contemporary YA / Debut Club

Debut Club: Interview with Dana Elmendorf, author of SOUTH OF SUNSHINE

Kate Hart recently interviewed Dana Elmendorf about her debut novel, SOUTH OF SUNSHINE, a contemporary YA novel published by Albert Whitman & Co. on April 1, 2016.

About the Book:

South of Sunshine_CVR.jpg

In Sunshine, Tennessee, the main event in town is Friday night football, the biggest party of the year is held in a field filled with pickup trucks, and church attendance is mandatory. For Kaycee Jean McCoy, life in Sunshine means dating guys she has no interest in, saying only “yes, ma’am” when the local bigots gossip at her mom’s cosmetics salon, and avoiding certain girls at all costs. Girls like Bren Dawson.

Unlike Kaycee, Bren doesn’t really conceal who she is. But as the cool, worldly new girl, nobody at school seems to give her any trouble. Maybe there’s no harm if Kaycee gets closer to her too, as long as she can keep that part of her life a secret, especially from her family and her best friend. But the more serious things get with Bren, the harder it is to hide from everyone else. Kaycee knows Sunshine has a darker side for people like her, and she’s risking everything for the chance to truly be herself.

About the Author:


Dana Elmendorf was born and raised in small town in Tennessee and now lives in southern California with her husband, two boys and her tiny dog. When she isn’t exercising, she can be found geeking out with Mother Nature. South of Sunshine is her first novel.

You can find Dana online at

The Interview:

Kate: What provided the initial spark for your book?

Dana: An SCBWI LGBT meeting and Ellen Hopkins were the inspiration for this story. Essentially I was stalking an agent who was at that meeting.  When a discussion about why don’t straight authors are scared to write about gay characters, they write about vampires and they aren’t vampires.  I interjected with how I would be scared to write an LGBT character because I was scared to offend an already offended community.  I was scared to write that because then I’d have to show some hard truths about the south and its lack of acceptance of the gay community.  That’s when Ellen Hopkins pointed her finger and me and said, “Write that.  Write that story.  Write what scares you.”  After that conference I told myself there was NO WAY I was going to write that story.  45 days later, I finished South of Sunshine.

Kate: What has been the hardest part of the publishing process so far?

Dana: Writing the next book. I never thought writing the next book would be this hard.  Especially since I wrote four (terrible) books before South of Sunshine.  You would think with finding an agent or being on submission was hard but those phases of the process never stressed me out as much as writing the next book.  I think there’s so much pressure to get the next book out and that it be a good book that it’s locked up my creative ability. It has me second-guessing everything I write. I’m reading some books on craft to help rebuild my confidence so hopefully that helps.

Kate: Do you have any creative pursuits outside of writing? How do they influence your work?

Dana: I have so many other creative outlets. I love interior design. My Pinterest board is full of decorating ideas and designs. I’m always redecorating the house, to my husband’s dismay. I also love graphic design, creating logos or images for friends. Sometimes I make jewelry.  I don’t think my creative outlets influence my writing but I have an innate need to be creative.  So if I’m not writing, I’m spending my creative energy on something else for sure.

Kate: What are you working on next?

Dana: This novel will be the death of me. After two hardcore revisions I will now be rewriting the book from scratch. (Palms face.) Currently this novel is about a Texas teen that’s passionate about saving abused farm animals and she has one summer to get the rescue center in shape or lose funding from the school.  I can promise you there’s a cute boy, plenty of kissing and a skinny-dipping scene.

Lightning Round:

Best compliment ever received?

Once a person told me I was animated. I love that compliment.

Most thoughtful gift?

Handmade bookmark from my oldest son.

Big brother, little sister, in the middle, or one and only?

I have one older brother.

Music to write by?

I can’t write to music, but I do need it to fuel my muse. Mostly Indie bands.


Yes, my tiny dog Sookie. (4lb. Imperial Shih-Tzu.)

Best vacation ever?


SOUTH OF SUNSHINE can be purchased at Amazon, Powells, BAM, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.

About the Interviewer:

Kate Hart headshot square

After studying Spanish and history at a small liberal arts school, Kate Hart taught small people their ABCs, wrote grants for grownups with disabilities, and now builds treehouses for people of all sizes. Her debut YA novel, AFTER THE FALL, is coming winter 2017 from FSG. She also contributes to YA Highway, hosts the Badass Ladies You Should Know series, and enjoys taking so many book out of the library that her children ask why people are staring.


AFTER THE FALL – 1/24/17 from FSG: The story of a girl who refuses to play the damsel in distress, even in the face of sexual assault, and the boy who has always hoped to rescue her, until she seeks comfort in his brother’s arms and a terrible accident changes everything.


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