Interview with Shalanda Stanley, Author of Nick and June Were Here

Shalanda Stanley grew up in Louisiana and earned her BA in creative writing at Florida State University. She has an MEd in special education from the University of Louisiana at Monroe and a PhD from LSU in curriculum and instruction, with a focus in reading and literacy education. She’s an assistant professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where she also lives with her family.

Where did you get the idea for Nick and June Were Here? 

I was at a festival (we have a lot of them in Louisiana) and this festival had the actual car that Bonnie and Clyde were driving when they were killed. (Originally Nick and June Were Here was pitched as Bonnie and Clyde meets Romeo and Juliet, but over many drafts it became something wholly different.) Anyway, this car is riddled with bullet holes and I started thinking about Bonnie and what her motivations were for being with Clyde and how her life could have turned out so differently if she had picked someone else to love. I’ve always wanted to tell a love story and I tend to be drawn to complicated and deeply flawed characters, so I knew that Nick and June would not be an easy story to tell, even before I knew what the story was about.

What’s your favorite memory from the writing process of Nick and June were here?

Writing this book was such a challenge. I hear that sophomore books usually are. My first book flowed out of me and there were no expectations. With Nick and June Were Here, there was a contract and a deadline. I felt like I had to wrestle the words out and often they were the wrong words. I rewrote this book so many times. When I initially think back to writing it, I don’t have a lot of good memories. I remember feeling alone and like I couldn’t pull it off. The characters kept me coming back though. I love Nick and June so much and I loved spending time with them in this world I had created. So they are my good memories, because no matter which draft I was working on or how wrong the plot was going, it was my love for them that kept me in my seat so I could be sure that I was giving them the best story I could. And I am so happy with the end result.

How can we, as a community, push back against the stigma surrounding mental illness and talk about it authentically without glorifying or romanticizing it?

We have to do just that. Talk about it authentically, without glorifying it or romanticizing it. We have to think more in terms of symptoms and treatment and be less concerned with labels. Our mind is just another part of our body and it is not healthy all of the time, just like our bodies are not healthy all of the time. When any part of our body is not well, we should seek treatment. I battle with depression and anxiety and only recently have felt comfortable enough to share that publicly, but talking plainly and openly about my mental health issues as part of my overall heath and well being has gone a long way in not only accepting my issues myself, but I think it also helps those around me understand.  First and foremost, it is vital that we listen and take our cues from those affected by mental health issues. We cannot treat people like unreliable narrators in their own life story.

What was the first book you read that made you cry?

I was in the fourth grade and it was Old Yeller by Fred Gipson. My teacher read it aloud to the class. That book destroyed me. Utterly. Most of the kids in my class cried, but I didn’t recover as fast as they did. My mom had to come pick me up from school. I could not get it together after that ending. I have since been very reluctant to read books, or watch movies with a dog as a main character. The pain is too real.

What is your favorite book? What YA books would you recommend?

I cannot pick one favorite book, so here are a few that I’ve reread a few times and mean something different to me every time and I cannot stop thinking about them:

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Giver by Lois Lowry

There Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

I love so many YA books, but here a some that I think everyone should read:

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Read more about Nick and June :

Nick and June Were Here – Shalanda Stanley


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