February debuts are here!!! Aaaahhhh!
by C.H. Armstrong
Seventeen year-old Abby Lunde and her family are living on the streets. They had a normal life back in Omaha, but thanks to her mother’s awful mistake, they had to leave what little they had behind for a new start in Rochester. Abby tries to be an average teenager—fitting into school, buoyed by dreams of a boyfriend, college, and a career in music. But Minnesota winters are unforgiving, and so are many teenagers.
Her stepdad promises to put a roof over their heads, but times are tough for everyone and Abby is doing everything she can to keep her shameful secret from her new friends. The divide between rich and poor in high school is painfully obvious, and the stress of never knowing where they're sleeping or where they’ll find their next meal is taking its toll on the whole family.
As secrets are exposed and the hope for a home fades, Abby knows she must trust those around her to help. But will her friends let her down the same way they did back home, or will they rise to the challenge to help them find a normal life?
February 5th, 2019
Introduce yourself and your debut novel.
Hey! My name is Cathie and I write under the pen name of C.H. Armstrong. My debut YA novel is ROAM. Set in Rochester, Minn., and inspired by the guests at a “soup kitchen” I visited in 2014, ROAM follows the story of 17 year old Abby Lunde as she transitions to a new high school and making new friends, all while keeping the huge secret that she’s homeless and living with her family out of their van in the Walmart parking lot.
Though ROAM centers on the plight of a homeless teen, don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s depressing. It’s not. In fact, I like to refer to it as a cross between the Will Smith movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, and Disney’s Cinderella. Readers will find a whole lot of love and friendship and humor and fun and all-around hope for humanity included.
What’s the most surprising part about your debut journey so far?
Without a single doubt the FUN and friendship! When I first started writing, I though tit would be a solitary journey—me at my laptop with occasional emails from my editor or agent. But nope—it’s opened a whole new world of friendships. From the Novel Nineteens (#Novel19s: a group of debut YA an MG 2019 authors on Twitter and Instagram), to the early readers and bloggers, this journey has been filled with so much fun and new friendships. I’m just so grateful to the writing and reading community for adopting me into their ranks!
Give a shout-out to a fellow debut!
Can I give a couple? I was so blessed to meet Lillian Clark, author of Immortal Code (coming February 19th) and she was just lovely! I can’t wait to read her book! Additionally, I’ve had the pleasure of reading The Birds, The Bees, and You and Me by Olivia Hinebaugh, Match Me if You Can by Tiana Smith, Cursed by Karol Ruth Silverstein (coming June 2019), Just for Clicks by Kara McDowell (coming February 19th), All the Walls of Belfast by Sarah Carlson (coming in March) and am currently reading When the Truth Unravels by RutheAnne Snow. All of them were truly fabulous, and I’m so excited for y’all to get your hands on their books! All I can say is that y’all are in for a huge treat!
Who is your favorite character?
Oh gosh! This question is like asking a mom, “Which is your favorite child?” I love them all! But to try to answer your question...
I love the main character, Abby, because she’s strong and resilient. She loves her family deeply, and she’s a loyal friend. She’s a lot like my daughter (now age 23) in that way.
Abby’s BFF, Josh, is probably my next favorite. Josh is the best friend that everybody should have. He always has your back, and he has a sense of humor that can pick you up when you’re feeling at your lowest.
Abby’s little sister Amber is maybe my very favorite. She’s six and very precocious. In fact, much of her personality and dialogue were taken directly from a combination of my daughter and my niece, who are now adults. They were bold, and brave, and sweet, and funny...just like Amber. In fact, here’s a secret: I love Amber so much that I turned down my first publishing contract for ROAM because the editor wanted to change her—make her less precocious. And it’s true that she is precocious, but she’s exactly like my niece and daughter were at that age, even down to some of the scenes in the book which were taken directly from their antics at the same age.
How long did it take you to write this book?
The first draft of ROAM took about three weeks. When I sat down to write the manuscript, I had the entire thing in my head and it just poured out of me. But anyone written anything knows that your first draft is usually garbage. After that first draft, ROAM went through several revisions and several rejections from agents, many of whom gave incredible feedback I used in my revisions. Even after I got my agent, my current publisher rejected the first manuscript but gave wonderful feedback on why she rejected it. I took those suggestions—and another six months to lick my wounds—and made revisions which she graciously gave a second chance. I’m so grateful because she’s the publishing house is truly better than I’d ever hoped or imagined and her further edits during the publishing process as really brought ROAM to a new level.
What's a cool thing in the book that isn't in the blurb?
It was inspired by an actual soup kitchen I visited in 2014, and that visit is pretty much described in detail in the book. The experience was that life-altering.
What advice would you give to a new writer?
Never give up. Never let anyone tell you your dream is impossible. The biggest key to your success will be your perseverance. If you get a hundred rejections, then you’re doing it right!
Describe your writing space.
My writing space is usually in my living room with “white noise” in the background. Usually that means the TV is on in the background, but the volume is so low I can’t really hear it. Sometimes I’m sitting in my favorite chair, and other times I’m on the sofa with an electric blanket on high and covering only my feet (like right now). I basically can write almost anywhere, but what I can’t have are distractions. Many writers have music on in the background, but I can’t. I find it distracting when I start focusing on the lyrics or music instead of what I’m writing.
How do you select character names?
It really depends upon what I’m working on. In ROAM, Abby’s name just came to me and stuck. But other character names were actually “Easter Eggs” for people in my life. For example, the music teacher is modeled and named after my favorite high school music teacher. Abby’s little sister, Amber, is actually named after my daughter. One character’s name was taken from an old high school friend who joked when I saw him last, “You should name a character after me.” So I did. Then one teacher in the book is so vile that I deliberately looked for a last name that meant something vile and evil. And finally—my favorite—are the huge Easter Eggs I left for my great nieces and nephews. I come from a large family, so I have about 25 or more great nieces and nephews. Just for fun, I gave peripheral characters the names of every single one of those great nieces and nephews. Most of them are ages 12+, so they’re the target age and audience for the book; but they have no idea I’ve used their names. And, while it might not be obvious to the world, it’ll be obvious to them because some of their names are unique or spelled uniquely. It will be impossible for them to miss if they read, so I’m kinda giddy about their responses.
Who is your favorite author?
Oh gosh. I have so many, and I read so many different genres. Current authors include Colleen Hoover, Jamie McGuire, E. Lockhart, Judy Blume, Cathy Lamb, Mary Kubica, Lorna Landvik, Heather Gudenkauf, and Joshilyn Jackson. Less current authors include Maya Angelou, Harper Lee, John Steinbeck, and Jane Austen.
What book or author has most influenced your own writing?
This one is easy: To Kill a Mockingbird. This book has pretty much defined who I am as an adult and, in fact, readers will find many parallels in ROAM. The words of Atticus Finch when he tells his children they don’t really know a person until they “walk around in their skin” really resonated with me at a young age, and it’s something I’ve always tried to remember. I’m not perfect by far, and I’ve no doubt wronged more people than I can count, but I always try to put myself in the other person’s shoes. Why did they react that way? Why do they act like that? What’s going on in their life? These are all questions I try to ask myself before responding to others, especially if my response is a reaction to their actions or words.
Link to a favorite song!
I’m a huge Garth Brooks fan and his song, We Shall Be Free, is one that resonates deeply with me and has been my favorite song for nearly 30 years. It sorta goes hand-in-hand with my takeaway from To Kill a Mockingbird and the main themes of Roam. It’s all about kindness, forgiveness and understanding; and allowing people the freedom to be who they are. Every time I hear it, I get something more out of it. And, much like To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s had a huge influence on who I am and who I want to be. Here’s a link: https://youtu.be/AZCqozYTkb0
Cathie, thank you so much for joining me here! Check out Cathie's novel on 2/5/2019!