Thirty years after her first novel, young adult author Lurlene McDaniel has decided her latest book, “The Girl with the Broken Heart,” will be her last.
A graduate of one of University of South Florida’s first classes in 1965, McDaniel will be returning to her alma mater to discuss her career and see an exhibition of her work at the Tampa campus library Thursday.
“I'm so excited - you know, it's not every day that your legacy gets showcased,” McDaniel said. “Your legacy can live in perpetuity if the library takes it.”
Since the beginning, McDaniel’s books have been centered on young adults dealing with issues of chronic illness and mortality, a topic she says was inspired by her son’s struggles with diabetes.
“I loved changing people's perceptions of life of the disabled, of the chronically ill,” she said. “And yes, it's true that many of the characters died, but I always had a little love story and I always tried to end the books on a note of hope. I never wanted to leave a reader without hope.”
McDaniel said her final book is a “typical Lurlene McDaniel novel,” but instead of teenage characters, her “Luminous Love” series focuses on young adults in their early 20s.
“'The Girl with the Broken Heart’ deals with a made-up town that I’ve made through the last five books,” she said. “It’s a double entendre with the broken heart. She not only has a heart issue, she also has a very great sadness of the literal broken heart over a terrible grief.”
She said that, with this book, she tried to go out on a high note, knowing that it was time for a change when the characters stopped talking to her and she realized she had written every story she ever wanted to write.
“I thought, it’s time. It’s just time to hang up the old quill and then live the rest of my life for fun and travel and family and that sort of thing,” McDaniel said.
During her time at USF, McDaniel was part of establishing the Tri Delta sorority and was one of the first staffers for the Oracle, which wasn’t the student newspaper it is today.
“I was a co-editor of the very first yearbook, The Oracle,” she said. “We had this brainstorm to turn the book into free verse, as much of it as we could. And it was hard work, but fun and rewarding.”
The “Coffee & Conversations” event to honor McDaniel will be her first time back to campus in over 20 years. She said she is looking forward to talking to her fans, especially young women who came of age in the 1990s and have been reading her books since they were teenagers.
“The girls of the ‘90s were the go-getters and the doers,” she said. “They’ve gone into medicine and nursing and doctoring and missionary work just because they read a book and it lit their imagination. That is such a blessing to me.”
Even though she is retiring, McDaniel hopes readers continue passing on the love of reading to the next generation “because life is bigger than the screen of your cell phone.”
“Books can take you all over the world, and you should go,” she said.
“Coffee & Conversations” with Lurlene McDaniel is free and open to the public. It takes place Thursday at 2:30 p.m. at the USF Tampa Library. RSVP at the link above.