#LoveOzYA Author Q&A With Michael Stoneburner
Michael Stoneburner lives in St Marys, Australia, with his husband, Joel. Michael has written a duology titled He Was A Boy Who Smiled. He is a survivor of domestic violence and school bullying. He worked in Australia for almost ten years as a Primary Teacher. He is also an advocate for mental health and works closely with Likemind, Penrith to talk about depression and anxiety.
Welcome to the LoveOzYA blog, we’re so happy to have you here!
Let’s go back to the beginning…have you been telling stories since you were a kid or was writing something you fell in love with as an adult?
Funny you ask that. My love for writing stories started off with me telling them first. Every Friday at school, we’d have Show and Tell and when it was my turn, I would tell these exaggerated tales of my adventures. The students thought I was so annoying. But instead of telling me to stop, my teacher helped me with my writing. I’d write these sentences but I’d exaggerate them when I read them out to the students. Their attitudes changed. I went from a ‘liar’ to a ‘story-teller’. They loved my stories. Interesting how their perspectives changed. I’ve been writing ever since.
Tell us about your new book.
I’ve recently self-published, Shorts, a collection of short stories focusing on the voices of the LGBT+ community. It’s something I tried to start when I was in high school, but I wasn’t in a safe environment to write those kinds of stories. This was back in the late 90s in a small town back in the United States called Lake Odessa. I was bullied a lot, even from the teachers. So, I kept a few of those stories and decided to put a few into the collection! It’s great to be able to write stories with gay characters in them. I didn’t have them growing up. It was all pretty secret. I’m glad I’m living a better life where I can write the stories I wish I had when I was younger. My other books, He Was A Boy Who Smiled, talked more about my life growing up in a home full of domestic violence and having to hide the fact that I was gay. Check them out!
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
I grew up in the States, but since I’m still growing up, I think it still counts the OzYA books I read when I moved here. I really love Jasper Jones. I also like Boy Overboard and ‘Deltora Quest' series. I used to read them heaps to the students when I was a teacher!
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
Besides my teacher who taught me to write my stories down, I also had my grandmother who would read me stories. I would see my mom read a lot too but she liked different kind of books than I did. I had a couple of high school teachers who recognized my writing talent and kept challenging me and pushing me to improve my skills. When I went to university, I had this English Instructor get me up in front of people to read out my poetry and short stories. I became an honor student, but things were getting worse at home so I moved to Australia where I finished off a teaching degree and became a primary teacher.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
We all have a unique voice with unique stories and Australia is so diverse in not only its people but also its environment. It’s so easy to travel out to the bush, to the cities, to the suburbs and to the mountains! Australian YA stories allow others to read about our voices! It’s been great to share OzYA stories to those back in the states and across the world!
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
When I first moved here, there was a book shop in Penrith on High Street called Dymocks (It’s moved into Westfields now). It was the first Australian bookstore I entered when I moved here. Since Australia was my home now, I would imagine seeing my books on its shelves. I still do! I still go to their shop and still see the same two people who worked there when it was on High Street. Makes me feel like home.
My favourite library is Penrith Public Library. I go there often. It’s a great place to hang out, writing my stories and read new ones or go back to reading old ones. Can I tell you a secret? I even hid a few of my books in the library for people to find, especially the Pop Up Libraries that appear in the shops. I love signing copies and leaving them around knowing people will read them!
What was the last book you read and enjoyed?
I am currently reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I haven’t read his books before and someone told me to start their and then read The Graveyard Book. I want to reread a few Garth Nix novels. I love Sabriel!
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
I love to play board games. I think it’s a great way to hang out with people you love and beat them at the games and laugh in their face when I win. I mean, no way, I don’t do that. I play a lot of Dungeon and Dragons, which is great to character build and world build. I also like to go to Writing Groups. It’s a great way to interact with people and practice different forms of writing.
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
Oh my, this is a real thinker. I tend to try and forget the worst pieces of advice! That would be my best advice…forget about the bad ones. Haha. Okay, the worst advice I got about my writing was not to write about things that would upset people. So, I wasn’t allowed to write about the abuse I grew up with or my alcoholic father. I wasn’t allowed to write about anything with LGBT+ characters in it. Don’t hold back, I say. You write what you need to write. The best advice though would be to keep writing. Don’t stop. Write something every day. And finish it. Don’t worry if you think it’s terrible. That’s what editing is for!
What do you love about OzYA?
I love that each year it keeps getting more diverse. We are hearing from voices that have been silenced for too long and readers are LOVING to read their stuff. It’s so inspiring and I can only hope that I can contribute to all these wonderful voices!
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