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Interview with Tara K. Ross

Over the last several months, there has been 24/7 news coverage about how the world has been coping with the COVID-19 virus. There is another disease that's been wreaking havoc for a long time, but now in this period of isolation and uncertainty it has been doing even worse damage, especially among teenagers: mental illness.

Tara K. Ross's Fade to White is a Christian contemporary young adult novel that covers mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, suicide, and self-harm.

"I believe we are in a critical juncture when it comes to discussion about mental health for teens," Ross says. "There is a quieter epidemic occurring right now beneath the more public pandemic headlines. I wanted to draw attention to that and discuss how faith can be a part of the healing journey for so many struggling with mental illness."

Ross is well aware of how much teens are wrestling with these issues, as she has been a school-based speech-language pathologist (SLP) for 14 years, and now works part-time within a mental-health focused intensive support program.

"Much of the work I do focuses on children at risk for mental illness or who are already living within it. This is very difficult work, but so needed."

The author has also volunteered in youth ministry for over a decade, starting with Youth Unlimited. This is a faith-based organization that "meets vulnerable youth where they are at" in communities across Canada, which is Ross's homeland. She currently volunteers as a youth leader in her local church.

"I became a Christian as a teenager, so I wanted to give back to this critical ministry age."

Grappling with mental illness can occur at any age though, as in Ross's own life, she has fought with anxiety.

"I know firsthand how debilitating it can be. Fade to White is a story I needed to write for my own mental health. I used my own experiences with anxiety as a starting point."

Teens with anxiety, depression, or thoughts of suicide will not always present the same way, Ross says. So, she wanted to write a story about one girl's battle through these emotions and experiences that was not the stereotypical image of an at-risk teen self-harming. She read widely in this area to prepare for writing on this subject.

"There were many novels that did an excellent job of portraying characters with mental illness, but often the interplay of faith with their mental health journey was not explored. Some Christian novels that did explore the importance of faith included Nicole Quigley's Like Moonlight at Low Tide, and Sara Ella's Coral."

In Ross's own stories, she says she always wants to share the message of hope. In Fade to White, Ross wants readers to see a little piece of themselves. She also has a main takeaway.

"I want readers to realize even in their brokenness, God will use them to do amazing things. Those amazing things may not put them in a spotlight, but they might light a spark in someone else's life."

Along with getting this point across, another goal Ross has in writing her debut novel is "to tell a really good story that makes readers laugh and cry."

Readers no doubt will indeed travel from one end of the emotional spectrum to another, if Ross writes in the same style as she interviews. During the interview, Ross had this interviewer's emotions zinging back and forth: from feeling very sad when finding out about family members who have died in Ross's family; to laughing out loud about the author's "tea problem" (Ross's love for tea – an "affliction" she's passed onto her youngest daughter); to experiencing deep sadness when discovering Ross has known many teens who have had suicidal thoughts; then back to giggling again upon learning that Ross's cat, Woolie, was "the best listener" because he'd tangle himself up in her feet where Ross couldn't move, so she was left with no other option but to share her daily woes with her beloved pet.

The ability to convey the constantly fluctuating ups and downs of teen emotions, and the background of working and volunteering with our youth are not the only reasons Ross decided to write YA novels; it was also because she enjoyed reading this genre the most.

"Throughout my life, I've been a part of some kind of book club, so I've had the chance to read widely, but I always drifted back to young adult novels, despite being many years past the target age."

While it may be true that Ross is no longer a teen or in her early 20s, that doesn't stop her from acting young. She is an avid rock climber, and so is her husband, David – who she actually met on a climbing trip. Their daughters Lailey, age 8, and Adia, age 6, are reluctant climbers, but Ross says they'll climb if motivated by an ice cream cone. The whole family is adventurous though, and loves to travel, with one of their more recent trips being a jungle trek in Costa Rica.

Her youthful energy also crosses over into Ross wearing many hats. She's a wife, mom, speech-language pathologist, youth ministry leader, YA author, and … a podcaster. Starting last summer, she began The Hope Prose Podcast, which is "dedicated to YA Christian books – the authors who write them and the readers they inspire." Why would Ross produce a podcast along with everything else she already does?

"I can't help myself! I love reading Christian YA fiction and I wanted to give a voice to all of these amazing authors. When I first went searching for these books, they were honestly hard to find. I wanted to change that. I also love reading books aloud, so this gives me an opportunity to indulge in this passion."

Young writer Rebekah Black cohosts the podcast, and Ross says, "Rebekah and I meeting was completely God." The two "met" on Twitter. Black tweeted about wishing there was a podcast about Christian YA books that she could be on – right at the time when Ross was literally dreaming up the podcast idea.

Speaking of Twitter, God must be doing a lot of His awesome work on that social media channel – at least that seems the case for Ross. During a contest on Twitter called #FaithPitch, the author gained the attention of Hope Bolinger, junior agent to Cyle Young at Hartline/C.Y.L.E. Ross also had some publishers express interest through this contest, which Ross found so encouraging. Hope and Cyle helped Ross write a "very thorough and convincing proposal," which garnered further interest, and then after about six months, Ross ended up signing with IlluminateYA, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas (LPC).

"I had researched IlluminateYA when I was first exploring traditional publishers for my novel. I loved their heart and that their acquisitions editor, Tessa Emily Hall, was an extremely driven and well-respected author in her own right. It was a hidden blessing that Hope had a book coming out with them as well."

Prior to #FaithPitch, Ross had pitched a few agents, but had not yet approached any publishers. She says she realizes now how unusual her journey was, and "feels truly blessed" to have landed both an agent and this publisher for her first book.

For her next novel, Ross is getting ready to query the story, so she can't share too many details yet, but the book may have some cameo appearances from secondary characters in Fade to White.

"For my current WIP, I continue to explore themes of faith and mental health, but rather than discovering that internal light, this next book explores reigniting an ember of faith through real tangible relationships, rather than worldly approval."

What future writing wishes does Ross want to come true? Perhaps it's attending an ACFW conference. Ross says she has learned so much through the ACFW courses, and benefited greatly from the Scribes critique group.

"This is my third year with ACFW, and it has been one of the best decisions I have made in my writing career. I would love to attend the ACFW conference, and I continue to pray and save for the right year."

Maybe Ross's prayers will be answered in 2021, and she will be able to attend the conference in New Orleans. No doubt Ross has high hopes this will happen!


Melinda Freeland wrote her first "novel" at age 8 about Mr. & Mrs. Texas Toast, and their struggle to get off the plate before someone ate them. Today, Melinda writes fiction you can relate to—about humans—and their real struggles, not only in relationships, but also with understanding and trusting God. Love, Texas – Population 2 is her debut Christian contemporary romance novel. It was inspired by Melinda's reunion with her first love, her life as a small-town reporter, and her faith journey. Melinda lives in Texas with her handsome husband, two great kids, and her lovable Pug. She'd love to connect with readers at and on social media @authormelindafreeland and @melindafreeland.

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