Tuesday, March 16, 2010


This post is for the 5th graders in Donna Rymer's class at Bostian School in China Grove, NC.  But you, dear reader, are invited to lurk while we chat.

And now for a little Q & A.

Students:  Where do you find your topics to write about?
Me:  My topics always seem to grow out of research I'm doing for another writing project.  I'll be witing  and reading and learning. Then right in the heart of it, I'll discover some little known piece of history that fascinates me.  Suddenly, I'm hooked. Of course, I have to finish the project I'm working on. But when I do, I make a bee line for that hidden history I just uncovered. 

Students:  What inspired you to become an author?
Me: My 7th & 8th grade language arts teacher liked my written book reports and told me I'd be a writer someday.  It was just the encouragement I needed to produce great writing for her and for every language arts teacher I had after that. When I went to college, however, I studied to become a teacher. Over the years, I taught preschool and special education.

Then eventually, I realized that, more than anything, I wanted to write. 

So, I began.  My husband would read my stories to our children at bedtime and I would watch for their reactions.  If they listened with their mouths hanging open, I knew my story was working.  If they lost interest and started talking or annoying each other, I'd start revising.

They became my inspiration.  I wanted to write books that they cared about.  In some ways that's still true.  The greatest compliment I receive is when my grown son or daughter tells me my book is awesome.  I know from experience that they'll also tell me if it stinks. But I like to give them that opportunity before it goes to publication -which, of course, leads to more revisions.

Students:  What obstacles do you encounter as an author?
Me:  The competition to get published and to sell books is huge.  And as a writer of historical fiction with heavy themes, I don't love competing with vampires, dystopian novels, or LOL funny stories.  But it makes me step up my game and write the very best historical fiction that I can. 

Sometimes I am my own worst obstacle - procrastinating by playing around on the internet instead of knuckling down to writing or revising.  Time is a big challenge.  It's hard to find time and also money to invest in research trips as well as getting the word out about my books

Students: What is the best part about being a writer?
Me:  Hmmmm - there is a high that comes just from putting words together into a story.  That's hard to explain but if you have something you love to do such as art, dance,or a particular sport, then you probably know what I'm talking about. 

I also absolutely adore the research.  I get very hooked on finding clues to more information, following research trails, and discovering connections between people and events in history. 

And then, there is the fact that I can stay home and go to work at the exact same time. I can wear whatever I want to work.  I'm my own boss. That's not always easy though because the motivation has to come from me alone - but I think writing fits my independent spirit very well.

Students: Do you have another book in the works, and what will it be about?
Me:  The book I am working on is about WWII era conscientious objectors to war.  (Now, there's a topic for you to research and discuss!)  My fictional character, along with about 12,000 real COs, chose to serve our country in a peaceful, nonvioloent manner.  He was a member of the first group of pacifists to work in a mental hospital.  There he helped expose the horrendous conditions and abuses that patients were living with. And he got into a little trouble, himself.

Students:  If you could recommend the best book of all time for a fifth grader to read, which one would you recommend?
Me:  I think "the best book of all time" is like an oxymoron or something.  I can't even choose my favorite book that came out this year. But I will say that I think every young person should read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.  By going into hiding in a very limited space and putting her feelings into a diary, Anne opened the world to millions of people who would not know or care otherwise. And if that just doesn't appeal to you then maybe try Jerry Spinelli's novel, Milkweed.  Both of these books are Holocaust stories.  Call me "stuck in the WW II era Hostetter".  But I think this was such a defining moment in history. 

Students: Which one of your books do you consider to be the best for 5th graders?
Me:  I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest Healing Water - not for every fifth grader but for you, yes!  Here's the warning.  It starts out depressing!  It gets a little gruesome and it's sad.  But it has definite bright spots, bits of humor, and it ends with hope. And it really has a lot to say that I believe you will appreciate.
You can read snippets of reviews for Healing Water here.
Thanks so much for the questions!  You guys are incredible and I know you have many years of reading, writing, and researching ahead of you.  I'm pretty sure I don't need to tell you to do any of those things.  Mostly I want to encourage you to follow whatever skill you have that makes you feel as if life is good. Practice it, take constructive criticism, and be willing to revise your game - whatever it is.

You'll do well, I know!  For real. - Oh, and did you notice I'm giving away another book.  See sidebar for info about the contest to win Captain Mac - nonfiction about an arctic explorer.  Maybe you can win it for your school library.

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