Lisa Acerbo, a full-time Trumbull High School English teacher, is also an adjunct college professor but in her off-hours, she is an accomplished author. Her latest book, Twelve Months of Awkward Moments, will be released Aug. 30.
The book is a contemporary romantic thriller centering on a straight-A student named Dani, who struggles with anxiety daily. Now in her senior of college she has vowed to break out of her shell and comfort zone. Life gets complicated though, with her kooky family, a new job, conflicts between her best friend and roommate, and then, a stalker.
A veteran author, Acerbo has had several previous novels published via independent presses. Her short story “Carnivorous,” debuting in October, is included in Limitless Publishing’s anthology, Carnival of Nightmares.
Anxiety in students is a timely topic. The National Education Association recently published an article calling anxiety an epidemic among students with nearly two-thirds of college students reporting “overwhelming anxiety.”
Acerbo adeptly combines humor and suspense to drive the plot of her new book through its twists and turns with a light tone that rings true. Having suffered with anxiety herself, she used personal experiences to make sure that Dani’s anxiety is believable. She was also inspired to tackle this topic by hearing stories from friends and family.
“The more I spoke about the topic, the more anecdotes I heard,” she said. “I hope Twelve Months of Awkward Moments starts a conversation on the topic. While years of teaching gave me a unique perspective, Dani is a fictional character even if some of her adventures are based on my personal experience with anxiety and stories my daughter told me about her time at college.”
The book is suitable for all adults but is targeted towards older high school students and college students.
“College is a time when students take on additional responsibility and independence, and that can exasperate stress and anxiety. The main character Dani makes mistakes throughout the novel, and the reader can see the connections to her anxiety, but she grows from those mistakes, learns from them, and ends up stronger,” Acerbo said.
Acerbo has taught high school for 16 years, while also teaching at the University of Phoenix for 10 years as an adjunct online, and recently started teaching at Norwalk Community College so she sees the anxiety students face.
“Students have a lot of pressure on them today that is different from other generations. There is more focus on attending college. Students need to achieve in and out of the classroom,” she said. “Not only do they need good grades, but they also need to play sports, join clubs, and be active in the community. I can’t help but think the unsettled times impact them as well. Think about coming into school every day after hearing about school shootings or watching the news.”
Avid readers will enjoy that the book defies easy categorization. “While technically a romantic thriller, I’ve always had trouble writing in a single genre,” she said. “Dani uses sarcasm and humor as one way to cover her discomfort so her wit and banter, along with some of the crazy situations she finds herself in, should make the book humorous. Hopefully, it comes across as funny. I also needed a catalyst to push Dani into a really uncomfortable place to make her realize how much her anxiety affected her daily life and a stalker was born. All my books have romance in them. I’m a romantic at heart and want the happily ever after for my characters.
“As for themes, I wanted readers to realize that everyone makes mistakes and it is important to learn from them and focus on the future. My anxiety makes me return to the past and overanalyze it. It is important to focus on what is ahead instead.”
The publishing process for this book (her sixth) was a year from acceptance to publication and included rounds of editing, cover design, formatting and then post-publication marketing. “When I saw my author page on Simon & Schuster I had a moment of ‘Oh wow’ and disbelief. Then I sent the link to all my friends and posted on Facebook,” she said. “Like every author, I would love to get a contract with a big publishing company, but I love to write and will continue even if it is just for fun.
She learned much during the process. “I loved every moment of it. I had amazing editors and a brilliant cover designer,” she said. “This book has been a really personal experience for me. I hope people enjoy it.”