Category: fan mail


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.

 

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I give you the age of Juice’s sisters but not the age of Juice herself.

Her two little sisters are under five. Her two older sisters are over ten. I imagined Juice to be somewhere between.

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When I write in free verse I usually avoid formal constraints. Though I do love occasional internal rhyme, I try not to overdo it as too much makes the work seem self-conscious and contrived. Instead, I arrange the  verse to suggest the rhythm and cadence of the character’s native language or accent. I think of my novels in verse more as theater than as one long poem.

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THE CATS IN KRASINSKI SQUARE was inspired by a story I discovered in a newspaper from the 1940s while researching ALEUTIAN SPARROW. This is the closest I have come to tackling the unbearable subject of the Holocaust.