Synopsis via Goodreads:
Riley Witt is running out of time.
Battling Alzheimer’s disease, Riley’s grandmother Mary suffers from memory loss, mood swings, and a tendency to wander off.
As senior year approaches, Riley has to face the reality that the one person she depends on most is slowly fading. Making matters worse, when Mary does remember the past, she tells tales of time travel and visions. As Mary’s version of the past gets more confused, Riley knows they are running out of time together.
But when Riley discovers a guitar belonging to a famous rock star at Mary’s house, the truth behind the crazy tales finally comes out.
SIX STRINGS tells the story of Riley’s journey back to 1973 where she enters a world of music, long-lost family, and first love. Her adventure is all about discovering her past, understanding her present, and figuring out how to step into her future.
Jen Sanya Williamson is a graduate of the University of Arizona where she received a BA in creative writing. She spends most of her time with her junior high students, teaching and talking books. When not in a classroom, Jen is writing, watching TV shows from the ‘90s, or cheering on the Wildcats with her husband and children in her adopted hometown of Tucson, Arizona.
twitter.com/jen_sanya | facebook.com/jensanya
Amber: What inspired you to write about Alzheimer’s?
Jen: It wasn't necessarily Alzheimer's disease that I wanted to write about, although it makes sense in the plot for Mary's disease to affect her cognitively since this is the catalyst for her revealing the family secrets to Riley. I really wanted to explore what happens when someone you depend on, like a parent or grandparent, can no longer be there for you in the same way, and you kind of have to actually take on the role of caring for him or her. Watching someone you always saw as indestructible suddenly become ill, and having that disease, whatever it is, sort of define them in some ways is a difficult process. I wanted to write about what happens to a young person as they deal with that.
Amber: What kind of research did this book entail?
Jen: Most of the research I did focused on the era Riley travels back to. I read a lot and looked at old photos of Tucson during the time. I listened to a lot of music. And I talked to people who lived in Tucson during the 1970s. I didn't want the book to be a history lesson of the time period; I wanted references to be subtle so the setting was natural and didn't get in the way of the characters and story.
Amber: With time traveling, the character can go to any time period, why did you choose 1973?
Jen: I felt like it was an interesting time in music, sort of this bubble between the hugely influential 1960s and the disco era. Also, this is a book about family, so I knew Riley wouldn't travel back to the Salem Witch Trials or the JFK assassination. She's traveling to learn about herself and the relationships she has with her family members.
Amber: Six Strings is unique when it comes to time traveling. Riley isn’t traveling through time to save the world from some supernatural evil; she’s traveling through time to learn who she is as a person. What made you decide to put time traveling in a coming of age story?
Jen: I remember a time as a teenager when I realized I didn't really know a lot about my parents before me and my brothers and sisters existed. I learned things, nothing huge like Riley does, but things that made me think how little I knew about how my parents lived before us, how they really met, what they really wanted out of life. I think the idea of being able to go back and see what that time was really like for them intrigued me. We talk about learning from the past; that's something we do as people. What if this girl could really travel back and see what the past was like?
Amber: How do you think your life would be different if you had been able to travel back in time when you were a senior?
Jen: I think my relationships would be different, especially with my parents. I have a good relationship with my parents, but I didn't always understand them, see their point of view while I was growing up. I never thought my mother understood me; I think seeing her life as a teenager first hand would change my perspective quite a bit.
Amber: What song best describes Riley’s relationship with Mary?
Jen: This is a hard question. The first one that comes to mind is "In My Life" by the Beatles. I think it captures how Riley's relationship with Mary is singular and special. There is also a wistfulness to that song that I think that Riley and Mary, as time travelers, will always feel.
Amber: Speaking of time traveling, if you could invite any famous person from the past to have dinner with you, who would you choose and why?
Jen: Paul Newman. Hands down. I would love to have an adult beverage and a steak with him. I have always had this strange feeling if we had ever met, we would have been great friends.
Amber: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Jen: Write and write and write. Then show it to someone. Show it to everyone, listen to what they have to say, think about it, then write some more, then keep sharing it. Writers write, and writers should want to be read.
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