The Long-Awaited Jean Reagan Interview!

Emily Those who are just joining us may not know that I've been excited all week for this blog tour stop by author buddy Jean Reagan.  Actually, I've been excited for it much longer than that, but you know how blogging regularly isn't my strong suit.  Or, if you're just joining us, maybe you don't know that.  But that has nothing to do with the point, which is this:

Today Jean Reagan, author of the recently released picture book ALWAYS MY BROTHER, is stopping at my blog on her virtual tour.  Wahoo!  Many thanks to Jean, for allowing me this opportunity to import many different kinds of technology into my post.  Also, thanks for inviting me to help spread the word about this amazing book.

Jean and I first bonded when we met through mutual bff Anne Bowen and realized we were both publishing a book involving death.  This wasn't a huge deal for my young adult novel--death is actually trendy in YA these days.  But for Jean?

I think you'll enjoy hearing about her experience publishing a picture book  about the loss of a brother told from the perspective of the younger sister.

Emily:  So, what exactly is a virtual tour?

Jean:   I had no idea when I first heard the term.  Basically it means different bloggers host daily stop-overs for a book.  My tour which began November 1st has included a radio interview, a link to how the artwork was created, and visits to grief sites, children’s book reviewer blogs, and now an award-winning author’s site.  (We’re so proud of you, Emily!)  I hosted the tour myself on November 3, rd the anniversary of my son’s death.

Cool Note From Tillbury House That I Very Tech-Savvily Copy n' Pasted Into This Post:

Blog Comment Prizes

We will draw 7 lucky winners from all of those who leave comments on the participating tour posts (Nov.1-13) to win one of the following prizes:

- A copy of Always My Brother signed by author Jean Reagan (5 available)* - A set of 10 winter notecards with art by illustrator Phyllis Pollema-Cahill (2 available)

* Winners are welcome to designate a grief center, school, or library to receive their signed copy in their place. All winners will be announced after the tour. US/Canada addresses only, please.

Twitter Prize Everyone that tweets about the tour using the hashtag #AlwaysTour from November 1-13 will be entered to win a set of three children's books from Tilbury House — your choice! Winners will be announced after the tour, US/Canada addresses only, please.

Sweet, eh?  So comment away!  And Twitter, my Tweet lovin' friends.

Emily: What prompted you to write this book?

Jean:  The specific trigger was I noticed that my daughter’s grief over losing her sole sibling was discounted.  Many well-meaning people kept asking her how I was doing.  And, maybe her dad.  But, rarely how she was doing.

Emily, you said you wrote THE WAY HE LIVED in part because you watched a friend’s grief be discounted, because she wasn’t in the inner circle.  We seem to assign acceptable degrees of grief based on proximity to the loved one.

Ranking occurs with the type of loss as well.  To me, all losses (death of a beloved pet, divorce, tragic setbacks, etc.) share a common emotional journey.  Grief shouldn’t be a competition between severities of loss or proximity to loss, but rather a chance to connect with others and heal together.

Emily:  Well said!  I couldn't agree more.   Now, we both write about a taboo subject matter: a child’s death.  How has that played out for you?

Jean:  Our family physician recently said that in our society, talking or writing about childhood death is even more taboo than sex.  Wow!  But, I think that’s true.

First, it was hard to find a publisher with the courage to take on this book.  (Thank you, Tilbury House!)

Second, through research I learned there was a desperate need for a book like this, precisely because it was a taboo subject.

Third, promotion (I actually prefer the term, “outreach”) for ALWAYS MY BROTHER has been an emotional journey.  Grief organizations and events have been very receptive.  It’s heartwarming when someone says how helpful the book is, yet it’s bittersweet knowing the sadness behind the comment.  I’m equally determined to appear at regular book events, too, even though amongst the “happy” books, my topic seems like a real downer.  Getting my book into the hands of kids who need it keeps me committed no matter where I reach them.

Emily:  You don’t explain the cause of death in your book.  Why?

Jean: Our books share this fact, as well, don’t they?

I wanted the main focus of this book to be about healing.  In a picture book, you only have fourteen spreads (double pages) to tell a story.  Elaborating on the cause of death would have required one or two spreads, thereby forcing me to cut crucial parts of the healing story.   So, it was a choice based on what I wanted as my primary focus.

Even though my teenage son died of a drug overdose, the John in my story was too young to die from drugs.  So, it wasn’t that I was too embarrassed or ashamed to mention drug overdose as a cause of death.  If you read our son John’s obituary, you’ll see that we clearly acknowledged it. John's Obituary My husband and I are proud of our son even though we are very, very sad he became trapped by a drug addiction that ultimately killed him.

I also hoped that by having an open-ended cause of death, my book would be helpful to grieving families regardless of their loved one’s cause of death.

And, ultimately in real life, the cause of death doesn’t alter the intensity of loss.  All death is innocent, I believe.  (With very, very few exceptions, of course.)  Your open-ended resolution in HOW HE LIVED for me offered this same conclusion.

Emily: Jean, my soul-sister, once again you took the words right out of my mouth.  This is exactly how I wanted to deal with the cause of death in my own book.  Of course, I also wanted to leave it open-ended because of the religious beliefs of my characters.  Religion doesn't play a role in your book.  Why not?

Jean:   I wanted my book to be universally approachable to families regardless of their religious traditions.  My book leaves plenty of room for readers to embrace religion and spirituality, I believe.  Families who find comfort through religion still need to cope with the day-to-day challenges of living with grief.  That’s the focus I chose with this book.  It would have deeply saddened me if my portraying a particular religious tradition had actively excluded a child who needs my book.  As I said earlier, there are so few books about sibling loss.

Emily:  What’s your next book project?

Jean:  If I only had one book published this was the one I wanted, because it is dear to my heart.  But, I recently signed a contract with Knopf for my second book, HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA (June 2011).  It’s wonderful to send a happy, silly book into the world as well.

I understand your next book takes place at Pitzer College (NOTE FROM EM-DAWG:  Yep, much of BACK WHEN YOU WERE EASIER TO LOVE takes place at this esteemed institution).  My husband taught there and my daughter will graduate from there this year.  So, you and I will be overlapping again, Emily.

Emily:  Yet another indication that we are soul-sisters!  Thanks for joining us!

Jean:  Us?  Who's us?  Aren't you just you?

(Okay, so Jean really didn't say this.  She really said: Thanks for hosting me today).

You are very welcome, Jean.

To read more about the story behind ALWAYS MY BROTHER, visit  Thanks!