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From Out of My Mind to Out of My Heart: An Interview with Sharon Draper

I remember when Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper was first released. Boy, it was a while ago, though. What was it, 2010? More than a decade ago, that’s for sure. Time has passed. The original readers of that novel grew up. Still, that’s the funny thing about middle grade novels. Given the right audience, they just keep perpetuating new readers. Case in point, Out of My Mind is as popular as ever and now, in 2021, we’re finally seeing a sequel. Out of My Heart just came out yesterday and is the official continuation of Melody’s story. Here’s the pitch:

Melody faces her fears to follow her passion in this stunning sequel to the acclaimed, New York Times bestselling middle grade novel Out of My Mind.

Melody, the huge-hearted heroine of Out of My Mind, is a year older, and a year braver. And now with her Medi-talker, she feels nothing’s out of her reach, not even summer camp. There have to be camps for differently-abled kids like her, and she’s going to sleuth one out. A place where she can trek through a forest, fly on a zip line, and even ride on a horse! A place where maybe she really can finally make a real friend, make her own decisions, and even do things on her own—the dream!

By the light of flickering campfires and the power of thunderstorms, through the terror of unexpected creatures in cabins and the first sparkle of a crush, Melody’s about to discover how brave and strong she really is.”

You may have questions. I sure as heck did. And happily, Ms. Sharon Draper was there to answer them:


Betsy Bird: Thank you so much for joining us here at SLJ today. I confess that I’m absolutely fascinated by the origins of Out of My Heart. So much time has passed since the publication of Out of My Mind. Did you always intend to write a sequel? If so, why has it been released now? And if you hadn’t, what changed your mind?

Sharon Draper,
photo by Katie Schneider

Sharon Draper: Thank you, SLJ!  I’ve been a subscriber and follower since I was a middle and high school teacher a million years ago!  

Actually, I said many times that Out of my Mind was complete and needed no sequel, and that sometimes a character is powerful enough to stand alone and be remembered as such.  However, I’ve received literally hundreds of letters and emails that asked, “What happened to Melody?”  So, during the silence of the pandemic, I decided to discover the next chapter of Melody’s life.  

BB: Out of My Mind was originally published in 2010. Eleven years later you’re releasing Out of My Heart. What has changed about writing or publishing since your last book? 

SD: Public awareness and understanding of disabling conditions has changed, evolved, and matured.  There are words that that  thankfully have been removed from our general vocabulary, and the understanding of the depths of varying conditions has been so greatly improved.  Melody, who is fictional,  and others like her who are very real, have a greater chance of success and acceptance in our society.  For that I am very grateful.  And so many new authors and voices are adding to the depths and layers of a fully accessible society.

BB: What does your writing process look like? Do you plan everything out before you write or do you let it come to you as you go?

SD: I make a plan, an outline, a list of characters, a general plot, and then I start to write.  Very little of the original plan remains, but the essence shines through.  I do NUMEROUS revisions—maybe forty or fifty or more.  Each version is a little better than the one before.  It’s a long, tedious, glorious process!

BB: Your daughter, Crystal Draper, has had a lot to do with the Out of My Mind series. In your Acknowledgements you call her “a discriminating editor”. How does Crystal fit into your writing process? Does she see your earliest drafts, or do you discuss what you’re going to write with her before you do? How do her opinions fit into your work?

SD: She is a natural creator—a gifted dancer and teacher—she owns her own dance studio.  She’d be a dynamite editor and writer if she chose that path.  She read several of the versions and offered suggestions, but ultimately, all the changes and revisions are mine.

BB: In this book Melody attends summer camp for the first time. I know that you’ve done your research on summer camps that help kids like Melody. You mention Camp Stepping Stones, Camp Allyn, and Camp Cheerful in your book. What did your research process look like? And did you learn anything about these camps that surprised you?

SD: Those are real places in Ohio.  I’ve been a friend and supporter of their programs for years.  My children worked there as volunteers a couple of summers when they were teenagers, and I worked at a summer camp (now defunct) when I was a teenager one summer. 

BB: Finally, is there any possibility at all of a third Melody story?

SD: Well, I’ll never say never….  I kept on saying I’d never write this sequel, and look what happened!  So it’s a possibility.  Give me ten years??  Haha.


Many thanks to Sharon Draper for answering my questions and to Milena Giunco and the folks at Simon & Schuster for the link. Out of My Heart is on bookstore and library shelves everywhere right now.

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Judy Weymouth says

    Thank you so much for this interview. I loved Out of My Mind and will reread it before turning to Out of My Heart. Looking forward to TWO wonderful reading experiences!

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