Looking for a fresh adventure book? I had the pleasure of reading Distress Signal, set in Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona, and interviewing the author, Mary E. Lambert. Be sure to read to the end for a chance to win a signed copy of her book.
Thank you, Mary, for sharing Distress Signal with me, which just came out October 20. I love a good adventure, and I learned so much about survival skills.
About the Book
Can you give us a short summary about Distress Signal?
After a flash flood separates Lavender and three of her classmates from the rest of their sixth-grade campout, the four feuding friends must find a way to work together if they want to make it out of the wilderness alive.
About the Author
You mention in your book’s About the Author that you grew up using a ham radio. Was that something you were interested in or that your parents had you to do?
While I grew up around ham radio, I was not actually licensed to use it. My grandpa, my dad, and both my brothers had their licenses, but I never took the test. I was intimidated by the amount of studying required, which is probably why I was so proud of my niece when she became the first girl in our family to earn her license. This really motivated me to write a story with a young female protagonist who embraces amateur radio as a pastime.
Tell us about your writing journey: Did you enjoy writing as a child? What did you write about?
I’ve always loved stories! I think I’ve been trying to write them ever since I learned to hold a pencil. One of my very, very early attempts was a picture book called What If We Let All Gravity into Space?
As a child, I had this idea that gravity was some sort of gas that we could bottle up and jettison into outer space. I thought that if we just got rid of it, then all our problems would be solved. We could fly everywhere like Peter Pan, and wouldn’t that be amazing?! My imagination tended to run away with me, and I wrote some pretty silly stuff. But I always had fun doing it!
How much of Lavender is similar to you?
For me, fifth and sixth grade were tricky years. Social interactions change as kids start to become teenagers, and it can be very difficult to navigate friendships gracefully throughout this period of life. Like Lavender, I really struggled to figure out my place with my peers and to accept changing relationships as everyone around me started growing up.
For Teachers & Writers
How can teachers use this book in their classrooms? (And, teachers: this would be a great book when you are teaching the National Parks!)
There are so many different directions that a teacher could take this book in a classroom! With the novel’s unique setting, a classroom teacher could make tons of connections to social studies and geography.
Chiricahua National Monument is a sky island with incredible biodiversity. It lies at the intersection of four major ecosystems, and five distinct biomes. So, this book could also be a really useful staring point for discussions about climate, topography, and other earth science topics.
Teachers could also connect this novel to the physical sciences with discussion of radio waves, frequencies, and wavelengths. I personally love when teachers relate literature to mathematics or science, and I really hope Distress Signal offers some exciting opportunities to do so!
It is always fascinating to learn how a book got its shape. What would you say was the spark for Distress Signal? What came next? And what components organically fell into place later on?
Like so many stories, I think Distress Signal started as a combination of two ideas or events. In August 2017, my nine-year-old niece got her ham radio license, and I was incredibly proud of her. It’s a difficult test, and there seem to be far more men involved in the amateur radio community than women. I was so impressed that not only was the first female in our family to get licensed, but she passed the test at a fairly young age.
At the same time, there was terrible flooding in Texas and Louisiana due to Hurricane Harvey. With communication limited by the storm, rescue workers in some areas relied on assistance of ham radio operators to coordinate relief. These two ideas came together, and I remember thinking, I should write a story about a girl who uses ham radio to save her class from some kind of natural disaster.
Many people are often surprised how much research goes into writing fiction. What kind of research did you do? Were there any interesting things you learned that didn’t make it into the book?
As I researched for Distress Signal, I read news articles, watched YouTube videos, purchased survival guides, and took a trip to Chiricahua National Monument. Of course, I had been there multiple times before, but I wanted the setting as fresh in my mind as possible. I also interviewed several people, so I could ask really specific things related to certain scenes in the story.
I learned so many interesting things that didn’t really fit with this story! Lavender and her friends are not survival experts, so they do a lot of things wrong and it was frustrating sometimes to study what a person should actually do if lost in the wilderness and then write characters who were doing the exact opposite.
I also learned a little history of the area, and I was sad that nothing about the Native Americans from this region made it into the manuscript. Lastly, there were some really unique animal facts from this area that just weren’t a part of this story. For instance, did you know that jaguars actually lived in the Chiricahua Mountains? Who knew that they inhabited areas so far north? Or, if you’re into entomology, be sure to look up the vinegarroon (also, known as the whip spider). I had one of those in my manuscript at one point and they are really intriguing arachnids.
What ended up taking more time than you anticipated when researching/writing/revising?
For this manuscript, the revision definitely took more time than anticipated. I’ve lost count of how many versions this story has had! In it’s first iteration, the flash flood happened at the very end of the book. Now, it’s occurs near the start of the story.
How can we learn more about you? [website, social media, etc]
You can learn more about me at my website maryelambert.com. You can also pick up a copy of my first novel, Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes. My sister and I are very close friends, and since it’s a story about two sisters, it’s very near and dear to my heart. I think I actually have quite a bit more in common with Annabelle than I do with Lavender.
Mary E. Lambert will be giving a copy of Distress Signal to a lucky reader. Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy.
*This giveaway is only available in the United States (please, no P.O. Boxes).
The winner will be announced on October 26, 2020.
Mary E. Lambert is a middle school English teacher from Tempe, Arizona. In her free time, she is usually grading an endless pile of essays, but sometimes she puts down the red pen to write something of her own. She recently adopted a scruffy little mutt, and now whenever she tries to grade papers or type the next chapter of a novel, Ollie Duke is somewhere nearby…usually nipping at her ankles.
Distress Signal is available here: