Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Dear Mr. Dickens: A Picture Book ARC Review and Giveaway

I'm following my own advice, "If you want to write, READ!" Since I'm exploring writing picture book biographies, I recently read several of Nancy Churnin's excellent picture book biographies. When I saw that she had a new book coming out, I requested a review copy from Albert Whitman. Dear Mr. Dickens is illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe and a great curriculum resource for 4-8 year-old readers. 



REVIEW

The year was 1863 when Eliza Davis decided to write to Charles Dickens.  She was a Jewish reader, who like many of her fellow Englishmen, paid two pence for his weekly magazine, All the Year Round.


Eliza admired Mr. Dickens stories because they were filled with compassion.  

.... he used the power of his pen to help others. When he wrote about children forced to labor in workhouses, people demanded change. When his readers were moved to tears by tales of families struggling in desperate, dirty conditions, they gave what they could to charities. As did Eliza.

Eliza loved his stories until she read Oliver Twist and read about Fagin, the "old shriveled Jew," who taught Oliver to steal.  Each time Eliza read Dickens' reference to the Jew,  "the word heart hurt like a hammer" on her heart.



"England was already a difficult place for Jewish people in the 1860s...Eliza wasn't famous or powerful. But she had the same things that Charles Dickens had: A pen, paper, and something to say."


Eliza feared her letter would make things worse. In spite of her fears, she wrote that his portrayal encouraged a "vial prejudice" and that he needed to "atone for a great wrong."

What would the great Mr. Dickens think?


"He frowned as he picked up his pen and began his response."


He was not pleased and let Eliza know it! He wrote, "Any Jewish people who thought him unfair or unkind--and that included Eliza!--were not "sensible" or "just."

Eliza wrote back to him. In her second letter she wrote about his past, present, and future.


Months passed and Eliza didn't receive a response. Was Mr. Dickens angry?

Finally, chapters of his new novel, Our Mutual Friend, began to appear at newsstands. Eliza "thumbed through the pages, shaking when she realized he had indeed created another Jewish character. Had her fears come true?"

In fact, it was the opposite. Mr. Dickens created a Jewish character and named him Mr. Riah, after the Hebrew word, re'a which meant generous and loyal. 

Eliza read the part where Lizzie Hexam, a young woman Mr. Riah helps, says of the Jews: 

"I think there cannot be kinder people in the world."

Eliza's eyes filled with tears.

She sat down at her writing table and thanked Mr. Dickens for his great compliment to her and her people.



Eliza's letters had a profound impact on Charles Dickens. He published essays protesting prejudice and during Oliver Twist's reprinting he told his printer to substitute "Fagin" where he had written "the Jew"


In their last correspondence, Eliza sent him an English-Hebrew Bible and praised him for making amends. Dickens wrote back that he was glad she'd spoken up to make things right.

"Eliza was glad she'd spoken up too."


BACK MATTER and MORE INFORMATION

The Author's Note includes extensive background about the history of anti-semitism in England as well as more information about Dickens and Eliza.
 
For more backstory about why Nancy wrote this deeply personal book, please see Kathy Temean's blog. All the questions I would have asked Nancy are answered there!

Teachers: Nancy has a lot of materials on her website for you to use in your classroom. 

GIVEAWAY

To enter the giveaway for my ARC (uncorrected proof), please leave me a comment by 9 AM on Friday, December 3. Teachers or librarians: Tell me where you work and I'll enter your name twice. Continental U.S. addresses only.

PLEASE NOTE: YOU MUST LEAVE YOUR NAME AND EMAIL ADDRESS IF YOU ARE NEW TO MY BLOG.

Congratulations to Susan Rice who won THE MEANS THAT MAKES US STRANGERS from last week's blog. Funny thing--her daughter graduated with Christine Kindberg too!

Monday, November 22, 2021

THE MEANS THAT MAKES US STRANGERS: Author Interview with Christine Kindberg and Giveaway--Part II

Last week in Part I, I reviewed Christine Kindberg's debut novel, The Means That Make Us Strangers. Today she shares her passion for racial equality and her path to publication. And as promised, I'll tell you how she and I are connected. 




AUTHOR INTERVIEW


CAROL: Everyone always wants to know how author’s get their ideas for their stories. What experiences did you have growing up as a TCK (Third Culture Kid) that influenced the creation of this story? Any parts of this autobiographical? Why did you pick this particular time period? 

 

CHRISTINE: I usually describe the book as exploring questions from my life in more extreme circumstances. A lot of Adelaide's feelings as she navigates the transition from Ethiopia to the US come straight from my experience as a TCK. The disorientation, the desperation to find people to connect with, the grief that sometimes attaches itself to little things, the embarrassment that comes from not understanding a new culture, the anger... I was definitely tapping into some of my own memories when writing about what Adelaide was feeling. I moved several times, back and forth between the US and Latin America, so I didn't have one long-term home the way that Adelaide does in Ethiopia, but I did transition to the US in high school. It's particularly rough moving when you're a teenager.

 

But the inspiration for the book actually came from a different angle. The original germ was a desire to explore the American rules around race and what would happen if someone broke those rules without realizing. As a TCK, I sometimes feel more comfortable with people who don't look like me, but skin color is too often the cause of deep divisions, changing everything from where someone is likely to grow up to where they go to church or school and how comfortable they feel shopping in certain stores. As a Christian, it matters to me when I see brothers and sisters with darker skin treated unfairly, and I want to know how to live faithfully as a white person, with all the privilege that comes from this skin color.

 

There are still lots of problems around racial divisions today, but I chose to set the book in the 1960s because I wanted to increase the danger around breaking the racial rules. The consequences for breaking racial barriers then was way higher than it is now, and I knew that would raise the stakes of the story to make it more interesting.

 

CAROL: Similarly, did any of the characters reflect people you know? 

 

CHRISTINE: I didn't consciously base any characters on real people...but I've been told more than once that Adelaide sounds a lot like me! I did borrow the name Kinci from a nickname my best friend from high school gave herself.


CAROL: Why did you pick Ethiopia as the country where Adelaide's family lived? 


CHRISTINEMy connection with Ethiopia came through research. I knew I wanted to give Adelaide connections to a rural village somewhere in Africa, and as I researched different countries, Ethiopia stood out as unique in ways I thought would be helpful for my book. It's the only country that wasn't colonized by Europeans, so I assumed Adelaide's white skin would carry fewer political connotations. It also has a history of Christianity that goes back for millenia, and that fascinated me. The more I learned about Ethiopia, the more I wanted to learn. And then the neighborhood I moved to in Chicago had a significant Ethiopian influence, with lots of Ethiopian restaurants, grocery stores, and cultural gatherings--and an Oromo church that met right across the street from my apartment. I read a lot and talked to people for my research, and hopefully someday I'll get to travel there!

  

CAROL: Why did you choose Greenville, South Carolina as the setting for the story? (I loved the reference to a few locales that I could relate to!). 

 

CHRISTINE: Greenville has a history of teenagers being on the front lines of the push for Civil Rights, which I found pretty inspiring. This wasn't unique to Greenville, but Sterling High seems to have provided a training ground for emerging leaders. There were a few incidents in particular that caught my imagination, like the desegregation of the library in 1960 thanks to nine black teens who were willing to be arrested over a request for reading materials. The youngest was fifteen at the time. And the court case of Whittenberg v. Greenville County Public Schools, in 1963--spearheaded by the father of seventh-grader Elaine Whittenberg--gave me the historical context I needed for the first steps of school integration that form the backdrop of my book. Greenville is also a beautiful city that I loved exploring and learning more about!

 

CAROL: As a former Greenville, SC resident--I agree! To switch subjects, I loved the deep first person POV. Was that a choice that came naturally to you, or did you play around with several POV first?

 

CHRISTINE: Thanks for saying that! I'm glad you enjoyed it. The choice of first-person narration did come naturally, maybe because this was my first book and I unconsciously put a lot of myself in Adelaide. But I did a lot of refining and deepening of the POV as I revised. There were at least four rounds of major revisions, so plenty of opportunities to refine!

 

CAROL: As I said in my first blog, I’ve never read a self-published book that is so good as yours. Why did you choose to self-publish it? Can you share any aspects of that road to publication? You acknowledge several people who helped with the proofreading and editing process- they did a great job!

 

CHRISTINE Thank you again! One of the reasons I was willing to consider self-publishing is that my day job is at a publishing house (I'm a Spanish-language editor at Tyndale), and I knew I could get help from friends who are talented professionals. For a long time, I was pretty resistant to self-publishing, so it definitely wasn't my first choice. But after trying for about four years to get the attention of agents and editors, I finally decided to listen to the advice of a mentor and take the risk of publishing it myself. I knew it would be a ton of work to produce and promote a quality self-published book, but I didn't want this story to languish on my hard drive. I decided to dedicate a year or so to giving this a try and seeing what would happen. I filled out the paperwork to register my own imprint as a business, and I called up my friends to ask for help with the cover design, editing, proofreading, typesetting, etc. (I did pay them, for the record!) I also learned everything I could about how to promote a self-published book. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I'm glad I went ahead and tried.

 

CAROL: What response have you received? Is your audience mostly adults? Teens? 

 

CHRISTINE: It's been such a privilege to hear from readers who have resonated with the story. And I've been surprised at how wide-ranging the readership has been! I've heard from thirteen-year-olds who loved it and from a ninety-seven-year-old who couldn't put it down. My audience is probably mostly adults who enjoy YA books, but their kids and grandkids seem to enjoy it too. I'm passionate about writing for a general audience, but this book seems to have gotten good traction in Christian circles, like when it won the Christy Award for Young Adult and the Honorable Mention for the Selah Award for Young Adult. Those awards have definitely helped with visibility!

 

CAROL: Did you Christian faith influence the story? If so, how?

 

CHRISTINE: I'd say everything I do is influenced by my Christian faith--at least, that's how I'm trying to live! My faith definitely influences what I think about the issues of racial justice and why I think everyone should be asking what it means to love our neighbors in a society that's deeply divided by race. That said, faith really isn't a part of the story in The Means That Make Us Strangers--church is mentioned a few times, but it's more of a social backdrop because faith isn't really on Adelaide's radar. Some of that was a conscious choice on my part, like when I chose to make Adelaide's dad an anthropologist rather than a missionary because I didn't want to have elements that could potentially be distracting for readers who aren't Christians. But mostly I wanted to be faithful to the story and true to the characters as I got to know them. With my next two books I wrestle a lot more with questions of faith through the stories, but whatever I'm working on, I'm passionate about writing books that come from a place of deep faith but aren't just for fellow Christians. My dream is to write honestly about faith and life in a way that fosters conversations about faith with people who would never walk into a church or a Christian bookstore.

 

CAROL: What’s next?


CHRISTINE: I'm currently waiting to hear back from potential publishers about my second book--I'm trying to go the traditional route this next time. Here's hoping there's news soon! That book is historical fiction set in England in the 1530s, about a nun who has to find a new purpose and way of living after the closing of monasteries and convents under Henry VIII. 

And I'm about three chapters in on my third book, which is set in the southern tip of South America in the 1860s-1970s, about the first white family to settle among the indigenous people in that part of the world. Very different settings and time periods for these next books! But a lot of the themes will continue and carry over.

CAROL: Thank you Christine, for writing this beautiful book and providing a giveaway to one of my fortunate blog readers. 

                                                ***

Christine and I emailed back and forth several times after I read her book. Since I read on her website that she went to Queens University in Charlotte, I asked her when she was in my hometown. She replied that she graduated from Covenant Day in 2005-2006 and I asked her if she knew my daughters, Lisa and Lori, who went to school there. 

She wrote back: 

"You’re Lisa’s mom! How funny—I was actually thinking of Lisa when I saw your name and that you were from Charlotte, but I thought there was little chance you’d be related. Lisa and I became friends the year I was at CDS, our senior year, and I remember going over to your house at least a couple of times. I was in the play that year with Lori."

It's a small world!



Christine Kindberg
Photo by Lindsey Bergsma

Christine would enjoy connecting with you on social media: 
Leave a comment on my blog and I'll add your name to the list of readers interested in winning The Means That Makes Us Strangers. (If you entered last week, you can enter again.) U.S. addresses only. If you are new to my blog, PLEASE LEAVE YOUR NAME AND EMAIL ADDRESS. A winner will be drawn on Thanksgiving.

Congratulations to Rosi Hollinbeck who won THE UNIVERSE AND YOU for her great-grandkids. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

THE MEANS THAT MAKE US STRANGERS: A YA Debut Novel Review and a Giveaway- Part I

Here is my criteria for loving a book: I don't want it to end so I drag out reading the last few chapters. That was the case with my most recent read, The Means that Make Us StrangersChristine Kindberg's debut novel. 

The book caught my attention when a friend tweeted that it had won the 2020 Christie Award and Honorable mention for the Selah Award

Here is the book's description from the author's website:

Adelaide has lived her whole life in rural Ethiopia as the white American daughter of an anthropologist. Then her family moves to South Carolina, in 1964.

Adelaide vows to find her way back to Ethiopia, marry Maicaah, and become part of the village for real. But until she turns eighteen, Adelaide must adjust to this strange, white place that everyone tells her is home. Then Adelaide becomes friends with Wendy and the four other African-American students who sued for admission into the white high school. Even as she navigates her family's expectations and her mother's depression, Adelaide starts to enjoy her new friendships, the chance to learn new things, and the time she spends with a blond football player. Life in Greenville becomes interesting, and home becomes a much more complex equation.

Adelaide must finally choose where she belongs: the Ethiopian village where she grew up, to which she promised to return? Or this place where she's become part of something bigger than herself?

I knew this book, with its hint of racial overtones and set in the civil rights period in the South, would become another mentor text for Half-Truths. What I didn't realize, is that it would also also provide vivid examples of deep first person point of view (POV)--something I'm working on while I polish my book.


REVIEW

You may be wondering now that I've told you what this book is about, what is left for my review?

Plenty.

Try this for an opening which demands that you read further:

A tangle of arms reaching toward the fig tree. Among the thicket of deep-black arms stretching toward the fruit, two arms stood out, pale as a moon.

I remember thinking how different those arms looked, while waiting for fruit to drop as Maicaah shook the branch. A fig hit the white hands and fell to the ground, and it was with shock that I felt the pain in my hands. (p.1)

Do you see the sensory information conveyed through this beautiful language? The tangle of arms, pale as a moon, and the shock of pain. These marvelous descriptions prepare the reader to be immersed in Adelaide's deep POV.  

That section ends with the children chasing after an ostrich.

We never caught an ostrich, despite the number of times we tried. We sometimes got close, but never close enough to touch, not even the dirty-white tail feathers.  (p.3)

There is something hauntingly poignant about that last sentence that shows the reader how Adelaide feels--without once using the word "feel."

Here's a later example, after she has moved in with her grandmother and aunt in South Carolina. Here, the author uses the word "feeling" but in a unique way. This comes after her aunt reprimands Adelaide for not saying "Yes, ma'am or No, ma'am."

I bunched my anger into a fist, feeling pride for the way I kept it in check. Marmee [her sister] would laugh with me about it later, and the edges of my anger slowly smothered and hardened as I held on to it. (p. 29)

See what I mean about deep POV? 

At school, Adelaide feels acutely that she doesn't fit in with other whites. When she sees a black girl, she assumes the girl must be from the Oromo ethnic group that she knew in Ethiopia. She tries speaking to her in Ormiffa but the girl and her friends misunderstand her friendly advances and tell her to seek her own kind. 

I turned my back to them and sat on the bottom steps, huddled against the railing. I didn't want to cry... This girl had looked so familiar, it had been like a taste of home. But the reality was that no one here knew what my life was like. No one had any idea where I'd come from. (p.41)

Later in the book, she walks home after school and spends her pent-up emotions in a deserted cornfield. By the time she comes home, her face is covered with dirt and tears. She goes to the bathroom to wash up before dinner.

There was a line on my neck showing where I hadn't yet washed. For a second, I stared at the line. Which was my real skin color: the speckled brown-and-tan or the smooth white? Which was the layer I was washing away? I blinked and the illusion was gone. I bent to continue washing, turning myself white again. (p. 83)

I could go on and on, but I'll end with a quote from one of her black friends, Nathan. The group of friends has come through a horrendous riot in which several whites ganged up on the black boys. A white girl, Emily Rose, invited the other girls to her house for a sleep over. One of the black girls thinks they'd just be asking for trouble. 

Emily Rose shook her head. "This is exactly the right time," she said quietly. "Besides it's just having friends over to my house for a party. Why shouldn't I?"

It's being together in the simple, common things that's most radical," said Nathan. He didn't look up from his sandwich. It was the first time he'd spoken all day.

"What does that mean? said Wendy. "It sounds like a quote."

"It means that basic, everyday things are the last barrier. When it's not strange for us to eat lunch together or spend the night at each other's houses or get married--then we'll really see each other as people, over and beyond our differences."  (p. 239-40)

Obviously, I love this book. Even though it's considered young adult, I recommend it for middle graders through adults. Anyone who wants to read a well-written book about segregation in the south--this is for you. The book is by far the best self-published book I've ever read. I can see why it won an Honorable Mention in Writer's Digest self-published books.

On Monday, come back to my blog for Part II when Christine talks about her inspiration for The Means that Makes Us Stranger, her path to publication, what she's working on next, and a funny way in which Christine and I are connected.

GIVEAWAY

Leave a comment (with your name and email address if you are new) and I will enter your name once. You'll have another chance next week to win a personally autographed copy of the book. If you are new to my blog or share this on social media, I'll give you an extra chance. Winner's name will be drawn on Thanksgiving Day!

                                                ******

Macduff                        See who comes here.
Malcom           My countryman; but yet I know him not.
Macduff           My ever gentle cousin, welcome hither.
Malcom           I know him now. Good God betimes remove
                         The means that makes us strangers.
                                (MACBETH, ACT IV, SCENE 3)

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Two Lyrical Picture Book Reviews and One Giveaway

When I picked LITTLE DANDELION: Seeds of the World and THE UNIVERSE AND YOU off my shelf to review this week, I didn't realize the connection between them. Beyond the fact that they are each beautiful STEM books published this year by Sleeping Bear Press, they each have sparse text, wonderful illustrations, and lyrical language. 

REVIEWS

LITTLE DANDELION: Seeds of the World is Julia Richardson's debut picture book. The illustrations by Kristen & Kevin Howdeshell work beautifully with the text, even playfully incorporating some of the words within the images. In an email, Julia told me that the finished product was exactly how she had imagined! 

What is more universal than a child plucking a dandelion out of the ground, blowing on it, and watching the seeds float into the air? Not much. In fact, children around the world enjoy this same experience. 


I loved the internal rhyme, alliteration, and vivid verbs used throughout this book that demands to be read aloud.
Swish, swirl, one hundred seeds fly.


On the next page, the reader discovers a mama and baby elephant with the text, 

The flower fades. Fluff puffs. POOF! Swish, swirl, one hundred seeds fly.

Children will enjoy the repetition of the refrains as the dandelion seeds fly from continent to continent--even to Antartica! (I didn't know seeds could float on water and travel so far...did you?)

The seeds hitch a ride on a panda bear's fur in Asia, on a kangaroo's foot in Australia, and in bird poop in South America! 

The last illustration summarizes it all and makes a great geography lesson as well!


The Author's Note includes interesting facts about dandelions and challenges the reader with two questions: "If you were a dandelion seed, where would you bloom? How would you travel?" You can find two activity pages here

                                            ****


THE UNIVERSE AND YOU is written by award winning author, Suzanne Slade, and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman. This is another wonderful STEM book with lovely figurative language including assonance, alliteration, and personification. I picture this book quickly becoming a child's favorite bedtime story.


The scene is set. What happens while you are asleep?

The reader discovers that even though "the earth beneath you seems solid. Still. But gently, ever so gently, it spins, lulling you to sleep."

Quickly, the little girl is pulled from her home to the solar system, and then back home again.



But while this little girl dreams big dreams of being an astronaut, the solar system "swirls and whirls" as part of the Milky Way galaxy which is just one part of the universe.



The book shifts again as the sun rises, and its rays "soar millions of miles through space sending warm light to sparkling streams, towering trees, hungry hummingbirds."

Coming full circle, the reader sees the little girl wake up at the same time that "all the galaxies in the universe, all the stars in the Milky Way, all the planets in the solar system are still moving, circling, and swirling."


I love how this book repeatedly goes back and forth from the child to the universe, cementing her place in the universe. 

Two pages of back matter reinforces information about the solar system and the universe. 

Check out this video that shows how The Universe and You was printed as well as a peek inside the book. And here's a coloring page.




GIVEAWAY

I'm saving Little Dandelion for my grandchildren, but The Universe is up for grabs. Leave me a comment by November 19 at 4 PM to enter the giveaway. REMEMBER to leave your name and email address if you are new to my blog. I'll add your name twice if you are a teacher or librarian or if you start following my blog. Continental U.S. addresses only.

Congratulations to Gail Hurlburt who won ONE WEEK OF YOU; to Esther Bandy who won EQUAL and to Hewi Mason who won MY DADDY SHOWS ME THE SKY. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST: WHEN DADDY SHOWS ME THE SKY- Review of a Debut Picture Book and a Giveaway!

 I enjoy sharing my author and illustrator friends' good news. This post is particularly special because Rebecca Wheeler, the author of When Daddy Shows Me The Sky (Belle Isle Books, 2021), was my student in 2008 when Joyce Hostetter and I taught Writing for Children at NCCAT

It is my delight to share Rebecca's book that is coming out this month. Details about her launch are below. 


REVIEW

Question: What happens when you combine astronomy, yoga, and a father and daughter who love each other? 

Answer: The STEM picture book, When Daddy Shows Me the Sky.

Here is the lovely beginning that sets the calm tone of the book.

My daddy is amazing. He shows me the day. Not in the daytime's bright sun, when life makes everything noisy, but at night. When it's quiet, and you can concentrate.



In the subsequent pages the narrator explains what she has learned from her daddy about the night sky and demonstrates yoga poses.  
In this way, information about constellations is knit together with each pose. For example, when the reader learns about Mars, the narrator demonstrates the volcano pose; the dragon constellation prompts the narrator to make the dragon pose. Here is another:

Daddy's favorite constellation appears in the winter sky. Orion,  [uh-rahy-uh n] the hunter, is made from seven stars, and a sword hangs from his belt.

I am a warrior like Orion!


A few pages later, the narrator stretches with her father and she thinks they look like hunting dogs. Then they roar together as they practice the Lion's breath.

In the spring, Leo the lion also comes out to play. I can find Leo all by myself. I just look for the backward question mark that makes his mane. I bet Leo plays with the moon like my cat plays with her ball of yarn.

Daddy and I both roar like lions!

 



Throughout the story, the affection between the narrator and her father is clearly heard in the child's voice and seen in Katherine Jordan's bright and bold illustrations. 

Before we day goodbye to the night sky, we stretch out our arms and pretend to hug the moon. The moon smiles, and I smile, because my daddy is amazing. He shows me the sky.

I hope this book will inspire other amazing dads (and moms!) to get outside with their children--day and night! What wonderful bonding times are created when we spend precious hours with our children--whether it's by practicing yoga or otherwise exercising and experiencing the natural world. 

BACKSTORY

Sometimes I interview authors to find the story behind the story. In this case, Rebecca did that work already--on her blog. Here are several informative posts which will help reveal why she wrote this book. 
  • If you are curious about the family pictured in this book, please see Rebecca's blog post, Families Don't Have to Match. (By the way, her niece was the model for the narrator). 
  • For more information about Rebecca's connection with yoga, see her post, Why a Yoga Picture Book? 
  • And here's her road to publication story--which she calls her book's Origin Story.

BACK MATTER, CURRICULUM RESOURCES, and BOOK LAUNCH

Three pages in the back show a young girl (Rebecca's daughter) demonstrating the yoga poses presented in the book. On Rebecca's website, there is information about constellations, planets, mindfulness, yoga benefits for kids, and yoga tips for parents.

Rebecca's launch will be live-streamed on November 20 at 3 PM here. Hope you can join her!

GIVEAWAY


To win a personally autographed copy, leave a comment by November 13 at 6 PM. If you are new to my blog or share this on social media, I will put your name in twice. U.S. postal addresses only. I CANNOT enter you without your name and email address. If you are new--please include this information. 


Monday, November 8, 2021

Double Interviews with Lisa Kline and Joyce Hostetter and Double Giveaways!

When Lisa Kline asked me if she and Joyce Hostetter could interview each other about their recent books, of course, I said yes! Both authors are North Carolina friends, terrific writers, and have been featured on my blog several times. Without further ado, here they are--interviewing one another!

LISA KLINE's INTERVIEW With JOYCE HOSTETTER


I read and loved Joyce Moyer Hostetter’s historical story Blue, which has become a classic, become required reading for many schools, and has even inspired a play. On her website, she says that she writes about tough topics because she is trying to understand the world’s sorrows. I so admire the way she addresses these tough topics in such an authentic and straightforward way. 




LISA: Jackie Honeycutt, your main character in Equal, is an appealing and earnest young man who wants to do the right thing. Tell me a little about how you developed his character. Was he in any of the previous Baker’s Mountain books? 

JOYCE: Jackie shows up at the end of Comfort but the reader doesn’t know much about him until they read Drive, the 4th book in the series. As the youngest member of the Honeycutt family, he had to wait his turn to be the main character. Once the series was underway, Equal, the 5th book was always going to be Jackie’s story.

LISA: You drop Jackie, your fictional hero, into a real protest march in Greensboro in 1960. That must have been a fun scene to write. Tell me a little about that decision.

 JOYCE: Ha! It was a necessary decision but my first draft didn’t include it. Since Jackie doesn’t live in Greensboro, I assumed he’d be reporting on the movement as seen through the eyes of his activist sister. But, of course, that doesn’t work! The protagonist has to get in on the action. So, I dug a little deeper and found a way to get him to Greensboro at a critical moment in history. In the end, it all worked well and yes, it was fun to write! Because, as you know, conflict creates the story.

LISA: You’ve said this is the final book in the Bakers Mountain series. Many readers will be sad to hear this. What project is next for you? 

JOYCE: I’m writing another North Carolina story set during WWI when several thousand German “enemy aliens” were interned in the small town of Hot Springs. In more ways than one it is a “friendship with the enemy” story. I am so psyched about this and am close to submitting my editor’s requested revisions.  Maybe I’ll blog about that soon at www.joycemoyerhostetter.blogspot.com

 .      

JOYCE HOSTETTER's INTERVIEW WITH LISA KLINE

Filled with dreams of publication, in the early 2000's I attended a writing session on historical fiction. The presenter, Lisa Williams Kline had recently won the NC Juvenile Literature Award for her historical novel, Eleanor Hill.  I soaked up her wisdom and made it my goal to write as well as she did so I could win that award myself one day. Clearly she set me on the right path because I actually did a few years later! I've been writing historical fiction ever since.  (Carol's note: I attended that session and still have my notes--somewhere. That's before Joyce and I knew each other--and before the three of us became friends.)



JOYCE: I loved reading One Week of the Heart and One Week of You! Both were poignant and funny and written with a lively, authentically teen voice. And they made me wonder, how'd she do that? Which of these stories did you conceive of and write first and where did your idea come from?

LISA I wrote One Week of You first. The idea came from two real-life situations. The first was that both of my daughters had to carry “flour babies” as part of their 8th grade health curriculum. Both boys and girls had to carry five pound bags of flour for a week, ostensibly to show them the meaning of having to be responsible for a baby 24/7. I found this curriculum kind of funny, and I thought it would make a funny story to have my main character forgetting her flour baby all the time, ironically because of a romantic relationship she was considering. 

The second real-life event was when there were three bomb threats in one week at my younger daughter’s high school. It was, needless to say, a chaotic and scary and emotional week, and I wanted to write about it. I wondered, could I combine a humorous story line with a serious one? I decided to try that challenge, and One Week of You was the result. 

After One Week of You came out, my publishers asked me if they could have more of Lizzy, the main character, which really made me feel good, of course! They wanted possibly a series, but said a novella would work also. And so I decided to write One Week of the Heart, a novella, which is actually a prequel to One Week of You. Getting back into Lizzy’s flaky character was a delight. 

JOYCE: Did you know, at the outset, that the whole story would take place in one week? What challenges are involved in fully plotting a story that takes place in a week? 

LISA: I did know that the story would take place in one week, because the students had to carry the flour babies for a week, and the bomb threats also took place in one week. And, of course, many teen-age romances last about a week, haha! I like using compressed time periods for my novels. It can keep the tension high, your reader doesn’t have to wait months or years for a resolution, and you still have freedom to explore the past through flashbacks. 

JOYCE: I always wanted to write funny and you do it so naturally. Got any tips for me and others who want to tickle the reader’s funny bone?

LISA: That’s a very nice compliment, thank you! I think the concept of the flour babies is inherently funny, so I had that going for me in this book. I found the irony of Lizzy repeatedly losing her flour baby because of her crush –the very thing the flour baby was supposed to be training her to guard against– to be funny. Also, Lizzy is a very flawed main character – she is forgetful, she is susceptible to flattery, she is overly competitive – and I think flawed characters can lend themselves well to comedy. Some things that I write just come out funny, and I have no idea how it works. I tried studying humor once – I read articles by really hilariously brilliant writers like Tobin Anderson – but found that being analytical about it didn’t work for me. When I try to make something funny it never seems to work. I’ve written several serious novels, but have seemed to have more luck with the ones that just turned out to be humorous. 

Learn some fun tidbits about Lisa at her Website's About Page 


GIVEAWAY


Joyce, Lisa, and I are giving away a copy of Equal and a copy of One Week of You. In your comment, please let me know if you have a preference. U.S. address only; winner will be selected by 6 PM on November 10. If you share this on social media or join my blog, I'll put your name in twice. Make sure you leave your name and email address if you are new to my blog! I can't enter you in the giveaway without it.

Congratulations to Carrie Schmidt who won Code Breaker, Spy Hunter from last week's blog. 

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