08/30/2013 04:49 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2013

A Summer Intern's Labor of Love

As the summer draws to a close and students head back from the workplace to the classroom, what will they take away from a couple of months on the job? Summer interns in book publishing enter the world of books knowing that they love to read and write. Here at HarperCollins, our editorial interns gain a lot of insider knowledge through special access to our authors and the "book birthing" process. They typically read manuscripts, write rejection letters, and see a book transform from words on a page to the final product on a store shelf or an e-book retailer.

For one of our interns who worked this summer as a member of my creative development team, the result was more than expected, thanks to one very special book: Etched in Sand : A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island.

Xanthe Gallate will attend the University of Chicago this fall. She spent weeks working on different aspects of promoting this memoir by debut author Regina Calcaterra, who was one of those five siblings. Calcaterra, whose drug-addicted mother could have won the award for worst parent of all time, recounts how she rose above a childhood of homelessness, abuse, poverty, and foster care to become a successful lawyer and New York State public official. And for Xanthe and the thousands of others who have read Regina's story and been moved by its message, her book is now serving as a life guide on how to appreciate the gifts that so many of us take for granted.

Xanthe had a big wake-up call, not only from reading Etched in Sand but also from having the chance to interact with the author and to see the book become a New York Times bestselling e-book, hitting #12 on the non-fiction charts just 22 days after its publication on August 6, 2013.

lisa sharkey

Here are Xanthe's lessons in life based on reading and working on this amazing and inspirational title, combined with what I ended up learning from all our interns' reactions to this potent dose of Regina's reality:

1. Education is key. Throughout her childhood, Regina clung to education as a means of triumphing over the poverty she grew up in. She found refuge and escape in books and received support from teachers and librarians who encouraged her to pursue her dreams. Having a full education is such a strong platform to propel you forward in life.

My take: Far too many of our lucky children have not been exposed to the fact that most children in the world will never have access to books of their own, let alone to higher education. By reading books like Etched in Sand, we can open the discussion with our children of privilege about why taking your school, teachers, and readily available access to knowledge for granted is truly a waste of one's life.

2. Make the most of what you have. As Regina shows, you don't need to be privileged to make a happy life for yourself. Don't write yourself off if you feel as though you don't have the support--financial or otherwise--to pursue your goals. Use the resources that you do have to do the best that you can.

My take: We try so hard to boost our children's egos on a regular basis, and the epidemic of helicopter parenting does little to allow children to learn how to be resourceful on their own. It's important to keep their lives in balance by not over-indulging and over-monitoring them so that when they do fall down (as they inevitably will), they will have the skills to pick themselves up again and again.

3. Keep your game face on. It is much easier to be productive when you are not complaining or asking for sympathy, and Regina highlights this beautifully in Etched in Sand. We all have our bad days, but the clarity that comes with a new sense of perspective can be incredibly refreshing.

My take: There is a time and place to complain about your life, but the more you do it, the more problems you will have. Social media is a great way to express yourself, but negative thoughts and words can quickly become negative actions. Your chances of success and happiness will be much greater if you do, in fact, "Keep Calm and Carry On."

4. Be patient and persistent. It took Regina decades before she could finally sit back and feel as though she'd truly broken out of the poverty and neglect that she was born into. A surprising amount of success comes from having the right mindset. Stay disciplined. The most important goals in life often take the longest to achieve, but they are always worth the extra effort.

My take: In today's world of instant celebrity, children and young adults think that if they are not a superstar before they turn 25, they have failed. From my perspective, now is a better time than ever to use the interconnected world and the internet's wide reach to practice global compassion. There are many ways to effect change, and we must remember that real success is not measured by your number of fans, followers, or likes.

5. Family is everything. Regina and her siblings would never have survived their childhoods if they didn't develop systems of providing food and shelter for each other as a team. The sense of love and security that they gave each other was essential for getting them through periods of intermittent homelessness, hunger, and abusive foster homes. Be there for your loved ones. The emotional strength that comes from a healthy relationship can truly make the difference!

My take: Family really is everything! If you take for granted those who love you most, your life will be empty. Our parents may drive us crazy, we may bicker with siblings, and some of us may even become estranged from our relatives, but forgiveness goes a long way. Regina's story teaches us that even the most shattered family dynamics can be repaired through love.

While the summer internship process is aimed at preparing college students to enter the working world, those of us who have been here for a while can learn so much from seeing the workplace through the perspective of a college intern to whom every day is a new learning experience. My advice to those who are no longer in school is to try to stay open to the everyday lessons that we may be overlooking in our rush to get the job done.

To read more from Xanthe's take on Etched in Sand, visit

And to read a sample of Regina Calcaterra's book, go to