DiversifYA: Sandi Beth Jones

SandiToday, Sandi Beth Jones joins us! Sandi is a writer, a high school technology facilitator, and an NBCT librarian. Her debut YA fantasy is about a biracial girl (and Gullah descendant) who falls in love with a British boy who acts “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” just like his father’s literary favorite, Lord Byron. The first book in The Prometheus Order series, BYRONIC, begins retelling the story of the origins of Frankenstein and is set in the Southern Gothic world of Lowcountry South Carolina. Follow Sandi Beth on Twitter and visit her website for more info!

1. How do you identify yourself?
My first response is a history-geek and river rat. Kayaking and hiking are two of my favorite pastimes. I’m naturally curious about nature and wildlife. I’ve been called a bird-brain before, and I’m not ashamed of it! I also collect old books and love research. I come from a white middle-class family, but my childhood wasn’t usually a happy one. My mother suffers from mental illness.
2. What did it feel like growing up as the daughter of a mentally-ill mother? 
I’m an only child, so I learned to entertain myself in creative ways. It would’ve been nice to have a sibling to help share the burden of living with my mother, but I think I’m stronger because of that adversity.
3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?
The biggest challenge was learning to walk on eggshells. You don’t talk too loud, watch loud TV, or be seen or heard. You learn to be invisible. All of which meant I rarely had friends come to my house.
The perks? Well, my mother really knows how to tell a story! Don’t believe anything she says, but she’ll keep you entertained for hours! One of the characters in my current book has an illness based on my mother’s.
4. What do you wish people knew about being in a family with mental illness?
Mental illness is a disability just like other disabilities. Non-violent ill people shouldn’t be avoided because of their disorders. And illnesses should be treated in the open, not shunned or locked away like it’s something embarrassing. Mental illnesses are very common, but people tend to hide these patients away from public view. In the old days, it wasn’t even mentioned in public. It’s unfair to kids (with mental illness in their family) to suffer in silence like there’s something wrong with them, as well.
 
5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?
The worst are when healthy people make fun of mentally ill people. Or when they act afraid. Mocking people because of their disabilities is just mean and unfair.
Bonus: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?
Write what’s real. When I wrote mental illness into my story, BYRONIC, and had a biracial main character, as well, some people suggested I change it. But I worked in a school library with a large minority population. My kids wanted paranormal books with characters like them, so that’s what I tried to do.
 
I say, if diversity makes sense for the story you’re telling, then do it. Write from your heart, write what entertains you. If you do that, others will enjoy it too! Just ask my mama.

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