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?

 The initial desire to write a YA fiction book started with my students back in 2008 when they were doing some creative writing exercises in class and I found myself almost jealous. I was like, “Why am I not writing too?” I had always been a writer. I wrote at least seventeen different novels growing up with only about five of them completed before I became an adult. But college coursework and an active dating life in those years had curbed my desire to write creatively.


As a teacher, I got to read and discuss great literature all the time, and I knew 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 most of them like a good love story too.) Over the years, my students and I have had so much fun in the classroom with books containing themes about love and mortality and fantastical elements at the border of our real world. And I knew I wanted to write a story with a similar attraction.


So… where did the actual Phantom Island story come from? It started with my two best friends—Melody and Sam—on which my Morgan and Caleb are based. Mel and I have been best friends since middle school and even roomed together in college. It was there that we met Sam, who became a token guy friend. 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 junior high level even as an adult, 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 exciting experience. I was once a huge fan of the show Lost—to the point of reading people’s conspiracy theories online about the direction of the series and hidden clues within the show. That was the first time I came across the concept of “phantom islands.” As a young girl, I was mesmerized by the Bermuda Triangle and the stories of Atlantis, so my imagination about stumbling upon a lost a world spiraled out from there. It’s hard for any writer to explain where every inspiration and idea comes from. I’m a huge fan of living my life fully and engaging my own adventures because, for me, real life is the starting point for every character, every plot point, and every setting. Then my imagination takes over from there. I am an avid reader and studier of the Bible which shapes my worldview and colors my writing with a deeply spiritual glow. And my experiences working with teenagers over the years has given me a framework for understanding their perspectives, language, and coping mechanisms.


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. 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 before we started dating!” (Be careful what you say; it may end up in someone’s novel someday.) Sam is the true author of the cow jokes and is very invested in what happens with Whitnee and Caleb. He has made it clear that he will be kind of offended if Whitnee doesn’t end up with Caleb at the end of the series. He is also 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 until the final book. Sorry, Sammi.)

The character of Amelia … I like to say that she is inspired by one of my students, Amelia Wood-Chavez, 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 books—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. I wanted her to be an active, normal teenager who largely wants to do the right thing. If she breaks a rule (like a certain major one at camp, ha), it’s because she passionately believes it’s what she’s supposed to do. She’s not always right, but she is always sincere and looks out for the people around her. When I was a teen, I went on mission trips, attended camps, volunteered with children, etc. My friends were always by my side and there was never a boring moment. There are actually are a LOT of teenagers out there doing great things and still just trying to make it through the normal ups and downs of adolescence. I wanted a heroine that could speak to that life experience—one similar to mine and so many of the teens in my life.

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 there I was: a Shorty McShortshorts with dirty blonde hair and gray eyes. My personal issue of having “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 set high expectations 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.

One major Whitnee/Krissi difference… From the first paragraph of the first chapter, you learn that Whitnee enjoys 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. After a seven-year hiatus (due to publisher issues and the births of my own human children), I released Firetrap at the end of 2020 through my own imprint, Thunderfly Productions. People have asked if there will be two Fire books and two Earth books to complete the pattern, but there is just not enough story left for me to do that. I would be prolonging a saga for the sake of more books and more money and not staying true to the story that I’ve had in my heart since 2008. Earthbound will be the final book in the series and I’m looking forward to releasing that in late 2021 or early 2022.

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 my writing style is letting the characters show me how they get into and out of these situations. I wrote the first books with the end in mind, and I think readers can definitely re-read the series and find clues in the first book that foreshadow the others. 

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.

Then go listen to my 2020 40th Birthday Virtual event on YouTube where I discuss the fallout from my publisher and how/why I started my own imprint, Thunderfly Productions.

It’s been a long journey, y’all. And I’m thankful for every part of it—even the ugly.


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?

I have the first book of a teenage spy/pilot series which I am trying to make decisions about. It won the Writers’ League of Texas 2019 Manuscript Contest in the YA category and one of the scenes took second place in a Scribbler contest, with garnered incredible feedback from an editor. More updates will come later as I decide the best way to release that series. 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!