Category: fan mail


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No. In fact I’m rather critical of my own work and often wish I could do a bit more editing. That’s not to say I dislike my own work. The opposite is true.

I selected this image to suggest that even though I’ve loved every one of my pets through the years, I’ve loved other people’s pets as well. The relationship is different with your own pet. You know that animal intimately, just as an author knows her/his own work intimately. But it doesn’t prevent you from admiring the beauty, grace, humor, and style that is another’s.

(This question came to me from Ancillae Assumpta Academy in Wyncote, Pennsylvania)

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An excellent question. Thank you. In fact a story develops on multiple planes. Research helps shape it, current events help shape it, what is going on in my own life helps shape it. Every day, all day long, choices are being made during the writing and editing process. Dead ends are pursued and rejected. Seemingly dead ends open up and reveal a passage to the next part of the story. Eventually the story has its own unique shape and structure because of the choices I’ve made during those months of work. After a year of trying to bring my thoughts, ideas, characters, plot, setting, etc. into focus, the book arrives on my editor’s desk and shortly thereafter returns to me with questions, concerns, suggestions. And the process begins again. It’s fascinating to think of how many different books could have emerged during this process, books that were not written, sacrificed to this one story line that managed to dominate all the myriad options available to me as I wrote.

(This question came from East Prairie Public School in Skokie, Illinois.)

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I loved the experience of researching and writing STOWAWAY. Using the journals kept by Captain Cook and Joseph Banks, as well as the shipboard artist, Sydney Parkinson, I felt more immersed in primary source material than I have felt writing any other book. It’s important to me to be as accurate as possible when writing historical novels. Having the words of the men aboard Endeavour at my fingertips through the entire writing process gave me confidence that I was as close to an authentic recounting of the journey as it was possible to get.

Witness

Scholastic presented me with multiple choices and together we selected the images we agreed best represented the characters I had created.

The photographs come from the Walter Dean Myers photograph collection, and the photo albums of the families of Edith and Herbert Langmuir, Dean Langmuir, and Joan Lacovara, relatives of an employee of Scholastic Inc.

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Esther’s way of speaking was inspired by a little book I read near the beginning of my research for WITNESS. In THE STORY OF OPAL, Opal Whiteley, speaks in an unusual way for reasons unexplained to her readers. The authenticity of Opal’s diary has been challenged but I loved the way it established her character, whether it was true or not. Because I wanted to impart to readers a sense of my character, Esther, being the child of immigrants, and because I wanted to create her character as one of innocence and naivete, Opal’s mode of speech seemed the perfect starting point.

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I discovered mention of “Revealed Jesus” in the 1924 newspapers I used in my research. It’s important to remember that news was not reported in the way it is today. Though the 1924 newspaper referred to William Seymour as being both alive and in Texas, he had made the move to California long before his death two years earlier, in 1922. Perhaps the paper was referring to his movement and his followers more than to the man himself. I honestly can’t remember and my research is no longer in my possession so I have no way of reviewing the original articles that inspired the “Revealed Jesus” poems. My characters knew only what they read in the paper or what they might have heard in conversation. Authors must decide whether to be true to what their characters actually knew or to give them knowledge which would make the book historically correct though not an accurate portrait of the time. My choice was to keep the book true to what the characters would actually have known. An excellent question. Thank you.

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The names of the plants were chosen for their sound. I simply explored the names of plants that grow in Vermont and selected the ones I imagined would delight the ear of my character, Esther.

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1872 Lighthouse on the Hudson River (photo taken August 2017)

Although A LIGHT IN THE STORM was inspired by the very real lighthouse keeper, Ida Lewis, the book is a work of fiction. I spent over a year researching the Civil War, the particular complexities of living along the Mason-Dixon Line, and the duties and responsibilities of lighthouse keepers during the 1800s. Many of the details in my book are drawn from newspapers of the period…perhaps that’s what gives A LIGHT IN THE STORM its air of reality.

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I wrote JUST JUICE in this house in Williamsville, Vermont. Less than a year after I took this photograph, the house was swept away during Hurricane Irene.

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In an attempt to make my books more inclusive, I often opt out of naming a specific town as the setting, or I give the town a fictionalized name. The research I did for JUST JUICE extended beyond any small town in Vermont, even beyond Vermont itself to many other states in the country. This story could take place anywhere.