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A Realistic Portrait

Sarah Mendivel Author Interview

Sarah Mendivel Author Interview

Sam’s Theory follows a young teen named Sam as she escapes from an abusive home and finds a caring old lady in the woods. What was the initial inspiration behind this story and how did that develop as you were writing?

Sam’s Theory came from a blend of my own experiences and the experiences of the children I have worked with in a mental health setting. Children are, hands down, the most resilient creatures in existence. They are starving for knowledge, attention, and coping tools. Unfortunately, for various reasons, many of them are lacking the healthy adults to provide them with such. Children want to heal after they are hurt, but it is rare they are met with the care and competency to do so. I worked with too many foster youth, children in Protective Services, and runaways that didn’t have access to substantial, supportive advice. They ended up hurting themselves to be heard, and that is inexcusable to me. My mission became clear in that I needed to create a resource that was safe, immediate, magical, easy to access, and compassionate for these kiddos and young people to grow through. This is also why I have evolved into offering free “book clubs”/”empowerment groups” for at-risk youth near me. This book assures that kids and adults know that they are cared for, if even by only these characters or the author that created them.

Sam has a tragic story and the book does a great job of conveying her emotions. What were some obstacles you felt were important in defining her character?

It was important to me that Sam be relatable and experience the emotions that I believe we all, as humans, feel, but rarely discuss out loud with one another. There is something about the desperation and gravity of loneliness, sadness, and shame that can make us isolate from one other. I needed Sam to be all of these things, but without being a victim. Victims struggle to genuinely recover, while survivors summon the grit to find a way out of themselves. It’s difficult to do that on your own, so Theory offers an opportunity to do so. Recovery from scary experiences isn’t the survivor’s fault, but it does become their responsibility (as annoying as that might be). Sam needed to have just enough perspective, self-awareness, and hope in her environment to rise to the call of change when it finally beckoned. The reader hurts with Sam, risks with Sam, and eventually heals with Sam. It is a realistic portrait of what it is to grow as a human through adversity.

The relationship that develops between Sam and Theory is something I admired. What was your inspiration for their relationship?

Thank for the kind words and recognition of how special their relationship is. Sam and Theory’s relationship was loosely based on both my relationship with my own therapist, and the relationship I developed with the kiddos on the inpatient psychiatric unit I used to work on. What astounded me when I first met my therapist is how firm and intentional her boundaries were. She took her time in allowing me to emerge from my shell, then nurtured each step without judgement. I then modeled the same compassion and safety for the kiddos I worked with and watched them blossom because of the same type of competent care. I think the therapeutic relationship is so deeply vital to our journeys towards authenticity and potential. Mental health still has, unfortunately, a stigma against it that needs to be eradicated in order for people, generations, and the world to become a healthier whole. Now more than ever,mental health is critical. Finding the right therapist takes time and sometimes several tries. Once that connection happens though, it can be so magical it becomes worthy of a novel. I hope more people can find sanctuary in Theory’s character, and then have the courage to find her in their own lives.

What do you hope readers take away from your story?

It is my deepest wish for readers that they close this book and feel as if they have a connection to something more meaningful than what they’ve been experiencing in their normal everyday. One of the most common responses I’ve received to this book is that it’s made someone cry. Every account of that type of movement is a gift to me, because it means this book is achieving exactly what I set out to do- to create a safe space where people could be vulnerable just long enough to consider an empowered “what if.” I wanted readers to have a sense of family in these characters and have their deepest, darkest emotions normalized. This story is meant to be a visceral experience, and I hope that people walk away from it with just enough hope in their heart to consider what a healthier, happier existence could look like. Everything can be okay, they just need to stay forward-facing and a little bit brave.

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Sam's Theory by [Mendivel, Sarah]After a final act of horrendous abuse threatens her life, fifteen-year-old Sam runs away from home and into the Olympic Mountains of Washington State. Physically and emotionally exhausted, she happens upon a mysterious tree house in the woods which shelters an old woman named Theory. Through elements of magic and sage advice, Theory takes Sam on an unforgettable healing journey. Sam begins to discover that she, too, has powers. But her process is interrupted by the nervous reality that her abusers will soon go after her younger sister, Nova, unless she can get to her first.

With the help of Sam’s friend, Dodger, and two other spirited kids from foster care, the group sets up a hidden camp in the wilderness and forms “The Orphan’s Collective.” While struggling to create their own concept of “family,” Dodger and Sam also work to navigate their budding feelings for one another. As the group formulates a plan to reach the masses of kids left behind by adults who never wanted them, they naturally begin to rewrite the fate that has seemingly already been decided for them.

Sam’s Theory is a story of immeasurable grit and re-empowerment after trauma. With embedded real-world advice, it is the recognition of our tremendous capacity as human beings to withstand darkness and summon resiliency, simply by learning how to use our voices and reconnect with those around us.

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Bar Nights

Bar Nights (The Mire Man Trilogy, #1)4 StarsBar Nights by Dave Matthes is the first book of the Mire Man Trilogy, a chronicle of the life of Arlo Smith. Arlo comes home from work to find his wife and another man in the throes of passion on the kitchen counter. He decides that’s as good as a divorce decree, packs a bag, and walks out. In the driveway, his daughter and her boyfriend spark his rage, and he trashes the young man’s car with a baseball bat before he leaves. Arlo drives until his car breaks down, walks to a roadside bar, and stays. The owner, Vance, hires him as the janitor and gives him a tiny apartment above the bar.

Arlo doesn’t want to start over. His soul is already crushed by his former life and marriage, and in this bar, ironically named Purgatory, he has the freedom to be as drunk and indolent as he cares to. His only pleasure is in music. While he gets drunk in his apartment, the piano player downstairs fills his room with music. almost every night. He clings to the music but doesn’t want to meet her. When they do meet, she becomes the catalyst that forces him to face his life, his lies, and the hell he created along the way.

The plot of the story is simple, but there are so many nuances that I’d compare it more to Jazz than literature. Some of the barflies that come and go are character studies of people on the edge, or close to it, and reflect Arlo and Vance’s personal demons. The flow of the chapters adds texture and rhythm. The language is lyrical, sometimes pulling me out of the narrative just to appreciate the prose. Finding these gems was something I enjoyed while reading the novel.

Outside my window, the snow fell like the ash from a volcano…. I remembered looking out my window on Christmas morning as a child, and seeing the snow…. Little moments like that stole me from time to time. Burps and hiccups of nostalgia. A staple of regret temporarily sewing the rips and tears shut.

The author uses chapters in an unorthodox way, some as short as two words. Sometimes this works beautifully, but on occasion, a chapter seems more like a side note, or stray thought. I felt that the novel was repetitive in places, revisiting events and even phrases a few too many times, but in retrospect, some of that was clearly intentional. Addicts can be stuck on emotions or trauma, and that broken-record effect gave more realism to the characters.

Arlo is locked in a vicious cycle of self-hate, addiction, and depression that is reflected in the people he meets. Through Arlo’s eyes, we meet the patrons at the bar, his interactions with them colored by his personal misery. He’s afraid to meet Constance, the piano player, for fear that his illusions will crumble. Of course, fate intervenes, and he finally meets her by accident. They’re not in love, but they need each other to get through the desperation of their lives. Constance shoves him toward rehab, trying to save his life before he kills himself or becomes just like all the other drunks at the bar called Purgatory. Even that irony isn’t lost on Arlo.

This is a book for adults, as the language and situations are not for readers who are easily offended. It’s an examination of addiction and desperation that doesn’t sugar-coat anything. The author doesn’t spare any of the senses on this dive into skid row, and I could see, feel, and smell every detail. If you like Bar Nights, also pick up Paradise City, the next book in the trilogy.

Pages: 209 | ISBN: 1506198961

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