Please help me welcome debut author, Taya Okerlund, to Jemsbooks Blog segment, Interview an Author. Thank you for coming today, Taya. Let’s get started with the interview so we can get to know you better.
- Please tell us something about yourself.
Last week would have marked the 20-year anniversary of my high school graduation…had my principal not given me the boot and denied my credential. I was in the Honor Society, 3.7 GPA, with a pretty good attendance record…until my senior year, when I didn’t show up at all.
But then it was no secret I would be spending the full year in Taiwan, ROC. The school counselors helped me plan the whole deal. I spent a full year in advance preparing, taking extra courses to ensure I had the graduation credits. In the end, I lacked art—and the will to conform to my principal’s demand that I come home from Taiwan immediately!
What was I doing all the way across the Pacific that upset her so much? Haha. Would you like to know? Maybe someday I’ll write a book about it. Stay in touch.
JSpina: Hmm, sounds intriguing, Taya!
- When did you know that you wanted to be an author?
This question assumes something BIG happened…like blunt force trauma. And why not? It’s a lot of work to be an author. The pay stinks. Why would you put yourself through it?
There was something pivotal. It was disappointment. I was trying so hard to become involved and throw myself into some really important work during those early days when I was working (importantly) for the federal government and trying mightily to save the world.
But I never found a place to make my contribution and make it meaningfully. So I came home from one cold and unforgiving commute through DC traffic, and I promised myself—perhaps for my sake only—to cultivate a rich inner life. I decided writing would be my medium.
And is my inner life rich? Yes. Not as rich as I’d like it to be. Oh Kipling! What a rich inner life yours must have been. Sigh. I’m infected with something that will never let me feel as though I’ve arrived. It’s awful.
JSpina: Hmm, more intrigue!
- What process do you need in order to write?
I need to sit and ruminate for a while. I need to tap my way into some emotional vein that runs through the subject matter before me (or at least can be compared to). I need to revise and then revise again. It takes time in some cases, and in other cases it pours out of my heart and straight through my fingertips. I really love it when it does that.
JSpina: Yes, that is a good feeling when it pours out!
- Please share your books with us and a synopsis of each.
My first book, HURRICANE COLTRANE, was released just over a month ago. It’s about an unlikely friendship between two boys—both on the fringes of their communities—who make a daring strike for fame and fortune.
Please enjoy this little synopsis:
Two years ago, a swarm of grasshoppers lit upon a Hurricane
High School marching band performance on the
football field. It was Biblical-scale pestilence and in keeping
with the tradition, Miss Dalia, our director, jumped down
from the podium and waved her baton in the air like Moses
parting the sea of insects. Then she ran through the center of
them like the Egyptian army was chasing her.
12 Taya Okerlund
That was how we learned Miss Dalia’s weakness. Kids
always have one antennae tuned to adults’ weaknesses. Louis
Cameron had been watching out for Miss Dalia’s Achilles’
heel ever since she sent him to detention for peeling the
paint off his music stand, and he’s waited patiently for two
years for an opportunity to exploit it. Not gratuitously. Louis
isn’t a sadist. But like the master strategist he is, he knew
there would come a time—just one time—when he could
recreate the grasshopper-swarming and heroically deliver us
from band practice bondage. It’s only the band, not exactly a
social coup d’etat, but if we pull this stunt off, it will go down
in band camp history, which is nothing to sneeze at.
On Louis’ revenge day, band members mill around on
the football field in T-shirts and sunscreen, forming little
huddles around Louis as he issues instructions.
“Okay, I’m gonna yell, ‘what are those bugs?’ I’m hiding
the grasshoppers in my tuba case and will let ’em go in Miss
Dalia’s direction. Then everybody scream ‘Grasshoppers!’ at
the top of your lungs and start swatting the air, even if there
ain’t a bug in sight. Got it?”
Everyone gets it. We’re all planning to go to McKay’s
party, and grasshoppers or no grasshoppers, we will support
Operation Sting. When school starts in the fall, if some poor
soul wasn’t at McKay’s party or Operation Sting, he’ll have
nothing to talk about.
Midway through the summer, the band gives way to the
football team’s two-a-days, and that means marching in thick
poly-cotton in late morning under the heat of the southern
Utah desert’s sun. This morning, we are harder to corral than
usual, for reasons not obvious to Miss Dalia. Add ninety-five
degree temperatures without shade, and Dalia is like a powder
Hurricane Coltrane 13
keg. She raises her arms to direct the school song, and Louis
shouts, “What are those . . . heh heh . . . buh, buh. . . .” He can’t
get it all out because he’s already cracking himself up.
But Miss Dalia’s arms go rigid in mid-air. We wait for the
sound of grasshoppers. It seems to take forever, until at last the
familiar hum sets the band to swatting. I wouldn’t give Louis
any prizes for acting, but I have to give credit to the French
horns. They let their arms and legs fly like mimes on fire.
We wave and swat and try not to appear too obvious as
our eyes search for a sign that Miss Dalia has left the podium.
She hasn’t. She freezes in place and goes very pale.
We swat the air. The hum is long gone by now, and so is
Miss Dalia—figuratively, not literally. We slow down gradually.
Miss Dalia trembles and her face changes from its regular
sun block white to ashen. A tender-hearted girl who plays
flute goes up to the podium and gently leads Miss Dalia over
the Gatorade thermos on the bleachers. We wait around
lamely for five and then ten minutes. Eventually, Miss Dalia
returns to the podium and says softly, “I’m not quite well
enough to continue. I’m very sorry. You are dismissed.”
Her calm, white face disarms Louis’ moment of triumph.
We mill about for several seconds, then walk off the field. No
one heads for home and those of us with heavy instruments
have to lug them out to the party or get rid of them. We’re wise
enough to know a tuba case at a party is social suicide, so we
stash our heavy brass under the bleachers. My mom wouldn’t
like it, but I leave my trombone sandwiched between the two
tubas. No opportunist is going to walk off with a bunch of
heavy band instruments on a scorcher like this one.
- How do you come up with ideas for your stories?
This is my first novel, and I’ll admit, I stole a few bones from The Chosen and The Scarlet Letter, but my skeleton is still quite a different bird. I wouldn’t say the stories are a lot alike. I drew heavily from my ancestral homestead in Southern Utah, and the Mormon culture in which I was raised.
JSpina: That is good to write about what you know and places you lived.
- What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on the best story! It’s an international thriller, taking place in China, where the daughter of a fallen high cadre is running from the Ministry of State Security, who will wrap her up along with her parents if they can catch up with her. Guess what? They can!
JSpina: Now I am really intrigued about this new story. Does sound interesting.
- What do you expect to accomplish in 2015?
I hope I finish my second book. I’m also hoping (and this is really, really important to me) that I will be able to have a second child.
JSpina: Best of luck with your second book and may you be blessed with a second child.
- Please share your links and where to purchase your books.
At bookstores, you can ask for HURRICANE COLTRANE and they will order it in if they haven’t got it. It is distributed, like most books, through Ingram.
You can also find it online at the below links:
- Is there anything else you would like to share?
Yes. I want to share my best wishes for your reading enjoyment. I poured a lot of love into my book, and I hope you will have a very splendid read!
Hurricane Coltrane book jacket blurb:
Merrill Hinton is a lightning rod in a town named for bad weather. He’s an ace in math, but not smart enough to put together the pieces of his puzzling life, especially where finding his unknown father is concerned.
Musical genius Robbie Stubbs was born in nearby polygamist compound Colorado City. He has the chops to become another John Coltrane, but that will take running away from home, and into a firestorm of controversy–the kind his friend Merrill knows best.
Merrill sets Robbie onto a course that could rocket them both onto center stage, but being the focus of wide public attention will create serious issues. Robbie’s mother is not well, and the shock of her son breaking the family rules like this may put her over the edge.
And Merrill Hinton? His precarious future would be compromised in ways he doesn’t yet realize.
Thank you, Taya, for giving us a taste of your new book. It was a pleasure to have you on my blog. Please stop by again when you have another book to share. You are now part of the Jemsbooks Blog family.
Thank you, readers, for stopping by to read about this fascinating author. I hope you will get on over to Taya’s links and check out her book. I will be doing that too.