I met Lisa Kline when she presented a workshop on historical fiction at one of the first SCBWI events I organized in Charlotte. As she shared her process of writing Eleanor Hill and the way she used her family's history and primary documents, I was hooked. I knew after reading her book that this was the genre I wanted to explore.
Here is a summary of the story from Lisa's website:
Twelve year old Eleanor Hill knows that women in other places do more than hang laundry, tend gardens, and fry fish for dinner. But in Atlantic Grove, her isolated North Carolina village, most girls see nothing more in their futures than marriage to a fisherman and the meager existence that goes with it. Eleanor longs to experience the fast-changing world beyond Atlantic Grove -- she'd like to drive an automobile, see a picture show, and most of all, attend high school.
At last she has her chance. Without her papa's permission, Eleanor leaves home to live with her aunt and uncle in nearby New Bern. As she discovers the satisfactions of higher education, Eleanor also attracts the attentions of a handsome Italian immigrant boy and a prominent doctor's son. While spending her teenage years in New Bern, Eleanor begins to realize how valuable love and family are in her struggle for self-reliance. Set against the exhilarating backdrop of 1910's America, this engaging novel vividly portrays one girl's search for identity and experiences.Eleanor Hill was first published in 1999 by Cricket. In March of 2014, it was newly released. I asked Lisa to share some background about the book as well as the process of bringing it back into print.
CAROL: Where does Eleanor Hill fit into your career as a writer? What did you learn by writing it?
LISA: This was my first novel. I used my grandmother’s letters and photos from her childhood and young adulthood as the basis for my story. I felt my way along and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. My grandmother’s spirit truly must have been looking over my shoulder as I wrote, because after I sent it out I had two publishers make offers for it. And then it won the North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award.
CAROL: I know it is based loosely on your grandmother's life. Can you give some details about how you created the story? What about your grandmother's life prompted you to write this book? What did you include? What did you fictionalize? How did other family members react to the book?
LISA: I found out from my mother, the day before my grandmother’s funeral, that she had been one of the first women in New Bern, North Carolina to learn to drive a car. I was fascinated with that. I thought she must have been a spirited and independent young woman. It made me want to know more about her, and perhaps write about her.
Also, when I inherited her letters, I found a number of notes from young men. One said, “Will you company (sic) me to church this Wednesday?” Of course the young men couldn’t call girls up because a small town like Atlantic had very few telephones in 1910. I knew that my grandmother’s love life needed to be part of my story. She also kept her monthly budgets, and so I saw that she used some of her salary to help her family members, and that made me admire her deeply. I fictionalized some of it, borrowed some of it from the letters, and used some of what I’d learned from my mom about my grandfather.
Family members in general seemed pleased. I have a cousin who bought lots of copies for her friends and family members. I did later hear that some people didn’t like the way I’d portrayed some family members, and felt very bad about that. I’d changed everyone’s name, and almost all characters I’d made up since I hadn’t known them. But it opened my eyes to being even more careful about things like that.
CAROL: What was the impetus for bringing it back into print? Whose decision was it? Any challenges with that?
LISA: I was approached by a small press called The Bridge about republishing Eleanor Hill. (www.thebridgebooks.com) A board member had read and loved the book. The press takes on select projects and I was honored to have my book be one of them. I had gotten the rights back from Cricket many years ago – that’s something writers should always do when a book is taken out of print – and you do that just by writing your publisher a letter requesting that rights be returned to you.
: Tell us about the cover change. Why and how was that image picked?
LISA: The cover is a photograph of my real grandmother on a dock in her hometown of Atlantic. My daughter, Kelsey Kline, a graphic designer, designed this cover. I love it. There are two men standing on the dock, both ostensibly ignoring my grandmother but in fact very much noticing her. And much of the book is about my grandmother’s decisions about family and independence and men, so it captures the essence of the book perfectly.
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