Hi guys, we have Brandon Witt stopping by with his upcoming release Under A Sky of Ash, Brandon chats about the inspiration that had him writing the story and we also have a fantastic giveaway, so enjoy the post and leave a comment to enter the giveaway! <3 ~Pixie~
Under A Sky of Ash
More than a decade after leaving Colorado to attend college and escape his past, Isaiah Greene moves back and builds a life in Denver as a special education teacher. When he meets Ben Woods, the mentor of one of his students, the attraction is immediate. The revelations that they’ve both suffered traumatic childhoods form a bond between them.
Raised by an abusive grandmother, Ben is a recovering addict who has made a family with his construction worker boss, Hershel, and Hershel’s husband, Daniel—drag queen ManDonna. Adding Isaiah to his life gives Ben a glimpse of a future he’d never dreamed possible for himself.
Both Isaiah and Ben are survivors, but when guilt drives a wedge between them, the past threatens to end their relationship.
Ben and Isaiah embark on journeys of self-discovery. Though their path will be difficult at times, humor and love find a way to bring light to the darkness.
There’s lot of places and ways to start a book. A dangerous moment where our hero is leaping to rescue a puppy dangling from a cliff. A couple racing from an on coming tornado. A stumble in a candy store that results in spilled peppermints that led to romance. The interesting ways are endless.
Therefore, you’ll probably think I’m crazy starting Under a Sky of Ash in a meeting. A special education meeting.
This is where our lovers met. Isaiah is a teacher, who has a troubled SPED student in his classroom. Ben is this child’s ‘big brother.’
Under a Sky of Ash is the second book I wrote after quitting a fifteen-year career of teaching and counseling in the special education world (I worked with kids with severe emotional disabilities). Yes, there MIGHT be some unloading of a special education teacher in this book. There were several times my editor had to rein me back in. They say write what you know. Well, boy did I! (Don’t worry, it’s not a book about education. Trust me.)
Even so, Isaiah and Ben wouldn’t have ever met if it hadn’t been for Aaron. The rowdy, heart-breaking, and loveable 6th-grade Aaron. I will say, there is a scene in this book with Aaron that, to date, caused me to completely break down. I’ve killed off characters in other novels that I loved, written about abuse, heartbreak, loss, you name it. It was this 6th grade boy, having just done something awful to both his teacher and his ‘big brother’ that slayed me. Absolutely broke down and then sobbed for probably half an hour or more after the writing was done.
In honor of Aaron, I thought I’d tell you about three of my favorite students. Yes, yes, I know. Teachers don’t have favorites.
Neither do parents.
Anyway, on to those students who impacted my life more than I impacted theirs. In real life, there are more than three, but I’d like you to be able to do something else with your day besides read this blog.
Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way. All names have been changed and the Aaron is not based on any one student I had. He’s both a mix and pure fiction.
Chester: I had Chester in my classroom from the end of his third grade year, all the way through 6th grade. He came to me not knowing all his letters, a vicious temper, and was one of the most dreaded kids in the school. So, of course, he quickly became one of my favorites. We fought like cats and dogs, he and I. He was determined to not do anything. I was determined he would. By the time he transitioned to middle school, he was reading near sixth grade level, was kind to most people, and was absolutely hilarious. He’ll soon graduate high school, and this summer, I visited him several times in the hospital after a suicide attempt. That’s the thing about all this. Disorders don’t necessarily go away, and the students never stop being your kids. Even when they’re grown.
Beth: She was a rare one for me. She didn’t have an emotional disorder, just a learning disability. However, she was brave enough to come into my scary classroom so that I could help her learn to read. She actually joined Chester’s group for an about an hour a day. She too learned to read. She is also about to graduate high school, and she’s touring colleges because she wants to be a special education teacher. She is the most angelic and beautiful soul I’ve ever met. To this day. She’s hilarious, irreverent, passionate, strong, and a fighter. And she is good. She isn’t innocent. She is good. By choice and by deed. When I grow up, I want to be her.
Kasper: He was the boy who lost everything. Every pencil ever given to him. Every ounce of emotional control he ever had. Each homework assignment ever assigned. He lost both of his mothers. Birth mom and step mom. One died, one ran away. He was never clean and always smelled. He would yell and scream and hit and curse and fight. He loved the ground I walked on and the feeling was mutual. Still is. To show me his love, one day, as I was sitting on the swings talking to another student, Kasper came up behind him, hands full of rocks and dirt, and plants, and dumped the mixture on my head, then rubbed it into my hair. He was genuinely, truly, surprised and dumfounded when I was angry. To him, he was trying to make me laugh. And ultimately, I did. He still got consequences. (I was the strict teacher.) That particular story did make it into the book.
Actually, I said three students. I’m going to tell about one more. Allison. She was wild, mean, illiterate, hostile. Her mother had done drugs her entire life. Allison had to fight off one of mom’s boyfriends to keep him from killing her mother—by the time she was in 3rd grade. She protected her younger brother. I could fill books about Allison’s story, as this is the very tip of it all. I won’t. They are her stories to tell, and now that she reads on grade level, she’s become a rather astound writer. I’ll trust her to tell her own story one day—or act it. She wants to be an actress. Where Beth was good and kind, Allison was brave and strong. When she became safe, she also became kind. . . and good. I’ve never known a soul as strong as hers. Who keeps going and fighting though she’s face more than nearly any adult I know.
None of these students achieved so much because I was such a good teacher. I wasn’t. My biggest strength in teacher was that I loved them and that I was stubborn. Those two things go a long way. The teachers who have taken my place are equally as stubborn and loving. But they are also fucking good teachers. It is a wonderful experience to walk into my old classroom and not only see it be as good as it was, but better.
Like I said, there really isn’t a ton about teaching in Under a Sky of Ash, and, honestly, Isaiah’s thoughts and emotions, at times, mirrored my own as I was burning out. However, the passion he has for his students, for Aaron, and ultimately for Ben, all arise from this similar place.
I do hope you’ll check out Under a Sky of Ash. It’s one of the books I’m most proud of. And, give the teachers you know some love—they don’t have it easy. And listen to the children in your life. Chances are, they’re better, funnier, stronger, and braver than you know.
Brandon Witt’s outlook on life is greatly impacted by his first eighteen years of growing up gay in a small town in the Ozarks, as well as fifteen years as a counselor and special education teacher for students with severe emotional disabilities. Add to that his obsession with corgis and mermaids, then factor in an unhealthy love affair with cheeseburgers, and you realize that with all those issues, he’s got plenty to write about….