Johannah Davies (JD) Spero was born near a pristine lake in the Adirondacks and has lived in various cities such as
St. Petersburg (Russia), Indianapolis, Dallas, and Boston. She has pursued her love of narrative through degrees in English, Russian, and teaching—and has worked as an actress, a yoga instructor, a web design entrepreneur, freelance writer, and a high school English teacher. She lives in the Northeast with her husband and three young sons.
Drawing on her experience as a high school teacher—this time with a social concern, Spero infuses the rites of passage for the teenager—cliques, first kisses, peer pressure, and bullying—with magic. This stresses how tenuous and critical this time is for young people in a new, fascinating way. Written from Sami’s point of view, Spero’s narrative puts the reader into the mind of a fifteen-year-old who must navigate the tumultuous waters of being the new girl—the underdog who starts to win and is intoxicated by it. Truly a page-turner, this action-packed story will have readers of all ages eager to see what happens next.
Spero’s debut novel, Catcher’s Keeper, was chosen as a Finalist in the 2014 Indie Excellence Book Awards contest and also made the top 5% out of 10,000 entries in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.
Author Top Ten Favorite Things
My favorite quote is also my protagonist’s. “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” – Maya Angelou
– TV show
Seinfeld for making me laugh.
Friday Night Lights for making me cry.
– Comic book character
– Candy bar
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup!
– Junk food
Doritos! (original nacho cheese, of course)
– Place you visited
Our honeymoon destination was the Amalfi Coast in Italy. Can’t beat that. Ever.
One of my old favorite stand-bys when I lived downtown: The Parrish Café on Boylston Street in Boston
My parents have a cozy, rustic cabin on Elizabeth Island on Lake George, New York. It’s one of my favorite places on the planet.
Main character, Sami McGovern, a natural musician is recruited to try out for volleyball.
Finally, the time has come. I ride the giant wave to the locker room, letting myself get sucked into the energy. It’s like every single freshman girl is going to tryouts. The excitement is contagious. The locker room has transformed into a sort of primping party. It’s a more amped up version of backstage before one of my piano recitals. I’m giggling as I change into gym clothes and follow the others onto the court.
But I stop short on the sidelines.
Payne has the girls running the court lengthwise, tapping the endline paint with their fingers, and running back. What’s this exercise called again? I see Maddie, Shaunie, and Thalia. Pixie is here too, looking miserable. She’s not awful, though.
“Nice work, Maddie,” Payne calls across the gym.
Okay, so Payne has favorites. No biggie. Has she already made the cuts? I have better chances trying out for the New York Philharmonic. What am I thinking? I’m no athlete. They’re all going to laugh at me. Maybe it’s not too late to make a quick exit.
“Are you playing?” asks a voice beside me.
My eyes don’t leave the court. “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just watch.”
“Me, too, then.”
“Why?” I turn and am startled to see it’s the girl with the scarred neck.
“I thought you might want a friend.”
The scars look terrifying up close—shiny, raw strings of bumpy tissue that used to be skin. My mouth is stuck open, and I blink like mad.
“I’m Brenna,” she says with a huge smile. “Sports aren’t really my thing.”
“Sami.” A tiny wave. “Me, neither.”
“What are we doing here, then?” She laughs.
“You have a really nice smile.”
“You sound surprised,” she teases.
I must turn redder than her scars, my face is so hot. Because it’s true. I was surprised. Am surprised. It’s wrong, but I can’t help it.
Payne’s whistle interrupts us. “You girls joining tryouts or just socializing in your gym clothes?”
No time for apologies. Payne’s eyes are focused solely on me. “Come on. You’ve missed the warm up. On the court now. Let’s go.”
A nervous laugh with Brenna, and I concede. Whatever. This tryout is another orientation thing, right? A rite of passage for the new girl. It will be over soon, and I’ll go home and use my fingers the way they were meant to be used. Piano. What kind of tune will I conjure, what will my muse inspire? I’m daydreaming as I wander into the middle of the court.
Payne’s voice rings louder than her whistle.
“No, Sami. Right in front.”
In front? Me?
Payne grasps my shoulders to place me at the net when I feel something strange. My chest tightens with panic—a force enters me, making my insides quiver. What’s happening?
A jolt, vibration. A charge surging out from my chest to my fingertips, my toes.
The faces around me blur, but the ball is radiant. A blue glow. The ball sails over the net. Bumped. Set. To me? I leap, and it’s like my feet sprout wings. Out of nowhere I reach and—
It slaps the opposite court untouched. A clean strike.
“Point,” Payne cheers.
My body tingles. How on earth did I do that? And then I do it again.
I zone in. That neat leather ball leaves a laser-blue contrail as it’s punched into the air. I know what will happen next. I can predict its path! Am I the only one who sees it glow like that?
Bump, set, spike!
Wahoo! I’m a giant, tapping a ping-pong ball with my big paw. Easy. I’m above everything. Everyone. Even Brenna—the one person who’s tried to be my friend—now wears a worried grin. Something has separated us.
I’m separate from everyone.
The ball comes again. Soaring, my hand curved in perfect form, I guide it over at cheetah-speed that somehow feels slow. My arm retracts within a millimeter of the net, but it feels like yards away.
Everyone cheers. For me.
How did I get so good?
My eyes go to Payne, who’s already studying me. As much as I want to, I cannot turn away. My arms and legs tingle—itching to move, to play ball. The veins in my wrists pulse like a heartbeat. My birthmark throbs on my hand, ready to throttle that volleyball. I make fists, trying to contain it.
I stare back at Payne, the question ringing loudly in my mind: Did you do this?
She gives me a slow, wry smile. Goose bumps rise on my suddenly-athletic arms.
I think I’ve just made the team.
1. Please share how you came up with the concept for your book / story?
This book was originally titled PLAY FOR PANIC, meaning “play volleyball for Coach Panic.” For this book, it was this title that came to me first. The story grew from its play on words. However, Coach Panic is actually the name of a beloved coach at my former high school. Out of reverence to her, I believe I have to change the name (of title and character)…for the coach truly becomes a villain in my book.
2. Please name some of your other published works?
Catcher’s Keeper, which was chosen as a Finalist in the 2014 Indie Excellence Book Awards contest and also made the top 5% out of 10,000 entries in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.
3. What is your preferred writing genre? And preferred reading genre?
Though I’ve been writing for over a decade, I still consider myself a novice novelist—and I still enjoy tinkering with different genres, POVs, and tenses. I write the type of book I like to read, which are book club, though-provokers that cross different genres and categories…but generate great discussion.
4. How does writing impact other parts of your life?
My husband knows I have to write. Sometimes he sends me off to the coffee shop on weekends if he sees my words bubbling up, making my eyes go wonky. Ha! He’ll know I need that outlet. It is important to have balance, though. And I make sure to live my life as fully as possible, stay healthy, and plan for plenty of downtime with my family.