"I write the kind of books I write because I want to help kids understand that nobody gets to pick what life dishes out to them. What you do get to choose is how you respond to what life gives you. No matter what happens, life is a gift. And always worth living."
Lurlene McDaniel is a recipient of the RITA Award and several of her works have received the IRA-CBC Children's Choice Award.
Everyone loves a good cry, and no one delivers heartwrenching stories better than Lurlene McDaniel.
But there's more to her books than that. McDaniel has written over 40 novels about kids who face life-threatening illnesses, who sometimes do not survive. These are powerful, inspirational stories about courage, love, and strength in the face of overwhelming trauma. McDaniel's books touch the hearts and spirits of the teenagers and adults who read them. Her following is a devoted group of appreciative fans. McDaniel says: "These are books that challenge you and make you think."
Some readers --- and their parents --- have wondered why McDaniel chooses to write about sad situations. "I tell them that sometimes tragedy hits people --- kids, too. They want answers. They want to know 'why.' By using novels, I show ordinary kids confronting and overcoming great odds." McDaniel's books are ultimately optimistic and life-affirming.
McDaniel began writing about young adults when her son Sean was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the age of 3. His illness changed the lives of everyone in her family forever. "I saw what life was like for someone who was chronically ill, and I experienced how it affected the dynamics of the family," says McDaniel. She says she found that writing about the trauma and its effects was therapeutic.
To make certain that her books are medically accurate, McDaniel conducts extensive research. She interviews health care professionals and works with appropriate medical groups and hospice organizations, as well as the Tennessee Organ Donor Services. "I study medicine and traditional grief therapy techniques to give the novels a sense of serious medical reality," she says. "I also study the Bible to instill the human element --- the values and ethics often overlooked by the coldness of technology."
Growing up, McDaniel lived in different parts of the country because her father was in the Navy. Eventually her family settled in Florida. She attended the University of South Florida in Tampa, where she earned a B.A. in English. She now lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
In addition to her popular YA novels, McDaniel has written radio and television scripts, promotional and advertising copy, and a magazine column. She is a frequent speaker at schools, writers' conferences, and conventions.
McDaniel's books have been named to several bestseller lists, including Publishers Weekly. Three of her novels were selected by children as IRA-CBC Children's Choices: SOMEWHERE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH, TOO YOUNG TO DIE, and GOODBYE DOESN'T MEAN FOREVER. SIX MONTHS TO LIVE has been placed in a literary time capsule at the Library of Congress, to be opened in the year 2089.
The One Last Wish books focus on the interconnected stories of the residents and counselors of Jenny House --- a group home for critically and terminally ill young girls. Through the kindness of a secret benefactor, each girl receives a cashier's check for $100,000, to be used to make her last wish come true. Every One Last Wish novel is a compassionate story of triumph and inspiration that makes McDaniel's dedicated fans come back for more.
McDaniel's works include TO LIVE AGAIN, one of the Dawn Rochelle books; ANGEL OF MERCY, the companion to ANGEL OF HOPE; and HOW DO I LOVE THEE, three stories about young couples who are inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning's beautiful sonnet. In her novel, TELLING CHRISTINA GOODBYE, McDaniel shows that everything can change in the blink of an eye.
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Lurlene McDaniel's new series "ANGELS IN PINK" is a trilogy about three best friends who are involved in their local hospital's teen volunteer program, and the difficulties they face in their lives. Each character has her own book, beginning with the recently released KATHLEEN'S STORY (RAINA'S STORY and HOLLY'S STORY will be published later this year).
FaithfulReader.com contributing writer Shannon McKenna interviewed McDaniel about the development of this trilogy, the research she conducted in order to ensure that the medical details in KATHLEEN'S STORY were accurate, and the importance of incorporating humor into stories that deal with serious issues.
FaithfulReader.com: "ANGELS IN PINK" is a trilogy, with one book devoted to each of the three characters. Did you decide to make this a trilogy from the beginning or did it evolve into this?
Lurlene McDaniel: Yes, this trilogy was planned as such from the very beginning. And it was a real luxury to have a 150,000 word canvas to work with! I knew I didn't have to warp up every detail in a single book, but that I had the luxury of pulling story elements (such as Raina and Hunter's relationship) through three books. It helped add suspense to the series and interest for me as the writer --- sort of like handling an enormous lump of clay and shaping it over many sessions.
FR: Kathleen has an enormous amount of responsibility for someone who is sixteen years old, and she seems wise beyond her years. What vision did you start out with for Kathleen, and did the character turn out the way you first thought she would?
LM: I subscribed to MS Today, a magazine geared to MS victims. Several issues dealt with teen caregivers and I took my cue from them in order to create Kathleen. The element of having no other adult caregiver in her home also was important in shaping her personality. The "clingly-ness" of her mother added interest and drama to her development too. Adding a boyfriend to the mix helped build tension in the story because it was the most "normal" part of teen life that she wanted and that was missing. Yet I knew that her dedication to her mother's care was more important to her and that helped make her more mature.
FR: Can you give us a hint about what’s coming up in Holly and Raina’s stories?
LM: Family issues! The hospital becomes a safe haven when serious family crises in both their lives (and within their own books) invade.
FR: Kathleen’s friends, particularly Raina and Holly, rally around her when she’s in a tough and emotional situation. How important do you think friendship is in a person's life?
LM: Friends are one of the foremost topics in teens' lives --- just read their message boards. They crave friends and understanding and acceptance by their friends. By making these three girls almost lifelong friends, they can offer the kind of support and understanding necessary when crises occur in each of their lives --- and believe me, crises occur for each of them!
FR: In KATHLEEN’S STORY there are characters who suffer from MS, cancer, and other illnesses. How did you research the medical details in the book for accuracy?
LM: I spent time at Chattanooga's largest hospitals, talked with the man in charge of the volunteer program, and followed one such volunteer around for a half-day to get a sense of how the program actually functioned. The coordinator gave me piles of paper about the program, lists of jobs and expectations, and the program’s goals and objectives. The hardest part was picking and choosing the elements to highlight! I also had access to the hospital's library --- the stacks and online --- so I could get any details I needed about the medical aspects of the stories at anytime.
FR: There are some intense issues in this book, including serious illness and the death of a parent. How do you strike a balance between these weighty issues and working humor and hope into the story?
LM: Practice! I've written many such books and over time have learned to balance the seriousness with the lighter side. Plus, victims of illnesses themselves are usually fighters trying to overcome the seriousness of their illnesses, so they've learned to inject humor into their cases in order to offset the difficulties of chemo and other treatments. Today hospitals offer hope and that's the aspect I play up when writing these books.
FR: Would you describe your stories as inspirational?
LM: I hope so! Nobody gets to choose what life gives to them. You do get to choose how you deal with it...is my Mantra. Readers should be left feeling good (not always happy though) after reading one of my books. The death of a character often helps readers deal with tragedy in their own lives. I have many letters supporting this phenomenon.
FR: The books revolve around a volunteer program that all three girls belong to. What was the impetus for this to be the core of the story? Were you a volunteer when you were a teen?
LM: I never participated in such a program (which wasn't so prevalent when I was growing up). But I DID consider nursing as a career. However, writing won out. I'm always impressed by teens who volunteer --- in soup kitchens, Habitat building programs, etc. People who take the time to help others enrich their lives and become "bigger" people in their hearts and spirits. That's part of what I wanted to show in "ANGELS IN PINK."
FR: What do you hope readers take away with them from reading this book?
LM: First, that the readers like the stories, that they "can't put the books down." Then, that readers think about how they can act toward others to make this world a better place.
FR: What project are you working on beyond the trilogy and when can readers expect to see it?
LM: Right now, I'm writing a book called LETTING GO OF LISA, a stand-alone story about a mysterious girl who chooses to live her life "on the wild side" and the boy who loves her. This story is a little different in that it's told mostly from the boy's viewpoint (don't we girls all wonder how a guy thinks?). It should hit bookstores in spring/summer of 2006.
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ANGELS WATCHING OVER ME
"An interesting blend of romance, mystery, and problem novel. The characters are captivating and sensitively drawn and the plot is fast paced."
School Library Journal
DON'T DIE, MY LOVE
"Touching scenes abound in this crisis novel. . . . Fans of tear-jerker teen romances will enjoy this offering."
I'LL BE SEEING YOU
"A satisfying story for those who like to take their romance with tears and gutsy characters who know what it means to live beyond the pale of 'normal.' "
School Library Journal
"Readers of McDaniel will enjoy; it's good to read positive stories about teens."
SHE DIED TOO YOUNG
"McDaniel has a way of getting you to look at the complicated emotions experienced by YAs with major medical problems. . . . Another winner in her One Last Wish series."
STARRY, STARRY NIGHT
"[The stories] are absorbing, the characters are well developed, and the author does not resolve the girls' dilemmas with pat solutions. . . . This has solid YA appeal."
School Library Journal
TOO YOUNG TO DIE and GOODBYE DOESN'T MEAN FOREVER
"These companion novels . . . cast the events of high school into a meaningful perspective and allow for convincing character development. McDaniel's writing is light and well suited to this refreshing and involving story."
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