Monday, June 24, 2013

Author Interview With Tara Sullivan About Her Debut Novel GOLDEN BOY

Today I want to welcome Tara Sullivan, whose debut novel GOLDEN BOY sounds like a beautiful and moving story. And isn't that a gorgeous cover? It's already received a starred review from Kirkus among other high praise, and I'm betting we'll be hearing a great deal about this novel in the months to come.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, GOLDEN BOY. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

GOLDEN BOY tells the story of Habo, a boy who has never been able to blend in. His white skin, yellow hair, and light eyes set him apart from his Tanzanian family. When poverty forces the family from their small farm and they seek refuge in Mwanza, Habo finally discovers there is a word for what has always been different about him: albino. But they kill albinos in Mwanza. Their body parts are thought to be lucky, and soon Habo is hunted by a fearsome man wielding a machete. To save his own life, Habo must run, not knowing if he can ever stop.

Sadly, though GOLDEN BOY is a work of fiction, it is based on reality. About three years ago, when I came across a news story that told about the kidnapping, mutilation, and murder of African albinos for use as good luck talismans, I was horrified, and struck by the topic on multiple levels. The grown-up in me, the one that studied for a dual Masters in Non-Profit Management and International Studies and worked with village micro-finance and refugee resettlement programs, wanted to publicize this human rights tragedy. The kid in me, the one who grew up overseas, burning in the tropical sun and drawing stares in every crowd, wanted to tell a story about what it must feel like to be a kid who has those problems in the extreme. So I wrote GOLDEN BOY.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

This is my first publishable effort. Five years ago, after grad school, I decided to take advantage of the time I was job hunting to really give writing the best shot I could. I took classes in craft, attended conferences, and produced a picture book, and early reader, and a young-MG chapter book. But none of them had strong enough stories to pull me through the revision process like GOLDEN BOY did. 

Can you describe your path to the publication of GOLDEN BOY?

I kind of snuck in the back door finding my amazing agent, Caryn Wiseman of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency—she offered to read my full manuscript after doing a presentation to my writers group. (You can read all about it here if you like!) During our editing process I took a trip to Tanzania and walked the path of the book to make sure I was getting everything right. A few full-book edits later, Caryn sold GOLDEN BOY to Stacey Barney at G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin. I was incredibly fortunate to have this happen, because Stacey put in tons of hard work to make my book better than I ever imagined it could be. And now… over a year and a half since it got acquired, GOLDEN BOY is hitting shelves!

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Get ready to work really, really hard. Surround yourself with a writers group that is professionally committed to improving their writing and yours. Develop a thick skin fast and be willing to listen when people tell you things aren’t working. Remember that they’re just trying to make your story better, not attacking your core idea or you as a person. Write through writers block—it won’t go a way otherwise. And lastly, but most importantly: try to keep perspective on how amazing it is to do this! There are bumps at every stage along the road to publication, but I for one feel so fortunate to be able to spend this much time pursuing my dreams I think it’s important not to lose that gratitude as we jostle along.

Readers take note: this is all excellent advice. Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I hope that the future will continue to have a balance of the things I love about where I am right now: teaching high school Spanish, writing contemporary middle-grade fiction, and spending time with my family and my big furry mutt. If I could add one more thing in and not go crazy, I would go back to learning fiddle too.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

Indeed! I’m deep into writing another book—not a sequel, but another stand-alone human rights book. I’m traveling to Haiti next month to do some on-the-ground research and I hope next year I’ll be pushing that story along the path to publication too.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about GOLDEN BOY?

I’m also to be found on GoodReads (, Twitter @SullivanStories ( , and kind-of-sort-of on Facebook (

Bonus question: chocolate or ice cream? Dog or cat? Mountains or ocean? 

Ice cream… usually.
Dog, unless it’s small and yippy.

Ocean only if it’s cold & rocky.

Thanks so much, Tara!


Irene Latham said...

I read this book as an ARC and cannot recommend it highly enough! Yay for brave books that tackle tough subjects. Thanks for sharing, Janet. xo

Janet Fox said...

That's so wonderful to hear, Irene, and from someone who knows about tackling tough subjects. And writing lovely books. Thanks!!

LinWash said...

Great interview. And such a compelling story. I didn't know about albino mutilation. That's sad and horrible.

Janet Fox said...

I didn't either, Linda, and I"m betting this will be an eye-opener for many readers.