Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Birthday! Part 3 Discovering America's Past through Historical Fiction

Dear Reader,
I'm pleased to introduce you to Author Julie Chibbaro and deadly, her hot off the press historical fiction novel set around the turn of the century in New York City. What you'll find in this post is a brief bio about Julie and the article she wrote for YOU, dear reader, along with some special links you'll want to check out.  An insightful interview with Julie about her first historical novel and writing process will follow next week. Julie has generously donated an ARC of deadly as a giveaway to celebrate her Book's Birthday! It's easy; simply leave a comment. Your comment will be numbered and random.org will choose the winner! Now, please join me in welcoming Author Julie Chibbaro! Let's all celebrate her Book's Birthday by leaving a comment to congratulate her.

Author Julie Chibbaro
A Short Bio: JULIE CHIABBARO grew up in New York City wondering how so many people could live together without infecting each other with mortal diseases. She is the author of Redemption which won the 2005 American Book Award. Julie teaches fiction and creative writing in New York. Visit her here: juliechibbaro.com
(I'd rush over there if I were you--if you don't win her book here, you have a chance to win one of five books she's giving away!)

And now, Julie Chibbaro shares an inside look at deadly: how do you catch an invisible killer?  

Julie Chibbaro:

"I’ve always been interested in other people’s business.  Not just their personal business, but their backgrounds as well.  Where did they come from, how did they get there, what do they do with themselves all day? 

Pretty early on in my life, I found that other cultures fascinated me for just these kinds of human stories – when I lived in Mexico as a 19-year-old, I spent a lot of time learning about the Aztecs and their evolution, their language and history.  Every time I visited a new country, I’d explore their story – who conquered this place, how did they settle, why did they stay?  Ten years later, after living in the Czech Republic, I came back to my side of the world (I moved to Montreal, where my husband was from), wondering who I was, and what my American history was. That was the genesis of Redemption, my first book.

Deadly by Julie Chibbaro
My second novel, deadly, came when I returned to my hometown of New York City after a seven-year hiatus.  I felt surprised by the dense population, the dirt in the streets.  It occurred to me (as it had many times in my youth) how easily an epidemic could wipe everyone out.  I grew up in New York City, and I’d always thought about how packed together we all lived – but upon my return, it came flooding back to me in memories, how friends and sisters often joked about spreading germs. 

While doing research for another book (one I never wrote), I stumbled on the story of a woman I’d only heard about in urban legends, one who tied directly in to my rekindled awareness of germs.  I’d always thought that this woman, who most called Typhoid Mary, was an intentional killer, slaying masses with her germ-spreading powers.  When I came across her real story, I knew I had to write about her.(Purchase deadly by clicking on this long link: http://www.amazon.com/Deadly-Julie-Chibbaro/dp/0689857381/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1298131294&sr=1-1

The real Typhoid Mary lived at the beginning of the 20th century in New York City.  Her story contained very interesting elements to me – she was an immigrant (which fit with my previous fascination with other people’s business), she spread disease among rich and poor, and she was a real firecracker of a lady (busting the stereotype of the refined “Gibson Girl” of the time).  I knew that writing about her would answer a lot of questions I’d always had about the city in general.  I wanted to use her real story – the scientists who tracked her down, the way they found her – but of course, I had to figure out a whole fiction around her too.  I needed to create a teen with a desire to fight disease.  I write for teens, so how could I involve them in this story?

Prudence Galewski, my 16-year-old heroine, shares with me only a love of journaling and a curiosity about the world.  Other than that, she is a lot smarter than me, and certainly braver.  She helps her mother the midwife deliver babies (an occupation that takes her close to life and death often), and she loses her brother to disease.  This makes her need to know why people get sick, and why they die.  Prudence’s voice was a struggle for me to find – I rewrote this book from scratch a number of times, first as a boy, then as a series of letters.  Once I understood her strong desire, once I could hear her secret whisperings to herself (in the form of a diary), then I could write this book.

My research took me many times to the New York Public Library, where I buried myself in the many tons of microfiche they have of the newspapers of the time (about 20).  I read the whole paper, not just the articles about Mary.  Newspapers tell you what price apartments rent for, how much salaries are, what people are buying and eating and reading in a time period.  I also visited the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side, a building that is preserved from that time period.  And I read historical fiction of the time (especially helpful was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), and looked at many pictures (my favorite photos were Byron’s).  I read a great book called Typhoid Mary by Judith Walzer Leavitt.  Imagination was really my best tool.

I think the trailer for Deadly gives you a good sense of the book.  Made by the artist Jean-Marc Superville Sovak (supervillesovak.com), with music by Eric Helmuth:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHMFec_e6Vk

I’m currently working with Jean-Marc on another book.  It’s about a graffiti artist (though he wouldn’t call himself that) and a poet (though she wouldn’t call herself that) who live in the parks of NYC.  That’s about all I can share about it right now.

I love to hear from readers, who can visit me and download an excerpt of Deadly from my website, juliechibbaro.com.  I’m also on FB (Deadly by Julie Chibbaro: http://bit.ly/bHtTBx), and twitter (@juliechibbaro).  I will be at the Empire State Book Festival (http://empirestatebookfestival.wordpress.com/) in Albany, NY the first weekend in April, and would love to meet readers there.

Thank you, Julie, for stopping by to share with us! Congratulations on your new book, deadly!
Thank you, dear reader, for joining the celebration! We'll be back in a week with more from Julie!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Announcing the Lucky Winner of COUNTING ON GRACE

Dear Reader,  It's always an exciting moment to discover just who is going to be the winner in the book drawing. I'm always wishing it could be all of you, but since it can't be, I rely on random.org to choose for me. Much easier that way!  So, who is the LUCKY WINNER of  Counting on Grace, so generously donated and autographed by Author Elizabeth Winthrop? www.elizabethwinthrop.com We'll find out after some important news and updates!

In the last post, Elizabeth wrote that she was assisted by Joe Manning when she was on the trail of Addie Card, the child in the Lewis Hine's photograph that you see on the cover of Counting on Grace. Mr. Manning left a comment on the post and shared some links you'll want to check out. Who knows, one of you may be inspired to write about one of the children Joe researched!

This is what Joe wrote:
"I am the author and historian who helped Elizabeth track down Addie's family. I wrote a long story about the search, and it is posted on my website. You can see it at: http://www.morningsonmaplestreet.com/addiesearch1.html

"Thanks to Elizabeth, I was inspired to create what I call the Lewis Hine Project, which is a quest to track down the stories of many other child laborers who were photographed by Hine. I have since completed successful searches for more than 200 children." www.morningsonmaplestreet.com/lewishine.html

Before I announce the winner, I wanted to share this jazzy book by Elizabeth that will get you snapping your fingers and tapping your toes!

The Red-Hot Rattoons by Elizabeth Winthrop  illustrated by Betsy Lewin: Grade 4-6: The rats of NIMH have nothing on Benny, Fletcher, Ella, Woody, and Monk, five young jazz- and tap-dancing rats who set out for the fabled Big City in hopes of seeing their names in lights. Making the Big Time turns out to be no walk in the park-well, actually, it does, as the Rattoons escape a misguided and near-fatal debut on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art by diving into Central Park's shrubbery. Escaping hawks, dogs, poison, and other hazards, the troupe then makes its way to Rat Hollow, a bustling subterranean burg whose residents can chow down on tasty garbage provided at the "ratomat" between visits to the Performing Rats Library. Ultimately, the Rattoons ascend to the massively grandiloquent "Crystal" (known to humans as Radio City Music Hall), where an impromptu performance during the Holiday Hullabaloo earns the quintet not only a standing "O" from the stunned audience but a marquee billing with their names in four-foot letters to boot. Lewin's sketches of tiny, high-stepping rats add stylish notes at each chapter's head, and Rat Hollow, which mirrors the thinly disguised New York above ground, provides a side-splitting backdrop to this engaging tale of life on (and beneath) the boards. School Library Journal John Peters, New York Public Library  
Click on this link to learn more about the Red Hot Rattoons and purchase it! http://www.amazon.com/Red-Hot-Rattoons-Elizabeth-Winthrop/dp/0805079866/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1297724758&sr=1-1

      *****ANNOUNCING THE LUCKY WINNER of  Counting on Grace*****

The winner is: ****Linda O'Connell****   Congratulations, Linda!  I hope you'll take a moment to congratulate her, too!  Linda, please e-mail me: claragillowclark (@) gmail(dot)com with your mailing address and your autographed book will be on its way shortly. 

Thank you, Elizabeth Winthrop for sharing insights and inside stories of your books, your writing, and your research. 

Our next guest writes historical YA, and I know you won't want to miss her book birthday coming up next week on George Washington's Birthday! The setting of the book is NYC around the turn of the 20th-Century! How exciting is that?


Monday, February 7, 2011

PART 2 of "Discovering America's Past through Historical Fiction"

In Part Two of our historical fiction series, Author Elizabeth Winthrop shares insight into her research and in the story behind the character of Grace from her book, Counting on Grace, that we learned about in Part One.  Leave a new comment at the end of the post for a chance to win an autographed copy of the book! Winner to be announced on Valentine's Day. Thank you, Dear Reader, for joining us!


Through the Mill

Because of a Lewis Hine photograph, Addie Card became the poster child of child labor. But what became of Addie Card?

  • By Elizabeth Winthrop

She leans casually on her spinning frame, staring out at the camera, dressed in a filthy work smock. Her bare feet, planted firmly, are slick with black grease. Her left arm rests easily on the huge machinery but crooked at a strange angle, as if perhaps a bone had been broken and never set properly. To keep her hair from the frame's hungry grasp, it is pulled tight and pinned in a style befitting a grown woman. A few wispy strays float around her head like a halo. The elements of her face seem perfectly proportioned: the delicate nose, the small ears tucked back, the curve of her lips, the puff of her cheeks. She is a painter's dream. Or a photographer's.
      I first saw her four years ago in a show devoted to Lewis Hine's pictures of child workers in Vermont. Hine had been hired by the National Child Labor Committee to bolster its written reports with documentary photographs. Records show that he was a traveling man. From 1908 to 1918, he crisscrossed the country by train and automobile, taking pictures that brought home the hard realities of child labor. Because of Hine, comfortable middle-class Americans were forced to look at children embroidering lace in airless tenements on New York's Lower East Side, selling newspapers on crowded streets in St. Louis, cutting sardines in Eastport, Maine. He talked his way into mines in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where the bounce of his magnesium flash off the whites of a breaker boy's eyes illuminated a blackened, airless landscape. To back up his photographs, Hine scribbled details in a notebook hidden in his pocket. About this sad-eyed Vermont girl he wrote: "Anaemic little spinner in North Pownal [Vt.] Cotton Mill."
      Hine took several photographs that August day in 1910, but the image of the girl somebody named Addie Laird is the one that endured. Who was she? Lewis Hine once said that he was "more interested in persons than in people." The same is true of a novelist. Even though I didn't know what had happened to that child, I decided to imagine a life for her. After I finished my novel about her, I began to search for Addie herself.
I had little hope; the U.S. Postal Service had been unable to locate her in 1998, when officials there put Addie's picture on a 32-cent stamp. But it turns out they didn't look hard enough.
I found her in the 1910 Census when I thought to put "Adelaide" and any logical variant into a database search form. On sheet 12B in Bennington County, Vermont, on May 4, 1910, a Census worker recorded a Mrs. Adalaid Harris, listed as head of household living with six orphaned or abandoned grandchildren, including the Card sisters: Anna, female, white, 14 years of age, single; and Addie, female, white, 12 years of age, single.
So Addie's name was not Laird, but Card. That clue led me and fellow researcher Joe Manning down a trail that twisted through town offices, dusty historical societies, funeral homes and Social Security death records.
     Hine's little spinner lived the dark side of the American dream, according to records and relatives. Her mother died of peritonitis when Addie was 2. She was put to work in the mill at the age of 8. (She had to stand on a soapbox to reach the bobbins.) She renamed herself Pat and married twice, neither time happily. Months after losing custody of her biological daughter in 1925, she adopted another girl, the newborn illegitimate child of a Portuguese sailor. Mother and daughter moved often from the dreary mill towns of upstate New York to the big city itself, where Addie and friends were captured in a studio photo celebrating victory in Europe.
Recently, Manning and I met with two of Addie's adoptive descendants. We learned that by the time she died, at 94, she was living in low-income housing and surviving on a Social Security check. "She didn't have anything to give, but she gave it," Piperlea Provost, her great-granddaughter, told us. "I could not imagine my life without Grandma Pat's guidance." 
Addie never knew that her face ended up in a Reebok advertisement or on a postage stamp issued 100 years after her birth, or that Hine's glass plate negative resides in the Library of Congress. Addie Card LaVigne never knew that she had become a symbol.
Like so many of the subjects of his photographs, Lewis Hine also died in poverty. In the 1930s, the work began to dry up, and he was perceived as rigid and difficult; efforts of friends such as fellow photographer Berenice Abbott to resuscitate his career failed. He died at age 66 on November 3, 1940, a widower whose rent was covered by a friend.
And like Addie, Hine seemed to recede into the mists of history. But his child labor images secured his reputation as a documentarian and as an artist. We return to the photograph of Addie again and again because Hine saw her not just as a symbol but as a "person" with a life beyond the mill. For that reason, the "anaemic little spinner" remains as firmly burned into our national memory as she was etched into the glass of Hine's negative almost a century ago.
Elizabeth Winthrop is the author of Counting on Grace, a novel based on the Lewis Hine photograph of Addie Card.   http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/indelible-sep06.html#ixzz1BIIs6MMr
Learn more about the author's life and books here: www.elizabethwinthrop.com
Author Elizabeth Winthrop alongside photo of Addie Card (Grace). This Lewis Hine photograph is hanging in the Met Museum right now in a show called OUR FUTURE IS IN THE AIR, Photographs from the 1910's.  The show's up until April, 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Discovering America's Past through Historical Fiction

Author Elizabeth Winthrop

Our first featured guest in the Historical Fiction Series that will be running for the next eight weeks, is Elizabeth Winthrop, a veteran author with over fifty works of fiction! 

I first met Elizabeth when we were both presenters at the Hodge-Podge Conference in Albany, New York a number of years ago now. I decided to sit in on her presentation and was delighted and enthralled by her stories of childhood. For me, Elizabeth's life was exactly what I had imagined, as a young reader, an author's life should be. I was charmed by her storybook world, and I'm pleased to be sharing her life and work with all of you!

Dear Readers, Please welcome award winning author Elizabeth Winthrop and her featured book, Counting on Grace!  

Interview with Author Elizabeth Winthrop

What or whom were the early influences that inspired you to become a writer?

My father was a journalist who worked at home.  Every day, when I opened the kitchen door, fresh off the bus from school, the first sound I heard was the banging of his old Underwood typewriter keys.  He had a sign on his door which read, PLEASE DON'T KNOCK UNLESS YOU'RE BLEEDING.  This was to keep me and my five brothers out of his hair.  That was my earliest influence... to have a working writer for a father who was self-disciplined and who loved what he did.

My grandmother also encouraged me to write, in contrast to the dour nuns at school who taught me that grammar should be more important than the love of reading or the musical poetry of language.  I had enough influences at home to counter those dictums, thank heavens.

When did you first know that you wanted to write children's books? 
My senior year in college.  I went to Sarah Lawrence where I was allowed to major in writing starting in  freshman year.  I studied with the likes of Grace Paley, E.L. Doctorow and Jane Cooper.  I wrote a large pile of short stories, mostly about experiences I knew nothing about.   Jane wisely pointed this out to me. She noticed that the children in my stories rang very true and steered me in that direction.  When I graduated from college, I worked as an editorial assistant in the Harper and Row Childrens Book department under the legendary Ursula Nordstrom.  From then on, my fate was sealed. My first boss, Nina Ignatowicz, became my editor.

Do you have a favorite book from childhood?


Tell us a little about your writing process.

Character and setting are both crucial to my fiction.  If I don't feel I know a character well enough, then I often write a diary in her voice to dig deeper into what makes her tick.  Or him.   And I need to know where that person lives.  In Counting on Grace, I deliberately picked a mill near where I live in the summer so that I could walk in Grace's footsteps as often as I needed to.  In The Castle in the Attic,  the attic itself is the one in my grandmother's house in Connecticut where I spent many childhood hours.  

Do you write for other audiences?

Yes, I've published two novels for adults, In My Mother's House  and Island Justice.  And I am currently at work on a personal history, the story of my parents' love affair in London during World War II.

Is it difficult to switch back and forth between writing for children and writing for adults?

It's a matter of voice.  I hear a different voice in my head when I'm writing for adults and when I'm writing for children.  And point of view.  In a children's book, you stay very tightly in the protagonist's head.  It keeps you from getting preachy and moralizing.

I'm glad that I can switch back and forth.  When I've been working on a novel for two years, I like being able to write a picture book for young children that might be finished in a week or sometimes, rarely in a couple of days.  Picture books bring me back to language and poetry, the short novels for children force me to focus on plot.  All of these tools are of course, vital when I work on fiction for adults.  It's all writing.  Librarians and booksellers need to slot the books into different age groups so they know where to shelve the books.  I don't.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read, read, read.  And designate a time in each day when you are nothing but a writer.  Turn off all the gadgets that so easily distract us these days and sink into your writing self.  There's no other way that I know of to keep the inner stream flowing. Honor that writer within you with uninterrupted time and with a place, even if it's the corner of the kitchen or a table in a local coffee shop.

ELIZABETH WINTHROP is the author of over fifty works of fiction for all ages. Her most recent historical novel, COUNTING ON GRACE was chosen as a Notable Book of the Year by the American Library Association, the National Council of Social Studies, the International Reading Association and the Children’s Book Council and was nominated for state book awards in Vermont, Virginia, Kentucky, Kansas, Missouri, Hawaii and Arizona.

Ms. Winthrop is the daughter of the late Stewart Alsop, the political journalist.  She divides her time between New York City and the Berkshires. She is currently at work on a memoir. Learn more about the author here: www.elizabethwinthrop.com

The featured selection for this series, "Discovering America's Past" is Ms. Winthrop's most recent historical work of fiction, Counting on Grace. A teaching guide for the book is available on her web-site: www.elizabethwinthrop.com [Find by clicking on TEACHERS on the menu bar] Read below for what reviewer's say about this important book!

Counting on Grace 
To purchase:  http://amzn.to/eGYzzZ 

"Winthrop's compelling story vividly captures the mill experience.  Much information on early photography and the workings of the textile mills is conveyed, and history and fiction are woven seamlessly together in this beautifully written novel. Readers won't soon forget Grace." -Starred Review, School Library Journal
"The most compelling thread of the novel chronicles the mounting tension between Grace and her demanding mother who dominates the other workers. This enlightening novel explores the perils of mill work for children and adults alike.  Readers will cheer the feisty heroine when Grace uses her smarts to triumph."      -Publishers Weekly


*ALA Notable Book
*Notable Trade Book in Social Studies
*IRA-CBC Children's Choice Selection
*NCTE Notable Book for a Global Society
*Jane Addams Peace Prize Honor Book et al

Elizabeth has generously donated an autographed hardcover copy of Counting on Grace. As always, for a chance to win, all you have to do is stop by and leave a comment on this post and/or the follow-up post next week when Elizabeth will share the story behind the book and insights into the research process involved in uncovering Grace's story.  The winner will be chosen by random.org on Valentine's Day!