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1. Straight From the Source: Author Jeannie Mobley on Writing Historical Fiction

Jeannie Mobley writes middle grade and YA fiction. Her debut novel, KATERINA’S WISH (Margaret K. McElderry Books), won the 2013 Colorado Book Award, is on the 2014-2015 William Allen White Award Master List, and represented Colorado at the 2013 National Book Festival.  Her second novel, SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS, released September 2, 2014. When not writing or reading fiction, Jeannie is a mother, wife, lover of critters, and an anthropology professor at Front Range Community College, where she teaches a variety of classes on cultures past and present. You can visit her at www.jeanniemobley.com.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

I tend to start with big ideas–themes or threads that I then build a story around. In Katerina’s Wish, I started with ideas about what constitutes “magic” and to what extent our own attitudes shape our luck in the world. In my newest book, Searching for Silverheels, I was interested in two varying views on a local legend, and how either way, the character could be seen as a “strong woman.” That got me thinking about what really constitutes strength and womanhood, and it went from there. My next step is matching the setting and historical time period to my idea.

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Whats your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

The fact that I can find historical settings to focus the lens on topics, themes, or social issues. For example, in Searching for Silverheels, I chose World War I to explore the issues surrounding strong women, because women are called to do a wider range of things in wartime than at other times. And World War I had the unique additional feature of the clash between President Wilson and the Women’s Suffragist Movement. Of course, I could tell a story about all the ways women are strong in any place or time, but I like historical fiction because I can pick times and places to make the issues much more intense.

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I use different sources at different points in my research. I have a background in history and historical research, so that eliminates much of the initial work I might otherwise have to do. But, in the early stages of formulating an idea or picking a time period, I rely heavily on informational websites and textbooks–the kind of sources that give broad overviews of a topic or time period.

My next step is to create ideas for world building–getting the local setting, the voice, and the details of ordinary life right. This involves reading sources from the era–newspapers, books, reports–anything that gives me a sense of how people wrote or talked. I also look at oral histories that give details of life. Since I write for kids, I especially like oral histories in which people are remembering back to their childhood, because those give me details about what life was like for kids, which is often lacking from history books.

I also love to look at historic photographs for background details, and especially ones that evoke other senses (like the smoke boiling from chimneys in turn-of-the-century coal camps. I try to think about how that must have smelled, how gritty the air must have felt, how the laundry drying on the line must have taken on that smoke.).

There are many good sources for all of these things, but since my work so far has been centered in Colorado, I’ve found the Western History Archives at the Denver Public Library to be a wonderful source of photographs, www.coloradonewspapers.org to be a great place to read for voice, and a variety of sources of oral history, the most extensive being the National Archive oral history project, which has many recordings online that let you hear the actual voice of the teller, as well as the details.

How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?

Not long, or even at all. If I’m working with a new place or era with which I’m not familiar, I might spend a few hours doing background research, and a few more listening or reading for voice. I may read a novel written in the era or watch a movie set in the area (not really research–more just a good excuse to read a book or watch a movie.) But mostly, the story is most important to me in the first draft, and it guides me as to what details I need to find. So I research as I write the first draft. For example, in my current WiP, I had a conversation going on between the front seat and back seat of a car in 1930. I had a character glance in the rearview mirror to see the people in the back,  and realized that I don’t know for sure when the rear-view mirror became standard in vehicles. So, I made a note in the margin–“would the car have a rearview mirror?” and when I finished writing the scene, I stopped to look it up.

SilverheelsCoverSCBWI

Whats one of the most interesting things youve learned while researching?

I tend to love (and get lost in) the quirky details, but also the strange connections. So, I lost a whole day one time on the history of toilets on trains. Fascinating, if you go in for that kind of thing. And I am often stunned by connections that sometimes make me feel like I’m channeling instead of creating. In my newest book, Searching for Silverheels, I needed a last name for a character. At the time, my son was in high school, so he was getting recruitment mail for colleges. There was an envelope sitting on the table from Stanford University. I looked at it, changed it from Stanford to Sanford, and made it the kid’s last name. Later, while doing some back-up research on the Silverheels legend, I learned that one of the “eye witness” stories that claims to know the truth about the legend is in a manuscript at the Colorado Historical Society, written by a man named Sanford. The Sanford in my story is searching out an eye witness, just as the real Sanford was. So, I adjusted the story so that my fictional Sanford hears the same story that the real Sanford heard. But the names, that was just a crazy coincidence that sent a chill up my spine when it happened.

Because life isnt always clear cut, the motives behind our actions dont always make sense. But stories need to follow a logical path. What sorts of decisions have you had to make about muddy historical figures or events in order for your book to work?

In Katerina’s Wish, I was deliberately vague and never named the coal camp in which the main characters live. I did this because I wanted to avoid the political implications of setting the story in the place where one of the major battles of labor union history took place. Many readers have made the connection, which is fine, but I didn’t want to imply that my characters were directly part of a movement.

On the other hand, in Searching for Silverheels, I did want to connect my suffragist to the real women’s suffrage movement, so I set the story in the exact month and year when the members of the National Women’s Party were arrested at the White House, and that arrest is a catalyst for setting up the climax of my story. I did, however, create some fictional responses to that event that I don’t think really happened. I am always careful to create an author’s note that clarifies the real from the fictional, but I also think that some of the fun for readers of historical fiction can be looking up the truth themselves, and seeing where the author has been honest and where she’s told lies.

Why is historical fiction important?

I think historical fiction has the opportunity to give kids a passion or curiosity about the past. I think a lot of people are turned off by the idea of “history” because they see it as the dull retelling of a bunch of boring dates about boring politicians. It took me years to figure out that people saw history that way, because for me, history was always about story. I grew up in the west where I could explore old cabins and travel roads that used to be railroads or wagon trails, and to me, that continuation of the past, as a compilation of extraordinary stories about ordinary people, is what history has always been about. Hopefully, historical fiction can make kids (or adults) see history that way too.

The post Straight From the Source: Author Jeannie Mobley on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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2. On Writing

red branches

You have to give yourself permission to [write badly] because you can’t expect to write regularly and always write well.
— Jennifer Egan

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3. Fast Five: Books About Big Families

fast five families

As a semi-only child (my half siblings are ten and twelve years older than I am), I’ve always been enthralled with books about families with lots of kids. Here are a few favorites:

Papa’s Wife — Thyra Ferre Bjorn

Based on the author’s childhood, Papa’s Wife is about a Swedish pastor who marries his maid, raises a large family, and immigrates to the United States. Though I’ve only read Papa’s Wife, two more books follow: Papa’s Daughter and Mama’s Way.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers — Maria Augusta Trapp

In a very similar vein, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers focuses on Austrian widower Captain Von Trapp, who marries his children’s nanny and immigrates to America. The Sound of Music, celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, is based on this book.

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew  — Margaret Sidney

Times are tough for the five children raised by their widowed mother, but their stories are always hopeful, sweet, and downright cosy. Oh, how I loved the Peppers when I was in fifth grade. Who wouldn’t want a baby sister named Phronsie?

Cheaper by the Dozen ; Belles on Their Toes — Frank B. Gilbreth and  Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

And two more based on a real family, the Gilbreths of Montclair, New Jersey. Mr. Gilbreth, an efficiency expert, and Mrs. Gibreth, a psychologist and engineer, use scientific methods to raise their kids. An especially fun thing for me to learn was that one of the younger Gilbreth boys — Dan, I think — ended up being my grandfather’s college roommate!

All-of-a-Kind Family — Sydney Taylor

Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie — I wanted to be the sixth sister in this series about a family living in New York at the turn of the twentieth century. Readers might recognize Sydney Taylor’s name from The Sydney Taylor Book Award, which is “presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.”

What books about large families would you recommend?

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4. Classroom Connections: FISH IN A TREE by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

fish-in-a-tree-final-cover

age range: 10 and up
genre: contemporary middle grade
educator’s guide
author’s website

Filled with a delightful range of quirky characters and told with heart, the story also explores themes of family, friendship, and courage in its many forms. . . . It has something to offer for a wide-ranging audience. . . . Offering hope to those who struggle academically and demonstrating that a disability does not equal stupidity, this is as unique as its heroine.
— Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Mullaly Hunt again paints a nuanced portrayal of a sensitive, smart girl struggling with circumstances beyond her control. . . . Ally’s raw pain and depression are vividly rendered, while the diverse supporting cast feels fully developed. . . . Mr. Daniels is an inspirational educator whose warmth radiates off the page. Best of all, Mullaly Hunt eschews the unrealistic feel-good ending for one with hard work and small changes. Ally’s journey is heartwarming but refreshingly devoid of schmaltz.
— School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

Please tell us about your book.

Fish in a Tree is about sixth-grader, Ally Nickerson, who misbehaves in school to hide the fact that she struggles with reading and writing. Since her dad is in the military, she has moved from school to school; this has helped her keep her secret. Having moved so often, she has not had to opportunity to forge strong friendships as well – until she meets Kesiha and Albert. 

It is also very much a school story with eight different student personalities interacting with (sometimes crashing into) each other and their teacher Mr. Daniels.

What inspired you to write this story?

Well, my own life inspired the story. Although I’ve never been tested for dyslexia, I have been suspicious that I have at least a touch of it. I was in the lowest reading group in grades one through six. Mr. Daniels is based on my sixth grade teacher Mr. Christy. I realized about halfway through writing it that Fish in a Tree is a love letter to him and all teachers like him.

I have no doubt that Mr. Christy saved me. I came into sixth grade wondering what would be come of me and left sixth grade with a laser focus on becoming a teacher and helping kids like he helped me. He set a high expectations. Even as a child I knew this was a high compliment and I tried very hard to reach every bar he set for me. He completely changed my perception of myself in on year – a powerful transformation. The man was amazing.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching? 

This book required a lot of research, actually. I had the opportunity to speak with some people who have dyslexia and were not helped until they were older. Unfortunately, even with all the screening in the early grades, kids still slip through the cracks until sixth grade or higher. Being a teacher I know that it is a very difficult job. When a child is very bright, they can often compensate very well and mask their difficulties. Ally Nickerson is such a child. 

I also had to do a lot of research for Albert. He is a walking encyclopedia but that took hours of finding facts that were not only pertinent but interesting as well.

What are some special challenges associated with writing contemporary middle grade fiction?

I think one of the special challenges associated with writing contemporary middle grade are authenticity. At least for me. It takes courage to be honest but middle grade readers respond very well to it – in fact readers of all ages do.

 So, as the writer we have to crawl into our own basement sometimes in order to get it on the page. Both of the books that I have written make me feel very vulnerable in this regard. They’re honest. And they are me. The vulnerability was difficult at first but now I see it as a gift and I’m grateful to be able to share those aspects of myself with readers.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

The topics my book touches upon that make it a perfect fit for the classroom are family life, love of siblings, being different is a gift, bullying in the sense that we can’t control the bully’s behavior but we can control how we respond to it, a family struggling financially, and how learning disabilities are not necessarily disabilities – just a different way of learning.

The post Classroom Connections: FISH IN A TREE by Lynda Mullaly Hunt appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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5. Bullet Journaling My Way Through May

I few months ago I linked to Kate Messner’s post on bullet journaling. She’s such an on-the-ball author (Kate has seven books coming out this year, I believe), I knew any organizational system she uses would be worth looking into. I found her explanation and examples of bullet journaling really insightful.

I started my own low-key version after reading her post. While I don’t list day to day events (I still use my calendar for that), I’ve found it helpful to have one place to stick all my notes — work related or not. Here’s a glimpse at what I’ve got down for May.

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On the left I have notes about my son’s eighth-grade dance. Our church, which meets in my boys’ school, tries to give back throughout the year. One way we’re helping this time around is by decorating for the dance. It’s an 80s theme. Think Rubix cubes, fun movie posters, and Pac Man!

On the right is May at a glance. My current calendar is a weekly one, giving me plenty of space to write in daily tasks. But if I want to see the general flow of the month, I can’t. That’s why this overview is so handy.

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Here’s my checklist for May, which I know will grow as the days pass. It’s life, it’s work, it’s big stuff and small. I’m working again on a manuscript I affectionately call Jasper. Though it’s not due back to my editor until August 10, I want to be sure to get my rhythm down now. I’ll check off each day I work and record the amount of time I’ve spent (my own version of a sticker chart).

I’m also deep in the middle of my Laura Ingalls Wilder class. Well, I’m actually a bit behind. Thankfully participants can finish at their own pace.

Over in the Wetlands releases in July (!!), so it’s time to start thinking about some guest blog posts as well as add to my Louisiana mailing list (my plan is to send postcards to the schools and libraries in the ten coastal parishes).

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Then there’s that dance. The shelves in my office closet. A writing mentorship (I’m reading and responding to two picture book manuscripts a month for a local writing friend). A birthday sleepover. The end of school. An eighth-grade graduation. Other books I’d like to read. A piece of writing for SCBWI-NM’s Enchantment show. My calendar is great for the everyday, but I’m loving the bullet journal for fleshing it all out.

Anyone else out there bullet journaling?

 

 

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6. Definitions of Art

desert ridge sunset

Art is what happens when you dare to be who you really are, when what is most alive in you is offered as a gift to others. — Emily P. Freeman

Human, generous work, that might not work, that changes someone else for the better. — Seth Godin

If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art. — Arnold Schoenberg

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7. Risk, Passion, Hope, Determination

boom

While on vacation in the summer 0f 2012, my family visited a small museum outside Denver. I decided I’d like to know more about the particular person the museum honored and perhaps write a picture book about him,* so the following January I dug in with research.

I drafted. I took the manuscript to my critique group. I revised. I sent it along to my agent, Tracey, who submitted it to various publishing houses.

That was about twenty months ago.

boom2

Since March, I’ve been at it with the same manuscript, trying to see if I can make it shine. It was interesting to take the story back to my critique group a year and a half later. While they said it was better, they offered plenty of ways to make it even stronger.

I madly took notes while listening to their feedback:

  • Rush into the moment, not past it.
  • Base the story more on senses.
  • This needs to be about the character’s emotional response. Where is the strongest emotional moment in this piece? Currently every moment is treated equally.
  • Don’t slow the story down, zoom the focus closer.
  • Show the story through the character, don’t build it on top of him.

I’ve been working hard with these suggestions in mind.

boom3

I used to think once an author sold a couple of books, subsequent sales were a given. And surely established authors didn’t need to keep learning about craft. They’d arrived, right? But that’s not the way the writing life works. An author is always learning, improving, working. There are no promises the things we create will interest publishers, but we keep at it anyway.

 

 

*If you’ve read around here a while, you’ve probably figured out I get a bit cagey when it comes to manuscript specifics. I’d much rather keep things vague until I’m finished, or even better, until it’s sold.

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8. Office Transformation

Some of you might remember the days I worked in a closet office, a tiny 3′ x 4′ space where I wrote May B. When we moved to New Mexico, I graduated into a full-sized office. Last week the office closet got a little makeover.

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Here’s how it all started — a jumbled mess.

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Closet insides now on the outside.

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Here are my wonderful new shelves from California Closets.

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There’s even a special nook for my fake sod brick (doesn’t every author who writes about pioneers have one in her closet?).

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Getting organized…

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I wrote some words in every single one of these books! Way too fun.

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I’m hoping this little fella sends his joy and inspiration over Jasper‘s way.

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And here it is! Isn’t it beautiful? I trust nothing will fall on my head the next time I pull back that shower curtain…

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9. Six Years of Working Hard and Believing

winter apples

As much as I love blogging, I’m not always sure other people are listening in. A few weeks ago I got an incredible email from blog reader Linda Jackson that reminded me what I do here does indeed connect with readers, sometimes in very big ways.

Hi Caroline,

Since that day I received an email from Amazon stating that May B. was a book of the month then saw your WOW Wednesday post on Adventures in Children’s Publishing, I have been totally inspired and motivated by your story. I don’t know if you know this, but I have a list of authors on my website under a tab titled Inspiration, and you are at the top of the list. What has inspired me most was your post Plow to the End of the RowAnd today I want to share with you that I have plowed to the end of the row, which is quite fitting seeing that the main character in the manuscript that finally landed me an agent actually has to work in a cotton field. 

After six years of working hard and believing, 200+ queries, 4 manuscripts (one of them rewritten multiple times, once from scratch), 4 R&R’s from agents, 7 pitch contest wins, I finally got “The Call” today.

So, that’s my story, and I wanted you to know how you influenced it…which is why I will ALWAYS BUY YOUR BOOKS! Interestingly, after reading your post on Working Hard and Believing, I remember thinking, Lord, please don’t let that happen to me. I could never survive 200 queries. When I read about Kathryn Stockett and her five years of querying, I said I could never do that. And when I read that Becca Fitzpatrick re-wrote the same manuscript for five years and even trashed it and rewrote it from scratch, I said I could never do that. have done ALL that and more. The manuscript that I queried forever and rewrote forever is still NOT the one that got an editor/agent’s attention. I had to write something new. We never know what we can survive until we have to survive it.

Thanks for being an inspiration,
Linda

***

I’ve been sitting on this email for weeks, waiting to hear where Linda’s book landed. Here’s the official news from Publisher’s Marketplace:

Mississippi-native Linda Jackson’s BECOMING ROSA, a coming-of-age tale set in Mississippi in 1955, about a young African-American girl who dreams of a life beyond the cotton fields, to Elizabeth Bewley at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s, at auction, in a two-book deal, for publication in Fall 2016, by Victoria Marini at Gelfman Schneider/ICM (World English).

Congratulations, Linda! Your story has thrilled me down to my toes and has inspired me to keep plowing. Now, readers, go out and congratulate the remarkable Linda Jackson.

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10. Iron Sharpens Iron

val

Saying there is one true path to writing a polished work is folly. There are lots of paths and we create them as we walk. – Linda Urban

So grateful to have finally met Valerie Geary, a friend who has helped me find so many paths and walked with me along the way.

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11. Writing Links

creeping clouds

Logrolling in Our Time, Or You Can’t Take Blurbs With You :: Jennifer Represents

Top Ten Things I’ve Learned From Kids About Writing a Book by Augusta Scattergood :: Nerdy Book Club

Grit and Magic :: Marion Dane Bauer

How to Get Readers into Your Story — And How to Keep Them There :: Live Write Thrive

The Enemy of Creativity… :: Seth Godin

Make Time to Write: 10 Tips for Daily Writing :: Writers Digest

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12. Absolutely Floating

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It feels especially appropriate that the first Blue Birds discussion I’ve had with readers was with the fourth-grade book club I help lead. These girls are dynamite and had so many great questions and observations.

The last time we met, I introduced the history behind the story, giving each girl a copy of the Lost Colony timeline before handing out their books. This background information helped them grasp the historical events so the story could unfold without confusion.

Beth (my running partner and co-leader) and I read the first four passages where Alis and Kimi meet. And the girls got it! They talked about the initial reaction both characters had to each other and how this slowly changed, how they moved from viewing each other as “other” to friend.

It can be strange for readers to candidly discuss a book with the author present, so I try to tell groups two things ahead of time:

  • If you don’ t like the book, please don’t pretend you do, just because I’m in the room. (Ideally readers will have a chance to discuss without the author present, too.)
  • My opinions on the story are only that — opinions. Once a book is in the world, it no longer belongs to the author. While I might see things one way, that doesn’t make it the only way to experience the story.

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It’s been so satisfying to see these girls grow as readers this year. The discussions have become more natural, richer, deeper each time we’ve come together. Several drew parallels between Blue Birds and the other historical novel we read, Fever 1793. There were some predictions about the end (we’ve only read half at this point) and comments about George, who though not a main character feels like an important one, as one girl said.

In my mind’s eye I’m imagining these six sitting in their fifth-grade classrooms next year. When they get to that little textbook paragraph about England’s first colony, that doomed one called Roanoke, they’ll know the history because they now own a piece of the story. Historical fiction makes the past personal, vivid, real. I love that I got to participate in some small way in opening up the past to young readers.

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13. Calling Forth

lilypad

If your daily life seems of no account, don’t blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its treasures. For the creative artist there is no impoverishment and no worthless place.

— Rainer Marie Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

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14. On Poetry

To me the world of poetry is a house with a thousand glittering windows.
– Naomi Shihab Nye

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15. Celebrate Poetry All Year Long

Ideally, National Poetry Month encourages readers to incorporate poetry into their everyday lives. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations gives young readers a poetic glimpse into holidays big and small throughout the calendar year. Consider adding a copy to your classroom, library, or personal collection!

Here’s my contribution to the anthology.

caroline starr rose december solstice

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16. Straight From the Source: Shannon Hitchcock on Writing Historical Fiction

Shannon Hitchcock is a freelance writer specializing in stories for children. Her work has been published in Highlights for Children, Cricket, Ask, and other magazines. Her debut novel, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl, was published in 2013.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

I usually start with a story idea. I then spend several months researching, dreaming, and taking notes before I begin writing.

How do you conduct your research?

I start with Google, and as I browse various websites, I make a list of questions. For example: what might my heroine have worn in the 1920’s? What was life like on a farm before automation? How do you drive a Model T? Once I have my questions, I search Amazon for books that might help answer them. I purchase lots of books from used booksellers so that I can mark them up and have them handy to refer back to.

You do have a specific system for collecting data?

I buy a new notebook at the start of every project and record all of my research notes in it.

What kinds of sources do you use?

A chat with a good reference librarian is invaluable to get started. Often they have the inside scoop on resources the average person doesn’t even know about. I also use magazine articles, books, websites, historical societies, Pinterest, and interviews.

How long do you typically research before beginning to draft?

About six months. I have to fill the well before there’s anything inside to come pouring out.

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

When I’ve read and taken notes on all of the material I’ve identified as useful, then I start to write. I usually have a good grasp of the material at that point, but often refer back to my notes to double check facts.

What is your favorite thing about research?

My favorite thing is stumbling upon some cool fact or anecdote that will enhance the plot.

What’s your least favorite thing about research?

Sometimes it feels like the research will never end so that the writing can begin. I get impatient with it.

What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?

Becoming immersed in another place and time.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

Historical fiction is a harder sell. When my agent was shopping THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL, lots of the feedback went like this, “My main concern is that this is straight historical fiction, which is a really tough sale in the marketplace these days.”

Why is historical fiction important?

Historical fiction makes history come alive. Readers can get lost in a story and learn lots of wonderful information in the process. It’s like Mary Poppins says, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!”

The post Straight From the Source: Shannon Hitchcock on Writing Historical Fiction appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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17. The Power of a Word

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I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.
— Emily Dickinson

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18. BLUE BIRDS Resources and Lost Colony News!

Here are two new resources for those of you interested in learning more about Blue Birds.

Educator’s Guide
Lost colony timeline

map of algonquian tribes

And breaking news! Evidence that colonists indeed were on Hatteras Island (Croatoan)!

Archeologists Find New Evidence of Lost Colonists on Hatteras :: The Outer Banks Voice

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19. Links for National Poetry Month

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Writing the Young Adult Verse Novel :: Axon Journal

Concerning Craft: Poetry as Practice, Poetry as Life :: Little Patuxent Review

The Art of Writing and Reading the Verse Novel :: The Children’s Book Review

Top Ten Poetry Videos for National Poetry Month :: Booksource Banter

30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month :: National Poetry Month

Young Readers and the Magic of the Verse Novel :: Clear Eyes Full Shelves

Field Notes: “This is Too Much!” Why Verse Novels Work for Reluctant Readers :: The Horn Book

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20. Good Friday

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By Thy birth, Thy cross, and passion
By Thy tears of deep compassion
By Thy mighty intercession
Lord and Savior, help us!

Lo, The Storms of Life Are Breaking

 

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21. An Interview with Anna Ingwersen, author of THE MOON GARDEN

Anna Ingwersen is a native Texan who spent her crucial years in New Mexico (still miss those sunsets) and has now settled in Edinburgh where she writes, reads, mothers, and teaches yoga. Currently, she’s working on another historical fiction novel and a short story. Her last short story,” The Snowbird,” was published in Deep South magazine. Anna’s been writing stories for as long as she can remember, including a sequel to Gone with the Wind, co-authored by Caroline Starr Rose, at the age of ten.

Please tell us about your book.

The Moon Garden is historical fiction taking place against the backdrop of pre and post Civil Rights Texas. Both main characters live under different societal constraints, James, as a black man passing for white, and Elana, as a free spirited abstract artist. Their attraction is strengthened by their shared identities as outsiders. However, their love affair cannot protect them from circumstances beyond their control, forcing decisions that, thirty years later, may finally be redeemed.

It’s a love story, but also a story about identity, ethics, and how the daily decisions we make shape the course of our entire lives. I also explore how we are limited by the times we are living in and how we struggle to create authentic lives under these constraints.

I’d never heard of Texas’s Veterans’ Land Act Scandal before reading your book. What drew you to this subject?

The Texas Veterans Land Board Scandal provided additional historical backdrop for the story. It was the biggest scandal in state history, one in which state land promoters and politicians were involved in cheating veterans, many of whom were black, out of low interest state backed loans for land. I was drawn to this scandal because at the time I was working in state government and could see how easily people can forget their ethics and forget they work as civil servants. After reading about the scandal, it just seemed ripe for a juicy novel! It was unbelievable how high and deep it ran, how a prominent lawyer investigating the scandal was the victim of an attempted murder via a car bombing, and how the story broke because an intrepid reporter from a small town followed his instincts and went on to win a Pulitzer for his work.

The glimpses you give us of both Austin and Galveston feel intimate and familiar. Can you talk a little about the importance of setting and specifically why you’re drawn to write about Texas?

I’m a Texan and spent most of my life in Austin and near Galveston. I love these two places for different reasons, and both places are very dear to my heart. Both places are very evocative for me. I suppose I’m always a bit homesick, and writing about these places helps me to be there on those days I miss hearing a mourning dove cooing outside my door or a cheeky grackle giving me a disapproving look.

Also, as a writer, I feel setting is an essential character in a book. I want a reader to feel they are fully immersed in the story and setting allows that to happen. As a reader I also love books with a well-drawn setting. It takes me somewhere new, a little holiday without leaving home.

Moon Garden moves between the 1950s past and the 1980s present. What made this the best way to tell your story?

I liked the idea of a man who had lived an extraordinary life during difficult times, looking back on his life and trying to make sense of it all. America’s history is so short and I felt contrasting the 1980s and the 1950s illustrated that really well. Only thirty years span between Jim Crow and the 1980s. So much had changed, yet for many, what they had experienced in terms of social change, wasn’t ancient history, and still isn’t!

What are some challenges associated with telling a story from two different character’s perspectives? What are some advantages?

I felt like I really knew James and Elana, so for me, I had to write from both perpectives. Both suffer from different, yet powerful societal constraints, and I was passionate about exploring that. I think if your characters both have a story to tell, then do it, just make sure they both need to be there. For a while, I didn’t want to listen to Elana and then she came out and demanded to be heard. It evolved that way naturally and through valuable feedback, I was able to let her come through.

I think the advantages of writing from two perpectives are that you get to see two different takes on the same events, that you see reality can be extremely different for two people living in the same time. I’ve always been fascinated by the diversity of experiences we all have and how it shapes our actions and who we are.

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22. Bring the Joy

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I love this picture taken by verse novelist Sarah Tregay, who is working on a verse novel alphabet for National Poetry Month.

This is the first time in years that I haven’t devoted the entire month of April to poetry here on the blog. Part of this might stem from the fact I’ve written over a dozen guests posts and interviews of late, many focusing on poetry. Part certainly comes from a lack of preparation. I didn’t think to put out word to potential guest post writers ahead of time. And perhaps spotlighting poetry all of April has run its course for me. I’m not sure, really, where the truth lies. But I believe this month with poetry at its core is essential in the world of literature and a wonderful part of a rich and satisfying life.

I’ve gone through some of those guest posts I’ve worked on of late, pulling quotes that I hope might inspire you to speak of poetry joyfully to children:

On sharing poetry with children:

Because poets use line and stanza breaks to communicate, I feel like it’s helpful to both see and hear poetry. But please don’t let this stop you from sharing poetry with your children in a more informal way.

My love of poetry started with A.A. Milne. Hearing and then reciting his words, I could feel the rhythm, rhyme, and repetition that is such a mainstay in his style. Poetry’s word play and its similarity to music where the things that fired me up as a girl.

Share all sorts of poetry with your children. Let it be playful, joyful, fun. — Simple Homeschool

On encouraging children to try verse novels:

My plea to well-read and well-intentioned adults is to not let your biases or perceptions discourage a child from trying a verse novel. I’ve heard a librarian say she’ll only buy the books her students will read. How is she sure exactly what that is? Is she just serving the largest reading audience in her library? Is there a smaller number of readers who would pick a verse novel first thing and is waiting for the opportunity? And what about exposure to all types of books, whether it’s a child’s first choice or not? Our job as adults is to inspire children to read and to celebrate literature in all its forms. Let’s make sure verse novels are a part of the reading materials we make available to the young people in our lives. — Clear Eyes, Full Shelves

And finally, from the brilliant Billy Collins, consider coming to poetry this way:

…take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
Introduction to Poetry

Happy National Poetry Month, friends!

 

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23. The Kind of Email that Warms My Heart

The subject line says We Loved May B!

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Hello, Ms. Rose. 

I am sitting at my computer at school.  A lovely group of my fifth grade girl students and I JUST FINISHED reading May B!  We plan to write you “old-fashioned letters”, but just had to visit your web site and tell you how much we loved the book.

“ I liked how May was a very persistent girl.”  ~ V.

“ I liked how she was brave enough to dig out a hole and try to walk home. “  ~ M.

“I like how she took care of herself by herself in the soddy.” ~  M.

“ I like how she was brave with the wolf.”  ~M.

We loved it!!!!  Thank you!

I pretty much have the best job in the world.

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24. So. The Nightstand Kinda Exploded.

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Remember this (relatively) neat and tidy picture from a few weeks ago? Things have changed a little around here. Part two of the Laura Ingalls Wilder class has begun, meaning I have five Laura books to re-read plus her daughter Rose’s Young Pioneers (Something I read just a few months before thinking up May B. I know it played into my story in some way. Curious about finding parallels.).

I finished Fish in a Tree and You Are Not So Smart (both so good!) and have added in Amherst (because I can’t pass up an Emily Dickinson book, especially one that deals with a key storyline in Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds, which I read a few years ago.). Then there’s Bone Gap, which has gotten such amazing buzz (and was super quick to show up in my request queue).

My younger guy requested a new Agatha Christie to read together. So I added A Pocket Full of Rye to the pile. This is the same kid who made me that wonderful paper airplane.

The purple notebook is full of notes I took while reading You Are Not So Smart and will perhaps, perhaps be used in some sort of future novel. Who knows? The stickies I used to mark quotes have been transferred to You Are Now Less Dumb , since I’m sure there’ll be more I’ll want to write down. One, of course, is decorating my paper airplane because it’s extra pretty that way.

There are three pens stashed up there because I’m always convinced I won’t have one when I start on the Sunday crosswords. I suspect the pencil is left over from picture book drafting (because I can’t draft in pen and I refuse to work a crossword that way).

So now you know what’s going on in my little corner of the reading world.

 

 

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25. Classroom Connections: LOVE TWELVE MILES LONG by Glenda Armand

Last summer at SCBWI‘s national conference, I struck up a conversation with another attendee while standing in a winding sandwich line. It was absolutely my pleasure to befriend a fellow former teacher turned author, someone who also writes historical fiction and picture books and has even tried her hand at verse. That night I bought a copy of Glenda Armand’s Love Twelve Miles Long, a beautifully moving story. I’ll let Glenda tell you more.

genre: historical fiction
setting: Maryland, 1820s
age range: 6-11
teacher’s guide
Glenda Armand’s website

This poignant story, based on Frederick Douglass’s childhood, tells how his mother, a slave, would walk twelve miles at night for a brief visit with her son. Soothing text describes how she overcomes the monotony and loneliness through songs (joyful and sad), the solace of prayer, and love. Emotional paintings capture moods, especially the joy of reunion that wipes away weariness. — Horn Book

Starting with the boy’s elemental question, “Mama, why can’t I live with you?,” the words and pictures tell the family separation story in all its heartbreak and hope. — Booklist

Share this with young readers as a series of homilies on dreams and a family love strong enough to overcome any adversity. — Kirkus Reviews

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Please tell us about your book.

Frederick Douglass was born a slave, escaped and went on to become a great orator and writer who championed the cause of freedom for his fellow African Americans. In his autobiography, Douglass showed the cruelty of slavery from his unique perspective as a former slave. It is a testament to Douglass’s remarkable life that President Abraham Lincoln called this former slave, “my friend Douglass.”

Love Twelve Miles Long takes place long before Frederick Douglass has become famous and successful. The setting is a farmhouse kitchen on a Maryland farm. It is evening and 5-year-old Frederick’s mother, Harriet, a slave who lives on different farm on their master’s plantation, has come to visit. The story allows the reader to peak in on mother and son as they share a few precious moments.

What inspired you to write this story?

When I read his autobiography, I was struck by Frederick Douglass’s strong feelings for his mother despite his having spent so little time with her. In fact, he only remembered seeing his mother at night on the few occasions that she was able to walk the twelve miles to spend time with her son. I believed that there was a story in those visits that spoke to the universal bond between mother and child.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching? 

I read Frederick Douglass’s autobiography while preparing to teach eighth grade US history after many years of teaching in the elementary grades. The passage in which Douglass mentions his mother’s night time visits touched my heart. I could just imagine the love it took for her to walk twelve miles (one way!) to spend time with her son, who lived with the cook who served as babysitter for the slave children who were too young to work.

After reading his other autobiography written later in life, I came up with the way I would tell the story of Frederick and his mother.

I decided to envision Harriet and Frederick in their master’s kitchen, the place where the visits occurred. Then, with pen in hand (literally), I “listened” in on their conversation. There were times when I felt that Harriet was guiding my pen as I wrote. For instance, at one point Frederick asks, “Why did God make us slaves?” After writing the question, I crossed it out because I really didn’t have an answer. But then I heard Harriet’ voice saying, “Let him ask the question.” So I did.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

I love the challenge of writing historical fiction. I like taking events that I know happened to real people (like the visits Harriet paid to Frederick) and imagining things that could have happened (their conversation) and mixing them together to make a story. To me, this makes historical figures interesting, accessible and human. 

My books are introductions to real events and people that I hope invite the reader to find out more about the subjects.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

Love Twelve Miles Long lends itself to many classroom discussions/topics:

  • United States History/African American History/Black History Month
  • Mother’s Day/Families/Mother-child relationships/Love
  • Childhood experiences/Memories/Separation
  • Frederick Douglass/Abraham Lincoln/Slavery/Civil War
  • Dreams/Aspirations/Empathy/Compassion/Esteem/Confidence
  • Realistic Fiction/Historical Fiction

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