Author Spotlight: Sandy Stark-McGinnis + a GIVEAWAY!

Like many modern friendships, mine with author Sandy Stark-McGinnis began on Twitter. The date was June 4, 2017, and Sandy was about to go on sub for her debut novel, EXTRAORDINARY BIRDS (Bloomsbury, 2019). We shared an agent at the time, and Sandy asked if I could share my insights into the submission process.

Three years later, Sandy and I are still exchanging messages on everything from our shared obsession with The Golden Girls, to our favorite wines (Sandy and I both enjoy reds, particularly Pinot). On a more serious note, when my dad was diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease, Sandy was there with love and support. Her dad suffered with Alzheimer’s as well, before passing away in 2010. This shared struggle brought us closer, and it gave me an even deeper respect for Sandy, and for her latest middle-grade novel, THE SPACE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND (Bloomsbury, April 28, 2020)—a novel that features a parent’s struggle with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Described by School Library Connection as “…{a} beautifully told novel of family and friendship that is brimming with love and feelings,” THE SPACE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND is available now from Bloomsbury Publishing. Here is a summary:

“Cassie’s always looked up to her mom, a vivacious woman with big ideas and a mischievous smile. Together they planned to check off every item on a big-dream bucket list, no matter how far the adventure would take them. But then Mom was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and everything changed.

Now, Cassie tries to keep Mom happy, and to understand some of Dad’s restrictive new rules. She tries to focus on math lessons and struggles to come up with art ideas that used to just burst off her pen. When Mom’s memories started to fade, so did Cassie’s inspiration. And even worse, she’s accidentally pushed away Bailey, the one friend who could make it all okay.

After the worst Mom day yet, the day she forgets Cassie’s name, Cassie decides to take action. It’s time for one last adventure, even if it means lying and taking a big risk to get there.”

 

MR: Hi, Sandy. Before we start, I must tell you how deeply moved I was by your novel. It really hit home, because my dad—like yours—had Alzheimer’s. How did your experience with this disease provide insight into your characters, particularly Cassie’s mom? The dad? Cassie…?

SSM: Thank you! My experience with my dad was extremely influential and definitely defined the way I portrayed the characters, from the way my dad behaved at different stages of the disease, to how my mom coped on a day-to-day basis, to how we–my brothers, sister and I–processed and navigated our way through the slow but very real loss of the man we called “Dad.”

MR: As above, THE SPACE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND focuses on a deeply personal topic. As you were writing and memories of your own experience with your dad’s Alzheimer’s surfaced, how did you keep your head above water emotionally? What advice would you give to other writers who choose to tackle emotionally difficult subjects?

SSM: I think the best way to go about facing any personal topics is to be in a place where those feelings are still strong but you can be objective about them, enough so you’re in the space (head and heart) of being able to portray characters and situations honestly. I think the hardest scene for me to write was when Cassie and her dad go to the assisted living facility to take a tour. I can still remember so vividly the day we took my dad to a facility. It was heartbreaking because his favorite place to be in the world was home, and to take him away from that, well… But, we (my family) knew it was what was best, because my mom could no longer take care of him.

MR: THE SPACE OF LOST AND FOUND is interspersed with flashbacks; the present day, and the years before Cassie’s mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. What was the purpose of using this stylistic device?

SSM: The use of flashback scenes was my editor, Allison Moore’s, idea. I think the purpose was to have a balance of emotion and to show what the family’s life was before the Alzheimer’s. I think the flashbacks also do a great job in establishing what Cassie and her father were saying goodbye to—the memories as a reminder of Kim’s (Cassie’s mom) energy and love for life.

MR: I know you’re familiar with the subject of Alzheimer’s Disease, but what kind of research did you have to do for this book? How did it affect your portrayal of Cassie’s mom? Of Cassie’s reactions to her mom’s disease?

SSM: Well, I mostly drew upon my experience with my dad. There are only a few ways early onset is different than other types of the disease. According to scientists, people who suffer from early onset have more of the brain changes that are linked to Alzheimer’s, and early onset is also linked to a defect in a certain part of a person’s DNA.

MR: Cassie’s mom, Kim, loves dolphins and swimming. I know you were a competitive swimmer back in the day (for 13 years!), but what’s the dolphin connection? Are you a dolphin lover, too?

SSM: In the story Kim’s best stroke was the butterfly, so I think I made the connection to dolphins that way. But I also found through research that dolphins have amazing memories. So, I thought someone’s love of dolphins and the fact they were suffering from Alzheimer’s was an interesting dynamic to explore.

MR: In addition to dealing with her mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Cassie is having friendship troubles with her ex-best friend, Bailey. Specifically, Cassie doesn’t feel able to talk to Bailey about her mom. As a teacher, what advice would you give to a middle-school student about talking to their friends about personally painful topics?

SSM: Friends can be a great support system. Sometimes when students are going through emotional issues at school, or at home, they just need a friend, or friends, to listen to them. But it’s also wise to have friends who will encourage you to reach out to an adult if you need help.

 

MR: As a teacher and a mom, I can only guess how hard it is for you to sneak in writing time. What’s your secret? Do you have a specific routine?

SSM: I do have a routine! I’m a morning person (thanks to getting up at four o’clock every morning in high school for swim practice), so I get up early to write. I usually set a goal—five hundred, a thousand words—and try to be as consistent with reaching that goal as I can.

What are you working on now, Sandy? Can you give us a teaser?

SSM: Right now, I’m working on a third middle-grade novel that’s based on something that happened to me—an experience that had a great impact on the way I see the world–when I was eight years old.

MR: And finally, since you and I are HUGE Golden Girls fans, I thought we’d finish this interview with—you guessed it, my friend—a GOLDEN GIRLS LIGHTENING ROUND! Are you game?

SSM: OH, YEAH!

Okay, here we go…

Dorothy, Blanche, Rose or Sophia? Rose.

Sicily or St. Olaf? St. Olaf.

Shady Pines or the Rusty Anchor? The Rusty Anchor.

Sophia’s lasagna or Rose’s beef tips on toast? I’m going with the lasagna.

Stanley Zbornak or Glenn O’Brien? Good ole Stanley.

Favorite guest star: George Clooney, Burt Reynolds, Sonny Bono, or Bob Hope? Burt Reynolds

“Johnny No Thumbs” or “Mr. Terrific”? Mr. Terrific!

Favorite episode? “Ladies of the Evening.”

It’s your birthday! Choose a gift: Rose’s piano-playing chicken, or “The Men of Blanche’s Boudoir” calendar? The chicken!

How do you like your cheesecake: Chocolate, or plain? Plain.

MR: Thanks for joining us on the Mixed-Up Files today, Sandy! I really loved your book and can’t wait to read the next one!

And now… a fabulous

GIVEAWAY!!!

Sandy has generously offered to gift a lucky reader with TWO autographed books; the paperback edition of EXTRAORDINARY BIRDS and a hardcover copy of THE SPACE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND. Just comment on the blog for a chance to win!

SANDY STARK-McGINNIS was born in California. Early childhood dreams: Play quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams or work as a forest ranger. Instead, she became a teacher, a job she found deeply fulfilling. Currently, she teaches fifth grade, and is amazed and inspired by her students every day. She spends her time reading (of course), and traveling with her husband and two children. Sandy believes her thirteen years as a competitive swimmer trained her to have the discipline and perseverance to journey through a writing life. You can find Sandy at her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram

 

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Melissa Roske
Melissa Roske is a writer of contemporary middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. In London, she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, and got certified as a life coach. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny. Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge, 2017) is her debut novel.
20 Comments
  1. I love this interview – first for the book, which covers such an important topic in anyone’s life (I’m sure it should be on adult book shelves, too), and second for the Golden Girls exchange! I just played the Golden Girls version of the board game Clue with my daughter and my husband the other night. Miles ate the cheesecake with the bathrobe in the front yard. Can’t wait to read these books. Thank you!

    • Thanks for your comment, Michelle. Yes, Sandy’s book is on a vitally important topic. And so glad to hear you are a Golden Girls fan too!

  2. These books are important ones for all readers. The author has tackled tough subjects, ones that many people are going through/went through/know someone dealing with them. I know these books will feel authentic when I read them, knowing how much of herself the author put into them. Thank you for the insightful post and chance to win copies of books on my wish list.

    • Thanks for reading, Danielle. This is indeed a tough topic, and the author handled it brilliantly. Thank you again for being a dedicated Mixed-Up Files reader!

  3. Thanks for being a Mixed-Up Files reader, Jodie. We hugely appreciate it!

  4. Thanks for this interview and for sharing your own story of life with a parent with Alzheimer’s disease. My father has it as well as Lewy Body dementia and while he is doing quite well now, I know our journey will get harder in time.

    • Thanks so much for commenting, Carrie. I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. My dad had Alzheimer’s too. And my mom has it now. It’s so hard, and you’re right. The journey just gets harder. Thank goodness there are books like Sandy’s THE SPACE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND, to help address this issue.

  5. Books are so helpful for kids trying to understand something as complicated as Alzheimer’s. Hard when we don’t understand it ourselves. These would be a wonderful addition to my daughter’s fifth grade class library. (right after my grandkids get to read them) Staying home, reading, crafting and staying safe. Take care.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jeane. And you’re right: Books like THE SPACE BETWEEN LOST AND FOUND make Alzheimer’s a bit easier for children to understand. Stay safe!

  6. I’m so excited to try these books. I didn’t realize Alzheimer’s would be touched on, but it’s so encouraging to see those tougher topics discussed in a hopeful and honest manner.

    • You’re so right, Eliza. Seeing Alzheimer’s addressed in children’s literature is extremely encouraging. Thanks for commenting!

  7. Both books have been on my “to read” list for quite some time. My heart broke reading the author tell about the day she took her father to the facility for a tour. I can remember the day we took my father-in-law to the dementia center. I tried to be so positive for him, but inside my heart was breaking. I look forward to reading and sharing these books with my students.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jennifer. Yes, touring an Alzheimer’s care facility is indeed heartbreaking, and Sandy describes this so well in her book, and in her personal experience with her father. I’m sorry to hear about your father-in-law. I will pass this message along to Sandy.

  8. I suspect my son could have used something like this book when his grandfather started showing signs of dementia. Thank you for writing.

    • Thanks for commenting, Kim. And I agree wholeheartedly. Books like Sandy’s help kids understand the symptoms of dementia, and how to deal with them. Perhaps your son might want to read this book now?

  9. Your books look amazing! I hope to share these with my fourth graders dinner than later. Thanks for the opportunity to win copies.

    • Thanks for reading my interview with Sandy, Becky. And thank you for your comment!

  10. I have experienced such loss of family through Alzheimer’s so I can relate to this book. I am hopeful that young readers will get a glimpse of what others may go through by reading this novel. Thank you for sharing. Best wishes to the author on this new release.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Debra. I will pass it along to the author. And many thanks as well for being a Mixed-Up Files reader. We appreciate you!

  11. Thank you so much for a chance to get some amazing books in to kids hands.