Author Interview: Lea Wait

Over the years I have enjoyed all four of Lea Wait’s historical novels for young people. Last Friday I reviewed Finest Kind here on my blog. Today it is my privileged to introduce Lea for this interview.

What parts of Finest Kind are factual?
The background of FINEST KIND is accurate: because of the Panic of 1837, banks failed in Boston and other cities, there was widespread unemployment, and many families were in dire circumstances, as Jake’s family was. The acceptance (or, rather, lack of acceptance) of those born with physical or mental disabilities is accurate for that period. A little later in the nineteenth century there were institutions where families sent those with mental disabilities, but in 1837 such individuals were kept at home and hidden, or, as in Simon’s case, found a place within the community.

Wiscasset was, and is, a real town, and many of the people in FINEST KIND did live and work there. Dr. Theobold (who also appeared in my book WINTERING WELL) was the town doctor, and Thursey Seigars was his housekeeper. The minister, the shopkeepers, and other local people are real characters. Most notably, everyone who worked at (or who was incarcerated in) the Wiscasset Jail was a real person, including Samuel Holbrook, the jailer who also was a school master, and his wife Lucy and their children. The jail and jailer’s home did burn down December 3, 1838, and Lucy Holbrook, her children, and the inmates of the jail, were all saved by students who saw the flames on their way to school that morning.

The other characters in the book are fictional, although there were people like them in 1838 Wiscasset.

Out of all your historical books for young people, who is your favorite character? Why?
Who is my favorite fictional character? That’s an impossible question! It’s like asking me which of my children I like the best! I did love writing Granny McPherson, in FINEST KIND.

In general, I love my characters who are survivors; who find out their decisions can control their lives even in the worst circumstances.

They would include Abbie, in STOPPING TO HOME, who comes up with an ingenious solution to keeping what is left of her family together. Michael/Noah (he even changes his name to survive) in SEAWARD BORN, who gives up all he knows and loves for a chance at freedom. Will, in WINTERING WELL, who refuses to believe his life is over when he loses a leg in an accident. And Jake and Nabbie in FINEST KIND, both of whom are proud and stubborn and refuse to give up even when it seems impossible for them to take care of their families.

What is your favorite location in Wiscasset?
My favorite location in Wiscasset is, I’ll admit, that jail, which really is on Federal Street in Wiscasset.

The jail that is there now is the one built in 1839 to replace the one that burned in 1838. I first visited it when I was about ten years old and can still remember how cold and still those old cells were. How horrible it must have been to have been imprisoned there.

Now I sometimes give tours of the jail myself, and love pointing out the bars that one prisoner tried to saw through, and the drawings of a schooner another prisoner made on a whitewashed cell wall. The cells are dark and cold. Granite doesn’t burn, so the walls are the same ones Jake would have seen, and the worn stone floors are the same ones Sam Holbrooke and his wife Lucy walked on. I like feeling that through FINEST KIND many people who’ve never been able to visit a jail like this one in person have been able, through Jake, to find out a little about what it was like to live through hard times in the 1830s.

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
We have some of the same problems today that people had then. Families still have secrets. People are still born with disabilities. We still have bullies. People still make fun of other people they don’t understand. There are still parents who can’t find jobs and parents who drink too much.

Writing about problems doesn’t solve them. But sometimes it’s easier to see problems from a distance. That’s what I hope my books will do: open windows to the past, and show how real people, with real lives, and real problems, lived then. They survived their problems, and we will survive ours.

Someday, when my younger readers now are grown, maybe one of them will write an historical novel set in 2012, and one of their young readers will wonder how people ever coped in the old days.

It could happen.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful answers, Lea!

Author Interview: Bobbie Pyron


Last Friday I posted a book review for A Dog’s Way Home. This book is the story of a Sheltie’s journey back to his beloved girl. Today, author Bobbie Pyron is here to answer a few questions.

What gave you the inspiration for A Dog’s Way Home?
I like to say A Dog’s Way Home is my personal love letter to my dogs and to all the classic dog books I read growing up, like Lassie Come-Home and The Incredible Journey. It’s a celebration of the two things I have always loved most in the world since I was a child: books and dogs. It was inspired specifically by two of my dogs, my Shetland Sheepdog, Teddy, and my coyote mix, Boo. I started thinking about the story one day when I was hiking with the two of them way up in the mountains. I watched how differently they interacted with their environment and with me-—Boo always off-trail where I can’t see her, hunting, and Teddy never farther than six feet from me. I asked myself, “What if they had to survive on their own in the wilderness?” I knew Boo would be okay, at least physically. But Teddy was another story. So A Dog’s Way Home is his story!

Tell us a little bit about Shelties. What are some of their characteristics? What makes them unique?
Shelties were originally bred as herding dogs on the wild and cold Shetland Islands off the northern end of Scotland. They herded sheep mostly, and they also served as sentry dogs, alerting the crofters when a stranger came on their land. They’re a tough little breed. They are also extremely loyal and very smart. They bond strongly to their people but can be aloof with strangers. They also, generally speaking, are great family dogs. They’re not for everybody, though: they shed a lot and they bark a lot!

I can certainly relate to the shedding and barking! My Sheltie, Lady, seems to have missed the part about being aloof with strangers, though. 🙂

How long did “A Dog’s Way Home” take you to write?
It took about nine months to write the first draft. I tend to edit as I go along. Plus, I still work a day job (I’m a librarian in my “other life”). That first draft was followed by quite a number of revisions and rejections. From first draft to publication in March of 2011, it took about three years. Being an author is not for the faint of heart, nor for the impatient.

Tell us about your next book, “The Dogs of Winter”.
The Dogs of Winter is based on the true story of Ivan Mishukov, a very young homeless child in Russia. The book takes place in Moscow in the mid-1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union. Although we tend to think of the Soviet Union’s fall as a good thing, it was devastating to the people of Russia. As a result, there were tens of thousands of homeless children and teens living and doing their best to survive on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Unlike most of the homeless kids, Ivan did not join one of the many gangs of children living in the underground railway stations. Instead, he was adopted by a pack of feral street dogs and lived with them for two years. My book is a fictionalized account of those two years. My editor, Arthur A. Levine, says it’s a mash-up of Oliver Twist and Julie of the Wolves. But it’s also an exploration of what makes us human and what defines “family.” It’ll be published by Scholastic October 1st.

Thank you for your time, Bobbie!

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Author Interview: Anna Myers

Happy 4th of July! When I asked Anna Myers to do a interview on this day, I wasn’t thinking about it being Independence Day. It is really quite appropriate, though. Anna’s book, Spy!, which I reviewed last Friday is about Nathan Hale, a great patriot who gave his life for our country.

What made you decide to write Spy?
I happened to be discussing history with a young man named Nathan when I learned he had no knowledge of Nathan Hale. After the conversation, I did a little research and discovered how young he was when he died and that he had been a teacher. The story began to form in my mind almost immediately.

What gave you the inspiration for Jonah and his side of the story?
After I leaned that Hale was a teacher, a boy from his class just seemed natural. I listened to songs from that time period and that part of the country. Several of the songs were about whaling and the back story about Jonah’s father began to grow. Music always helps my imagination work.

What message would you like readers to take away from this book?
I always want my readers to realize that history is made by real people, and I want them to feel connected to the past. In this particular story, I also hoped that they would see the British side of the conflict also.

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
When I write a story, the characters become very real to me even the ones that are totally fiction. I once had my hand on a Christmas gift I intended to buy for a character in the book on which I was writing. It was a book about marble collecting, and the character had a marble collection. Nathan Hale was buried in New York. No one knows exactly where. Now when I walk the streets of that city, I often wonder if he is buried beneath my feet.

Thanks so much for the interview, Anna!

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Author Interview: Pat Hughes

Last Friday I posted a review of Breaker Boys. There are two reasons I think I enjoyed Breaker Boys so much. Nate and Johnny (the main characters) are interesting and easy to root for. The second reason I liked it so much was it introduced me to a world I had never considered before–coal mining. The history of coal mining is amazingly interesting. Today Pat Hughes, the author of Breaker Boys, is here to answer a few questions. Thank you, Pat!

What gave you the idea for this story?
After I had been married to my husband, Sam, for a few years, I learned that his family had owned coal mines in the Hazleton, Pa., area back in the 1800s and early 1900s. It seemed to be something that the family was almost ashamed of in the present day, because of the stereotype that the coal operators had exploited the poor immigrants. As I began to research, I found that there was a lot more to it than that. The more I learned about the miners and the owners, the more I needed to write the story. It became important to me to tell all three sides – “yours, mine, and the truth,” as Mary tells Nate in the book.

What are some of the challenges you face being an author?
The biggest challenge for me as an author continues to be how to get my books into the public eye. I’m not a self-promoter; never have been. I love to sit alone in a room and write. I hate to go to conferences and shmooze, I hate to bang my own drum all over the Internet, I hate to call/email people and beg them to write about my books. Yet it’s the writers who consistently do those things whose books get noticed. I don’t aim to be a big commercial success a la JK Rowling or the authors of the “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” series. I would hate being famous! But I would like my books to be better known. And that is very hard to do.

What advice would you give to a person trying to become a fiction writer?
1) Read a lot and write a lot. That’s how you develop a style and it’s how you improve.
2) Only write a story because you have to, not because you merely want to, or think you should for some reason. When I write it’s never “I want to write a book about a boy whose family owns coal mines,” it’s “OMG, I have no choice but to write a book about a boy whose family owns coal mines.”
3) View self-publishing options as your last resort. I think too many people today just want to see themselves published any way they can without working hard enough to be really good. Your goal should be to get so good that somebody pays YOU for the stuff you write … not that you pay somebody else to publish you.

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
I love historical fiction so much, and I just wish more people, especially young people, shared this passion. It’s distressing to me that most young people only seem to want to read about wizards, fairies, elves, vampires, werewolves … and depressing dystopian future societies! But there are so many rich, colorful, fascinating stories in the past. That’s why it’s especially exciting to me when a young person like you contacts me about one of my books. It’s great to know there are some kids out there who keep their minds open to historical novels. So thank you for letting me know how much you like “The Breaker Boys,” and thanks for having me on your blog.

Thank you for joining me on my blog!

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Author Interview: Rachel Coker

Please join me in welcoming Rachel Coker, author of Interrupted.

1. What is one of the most challenging and/or the most rewarding aspect of being a teen author?
I think the most challenging part of being a teen writer is balancing writing with all of my other responsibilities. I’m still in high school! It can be very difficult sometimes to meet deadlines, do interviews, and arrange speaking events when I’m worried about science and Spanish homework. 🙂 One of the blessings of being a homeschooler, though, is that I can arrange my schoolwork around everything else. It all works out in the end, but it can be a struggle sometimes!

The most rewarding part of my experience as a teen writer has definitely been all the wonderful people I have gotten to know, in person and through emails and letters. It is such an encouragement to me to receive notes from teens all over the world who have been inspired by my story. I’ve kept every email and letter that I’ve received, and I read through them whenever I feel discouraged. They always bring a smile to my face! 🙂

2. Who is the person (besides God!) that influences you most in your
writing. Why?

I think I’m heavily influenced by the people that I know will read my writing. I try very hard to write books that are meaningful and touching, and will help young people to think about difficult topics, like death, faith, and love. But I always keep in mind that there may be children or non-Christians reading my works. So I’m very conscious to keep everything clean and Christ-centered. I never want to write something that my nine-year-old sister wouldn’t be allowed to read!

3. Tell us a little bit about your next project.
My next book is due to come out in March 2013! I haven’t announced the title yet (I will soon on my blog, though!), but I really hope that it will be as widely received as “Interrupted.” No, it’s not a sequel, but it is a historical YA novel set in 1969. It tells the story of Scarlett Blaine, growing up in Georgia with her big, dysfunctional family. Her younger brother, Cliff, is mildly autistic, but since autism wasn’t diagnosed in the 60’s, he is thought of as a freak and an outcast of society. Scarlett has to struggle with the normal pressures of growing up and discovering who she is, along with protecting her younger brother and keeping her family together. Despite all the outside influences that threaten to keep her family apart, she has to figure out for herself what is really important in life.

(Me: This sounds just as good, if not better than, Interrupted! Can’t wait to read it.)

4. Do you have a favorite scene in Interrupted?
I always loved the scene where Allie professes her love to Sam! I don’t want to spoil the scene for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but a thrown shoe is involved, and it just tickled me to write that part. I hate writing overly sentimental, gushy scenes, so it was refreshing to make the one “love scene” of the book a little humorous.

5. Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
I would love to send out a big “thank you!” to everyone who has read or bought my book “Interrupted”! It means so much to me that you would give my book a chance. I really hope you enjoyed it! To anyone who is interested, I would love it if you followed my blog (www.rachelcoker.wordpress.com) or “liked” me on Facebook!

Thanks for joining us, Rachel!

Author Interview with Rick Barry

I am so excited that Rick Barry, author of Gunner’s Run, (click here for my book review of Gunner’s Run) is here to answer a few questions about Gunner’s Run and writing. If you haven’t already read Gunner’s Run, I encourage you to think about doing so. Enjoy the interview!


What was the most unexpected fact or story you uncovered while researching for “Gunner’s Run”?

Looking back, I believe the most unexpected fact I discovered in my research concerned traitors who aided the Nazis voluntarily, particularly in Belgium. I had been to Belgium before, but obviously not during World War II. So I had never realized how some Belgians quickly tried to get in good with the victorious Nazi invaders by helping them and spying for them and turning in citizens who secretly resisted the invasion. This is the fact that led me to create the character Henri, who at first befriends Jim Yoder, but later imprisons him in order to turn him over to the Nazi regime for a reward.


What message would you like readers to take away from “Gunner’s Run”?

I will word this answer carefully, because I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet. However, you can say that Jim Yoder never viewed himself as a hero and at the beginning of the story really had no interest in God whatsoever. He thought he was in pretty good control of his life. But when reality strikes and he finds himself alone, away from all his friends, and on the run behind German lines, he realizes he really is not the captain of his own fate, that he could be shot and killed any moment. That’s when he begins recalling everything that he ever learned about God and begins to trust in Him instead of himself.

What advice would you give to a person trying to become a fiction writer?

This is a terrific question, but it’s also one that could fill up a whole book by itself. Today’s fiction writers face a lot of competition, so in order to rise above the mass of mediocre writing being done out there, I would give several starter tips:

1. Read–a lot! And I don’t mean short, frivolous stuff. Especially read books in the genre you want to write someday, and you’ll be filling your brain with good plots, good background information, good examples of grammar, etc. Even without taking a course in writing, people who read widely greatly expand their literary and historical horizons. At the same time, though, be discerning in what you read. Many novelists fill their stories with illicit relationships, vulgar language, and other unseemly details not fitting for the brain of a wholesome person. If you feed your brain unclean images and stories, you can pollute your thinking. I’m a Christian writer, and I don’t want to feed on literature that describes intricate details of things that God despises.

2. Pay attention to good English. Learn the right way to punctuate. Study how quality writers use punctuation marks. Master proper spelling. If you depend on your computer’s spell-checker to get the spelling and punctuation correct, then you are headed for trouble. Very often your computer will not understand what you’re trying to spell when you write plain or plane, affect or effect, insure or ensure, etc. Words and punctuation form the writer’s toolbox. Master the use of your tools just as a carpenter masters his tools, and just as the surgeon learns how to use his surgical instruments.

3. Develop a thick skin. Most writers will sooner or later ask someone else to read their manuscript and provide feedback. However, many, many of these people don’t really want honest feedback. Instead they want praise, and they will bristle when others point out errors or weaknesses. If you want to improve, take criticism in stride. If someone points out a problem, don’t get defensive or angry. Instead, objectively consider the statement and see how you can make your work better. Also, if someone praises your work, that’s nice, but it’s not helpful. Thank them for the compliment but still press them and say, “But how can I make it better?”

4. Subscribe to magazines specifically for writers. Good examples are The Writer, Writer’s Digest, and Christian Communicator.

5. You can learns tons of information about the publishing world today by reading the blogs of well-known Christian literary agents. I particularly recommend the blogs of the Steve Laube Literary Agency (http://stevelaube.com/blog/) and the blog of the Books & Such Agency (http://www.booksandsuch.biz/blog/). These agencies provide truly valuable information and professional insight on their blogs, and it’s free! (You can even comment or ask questions, and the agents will answer your questions, so these are terrific learning tools.)

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

Technology is changing, and the whole world is changing, but people still love a good story. The power of story is tremendous regardless of whether it comes as a book, or on a Nook, or on some other device. The author who can weave a good story can lead the brains of readers to places and times they’ve never personally experienced. If the story causes that reader to become a better person as a result of your words, then that is truly rewarding.

You can visit Mr. Barry at his own blog by clicking here.