Thursday, April 7, 2011

Part VIII Interview -- Discovering America's Past through Historical Fiction

Dear Readers,

Wasn't Joyce's confession of  her research feeling deliciously sinful a treat? She's back now with more delicious insights about her writing and research process. Joyce learned this past week that her book, Comfort, is being released in paperback this fall! Congratulations, Joyce!

Be sure to check out her links and books at the end of the interview, and please take a moment to post a comment about her interview or to congratulate her on Comfort going to paperback this fall. I know that a lot of you are history lovers, so we'd also love to learn what children's book written or set in the 1940's is a favorite with you!  Thanks so much! The WINNER of  the autographed copy of BLUE will be announced next week along with details for the "2nd Annual Spilling Ink Writing Contest". Now, here's Joyce . . .

Joyce Moyer Hostetter
1.  What drew you to this time period—WWII on the home front? In the American South?  
 I was raised in the American south so I think it was inevitable that I would eventually write a story set here. But I was actually working on a 19th century Hawaii story when I met Editor, Carolyn Yoder at a writing conference. After getting her feedback on that manuscript, I signed up for a history writing workshop with her (one of those fabulous Highlights Foundation Founders Workshops!). Before going, I received an assignment to research and begin writing about local history.  I contacted my county’s history museum for some ideas, discovered the polio epidemic, and as a result, BLUE was born.

I also have an affinity for the ‘40s.  I think that’s because it is the era of my parent’s marriage and the establishment of our family so even though I wasn’t born in the 40’s I do feel rooted in them.
2. What were some of the challenges you encountered when researching and/or writing about a time period that encompassed a World War, a polio epidemic, and racism?
I think my biggest challenge was getting past my own fear of the process.  It takes a certain amount of courage to contact total strangers and probe into their painful life experiences.  And at that point I didn’t have a strong book to put into people’s hands to demonstrate that I could actually write.  I believed I could do it but I wasn’t sure they would have reason to bother with me. From researching BLUE, I learned that people are typically eager to share their experience and knowledge with anyone who will listen. I realized that my interest in their stories is validating for them.  Since then, I have practiced probing more deeply and casting my research net more widely.  The research trail is endless and I could travel it forever!

3. How did you find your emotional connection (13 years old?) to Ann Fay and the story of polio?
I think it is called Arrested Development! Remembering how I felt at 13 is not all that hard for me. Like Ann Fay, I faced things that were bigger than I was. I felt some of the same social pressures she did. I worked in the family garden.  I was part of a strong family and caring rural community and church group. Those are the things I brought to the story.

While working on BLUE and thinking about whom my character would be, I remembered that a friend told me that when he was 14 years old his father died.  At his father’s funeral a woman told him, “I guess you’ll have to be the man of the house now.”  This friend told me “I didn’t want to be the man of the house. I wasn’t ready for that responsibility.”

So you see I also drew on my friend’s emotion.  I wanted to create a character who faced incredible challenges and discovered unexpected inner strength. Maybe that is the part of me that is still like Ann Fay.  I want to know if I can do hard things. She now inspires me!

4. Can you offer any research tips or insights into your writing process?
I begin my research by reading as much as I can on my topic and all related areas that might influence my story. This gives me ideas for possible plot points.  It also leads me to much more research as one resource tends to lead to another.  It’s very much like going down a trail. I just follow along totally delighted by each new discovery. I meet great people who know things I want to know and are pleased to share them with me. I visit fun places, read great books, and watch fascinating movies. I visit museums and dusty archives. If possible, I walk the land where my story takes place. I try to get as close to the subject of my story as I can. I want to feel that I am there and I always find amazing spiritual connections that take me there.

5. What was your favorite book as a child?  Hmmmm- I really have trouble choosing one favorite anything. When I was younger I loved Heidi.  A few years later I read Anne Frank’s diary and it has remained a very strong favorite.  I believe Anne is why I explore tragic themes and why I write historical novels today.

6. What can you share about your current project? I can tell you that it is the story of a German immigrant family to America.  That it takes place over a long period of time and that I am going to Germany in a few weeks to get up close and personal with parts of the story that take place over there.  Oh, and I’m learning German! I forgot to mention language study in that question about research. 

Thanks for leaving a comment! 


  1. Interesting interview. I backed up and read part one as well because I'm also a research junkie. The Diary of Anne Frank was one of my favorites growing up, too.

  2. Hi Carol, Welcome and thank you so much for joining the blog and for leaping into the conversation with Joyce. I love connecting with history/research junkies!

  3. Hi!

    Thanks, Clara and Joyce for your interesting discussion about writing historical fiction. I've been working on my memoir (intended just for my family), but it's made me consider writing more fictional stories based on old family stories.

    Clara, I remember reading and really liking one of your early books published by Boyds Mills Press. I need to catch up with your many other titles. Joyce, BLUE sounds wonderful, and I look forward to reading it.

    I'm one of the namelos authors (also published by Boyds Mills years ago)and would love to be included as a guest on your blog but my book isn't historical fiction.

    Sheila Welch

  4. Hi Sheila,

    Books don't have to be historical fiction; they just have to be for children--all age groups and genres. Not necessary to be a member of my blog, either, although I'm always hopeful! :0)
    Send me an e-mail with more specifics, and we'll set something up!

    I'm really curious about you now. Did we meet years ago at a Illustrator's Party or conference somewhere? Do tell, please! Thanks for taking a look at my books, as well as Joyce's!

  5. oops, that should have read "an" Illustrator's Party. Blush! Hate when I do that!

  6. Clara,
    thanks for interviewing Joyce. She has been a great inspiration to me as a journey along finding my own historical fiction story. I smiled when I read that Ann Fay now inspires her. I believe it. Now, I have to go read Part I.

  7. Very cool interview. It's always fun to read about an author's journey while writing their book. For each one is a journey, I think. Hopefully, an adventurous one. Thanks for sharing Joyce!

  8. Thanks for joining us, Carol! Joyce is an inspiration, isn't she?

  9. Jennifer, Thanks for dropping by today. You must be one busy teacher, writer, mother, and who knows what else. I haven't seen you anywhere lately! It's nice to have you back!

  10. Thanks Clara, yes, I've missed you,too. I definitely owe you a "catch-up" email. Spent last week visiting colleges with my son. Can't believe he's almost done with his junior year. Yikes! Where does the time go... Keep on truckin' on this blog. It's really awesome!!

  11. WOW! a trip to Germany for research. I think I am choosing the wrong settings. :) Thanks for sharing some of your process with us.


  12. Hi Jennifer, Yikes! Where does the time go? Thanks for stopping by again. :0)

    Hi Margo, Joyce's trip to Germany does sound exciting. I'm sure she'll share about it when she returns! Thanks for stopping by.

  13. My mother came from Germany as a child, so you already have my interest in the next project. And my parents also married in the 40's while Dad was in the Army Air Corps. And I agree with you that Highlights workshops are fantastic.
    Kathy Cannon Wiechman

  14. I thought a lot about last week's post, and what it have been like for Joyce to approach people and ask them for their story. Joyce explained it in one word: courage! What an exciting interview! Thank you Joyce.
    Some of my favorites: Bud Not Buddy, Anne of Green Gables, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Hill Hawk Hattie, of course!
    What a great blog. Thanks Clara!

  15. Hi Kathy, So nice that you connected with Joyce in so many ways. Have you met at any events?

    Hi Lorrie, You are so sweet for mentioning my very own Hill Hawk Hattie. I'm honored to be included in that group of your favorites. Loved the nugget you mined from Joyce's posts.

  16. Hi Clara,
    Great interview, as usual.
    Joyce's next project sounds interesting, too. My husband is a German immigrant, and we lived there for three years in the 1980s while working for the Dept of Defense.
    Donna V.

  17. Really enjoyed the post. I just started a manuscript that takes place in the 1940s. I have a long way to go, but I'm trudging along. I just spoke with my neighbor a few days ago about rationing during the war. I don't think many people could do that now a days. They say we are living in hard times now, but it is nothing like it was back then.

  18. Hi Donna (Irish Oma), Isn't it wonderful to find personal connections with other authors? Did you get to tour the country at all while you were there? Thanks for stopping by!

    Hi Janet, It's wonderful that Joyce's interview came at a time when you were just starting a manuscript set in the 1940s. My parents were farmers and my mother often said that the rationing during the WAR was in many ways more difficult than the Depression for them, since they were pretty much self-sufficient. We moved too far away from those days, I think.

  19. Clara,
    I've never met Joyce, but I'm sure we'd have a lot to talk about. Seems we have much in common, as those who write & love historical fiction usually do.
    Kathy Cannon Wiechman

  20. Clara---This was a great interview. I was especially interested in Joyce's answer about having to be brave when approaching people to discuss things that might be painful. I have found that those who benefit from and are willing to share overwhelmingly outnumber those who refuse or are unable to. Sharing DOES validate what they went through, and having their story told helps the healing process...

  21. Clara---Welcome to the sisterhood. Since I am a kind, thoughtful person, I will not burst into singing "Sistah" from "The Color Purple." (Your ears and your sensibilities are thanking me right now!)

  22. Sioux, Thanks for including me in the sisterhood! Grab your favorite quill and WRITE ON!

  23. Thanks so much, Clara. I really enjoyed the interview. I'll be looking for the book and reading it soon.