see you soon at another SCBWI event.

Amy Holder said...

Great interview! Shawn is amazing and I can't wait to read his book!

lisa and laura said...

I had no idea Shawn was the winner! His book looks gorgeous. I can't wait to read it!

Suma Subramaniam said...

Thanks for sharing the wonderful interview Dawn. I'll check out "Something Like Hope".