October 20, 2012

Author Interview: Tiffany Schmidt - Send Me a Sign

Today I could not be more excited to welcome Tiffany Schmidt to the blog.  Tiffany has a fantastic book out: Send Me a Sign.  
This book has a personal meaning to me.  I've mentioned it a few times on the blog, but many of you may not know.  I am a 9 year breast cancer survivor.  When I was 32 years old and the mother of a 4 and 1 year old, I was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer.  I went through chemo and radiation and thankfully have been NED (no evident of disease) since!  
So when Bloomsbury approached me about featuring to this book I jumped at the chance.

About the book

Mia is always looking for signs. A sign that she should get serious with her soccer-captain boyfriend. A sign that she’ll get the grades to make it into an Ivy-league school. One sign she didn’t expect to look for was: “Will I survive cancer?” It’s a question her friends would never understand, prompting Mia to keep her illness a secret. The only one who knows is her lifelong best friend, Gyver, who is poised to be so much more. Mia is determined to survive, but when you have so much going your way, there is so much more to lose. From debut author Tiffany Schmidt comes a heart-wrenching and ultimately uplifting story of one girl’s search for signs of life in the face of death.

My Thoughts
Writing an authentic book about the experience of going through cancer is extremely difficult.  And doing it in the form of a young adult novel is even harder.  Tiffany Schmidt handled it brilliantly.  I found the book to be honest, real and thoughtful.  It is a book I would hand to kids dealing with cancer in their family AND kids who are looking for an amazing realistic fiction book.  Even though are ages and experiences are much much different, I could relate to what Mia felt and said.  I understood her need to keep her cancer a secret.  There were times I wish no one knew! Even now.  I hate being defined by my cancer history.  It's a part of who I am now, but it's not the whole of me.  Mia didn't want that to happen to her, so I got what she did.  That is just the start of why I liked this book.  In this day and age of some many YA books being filled with vampires and angels and other "creatures" (books I love!!!), it was great to see a book that shined looking at what many many teens face each day.  Well done!

Now I'd like to welcome Tiffany Schmidt who was kind enough to answer my questions.

Welcome Tiffany to The O.W.L.

We'll start with the easy questions.

Point of View: 1st or 3rd  —1st
Boy or Girl main character —Girl
Genre — Contemporary fiction
Middle Grade or Young Adult — Young Adult
More boy or girl book (stereotypically) — Girl

The Serious Questions!
This is a serious book about a topic that many people face – I myself am a breast
cancer survivor, and in my school district we lost a young man to cancer. Why this
topic? Where did idea stem from?

Hooray for battling cancer and winning! I love hearing survivor stories!
And I am so sorry to hear about the young man in your district who did not make it. It's one of my
greatest hopes that one of these days we'll talk about cancer the way we talk about polio or
measles --- as something mostly eradicated.

Why this topic? So many reasons. One is I'm fascinated by the way we treat and perceive people we know are ill. Even at the most basic level, don't you feel more tired as soon as some says, "You okay? You look exhausted today?"

Multiply this times an infinity and you get one of the reasons that my main character, Mia, chooses not to tell her friends and classmates when she's diagnosed with leukemia. She doesn't want to be a person who is treated differently or pitied. If other people knew, she'd be forced to face the realities of her illness in ways she's just not ready for yet.

What do you hope people take away from the story?
This a tough question because I feel that once a book is in readers' hands, the experience becomes theirs, not mine. And just like readers bring all sorts of different backgrounds and emotions TO a book, I feel like what a reader takes AWAY from Send Me a Sign is going to depend on the individual.

I do, however, love hearing what resonated with readers, what aspects of the story stuck with them, and if they feel like it challenged or changed the way they think.

What part/character/event are you most excited/proud about in Send Me a Sign?
I'm thrilled each time someone tells me that Send Me a Sign made them laugh, cry, or stay up way too late reading. It means so much to hear that readers connected that much with my characters and their stories.

Tell about your writing process. How long did it take you to write Send Me a Sign from idea to finish? Please tell about revision if you can! I’m really interested in what research you had to do for the book to keep it authentic and realistic.
I wrote Send Me a Sign while teaching sixth grade, so it was written in early morning/late night dribbles and school break/summer vacations floods.

I'm very lucky to have great critique partners whose revision notes really challenged me as a writer (though I will admit there were times I'd open an email full of suggestions and blink back I-can't-do-this tears). I was just looking at some early drafts this week and I'm amazed how much the plot and characters changed and evolved-- and equally amazed by the things that stayed consistent through all versions of the story.

As for researching the cancer aspects -- it was intense and heartbreaking. I approached it from many angles. I had doctor friends send me articles from medical journals that I read with highlighters, dictionaries, and notepads in hand. I simultaneously read all of the picture books about cancer I could find. This way I was reading about cancer in it's simplest language while also striving to understand it at a much deeper level. In addition to the medical aspects, I wanted to know the human stories of cancer patients -- so I talked to cancer survivors, people going through treatment, and people who'd had extended stays in the hospital for a variety of reasons. I read cancer blogs. I watched documentaries -- in particular "Dear Jack," which chronicles musician Andrew McMahon's battle with leukemia. His story and his music were a major source of inspiration for me as I wrote.

We’ve been a bit serious, so let’s end on a light note.
Do you chew gum? Yes or No If yes favorite kind?
Of course! I like mint gum best. The kind in my purse right now is Extra Spearmint. I do have issues with gum, however, in that I almost always end up accidentally swallowing it. I just forget to stop chewing and then suddenly realize it's not in my mouth anymore... It's a good thing that urban myth about it staying in your stomach for seven years isn't true!

Do you text?
Yes! With toddler twins running around my house, it is usually WAY too noisy to talk on the phone. Since taking my eyes off them for even an instant is risking all sorts of trouble, my texts are usually written in a hurry and contain all sorts of autocorrected weird words.

Was school lunch just as yucky then as it is now?!
Probably? I'm not sure -- I was a packer. The school lunches never looked all that appealing. I remember asking "What IS that?" when friends who were buyers would sit down at the table. Occasionally they'd answer, "I don't know..." 

Thank you so much for joining us on The O.W.L. and for sharing how this story came to be.  I hope others read it and love it!


  1. I'll have to take a look at this one. There are a couple of books about children battling cancer, but some are overly didactic at the expense of a good story. This sounds like a good mix.

  2. I've also known many teachers at the high school where I work who have battled cancer as well as parents of students who have lost the battle with cancer. Thanks for this inspirational story.