Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Part VII -- Discovering America's Past through Historical Fiction

Dear Readers,

Thank you for joining us for this new installment in the Historical Fiction series which features Award winning author, Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Joyce will be featured the next couple of weeks, and she's graciously donating an autographed copy of her award winning book, BLUE, and will personalize and mail it directly to the winner! For a chance to win all you have to do is leave a comment about this post or the interview coming up next week.

Joyce grew up in rural North Carolina. After a brief struggle with Dick, Jane, and Sally in first grade, she became an avid reader. Her middle grade Language Arts teacher told her she's be a great writer some day so she began working hard to live up to that challenge. She is the author of four historical novels with several in progress. Her book BLUE about a North Carolina polio epidemic won the International Reading Association Children's Book Award in addition to other honors. Joyce has always loved history and she's crazy about research. Now,  Joyce shares a brief but warm and engaging essay about her research . . .

Joyce Moyer Hostetter

By Joyce Moyer Hostetter

I sometimes say that my favorite sin is trespassing. You know, poking around abandoned houses, old barns, and vacated mill villages. I love sniffing out history while entertaining the notion that I’m not really supposed to be there. The place I’m entering belongs to someone else.  And I don’t just mean who owns that particular bit of real estate (although a certain rush comes with the knowledge that an owner might be watching.)

But in addition, I know that people have lived out entire lives in these places.  They woke up in the dark and walked to work and ate off of that chipped plate lying in the corner. A mother drew water out of that well every day, welcomed babies in the upstairs room, and buried loved ones out back.

Old Photo of 1940 vintage
Figuratively and physically, research for my historical novels involves this sort of snooping around. Even when I call people to ask for interviews, I have a certain sense that I’m trampling in personal space.  I recognize that anyone who shares pain or even joy with me willingly gives up some privacy.As I glean more and more of the story, the atmosphere around it takes on a sacred quality.

I have in my possession the memoir and letters (copies) of Jim, a WWII draftee who served his country by working in a mental hospital.  The letters, written home to his wife, are deeply personal and filled with longing for her and also with much sadness for the confused and often violent patients he worked with. I know precisely how these letters came into my possession but I still wonder sometimes how it happened that a perfect stranger would trust me with personal expressions of his life and love in 1943.

And if he hadn’t?

If he hadn’t, there would be certain informational gaps in the landscape of my story but more important – there would be emotional gaps. This man is one of several great spirits who shape my character for my work-in-progress. Reading and rereading his letters is a huge gift to my story.  But doing so, also feels like an invasion of privacy.

Now, I’m working on an East German story – a fictional account of life behind the iron curtain.  I’ll soon be going to Germany to do research.  I’ll explore a world that no longer exists except in museums, diaries, documents, and people’s memories. 

I don’t even know yet, who will share their stories with me. But I am in awe of the idea that some people will. It’s a little scary to think about probing those memories. I go with the sure knowledge that to some (even to me) it may feel as if I’m entering private property.

It’s frightening. But it’s also a thrill. Because, as I said, I do love trespassing!

Readers, I know you'll want to learn more about Joyce and her books and her blog. Check out her links below, and then please leave a comment to share a memory of your own or to tell us what in Joyce's essay spoke to you! 
We'll be back soon! Thanks so much for joining us!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Laurie's Writing Meditation and Winners Announced

Dear Readers,

A special treat is in store for you today, even if your name wasn't chosen by! In addition to the two autographed books Laurie donated as a giveaway, she's graciously shared her writing meditation, because so many of you asked about it! Here it is:

Author Laurie Calkhoven
Laurie says . . .  Thanks for the interest in my meditations. I'm putting together a workshop and would love to present it at SCBWI retreats. The meditations themselves are pretty simple -- I relax, breathe deeply, and envision my character coming near me and eventually taking over.

Then I turn over a card on my desk and freewrite to prompts like -- who named your character and how does he/she feel about the name? Your character is having a strong memory involving a parent--what is it? Your character can't sleep because he's obsessing about something -- what?

The element of surprise is important, so the prompts are face down. The first few are based on the Stanislavsky acting method, and I've added more over the years -- like what's in your character's treasure box? Read more about Laurie and her books:

 You'll also want to check out Laurie's excellent biography of George Washington. It's perfect for middle grade readers and the paperback sells for a mere $5.95!  Here's the link: 
 Book description from
“First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen”—and first in the minds of schoolchildren, who learn about George Washington as soon as they begin studying American history. From Washington’s Virginia childhood, through his days as a soldier and general, to his inauguration as the first President of the brand-new United States, and into retirement, this biography captures the full breadth and achievements of his life. It covers both the personal and the private, reveals his views on everything from governmental power to the abolition of slavery, and separates fascinating truth from well-worn legend—including that infamous, but false, tale about chopping down the cherry tree.

Now it's time to announce the TWO winners of the comment contest! And the winners are:

First name/number drawn: Irishoma of Donna's Book Blog. Donna, you get to choose whichever title you'd like--Daniel at the Siege of Boston, 1776 or the new, just released Will at the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863. E-mail your chosen title along with your name and mailing address to: claragillowclark(@)gmail(dot)com and the book will be on its way asap! ***Congratulations, Donna!***

The second name/number drawn was Susie Foote. Susie please e-mail me with your home mailing address and Laurie's autographed book will be on its way soon! ***Congratulations, Susie!***

Readers, please leave a comment about the meditations or tell us if you have a special writing prompt or ritual to jump start your writing!  And don't forget--the winner might be you, next time! We love to hear from you.

Next week we'll be moving forward in time to the 1940's on the homefront. Award winning author, Joyce Moyer Hostetter will be here to talk about her books, her research, and writing process. Stay Tuned!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Interview with Laurie Calhoven -- PART VI Discovering America's Past

Dear Reader,

Thank you for joining Laurie and me for this informative interview about the writing and research of her books, Daniel at the Siege of Boston, 1776, and her hot-off-the-press, Will at the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863.  Teachers, writers, librarians, and readers young and old will discover history coming to life for them in the pages of Laurie's books. They are especially good picks for reluctant readers, as well as filling an important gap in textbooks. Visit Laurie's website:

Laurie just returned from hosting an American Girl tea party at the University of Arizona Bookstore and speaking on a panel about Boys of Wartime at the Tucson Festival of Books.

Daniel at the Siege of Boston, 1776: Twelve-year old Daniel watches as Redcoat soldiers close the harbor and march through the streets The British have sworn to uphold the king's law . . . and to punish the rebels of Boston. But Daniel knows those rebels: they are Patriots. His heroes have vowed to fight for freedom, whatever the cost. And Daniel is determined to help. Check out the Boys of Wartime page for more info.


1. Can you tell us something about the historical fiction series you're writing for middle grade readers? What was the catalyst for this series?

I got the idea for the first book, Daniel at the Siege of Boston, 1776, while I was researching a biography of George Washington. If I learned about the siege in school, I had forgotten all about it. It’s a key event in the American Revolution—beginning at the end of the Battles of Lexington and Concord and ending a year later. It was during that year that we declared independence and the various colonial militias came together as an army under Washington. What I really wondered about was what life was like for the people of Boston during that year, and I wanted to find out more. The next thing I knew, a boy name Daniel started telling me about his secret spy work for General Washington.
I didn’t have time to put anything down on paper, but I mentioned my idea to Mark McVeigh at Dutton. He asked me to put together a proposal for that book and three more—each one set in a different war, and the series was born. Book two, Will at the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 was just published. The third book, set in World War Two France, will follow in 2012.

2. What were some of the challenges you encountered when researching and/or writing in the different time periods—1776,1863, and 1943.

The biggest challenge in researching all three time periods was finding out about regular people. Historians focus on the movement of armies and the lives of generals. I’m more interested in the regular folks–the Patriot boy who is stuck in Boston surrounded by enemy soldiers, the boy who finds himself in the middle of two armies in a small town in Pennsylvania, or a boy who takes on the dangerous job of leading Allied airmen across France. It’s harder to find out about who those boys might have been. It takes some digging, and a lot of imagination.
3. Was there any particular reason that you chose to write about specific battles or time periods?

The Siege of Boston captured my attention immediately. When it came to the Civil War, I was kind of a blank slate. I started out with very broad histories of the war. The Battle of Gettysburg was a key turning point, so it seemed like a good battle to hone in on. It didn’t hurt that Gettysburg isn’t too far from my home in New York City. A lot of the Civil War buildings are still standing. I was able to walk the streets of the town, poke my fingers into bullet holes, and stand under the shade of trees that witnessed the battle.

I approached World War Two the same way – with very broad research into the French Resistance. American and British airmen who were shot down used secret escape routes organized by Dutch, Belgian, and French Resistance units to make their way across France, into Spain, and finally in British hands in Gibraltar. Once I read about those secret Underground Railroads, I knew I had my story. The year 1943 was their most active. It was also the year in which the Gestapo was most ferocious in trying to track them down. So that’s when I set my story.

4. How did you find your emotional connection to the historical material and to each of the protagonists—Daniel at the Siege of Boston, 1776 and Will at the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863?

Up until now I’ve been talking about history and war, but each book begins with a character—a boy who wants to make some kind of a difference in the big, world events going on around him, and who has some kind of inner journey to make at the same time. I’m rooting for my characters. I want them to succeed even when I’m throwing every obstacle I can think of in their paths. I grow to love them over the course of each book to the point where it’s hard to say goodbye.

I’m thinking about that boy the whole time I’m doing my research, waiting for him to tell me who he is and what he wants. I always panic, thinking I’m not going to get there. But at some point in my research an idea for an opening scene comes to me. And that opening scene tells me a lot about who my character is.

Daniel opens with a staring contest, one that he loses. It’s a metaphor for the entire siege, which is like a staring match between the two armies. But Daniel is also afraid in that first scene, and he has to learn how to act in the fact of that fear.

In the opening scene of Will, Will is daydreaming about the glory he’s going to win in battle—if only his parents would let him be a drummer boy. It was interesting for me to find out what he would do when he was face-to-face with a real enemy.

5. Can you offer readers any research tips or insights into your writing process?

I spent a lot of time learning about who my characters are through meditations and freewriting exercises. That’s how I learned what Will keeps in his treasure box, and that his father was involved in the Underground Railroad. I do those meditations for all of my characters. Sometimes it feels tedious, but it’s worth it in the end.

I’m also do very broad outlines before I begin. I have to know what my opening scene and my climax are going to be before I put words on paper. I usually know what the other major plot points are as well. I’m open to letting things change along the way, and often they do. I have to have some idea of where I’m going, or I flounder.

6. What or whom were the early influences that inspired you to become a writer? When did you know that you wanted to write for children?

I always loved books and reading. The first thing I wanted to be was a librarian, because I wanted to be surrounded by books. Then I learned that real people wrote those books, and I wanted to be one of them. I majored in journalism in college, went to work in book publishing, and promised myself I would write “one day.”

Twenty years later, I realized that one day wasn’t going to come along by magic. I had to make it happen. I started writing every morning before I went to work. It surprised me that all of my ideas were best suited to children’s books—I expected to write the Great American Novel. But I went with it. I switched my career from adult publishing to children’s publishing, read a huge number of books, took some classes, and kept writing.

7. I believe that you worked in publishing as well as being a writer. Can you share about your writing background and the different kinds of writing and publishing in which you were involved?

I spent most of my career working for Book-of-the-Month Club. I helped select books for the club, negotiated for book club rights, and helped plan the catalogs. I mostly worked on the main, general interest club. When I started writing, I was Editorial Director of a personal finance and investing book club. Then I talked BOMC into letting me start the Teen People Book Club. It was the most fun I ever had in the corporate world, but it wasn’t a financial success. I later went to the Scholastic Book Clubs, where I probably read a book a day and saw first hand what books kids and teachers wanted in their own libraries. It was a great learning experience.

8. What was your favorite book as a child?

I had lots of favorites. I remember loving Dr. Seuss and the Wizard of Oz before I could read. The Bobbsey Twins series and Nancy Drew followed. I read every Marilyn Sachs book in my school library, and all the Little House novels. One series I read over and over again was the Borrowers by Mary Norton. I still read them every couple of years. I love the world she created. I sat by a heating duct for hours, convinced that I had my very own family of Borrowers living in my house. I never spied them, much to my disappointment.

9. Can you share anything about the next book in the series? Is there anything else you'd like to add about the series and the books?

I think the World War Two book, currently titled Michael at the Invasion of France, 1943 is my best book yet. The story itself is less familiar to American readers, and I think I’ve grown as a writer. But I always think the last book I wrote is the best.

My editor and I are trying to decide what the next book will be. I was originally going to set a book in World War One, but we decided against that. So I’m mulling over the War of 1812 at the moment. I’m doing a lot of reading, and waiting for a character to start whispering in my ear. I wish he would hurry!

 Learn about Laurie and her books on her  web-site: 
A teaching guide is available for download of Daniel and the Siege of Boston, 1776, and a guide is coming soon for Will at the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863. Check out the Boys of Wartime page for more info.
Laurie has generously donated an autographed copy of each of these titles! Simply leave a comment for a chance to win. Tell us your favorite series from American Historical Fiction or your favorite time period in American history. We love to get comments!We'll be back next week to announce the lucky **WINNERS**  Thank you, dear readers, for joining us! WELCOME member #100 and thank YOU--you know who you are!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Part V Boys of Wartime -- Discovering America's Past through Historical Fiction

Dear Readers,

Please welcome my dear friend, Laurie Calkhoven. She's a veteran in the industry, so you won't want to miss this inside look at how her historical fiction series was born, her background research, her writing process, and much more!
Laurie has generously donated two autographed books that will be featured in the next several posts. As always, simply leave a comment for a chance to win, and will pick the winner!We LOVE hearing from you!
Author Laurie Calkhoven
Bio: Laurie Calkhoven has always loved reading and writing (arithmetic is another story). She’s especially interested in the intersection between big moments in American history and the lives of ordinary people. That’s how the Boys of Wartime series was born. She is also the author of middle grade biographies and other nonfiction books for kids along with contemporary novels in American Girl’s new Innerstar University series.
She watched too many That Girl reruns as a child and decided she HAD to live in New York City. She made a beeline for Manhattan right out of college and has lived there ever since. She doesn’t have nearly as many madcap adventures as That Girl, but she has a nice life.
 Read more about Laurie and purchase her books here:

Laurie Calkhoven  shares about her Research:

I love doing research. I love the twists and turns it can take. I love putting on my detective hat to find a particularly hard-to-find nugget of information. And I love that collections of facts can fire up my imagination to the point where I’m creating characters and worlds for them to live in.

I approach the research for each of my historical novels pretty much the same way, so I’ll discuss Will at the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 as an example. I began with broad historical overviews, books and documentaries, about the entire war.

I decided to focus in on the Battle of Gettysburg for a couple of reasons. It was a pivotal battle that changed the course of the war. It was also fought in the streets and homes of Gettysburg’s citizens. I knew that I could put a 12-year-old boy in the middle of the action without being too unrealistic.

Of course, there are a huge number of books and articles written about the battle, and I think I read them all. One of my favorite things to do is go the library to get specific books and prowl around on the shelves nearby. There are always surprises that jump out – books I didn’t know existed but have exactly the information I’m looking for. I also prowl through the bibliographies of those books, looking for more.

Of course those books tell me what historians have to say about the battle, but ultimately I’m interested in the people. I want as many primary sources – first hand accounts – as I can get my hands on. The people of Gettysburg knew that something world-changing had happened in their town, and many of them put their thoughts down on paper. I was able to find copies of many of them in the excellent New York Public Library, and the rest were on file at the Adams County Historical Society in Gettysburg. These diaries, letters, newspaper accounts, and memoirs told me not just what happened, but how people spoke, what they wore, and how they lived before and after the soldiers came.

Ultimately, the most valuable research I did was in Gettysburg itself. Many of the buildings are not only still standing, but still sporting their bullet holes. Walking the streets Will would have walked, picking out his house and his church, and following his route throughout the battle was invaluable. He came to life for me there, and I hope I was able to bring him to life for the reader too.

Thanks for joining Laurie and me for this first of a three-part post about Laurie's historical fiction series, Boys of Wartime.  In the interview next week, Laurie will talk about other books in the series, Daniel at the Siege of Boston 1776, as well as the project she is currently working on, and her writing process!

Stop by often to leave comments for additional chances to win one of the autographed books!  The link again for Laurie's books:  

Friday, March 4, 2011


Dear Readers,

What an exciting couple of weeks it's been celebrating with Julie Chibbaro and cheering for her new YA, deadly, getting the inside scoop about her research and writing process, and discovering her first book, Redemption.  Just in case you still haven't checked out Julie's web-site, here's the link:

I'll announce the winner in just a second, but first I wanted to extend a BIG WELCOME to new members--you know who you are! Thank you so much for joining the book party! In fact, one of you was chosen by this morning. Without further hoopla, the LUCKY WINNER of DEADLY is
 new member, ***Elizabeth Mueller!***     CONGRATULATIONS, Elizabeth! 

Elizabeth, please e-mail me (claragillowclark(@)gmail(dot)com with your home mailing address and Julie Chibarro's hot-off-the-press Novel will be sent to you asap!

Don't go away yet. My next guest and good friend, Laurie Calkhoven, has generously donated and autographed copies of her MG Historical Fiction from her series: BOYS OF WARTIME. The first book is: Daniel at the Siege of Boston 1776; and the second, just out this month is: Will at the Battle of Gettysburg. Laurie has wonderful insights to share about her research and her writing process, and her series, so please join us next week on March 9th!

 Thank you, dear readers! I look forward to hearing from you. Please join us again for the next exciting installment in "Discovering America's Past through Historical Fiction".

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Part IV Redemption -- Discovering America's Past through Historical Fiction

Dear Reader,  Thanks for joining Julie Chibarro and me for the promised interview that shares insight into Julie's writing process and research! Be sure to read to the end for details about the drawing for deadly

In the short interview that follows, Julie shares about her first YA novel of historical fiction, Redemption, set in early Colonial America. (Read a review of Redemption below!) Purchase your choice of format by clicking on this very long link:

1.  What drew you to this time period--1524 England and the New World?
Before I started writing Redemption, I felt like I knew big dates in American history from school – 1492,1776 – but I didn’t really know history, I mean, where it began, with Europeans being curious about the New World and what was here in the years after Columbus came, but before the colonies were settled in the early 1600s.  In 1524, there were still a lot of Native tribes, and a lot of exploration (and, subsequently, the genesis of white Indians, whose existence started my path to writing Redemption).

2. What were some of the challenges you encountered when researching and/or writing about the 16th century?

There were very few people writing at that time.  There were some French trapper notes, and Jacques Cartier’s journals, and ship’s logs, but mostly I had to depend on historians looking back.  Historians often disagree with each other about this largely undocumented period in the Americas.  I had to decide things for myself.

3. How did you find your emotional connection and entry point into the story of 12 year old Lily?

I didn’t know I was writing a YA novel when I started Redemption.  I simply wanted to write from an innocent’s point of view, someone not too spoiled by the prejudice of her time. 

4. Can you offer any research tips or insights into your writing process?
Depending on the period, I think it’s always good to get as pure as you can when doing research.  I mean, read original texts, come to your own conclusions about what happened.  Writing history is sort of like learning a foreign language:  immersion is always best. 

About my writing process, I have periods of “in” and “out.”  I go “in” myself to write, and come “out” to promote my work.  Each period can last days or weeks, but I find it hard to do both simultaneously.

5. What was your favorite book as a child?
I’d have to say I return often to Anna Karenina.  I read it first in 7th or 8th grade, and fell in love with it, and have read it every few years since.  Talk about a world completely different from mine!  Yet I feel so passionately for Anna.  How did Tolstoy do that?  I’m still trying to figure it out.

Review of Redemption from (Five stars!):
In 1524 England, twelve-year-old Lily hasn't felt warm since the baron's men dragged her father away eight months ago. She pictures him dead. However, Frere Lanther, who has come from the Rhineland to lead his own secret and forbidden church, suggests Lily's father may well be alive in the New World. The baron is forcing Lily and her mother to leave their home, which he owns. When Lily begs her mother to accompany her to the New World to find her father, her mother reluctantly agrees.
         The voyage is miserably cramped and filthy. A live pig lives in the room where the poor passengers eat their meals of watery soup and insect-ridden black bread. Lily meets the baron's son, Ethan, onboard and inadvertently blurts that Frere Lanther lives with them. When Lily's mother is raped, Lily is heartsick. She knows her mother's punishment was a direct result of Lily's exposing her family's secret.
        A shipwreck upon the shores of the New World ends the voyage. The castaways stumble upon a gruesome discovery, which increases Lily's fear that her father is dead. When her mother is kidnapped, Lily must set off alone through the forest, starving and terrified. What she finds in the forest is astonishing.
      Multi-layered REDEMPTION is truly unique. Lily's story is a harrowing physical and spiritual quest laden with mystery, filled with unexpected plot twists. The tale is harsh, violent and gruesome --- not for anyone wanting to view history through a rosy haze. Yet the book is also vibrant, riveting and beautifully written. Lily herself is a believable, sympathetic character surviving devastation after devastation.
     If you love history, you'll enjoy this powerful piece of historical fiction. If you snoozed through history class (as I did), you'll love REDEMPTION for a fascinating read that may even turn you --- yes, YOU! --- into a history buff. 

Julie is giving away copies of deadly until March 4th. Visit her web-site to learn the details:
 Leave a comment here about the interview for a chance to win a copy of deadly. The lucky winner will be announced on Friday, March 4th!

Thanks so much for joining us today!