Answer to my most frequently asked questions ranging characters in my book to my inspiration. 

Where did you find the inspiration to write Phantom Island?

This is a tough question because inspiration comes from so many places and in so many forms. I have to say that the initial desire to write a YA fiction book started with my students. Through reading with them and watching them write their own personal stories, I thought, “I should be doing this too.” I wrote at least seventeen different novels growing up – only about five of them were completed before I became an adult. And I lost some of that desire to write creatively when I reached college.
So now, as a teacher, I get to read and discuss great literature all the time! And I decided I wanted to write a book that my students and I could enjoy together – a book with adventure and mystery and, yes, even romance! (Middle school boys are actually very romantic – they won’t admit it, but they like a good love story too.) My students and I have had so much fun in the classroom with books containing themes like love and mortality and fantastical elements set in a real world. That’s how I knew I wanted to write a story with a similar attraction.
So… where did the actual story come from? Well, it started with my two best friends – Melody and Sam. Mel and I have been best friends since middle school and even went to college together. It was there that we met Sam, who became a close “guy friend” for both of us. (Little did I know that my senior year of college I would end up dating Sam and eventually marrying him.) I love the friendship that I have with both of them – it is loyal and true and does not fade with time. I know this is a rare gift, and as I pondered the memories and the special relationship there, I knew I had my Whitnee, Morgan, and Caleb. Writing those characters was SO easy – I just had to think, “Okay, how would Sam respond there? Or what look would be on Mel’s face if that happened?”Writing my preteen characters came very naturally too – I live at the middle school level, so it was fun to bring that age group to life in the book. I soon discovered that with Amelia and Kevin’s characters, I could ask the questions that the reader was probably wondering or clarify the information the reader needed. The natural inquisitiveness of that age group, as well as their endearing personalities, gave a jumping off point for setting up my Island. Plus, I just couldn’t write a debut novel and not feature middle schoolers – they are the best!
Creating the Island was a totally crazy and fun and exciting experience … I cannot adequately explain where all of the inspiration and ideas came from because I don’t always know. Sometimes ideas came to me while listening to a song in the car, or as an epiphany out of my sleep in the middle of the night, or through conversations with friends, but I will say this – my influences for general setting are obvious. I was once a huge fan of the show Lost – to the point of reading people’s conspiracy theories online. That is where I discovered the term “phantom islands” and became interested in the idea of “lost lands.” As a young girl, I was mesmerized by the Bermuda Triangle and the stories of Atlantis. I am an avid reader and studier of the Bible – a huge influence in my life. And I love the idea of magical worlds on the border of our realities. (TRANSLATION: I go to all of the midnight release parties for books and movies like Harry Potter and Twilight and Hunger Games. I even make fan t-shirts. And, no, it doesn’t matter that I’m in my early thirties.)

Are any of the characters based on real people?

Oh, yes! I believe I am surrounded by such amazing friends, family, and students that it is impossible to ignore them in my writing. I believe my characters feel so real because they are real to me.

I already said that Morgan is very similar to my best friend, Melody Barnum-Duckworth. We have known each other since 5th grade, but became inseparable in 8th grade after Melody went through a tragedy similar to Morgan’s back story. Like Morgan, Melody is adventurous, but cautious. She has a bad habit of popping her gum – that hasn’t changed at all! She is a true blonde and, yes, she did go through a dark-hair-dying stint recently. Her eyes are very blue, and I’ve always been jealous of them. Like Morgan balances Whitnee out, so Melody does the same for me. She is even-keel when I am dramatic and gives me perspective when I need it. And she’s always got my back.

I do have to admit that Caleb is largely based on my husband, Sam. But I also think certain aspects of Gabriel’s character – like his leadership skills and passionate spirit – can be a lot like Sam too. Caleb’s feelings for Whitnee are definitely taken from real-life experiences – even down to some of his lines of dialogue. When Sam read the book the first time, he was like, “I distinctly remember saying that to you!” (Be careful what you say – it may end up in someone’s novel someday.) Sam is the true author of the cow jokes … yes, those are real. Sam has already said that he will be kind of offended if Whitnee doesn’t end up with Caleb at the end of the series, but he is the first to admit that Gabriel is one of his favorite characters. (I have to say here that Gabriel makes the third point in very fascinating love triangle for me, which means the future is certainly not set in stone at this point. Sorry, Sammi.)

The character of Amelia … I like to say that she is inspired by one of my students, Amelia Wood, but I have to explain that. The real Amelia is not quite the selfish brat that she is in the book. (I like to tell her she’s a brat, but she is totally not … as much.) The real Amelia is mature and giving and cares about affecting others in a positive way. The real inspiration, though, comes from the relationship that Whitnee develops with Amelia throughout the book – they become like sisters. And I really do feel that way about my real Amelia, despite our age difference. She is like me in a lot of ways, and then not … which is a good thing.

Whitnee is, of course, based loosely on me – see below for a more detailed description.

SIDE NOTE: Kevin is named for my blue-eyed little brother. And all of my first cousins have a character named after them somewhere in the series… Corbin, Cole, Bailey, Arley “Elon,” Lilley, Jaxson, Andrew, Hannah, Jacob, & Emily.

All of the characters take some traits from people in my real life, but those are the major ones. If you know me well and you think you see something of yourself in a Phantom Island character, you are probably right. Thanks for the inspiration!

In what ways are you and Whitnee alike?

I will admit that Whitnee is a lot like me, which is why I’m going to have try really hard not to take it personally when someone doesn’t like her. I really wanted Whitnee to be an active, normal teenager who largely wants to do the right thing. As a teenager, I was not out partying or having premarital sex or rebelling against my parents. I was going on mission trips, attending camps, volunteering with children, etc. And don’t think I didn’t have TONS OF FUN doing those things because I did – and my friends were always by my side. There actually are a LOT of teenagers out there doing some of the same great things and still just trying to make it through the normal ups and downs of adolescence.

Unfortunately for Whitnee, she did inherit a lot of my quirks – like the fish phobia thing. Yeah, that’s a real problem for me. (Read the Story Behind The Phobia here.) She also has issues with her gray eyes – I come from a family of blond-haired, brilliantly blue-eyed tall people. And here I am – a Shorty McShortshorts with dirty blonde hair and gray eyes – so not fair. This issue of “boring” gray eyes sparked the idea for the eye phenomenon on the Island. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if my gray eyes really meant something somewhere else?” And there I had the first tribe – Wind. Whitnee also has little dating experience at this point in the book – a total mirror of my high school years. However, this particular summer in her life is certainly fashioned after a particular summer I had in college – enough said.

We’re both musical and like to think and dream. We have high goals for ourselves (changing the world!) and are really hard on ourselves when we fail. We both have close relationships with our mothers. And we are both inclined to take a nap when life is just too much to handle.

I do think of Whitnee as better than me – I mean, after all, she has given up an ENTIRE summer to mentor preteens. (I’d probably only be good for one week.) I also never went through quite the tragedy and scandal that she has endured. My parents did divorce when I was little, but they kept my life relatively drama-free through all of that.

From the first paragraph of the first chapter, you learn that Whitnee loves peanut butter. I am deathly allergic, so I had to consult other people on the art of eating peanut butter. Whitnee also doesn’t have my super-allergies to the environment and to food.

Did I mention that I don’t have superpowers like Whitnee does? Yeah. I wish.

How many books will be in the series and do you already know what will happen?

I had originally planned on four big volumes – one title after each of the four elements. However, when Tate Publishing picked up the series, they split the original WIND into Windchaser and Windfall. That meant that books three and four became Watercrossing and Watermark. If we continue to follow this pattern, then I’m looking at an 8-book series. We’ll see what happens. Yes, I do know the major plot events in each book, though I don’t always know how I’ll get there. The fun part in writing is letting the characters show me how they get into and out of these situations. I’ve written the first books with the end in mind – I think readers will definitely be able to look back and find clues in the first book that foreshadow the others. I honestly don’t know how an author could write a good series without knowing where they are heading. All that to say … I definitely have a vision for the next half of the series and can’t wait to get there!

Will Whitnee end up with Gabriel or Caleb?

Yeah, right. Like I’m going to tell you. Who would YOU choose?

How did you get published?

Read this blog post here explaining the story.

What are the differences between the original WIND and the new editions, Windchaser and Windfall?

What is the significance of the titles and the book cover art?

Read this blog post here about the cover design process.

Read this blog post here about the significance of the titles.

What books inspired you as a young girl?

Read this blog post here about “entry” books, including the ones that sparked my interest!

Are you writing any other books or projects?

Yes, I have a short story entitled “Pink Snow” that released in the Winter Wonders anthology through Compass Press December 2012! I was excited to put a new story out there that is completely non-Phantom Island. It is a YA Paranormal Romance and is set in Springtown, TX where I taught for seven years. Even the characters are named (not based on) former students there!

I’m also actively working on a teenage spy series which I am seeking representation on… the first book won the Writers’ League of Texas 2019 Manuscript Contest in the YA category… more updates later as things progress in the agent hunt. I’ve played with a few other projects including magical classrooms and fantastical Romeo & Juliet retellings, but they’re on the back burner for now!

Questions are the root of all answers.
Don’t Be Shy!