See there in the sidebar – the call for guest bloggers – Carol Baldwin took me up on it. Carol is author of Teaching the Story. She and I give workshops together and also swap manuscripts for critique. Lately she’s been having conversations with me in her head. So she wanted to share them with you on my blog! Keep in mind that these are questions she posed herself - imagining what I would ask her!
Why did you want to be a guest blogger here?
I loved the fact that you used the Yiddish word, “Maven” to describe the experts you were looking for. I remembered that word from my Jewish upbringing. That was the first thing that hooked me—you don’t see too many “Goyim” use it!
Even though I’m not an expert yet, I thought your readers might enjoy hearing about some of the experiences a writer goes through as she is writes her first historical novel.
Why did you decide to write historical fiction?
Carol: I love reading well-written historical fiction. I think it entertains and educates at the same time. My children were drawn to it too; they always wanted to know if what they were reading was a “real” story.
Your story takes place in Charlotte, NC in 1950. How did you come up with the plot idea?
Joyce I think you blogged about writing the story in “your own backyard.” Over ten years ago I visited Wing Haven, a garden and bird sanctuary that was started in the 20’s by Elizabeth Clarkson. I thought, someone should write a picture book about this place. I tried to do that but there were too many stories to be squeezed into a picture book. Then I tired incorporating a real event, about how Mrs. Clarkson rehabilitated a robin and put it on a plane to Florida, into a book for young boys. That didn’t work. Then I started playing with some of the characters and thinking about some conflicts that could have been going on in Charlotte at that time. Since it is just before integration, I knew that should be part of the picture. Also, Wing Haven is in the heart of Myers Park, a very fashionable place to live. I started imagining some class issues that could have taken place if a young girl moved into Myers Park who felt as if she didn’t belong there. Each part of the story was built on brainstorming the characters, their setting, and their histories.
Tell us about your experience. What have been some of the high points for you?
Without a doubt interviewing people who lived in Charlotte around that time period. I love stories and I have heard many.
Can you share one or two that will find their way into your story?
Carol: The very first African Americans I interviewed were two men who grew up very near Myers Park. (By the way, I actually interviewed them sitting inside a Rosenwald school. I really wanted to use that school in my story since it’s a “real” place that still exists, but as it turns out it’s not the exact location where my black character would have gone to school.) Casually one of the men mentioned that his grandmother’s grave had to be dug up to make room for new houses. When the grave was opened, they had found she was buried with a tea cup. That intrigued me and became an important point in my story. Another African American shared how he was beaten by the police as a teenager because he was with a light-skinned girl; they accused him of being with a white girl. I met several people who graduated from Central High School in 1950. They continue to be a great resource for everything from slang, to clothing, to music and hobbies.
How about low points. What has been difficult for you?
The whole process is overwhelming. The amount of data that I find and need to keep track of boggles my mind. For example, I just googled “Central High School” and found two new links to information and photos about schools in Charlotte at the time period. Research is both fun and frustrating. There feels like there is no end!
Any other comments you would like to make to my readers?
When you read a piece of historical fiction keep in mind that the author has worked hard at making the story authentic. And wish me luck as I plug away at mine.
Good luck, Carol! (from Joyce - for real this time!)
(And BTW - I had no idea Maven was yiddish. I just learned that word from playing Scrabble.)