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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Blogiversary Bonanza: Courtney Sheinmel

Courtney Sheinmel is the author of Positively and My So-Called Family. For more information on Courtney and her novels, you can visit her at her website. Here is a bit about Positively:

Emerson Price cannot remember a time when life was ordinary. She was four-years-old when she and her mom were diagnosed as HIV-positive – infected with the virus that causes AIDS, and eight when her parents divorced. Now she is thirteen and her mother is dead. Emmy moves in with her father and stepmother, but she feels completely alone. Even though everyone has always accepted her, no one – not her father, or stepmother, or even her best friend – understands what it’s like to have to take medicine every single day, to be so afraid of getting sick, and to miss her mom more than she ever thought she would.

When Emmy’s dad and stepmother send her to Camp Positive, a camp for HIV-positive girls, Emmy is certain she is going to hate it. But soon she realizes that she is not so alone after all – and that sometimes letting other people in can make all the difference in the world.

I have yet to read Positively, but I will be adding it to my 10 in '10 list, as it sounds amazing.


What inspired you to write Positively? 

I owe the book to a woman named Elizabeth Glaser.  In February of 1991, when I was thirteen years old, I read an article about Elizabeth in People Magazine.  She was infected with HIV and had unknowingly passed the virus onto her two children.  After her daughter’s death in 1988, Elizabeth founded the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, in hopes of saving her son.  It was one of the saddest, bravest, most hopeful stories I had ever heard, and I decided I wanted to get involved.  Since then, I’ve met a lot of men, women, and children who are HIV-positive – regular people who never imagined how their lives would be changed by illness.  I’ve often wondered how I would handle being thrust into that situation – particularly as a young kid.  In Positively, the main character, Emerson (“Emmy” for short) is thirteen, and she has a personality that’s a lot like mine; but unlike me, she is living with HIV, and loses her mother to AIDS. 

Besides writing and reading what else are you passionate about?

Off the top of my head, in no particular order (and this is by no means an exhaustive list):  My family.  My friends.  My godson, his older brother, and all my friends’ kids.  Broadway shows.  Music by Carly Simon, Sheryl Crow, and Madonna.  Extra cheese.  Reruns of ER.  New York City.  California.  Taking pictures.  (I would like to say I’m passionate about exercising, but that would be a lie.)

What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing Positively?

In a lot of ways, I was my own worst enemy while I was writing this book.  I felt like I didn’t have a right to tell the story.  After all, my mom is alive and well; I can see her and speak to her whenever I want.  And I’m HIV-negative, and don’t have to take pills everyday.  I wanted to do right by Emmy, and I didn’t want to offend anyone who was living with HIV.  One night I had dinner with Elizabeth Glaser’s son, Jake.  He has been HIV-positive since birth, and when he was ten years old, his mom died from AIDS.  I told him that I was really scared about what I was writing, and he encouraged me to keep going.  He said he believed in me, and believed I could tell the right story.  I will always be grateful to him for that. 

How did you select your characters’ names?

Naming characters is one of my favorite parts of writing a book!  Often, I use the names of people I know, and when I reread my work, I love seeing those familiar names – it’s like proof that the book in my hands is actually mine. 

In Positively, a few of the characters are named after my stepsister, her husband and kids.  One day I called my niece, Nicki, and told her that I’d named Emmy’s best friend – a very pivotal character – after her.  I thought she would be thrilled.  Instead she asked if I could name a character after her dog, Dakota, who had just died.  I hadn’t been planning to put any dogs in the book.  Nicki was really disappointed, so we worked out a compromise, and it ended up being part of one of my favorite scenes.  Thank you, Nicki!

What do you hope readers take away from your novel?

I know when a book is labeled an “issue” book, there’s the danger of sounding preachy, or like you’re trying to teach certain lessons.  I hope that’s not the case with Positively (or anything else I write).  My goal is to write well enough so that the story is realistic, and readers can identify with my characters and empathize with their situations.  And I hope, when they finish the books, they feel like the time they spent reading was worthwhile.

What's next for you?

My next book, Sincerely, Sophie/Sincerely, Katie, will be published by Simon & Schuster on June 8, 2010 -- I think it’s fitting that the book is a Gemini, because there are two protagonists.  Sophie Turner and Katie Franklin are 11-year-old cross-country pen pals who confide in each other when their home lives seem overwhelming.

And I just finished the edits for my 2011 book (we haven’t settled on a title yet), which follows seventh grader Carly Wheeler, whose life is turned upside-down the day FBI agents come to her house to arrest her mother for a white-collar crime.  I went to law school and practiced law for several years before becoming a full-time writer, and this book marks the first time I’ve worked any of my legal knowledge a piece of fiction!


Thank you, Courtney! 

And that concludes my two year Blogiversary Bonanza. I hope you all enjoyed the author interview and contests. Don't forget, you still have a few weeks to enter the contest! Thank you again for all of your support!


  1. This sounds like a great book. I had not heard of it yet, but I am going to add it to my Amazon wish list right now.

    It is fun that you are doing a blogiversary. I am going to go back and catch up on your posts!

  2. I've never heard of it before either, but it sounds like a very interesting book. I enjoyed reading her responses, especially to your question about the biggest challenge she faced while writing it. I'm thinking of checking this book out now; thanks!

  3. Typo - her book is 'My so-called Family' not My so-called Life'. Great site!

  4. Thanks so much for a GREAT interview!!! (And I didn't even notice the MSCF typo.)

    xox Courtney


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