Interview by Brock Eastman
Featuring Last Summer At Eden
From the moment Poppi Savot steps out of her car and into Camp Eden, she feels at home. This is her dream: a new job in the beautiful southern California hills. Life will be one long songfest around a campfire with s’mores and kids learning about Jesus.
Not so fast.
Eden isn’t paradise.
First, there’s this guy—Jake—who complicates everything. Then, there’s her boss—Bryan—who wastes no time telling her the bad news. There aren’t enough campers. There isn’t enough money. This is Eden’s last summer. She will be unemployed and homeless.
But Poppi has hope. Ridiculous, outrageous, faith-driven hope. Still … is that enough?
“Christina Hergenrader’s Bible studies are insightful and full of honesty that arouses great discussion among a group of women of faith and her young adult novels are refreshing and full of real characters who are daily challenged with the things of this world, yet use their faith in Jesus to overcome. Such a fun read!”
--Jennifer Ward, Librarian at Lutheran South Academy
Brock: It's wonderful to sit down and talk with you today, Christina. What was your inspiration for writing Last Summer at Eden?
Christina: Camp! For my readers—young adults—there is NOTHING like the experience of summer camp. Everyone remembers the bunk wars, singing around a campfire, the fierce Capture the Flag games, learning about Jesus from cool counselors, and the crazy food. I needed to capture this world for all the camp people out there.
Brock: Tell us about the main characters. Who are they? What makes them unique?
Christina: The main characters are Poppi and Jake. She is dealing with (or, actually, trying to ignore) her grief from her mom’s recent death. He is on the fast-track to becoming a successful attorney. In radically different ways, they’re both learning life isn’t what they expected, but God always gives them hope for something better. Through it all, Poppi and Jake totally disagree about whether or not Eden should be saved, but they do agree on one thing: they do not like each other. For now.
Brock: Give us one fact about each main character that no one else knows.
Christina: The main character’s name is Poppi and I’ve always had a very clear image of who she is. This past summer when we picked our kids up from camp, Elisabeth’s counselor was exactly how I imagined Poppi. I considered renaming my character, Sandi (after this counselor). But my editor loved the name Poppi. As for the hero of the book, Jake, he’s named after Jake Ryan from Sixteen Candles. Because, well, EVERY woman my age had a Jake Ryan crush.
Brock: In three words, what is this book about?
Christina: Camp. Jesus. Love.
Brock: Do you outline the entire book before starting, or do you write as you go and let the characters take control of the story?
Christina: This is such an interesting question because I actually wrote Last Summer at Eden a few years ago. Then we had a baby and I didn’t have time to finish it. I couldn’t get the story out of my head, and when I came back to it, I had the basic structure of the book, but I needed to polish the story. It took about nine months of writing and re-writing to get it right. But now? I’m so proud of this book.
Brock: How do you believe this story relates to the lives of readers?
Christina: The story explores so many familiar struggles. The main character, Poppi, is learning to lead, even though she feels completely unprepared. She’s trying to heal from her mom’s death. She finds herself surrounded by people who love Jesus, even though she’s not sure if she trusts Him herself. The world of camp is so familiar to most readers—the bad food, terrible sleeping arrangements, bonding around the camp fire. And, then there’s the cute boy who she spends 24 hours a day working—and arguing—with. So much here that teen readers can relate to.
Brock: What is your favorite genre to write for?
Christina: I love to write for young adults. The characters feel hurt and joy so deeply, and they change so dramatically. In life, decisions we make during our teen years steer so much of the rest of our lives, and I love capturing this in YA fiction.
Brock: Any certain research required for the book, or is it all from your imagination?
Christina: Yes! Fantastic research! The book takes place at camp, and I got to spend time at Camp Lone Star, a Lutheran camp that our kids attend every summer. Plus, I got to talk to camp people about their experiences. And wow. That was so fun because camp is an enchanted world that people LOVE to remember.
Brock: Were any scenes or characters cut from the book?
Christina: Yes, in my first draft of this book, I created a couple counselors who were stereotypical Southern California, and they were obsessed with celebrity culture. They were ditzy and fun. But one of my first readers commented on how much she had looked up to her camp counselors, and how she liked to remember that about them, not see them as shallow. When I heard her passion, I knew that readers would enjoy the story more if I included the kind of superhero counselors so many of us have loved.
Brock: What do you hope kids take away from this book?
Christina: Hope. Living as a Christian means always having hope that God has something better. This is such an important message for kids, and it’s the overarching message of Last Summer at Eden.
Brock: Yes, it is important for not only kids, but everyone to know there is hope for them through Christ. Are you a full-time or part-time author?
Christina: I write full-time, but I’m also a mom. I have four young kids, so I’m done writing at 3PM everyday. Then they get home from school and we have to start homework and I shuttle them to their six thousand activities. It’s the perfect balance of in-my-own-head creativity and get-your-hands-dirty hard work.
Brock: Soft shell or hard shell tacos?
Christina: I’m from Texas where we eat some form or TexMex three times a day. I’m not kidding. Today I had migas for breakfast, nachos for lunch, and fajitas for dinner. And, in Texas, it’s corn tortillas all the way, amigo.
Brock: Do you have a particular drink or food you consume when you write? Like coco, raspberry tea, animal crackers?
Christina: I drink hot tea by the gallon when I write. Hot tea is so critical to my day that I’m expecting my husband will soon have some kind of a hot water spigot installed in our kitchen.
Brock: Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what are some examples?
Christina: Thank you for asking this because YES! Part of my inspiration in Last Summer at Eden was the worship songs. Every one of the 79 chapters is named after a song that campers and counselors would sing around a campfire. I made a playlist of these songs and listened to them until my family never wanted to hear Kumbaya again.
Brock: Is this book dedicated to anyone?
Christina: This book is dedicated to camp counselors. There is no harder or rewarding job. They literally are on 24 hours a day, wearing clothes that smell like smoke and were washed in an outdoor washing machine, singing and dancing and telling kids about Jesus. They are the living, breathing heroes to the next generation. Also, to two dear friends who both worked as camp counselors.
Brock: Do you have a “test” audience?
Christina: I read this book to my own four kids, which is one of the single MOST FUN things we’ve done together. The kids loved the book and they would play act as the characters. Talk about surreal. Seeing what parts they loved helped me form the story. When they would drift to sleep during scenes, I knew what to cut.
Brock: Be sure to keep an eye out for Last Summer at Eden as it comes out on April 11, 2017.
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