Monday, April 18, 2016

Kathy Wiechman: Behind the Scenes of EMPTY PLACES

As promised in last week's blog, Kathy Wiechman agreed to answer a few questions about her inspiration for EMPTY PLACES

CAROL: I believe you used some family history to create this story. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

KATHY: EMPTY PLACES is not a family history, but events in family history served as inspiration for aspects of it. The fiction came first. It was only after I had created Adabel and her situation of being raised by her sister, Raynelle, that I happened to think about the fact that my husband's sister was also his mother figure. Thinking about his sister Mary helped me to flesh out Raynelle's character more.

I had also created a missing Mama, and throughout the story, it's a mystery why Mama is gone. My original idea for why she left wasn't working, so again I borrowed from my husband's family for inspiration. His mother (Helen) died when he was 13 days old. His parents had lived in Cincinnati until several years before, when at least three members of his mother's family died from tuberculosis. She feared she would die, too, so she convinced her husband to move their family of five children to the safer climate of New Mexico. Helen gave birth to two more children there, and died in a small town hospital, where medical care was much more primitive than it had been in Cincinnati. Perhaps in Cincinnati, she would have survived. Mama was not really inspired by Helen, because she died before I was born, and my husband has no memory of her. But I did borrow from her death and her fear of tuberculosis.

Both Mary and Helen are gone now, and I hope they would have liked the roles they played in helping me shape this story.

CAROL: My understanding is that within the publishing industry dialect is not looked upon too highly. Yet EMPTY PLACES is full of dialect which gives authenticity and life to your characters and setting. Can you share your thoughts about using the Appalachian dialect?
Coal miners carrying 3-tiered lunch pails to hold food and water. Carbide lamps
are mounted to soft headgear which offered no protection.

 Lynch, Ky Photo from the Benham and Lynch Collection,
Southeast Community and Technical College Appalachian Archive

Read more here:

KATHY: I wrote EMPTY PLACES in dialect, even though I know many editors don't like books in dialect. I used Polly's West Virginia dialect in LIKE A RIVER, and "got away with it," so I figured it was worth a shot. I can't imagine trying to tell Adabel's story without it, at least not in first person. I ran the dialect past many people after I wrote the first few chapters and was given a thumbs up from them all. I mention most of them in my Acknowledgements. The Kirkus Review mentions it as an "interesting choice" I made, but says it works "surprisingly well." The glowing review from School Library Journal doesn't address the issue, which is the way I like it. I feel if I make a big deal of it, it will call attention to it unfavorably. If and when someone attacks the book for it, I will decide whether to respond. 

CAROL: I thought the dialect helped me hear the voices of the characters in my head. Was it hard for you to translate what you heard into words? You have some “invented spelling”  Was that part difficult for you to do? 

KATHY: I received a lot of great advice with the dialect. Author Jan Cheripko said he uses slang for his characters and spells it phonetically. I did that in a number of places, deciding for myself how to spell the words. But I made the decision not to drop g's, as in workin' for working. I felt the number of apostrophes added by doing that could make reading it more difficult. When I read from it aloud, I drop those g's, and hope the rest of the dialect would make a reader drop them, too. It's impossible to get the whole twang clear, but I tried to come close. I didn't want to offend anyone by my use of dialect, so when I had written the first six chapters, I sent them to a Southern lady I know and asked for her opinion. She didn't feel it would offend anyone and made a few suggestions on other ways I could use it. I didn't take all her suggestions, because I felt some of them would confuse or slow down a reader.
Black Mountain Mine #30, Harlan County, Ky
CAROL: Why the coal mines in Kentucky? I remember you saying that you visited Kentucky a lot with your kids—was that part of what drew you to this story?

KATHY: What drew me to that part of Kentucky was meeting a couple who had grown up in Harlan County. They talked about company stores, company scrip, and kin who had died of Black Lung. Everything I write begins with a "spark" that makes me want to tell the story. In most of my writing, the spark was an event (the Sultana disaster, a coal mine explosion, a flood). With EMPTY PLACES, the spark was a place. I just had to set a story in Harlan County. from the Benham and Lynch Collection,
Southeast Community and Technical College Appalachian Archive
Read more here:

Read more here:
CAROL: Any comments on the state of historical fiction for young readers? I’m wondering the reactions you’ve received from reviews, teachers, or media specialists. 

KATHY: I know of several teachers who assign or read aloud LIKE A RIVER in their classrooms. And I will speak on using historical fiction in the classroom at a Children's Literature Conference in November. I think Common Core might have led to historical fiction being more readily accepted in recent years, and while Common Core seems to be on its way out, perhaps this is one good thing to come from it. The Grateful American Book Prize was developed for the purpose of getting young readers more interested in American history, and it might help more quality fiction to be written and published.

CAROL: What’s next?

KATHY: My current project is a novel about the 1937 Flood in the Ohio River Valley. It's based on my father's family's experiences during that flood.

As mentioned last week, I am giving away the ARC of EMPTY PLACES. Please leave me a comment with your contact information and I'll add it to the list I started last week. A winner will be drawn on April 21. 

For another chance to win one of Kathy's books and for a different inside view of Kathy's writing process, see Clara Gillow Clark's blog.


Linda Phillips said...

Great insight to using dialect and the value of historical fiction. I'm sure this was encouraging to you, Carol, as well as others who write historical fiction for young readers.

Carol Baldwin said...

It is encouraging Linda, and your name is in again!

Clara Gillow Clark said...

Wonderful insights about using dialect and writing historical fiction. Loved the old photos. Congratulations to Kathy on her new book!

Carol Baldwin said...

thanks, Clara. You are now in three times!

Rosi said...

This sounds like a fascinating book. Thanks for the interesting interview.

Linda A. said...

You know the value of sparks and how to use them to keep your story alive and inspiring. Thanks so much for sharing here. Great interview, Carol. Thank you too.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for leaving comments LInda and Rosi. Linda you are in three times, Rosi you're in too!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Kathy, I am so glad you are writing the flood story! Am reading Empty Places now and hope to review it soon! I am eager to share it with my sister-in-law who lives in Eastern KY and is also a writer.

Thanks Carol, for hosting Kathy and highlighting her amazing work.

Kathy Cannon Wiechman said...

Thanks for doing the interview, Carole, and thanks, everyone, for your comments.

Carol Baldwin said...

My pleasure, Kathy!

Unknown said...

My aunt Joyce (Hostetter) has got me intrigued. I'd love to read this, whether I win a copy or not. I live in southeastern Kentucky, and one of our most memorable family vacations was when we took our children to visit the Blue Heron mining camp in Stearns, KY. (The memorable part may have been because it was blistering hot and I was as pregnant as a pinata at a 6-year-old's birthday party. Maybe the misery planted the memories more firmly in my head.) :-) Also... I love a read-aloud book with a southern accent. It's the only one I'm capable of.

Carol Baldwin said...

RUthie, Thanks for leaving a comment and I'm happy to add your name. I can tell you're related to Joyce: "Pregnant as a piƱata at a 6-year-olds birthday party" is great!

Clara Gillow Clark said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH, Carol and Kathy! So thrilled that I won EMPTY PLACES!

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