Shilah Ferr - A Turbulent Coming of Age Journey
Shilah Ferr grew up in Morristown, New Jersey with her brother and sister. They share treasured memories of high school, the Jersey shore, and skiing with cousins in Mt. Snow, Vermont, all of which became part of April's Heart. She went to college in Washington, DC, and became a teacher. Shilah lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her husband of thirty years. Her two boys are in their twenties making their own way in the world. She enjoys cooking (has done some catering), her daily power walks (her preferred method of exercise), and hanging out on the beach. April's Heart is dear to Shilah's heart as it is very personal, basically following the outline of her life. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, April's Heart.
Please give us a short introduction to what April's Heart is about.
April’s Heart is the love story of April Schweiter, who, after a beautiful but turbulent year with her boyfriend Mitch, decide to break up because they will be attending different private high schools in towns quite far from each other. They realize they are probably too young to realistically make that work, so although they love each other, they part ways. However, time and time again April and Mitch come together, and their gravitational pull is hard to deny. An unexpected turn of events occurs in the middle of their sophomore year as April is now dating Owen O’Reilly. The private school Mitch attends closes down for good and he shows up at April and Owen’s high school.
The story continues through high school, then college, and beyond. Do the star-crossed lovers find their way?
What inspired you to write about a cheerleader who falls for a guy, ending her childhood?
April Schweiter is loosely modeled after myself, so I cast April as a cheerleader just as I was myself back in the day. Although a work of fiction, April’s Heart follows the basic outline of my own life, and the authenticity of the character's thoughts, feelings and actions were extremely important to me as I wrote it. When thinking about what makes April tick, you realize April has a strong desire for love and popularity. Her mother is standing in her way of creating a social life. April feels she has no choice but find a way anyhow, even if it means breaking rules and risky behavior.
April has an overly protective mother. In which way, would you say, does that influence April's behavior?
Like I said, April is me, and the relationship between April and her mother IS the relationship I had with my mother. Much of my personality is reflected in April, again relying on true and realistic details helped create an authentic story to the point of feeling butterflies or shedding tears. I remember wavering between exuding confidence, then feeling unsure, questioning the motives and intentions of others. I remember getting in trouble at home, blaming only my mother, not how my own actions contributed to the problem, feeling oppressed by her. And as realistically as I could portray, April learns, grows, and matures in much the same way as I did.
Why did you pick 13 years of age as the start point for your story?
The story starts as April is thirteen years old, in the eighth grade. It starts here as I needed to develop the love April and Mitch had for each other, even before they really knew what love was, and cementing their relationship, although they certainly didn’t see it that way. It needed to start before high school because the premise relies on the fact that as they prepare to go to high school, they feel forced to break up since they will be far away from each other with new friends and new adventures. I had a reviewer comment that she wished the story started with April somewhat older, but I couldn’t understand because that would be a whole different story with a whole different plot, and I am happy with the fact that going to different schools caused their break up, not a change of heart. I believe April and Mitch believed their hearts would follow their decisions.
Which character was the most challenging to create?
The character hardest to create was April’s best guy-friend and next-door neighbor Jay. He, of course, is modeled after a childhood friend, but in actuality, although we were close, grew up together, and did crazy things together, we were often “frenemies”, and grew apart in high school. I created what I believe could have been, had we remained close. A friend who stands by you always no matter what. I have friends like that and I’m sure he does too. I hold him in the highest regard.
In which way is April's Heart a coming of age story?
April’s Heart is a Coming of Age story in the sense that it shows a child maturing to young adulthood. I have had reviewers comment on how April’s process of maturing shines through my writing, and this has been a great joy to me. I love how April and Mitch both learn, grow, and ultimately answer the unanswered questions of their life in their own way, in their own time through their separate processes. April’s Heart is NOT the Coming of Age story in the sense that it is intended for readers under sixteen. It is definitely for adults and young adults. The sex scenes are rather graphic, with a steam level of a 2 or 3. I had a reviewer comment that she liked my book but thought it a shame that she would not buy it for her thirteen-year-old niece, and I thought, goodness no!
You grew up in New Jersey. How has this influenced your writing?
Although I have lived in Virginia for more than thirty years, the setting of April’s Heart is New Jersey, as that is where I grew up and this is the fictionalized story of me. April’s Heart is so very New Jersey and I love that. During the early stages of writing, I thought Brokerstown would be anywhere, USA until I started writing the phrase “down the shore”. We all know that is a classic New Jersey term, and I just couldn’t get around it. So I embraced it. It was so fun to write about Seaside Heights, and classic meals such as the gem from Newark, Greasy Doubles. I tried to depict the high school as best I could to a T. I worked hard on the wording and asked many people who went there and didn’t go there, to give me feedback on what they pictured in their minds as they read the description of the Mansion, the Carriage House and the additional school building.
What are you working on right now?
I am currently trying to develop a plot and characters for my next novel. Although I have started many times, and written vignettes of my life that will surely show up somewhere in an upcoming novel, I cannot say I have a definitive work in progress. I hope to change that as I will be retiring from 31 years of service in public education at the end of June 2021.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Your readers can find me on Facebook
I am also on Twitter https://twitter.com/FerrShilah
My website is a lot of fun too https://aprilsheartbook.com