Just announced in Publishers Weekly’s Children’s Bookshelf, Cameron Kelly Rosenblum’s debut young adult novel, THE STEPPING OFF PLACE, is a love letter to friendships that span from childhood to adolescence, as well as a careful, honest, and resilient look at mental health. We’re excited to share the first interview with Cameron, who is sure to be a bold new voice on the young adult scene. Keep scrolling for the Q&A!
Executive Editor Karen Chaplin at HarperCollins has acquired, at auction, in a good deal, children’s librarian Cameron Kelly Rosenblum’s young adult debut, THE STEPPING OFF PLACE. This nonlinear exploration of the stages of grief tells the story of Reid, a teenage girl coping with her best friend Hattie’s death by suicide. Pitched as “the book we needed when we lost our own Hatties,” it’s a love letter to friendships that span from childhood to adolescence, as well as a careful, honest, and resilient look at mental health. Publication is slated for Summer 2020, Brianne Johnson and Alexandra Levick at Writers House negotiated the two-book deal for North American rights.
Rights to Publicat in Poland, at auction, by Agata Zabowska at Book/lab Literary Agency; to Keter Modan in Israel, by Efrat Lev of the Deborah Harris Agency; and to AST in Russia, by Natalia Sanina at Synopsis Agency; all on behalf of Cecilia de la Campa, Johnson and Levick at Writers House.
Film/TV: Michelle Kroes and Berni Barta at CAA
Can you share the pitch for THE STEPPING OFF PLACE with us?
Two weeks before senior year, Reid’s best friend and social oxygen, Hattie, dies by suicide at her family’s Maine summer home. THE STEPPING OFF PLACE unfolds as a nonlinear exploration of grief over an unbreakable female bond. The past informs the present, the present informs the past, as circumstances surrounding Hattie’s death haunt the fiercely loyal Reid. Her quest for understanding provides a window into a friendship for the ages.
Do you consider yourself a pantser, plotter, or something in between? What was your process while writing THE STEPPING OFF PLACE?
At the outset of writing THE STEPPING OFF PLACE, I would have proudly called myself a pantser, but this narrative is nonlinear. When I conceived Reid’s story, I imagined that in her shock and grief, memories would unexpectedly flood her mind. The format is meant to reflect that emotional fragility and writing out of chronological order pushed me to plot like a fiend.
At the book’s core is this powerful female friendship, but the book begins at the end of Hattie’s life. To dig into the friendship, I had to jump back in time to allow the audience to see all facets of Hattie and experience their friendship as Reid had. Especially given Hattie’s battle against mental illness, it was very important to me that she be a three-dimensional, fully-fleshed out character with her own wants and desires and dreams. Going nonlinear allowed room for the fun times in Reid and Hattie’s friendship—fortune telling, ghost stories, midnight horse riding antics—which I think help show us the indelible connection Hattie and Reid share. I also needed to keep Reid’s story moving, as she pursues painful and frightening questions around Hattie’s death. I became plot obsessed—as in, dozens of color-coded Post-its spread across a giant whiteboard, which I carried around my house for months. I felt like I was braiding this long, wild mane of hair, and frankly, I’m more of a ponytail kind of girl!
What was the inspiration for THE STEPPING OFF PLACE?
My best friend from childhood was hilarious, independent, athletic, and extremely confident. We were inseparable through adolescence, and though we never discussed it, I always assumed the sidekick role. It was the natural order of us. We stayed in contact well into adulthood. Then, one day, when a letter I wrote her went unanswered, I learned she had died by suicide. I was devastated.
My grief lasted months. I couldn’t help but wonder why this loss hit me harder than anything I’d experienced. In time, I came to understand why: our friendship spanned the transition from childhood to young adulthood. While we formed our own self-concepts, we were close enough to leak into each other. She is part of what makes me me—the part I like the most, by the way. What on earth would have happened to me, the sidekick, if I’d lost her in high school? THE STEPPING OFF PLACE is an homage to the spirit of unbreakable female bonds. I’m here to report they can last a lifetime. And beyond.
THE STEPPING OFF PLACE deals with some serious topics. What do you hope readers will take away from your book?
This manuscript challenged me to find a way to address suicide without glorifying it, oversimplifying it, or placing guilt. So often stories of suicide focus on who or what is to blame. I want THE STEPPING OFF PLACE to move the conversation beyond those things, firstly to dignify the survivors’ situation with a realistic portrayal, and also to shed light on the layered, complex role of mental illness in suicide—which often must suffice as the only answer to why survivors will get. The more honestly we discuss these issues as a society, the better chance we have of reducing the number of victims. In early drafts, I considered having Hattie die accidentally to avoid the topic entirely. But ultimately, I knew I owed readers — and my friend — more.
Also, to anyone who feels like a sidekick out there, don’t sell yourself short! You’re enough. In fact, you’re pretty freaking awesome.
Are there any other aspects of the story that are of particular personal importance?
Reid’s younger brother Spencer, like my own son, has profound autism. While higher-functioning people with autism appear in media, people deeper on the spectrum—those rendered all but nonverbal with disabling intellectual deficits—are underrepresented. I wanted to show how these kids have rich emotional lives, how siblings of such kids can be impacted, positively and negatively, and how parents cope when faced with raising a child with intense special needs. I hope readers love Spencer as much as I love him.
The path to becoming a published author can be a long and complicated one. What has surprised you the most about your journey?
Honestly, the biggest surprise for me was realizing how clueless I was. I believed I could write reasonably well, and I loved to do it. So I thought, I’ll write a book, go through some grueling rejections, but eventually connect with the right agent and/or editor. Well, that did happen, but my first two manuscripts—both middle grade fantasies—are in a Staples box in my closet.
Luckily, early on, someone recommended I join SCBWI. I went to conferences and heard admired writers tell their stories. I learned about the business. Best of all, I met my writer friends through SCBWI. Because writers often tackle what really matters to us, when we meet at a conference, we skip all the small talk and get right to our deepest musings. It’s like you reach in your chest and drop your heart on the table over a boxed lunch at a Marriott. Writer friends get it. The creative struggles, the heartbreaks, the joys.
At a certain low point, before I started THE STEPPING OFF PLACE, I’d privately accepted that I may never succeed with a book, but the upside of that revelation was that I knew I would never stop trying. I loved the people, the books I’d seen come to life, and the quiet times with my laptop where characters danced in my head. My life is richer because of it all. And I can’t help but think, somewhere above the clouds, that most fabulous of childhood friends is cheering me on.
Cameron Rosenblum has an English degree from Kenyon College and works as a children’s librarian in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Active in SCBWI, Cameron has founded writing retreats in Maine and New Hampshire and co-directed the celebrated Whispering Pines Retreat in Rhode Island. Cameron has also served as a judge for the CYBILs award for middle grade fiction and guest blogged on nerdybookclub.com. Most recently she joined the board of Portland’s Illustration Institute, where she is helping develop the Maine Children’s Book Arts residency program.
You can find Cameron on Twitter at @ckellyrose and via her website cameronrosenblum.com/
THE STEPPING OFF PLACE is scheduled to release during Summer 2020.
If you are in crisis in the United States, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 to speak with a trained counselor. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/talk-to-someone-now/
UK & Ireland – The Samaritans: 116-123
Canada – Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566
Australia – The Lifeline: 13-11-14
New Zealand – Lifeline: 0800-543-345
Warning Signs of Suicide:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.
What to Do:
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:
- Do not leave the person alone
- Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
- Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at800-273-TALK(8255)
- Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional
Courtesy of Reportingonsuicide.org
Resources for Suicide Loss Survivors: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/loss-survivors/