Over the last two weeks I had the privilege of checking out a new book called Back by Sunrise, written by Justin Sloan. (Trust me, I know 2 weeks is way too long to take to listen to an audio book but I was really busy rescuing kittens from house fires and working at my local soup kitchen for the homeless so you’ll just have to excuse me. Also, I’m clearly lying.)
Here’s a brief synopsis of the book from Amazon:
A young girl named Brooke becomes a bird with the help of a magical necklace her dad left behind before deploying with the Army. When the necklace is stolen by a conniving raven, Brooke must battle his pigeon minions and enlist the help of a friendly mouse and some not-so-friendly rats to take back her necklace and return home, in the process learning that love and family are forever.
Justin has put together a fantastic story packed with beautiful imagery and an exciting adventure that is sure to thrill young readers. Filled with lovable characters and a resounding message of sacrifice and love, Back by Sunrise is a great story about a young girl that is taken on a wild adventure after the loss of her father, and is sure to spark the reader’s imagination. It is a very easy read (even easier to listen to) and would make for a fun summer reading book if you’re looking for something to keep the kids sharp. Pick it up for your Kindle by clicking this link.
Justin was also kind enough to do a Q&A session with us to discuss his book in a little further depth.
4LN: First, I know we have a lot of readers that aspire to be writers one day, and maybe have their own books and comics, how did you get started writing and what steps did you take to be able to make a career of it?
JS: I started writing books when I had read some amazing books (The Song of Ice and Fire series, Harry Potter, etc.), and was looking for other books that matched my interest and passion for reading. I was having a hard time, so decided that I should just try to write what it was I wanted. When I started writing I realized I needed to learn the craft, and fast, so I started listening to such podcasts as Writing Excuses and Scriptnotes, enrolled in writing classes, and eventually got into the MA in writing program at Johns Hopkins.
When you want to be a writer, I think it is very important to know what is considered proper today, or at least what works, as it is different from the days of Victor Hugo. Studying the craft and making sure to read A LOT is necessary. Maybe not as necessary, but a good idea, is to go to as many writers conferences as you can, start a critique group or join one, and find any way you can to be networking and forming your community of writers. Anything to make you a better writer.
I actually wrote a book about it, where I interviewed other writers about what they did to get started (writing books, movies, and video games). It can be found on Amazon, and is titled Creative Writing Career: Becoming a Writer of Movies, Video Games, and Books.
4LN: Where did the inspiration for this story come from? I know a lot of art reflects life, what does this story reflect in your life?
JS: The inspiration for Back by Sunrise came from two places: (1) my youth and my love for movies such as The Land Before Time, and (2) my military time. The story is meant to be a modern version of The Land Before Time, in the sense that it is about a child learning to deal with the grief of losing a loved one, but the idea started when my Marine buddy was deploying and leaving his daughter behind. Having been a Marine myself, this was always something on my mind—the idea of our loved ones and what they go through when we get hurt (or worse). Of course, the novel grew wings and flew in a whole new direction of its own, and I love where it landed.
As I consider further your question of what the story reflects in my life, in addition to the military angle discussed above, some of this comes from the fear that something could happen to me one day, and I want to know that I’ve left something behind for my children to help them through that. I know, that sounds like I have a paranoid fear, but it isn’t so much that as it is that my grandpa died when he was in his early 20s, leaving my grandma with three children! My grandma’s journey has always greatly touched me, and I hope my novel can help others out there in the way that writing it helped me in my emotional journey.
4LN: Colors play a big part of the story, hues of purple specifically, what made you decide to make that an important piece of the book?
JS: The main reason for purple being so strong in this novel is that it’s my daughter’s favorite color. But I think there is more than that. On the one hand purple seems like a magical color, so it just sort of made sense with the magic of my story, but on the other there is the fact that the color is made up of blue and red—blue being the color of sadness, red the color of love. And that’s what this story is about, it’s about finding the happy ground of feeling sad and knowing that you’re still surrounded by love, or you could say it’s about finding that place where you don’t have to be sad when someone you love passes on, because their love is always with you in a way.
4LN: Why the imagery of the birds and mice?
JS: This one is fairly simple, in that I just wanted to tell a fun story of animals. And who doesn’t want to fly? It works thematically, in that Brooke starts off thinking she may be able to fly to Heaven—she doesn’t yet accept that her father is really gone.
4LN: Who do you think would most like this book?
JS: I wrote this book for myself first, children and their parents second. I love the Pixar goal of writing stories for children that their parents will enjoy as well, and therefore never once tried to write down to my audience. When I was a child I loved stories that didn’t think of me as a child, and I hope my novel works on that level. Therefore I have succeeded if my audience is a good mixture of children and parents—anyone else who reads it and loves it is welcome to also, of course.
4LN: If you put on the magic necklace, what animal would you turn into?
JS: Haha. I have to go with the bird, because how awesome is it to fly through the sky for a while and just enjoy it. But when I get hungry again, I hope I won’t be stuck as a bird—I love eating human food too much! I was going to say dragon, but I’m not sure how much they can control themselves or their fire, and I don’t want to hurt anyone.
4LN- I see that this is in the running for several screenplay awards (Screenplay Search,ScriptVamp,Emerging Screenwriters). When I was reading it I thought it felt alot like a kids adventure movie (almost reminded me of The Labrynth, or The Owls of Gahool) was this originally intended to be a screenplay for a movie? Or is it the other way around?
JS: The first version of Back by Sunrise was indeed a screenplay. Good job on seeing that! It has had various levels of interest, and I certainly hope to see it on the big screen someday. It won a couple screenplay contests and placed well in others, such as Nicholl and the Austin Film Festival. The best part though has been when I receive notes from readers telling me it helped them or brought them to tears. I think that when we set out to write these stories we really just mean to tell a great story that happens to be struggling in our brains to work its way onto the paper. When it finally does and it happens to have the added bonus of touching people emotions, we get more than we ever could have hoped for.
If you have kids that are fans of fantasy adventure, I strongly suggest you add this to their reading list. It really was a cool story with a great message.
Be sure to keep up with Justin and his other works by visiting his website www.justinmsloan.com