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Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire
Now Available!
Q & A: Behind the Book

Brenda answers your questions:

 Q. Is this a true story?

A. No, but Jemma's story is inspired by some of my real life experiences at Camp Birch Knoll in Phelps, Wisconsin. I designed Camp Star Lake to look and feel as much like CBK as possible. At Birch Knoll, there really is a Firelighter award, and I really had to learn the difference between "earning" it and "winning" it. I really once sailed in a race on a blustery day and nearly sunk the boat. I really had a crush on the water-ski instructor, and I really embarrassed myself once when, unbeknownst to me, I had a booger hanging out of my nose while riding in the boat with him. And the truest thing of all? I really love camp just as much as Jemma does.

 Q. What motivated you to write this book, which is so different from Julia's Kitchen?

A. Growing up, I loved going to overnight camp more than anything in the world. I knew I wanted to write about camp, but unfortunately, you can't write a book with just a setting. You need a character and a plot! So that's where the friendship story came into play. I wanted to explore the pain and growth that happens when you realize best friends forever doesn't always mean forever. Sometimes it means best friends for now.

When a romantic relationship ends, there is usually some sort of official break up. But with platonic relationships, it's more subtle. And sometimes, that makes it harder. Jemma struggles at camp because she feels the loss of her best friend drifting from her, but it's never addressed. It's never made clear. This kind of situation is a recipe for insecurity and heartbreak. I've experienced it. I've seen my daughter experience it. And I have to believe most people in the world experience it. It's not pretty or fun, yet the wisdom that comes from learning to cherish friendships no matter how long they last, coupled with the strength gained from being able to let go and move on when the situation requires it, is a recipe for resiliency. And resiliency is a theme I'm very attracted to.

So even though Julia's Kitchen and Jemma Hartman don't seem to have much in common on the surface, if you look a little deeper you'll find both stories are about loss and both are about resiliency.

 Q. How do you come up with the names for your characters?

A. I sometimes like to name my characters after real people. The name Jemma Hartman comes from my sweet drycleaner, Jemma Jones, and my cousins, the Hartmans. Also, within the book, I included the names of a bunch of my camp friends as a way of honoring our time together. And because my daughter goes to Camp Birch Knoll now, I decided to use some of her camp friends for names, too.

 Q. Is it possible to make new friends and keep the old?

A. I think so! It depends on the friend. Some friends are meant to be in your life forever. Others are temporary. But both kinds of friendships are valuable and should be treasured.