Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Author Lea Wait on UNCERTAIN GLORY

I’d like to welcome Lea Wait my blog, today.

She and I are raffling off a signed copy of her book, Uncertain Glory. All you have to do to be entered in the drawing is leave a comment on this blog post. Good luck!

Lea Wait writes acclaimed historical novels for children set in 19th century Maine. Stopping to Home, Seaward Born, Wintering Well, and Finest Kind are on recommended reading lists throughout the country and have been named to student choice award lists in 13 states. Lea also writes the Shadows Antique Print Mystery series for adults, the most recent of which is Shadows on a Cape Cod Wedding.

Today, she’s here to speak about her latest historical novel for young people, Uncertain Glory.
Thirteen year old Joe Wood has always dreamed of being a newspaper man. When a distant cousin dies and leaves him a printing press, Joe borrows money to start his own newspaper. But now his loan is almost due, and he doesn’t have enough to pay it back. Will special editions about the growing hostilities between the North and South keep Joe’s newspaper afloat? What about Nell, the young spiritualist who’s come to town advertising that she can communicate with the dead? Joe’s friend and partner, Charlie, is looking for a way to debunk her. But Joe isn’t so sure she’s a fake. And when his assistant, the young African American boy Owen, goes missing, Joe turns to Nell for help.

Joe Wood, a thirteen year old boy who owns and runs his own newspaper, Charley, his flighty friend, Owen, an African American boy who works for Joe, and Nell, a young spiritualist, are all thrown together at the start of the Civil War—how did you come up with such a  fascinating and diverse cast of characters?

            I like to mix real and fictional characters in my historical novels. Joe Wood really did publish his town’s newspaper during the mid-19th century. His mother ran a local dry goods store. His friend Charlie, also a “real person,” helped him with the paper, but was a bit flakier and unfettered … so I described him that way. (I include historical notes explaining what Joe’s and Charlie’s future lives were like.) Nell, a 12-year-old spiritualist, is based on a number of child spiritualists of the period, including the Fox sisters. There were free black families in Maine in 1861, and, although Owen is fictional, because of his race, he’s able to give a different perspective on the beginning of the Civil War.

How much of the real Joe Wood is in Joe the character? What did you invent about him? Can you tell us a little about your process of turning an historical figure into a book character?

            Yes – Joe is real! I’ve read his diaries and think I have some idea of what kind of a young man he was. I knew I wanted to center a book on him and his newspaper … and originally set the book in the winter of 1859, which was the year he began publishing. Charlie and Nell were also in that first version. But I realized I needed more depth to their story … so I changed history a bit and set UNCERTAIN GLORY in April of 1861, during the first two weeks of the Civil War.

Joe is torn between the demands of his newspaper and helping his mom with the family store. His father hasn’t been much use since Joe’s brother died. How does this theme of family responsibility and grief fit in with the rest of your novel? Are any parts of the novel drawn from your personal life?

            Joe’s mother really did run a dry goods store. In the late 1850s – early 1860s she supported the family. Historically, Joe’s father was a minister in a small church which closed, leaving him without a profession. In UNCERTAIN GLORY I have him depressed and not contributing to the family, but in the book I blame his depression on his feeling responsible for  the death of Joe’s (fictional) older brother. I thought that would be easier for young readers to understand … and his reaction to Nell also explains why many people were attracted to the messages she brings.

            Luckily, I haven’t had to cope with the problems Joe and his family had.     

How do find ideas for your historical novels for kids? Do you scour historical records looking for interesting individuals? Or do you begin with an era or theme?

            All my historicals for children (so far) are set in 19th century Wiscasset. I wanted to take one town
and show, through a series of stand-alone books, how the geography of a town may stay the same, but the
way people live there changes over the years. Usually I start with one idea and then build on it. STOPPING TO HOME? (1806 – Wiscasset was the largest port east of Boston, and there was a smallpox epidemic.) SEAWARD BORN  (A devastating hurricane in 1804 Charleston, SC, nearby plantations changing from rice cultivation to cotton, and 20% of American mariners were African American). WINTERING WELL (1819-1820. Maine becomes a state … and what role was there in the 19th century for a disabled boy/man?)  FINEST KIND  (the Wiscasset Jail burned, and 2 school boys got the jailer’s family and the prisoners out and saved them)  Those were the beginnings …

I do a lot of work in small town Maine archives! 

So far, all your historical novels for kids are at least partially set in Wiscasset. How can you come up with so many stories from one small town? Do you ever think you’ll run out of material? If you had to set a novel somewhere else, where might it be?

            All small towns are full of stories. I have one Wiscasset book that hasn’t sold yet, and I could continue in Wiscasset for a while, but I’d also like to write a book or three set in the 20th century … it all depends on my time (never enough of that!) and, honestly, which books are selling.  I wrote a book for young people set in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1838 that I still think is one of my best … but it hasn’t sold. So the market is important. 

I love the fact that you have recipes from your books on your website. (I made Cassie's Anadama Bread for dinner last night.) You don’t have one up from Uncertain Glory yet. If you did, what might it be?

            Good question! Probably a stew … Joe’s mother seems to cook those quite often!

Few writers are able to successfully write for both children and adults, yet you also write adult mysteries. Which audience did you write for first? What compelled you to jump to a new readership? How does the process of writing for adults differ from writing for young people?

            I’ll admit … I love writing for children best. But the first full manuscript I wrote was a mystery for adults.  It didn’t sell, and I was happy to turn to writing books for children. Then the mystery DID sell .. and I found myself having deadlines in two genres. Not a bad situation, actually … it lets me write about different subjects, in different ways. My books for children are my “serious writing:” I’m very fussy about accuracy and pacing. Our children deserve the best.  

Can you tell us anything about your upcoming projects?
            Let’s see! The 7th in my Shadows Antique Print mystery series (SHADOWS ON A MAINE CHRISTMAS) will be published in early September. The first in a new contemporary Maine series based on a business of custom needlepoint and restoration (the Mainely Needlepoint) series will begin in January, 2015, with TWISTED THREADS. Right now I’m writing the second in that series, THREADS Of EVIDENCE. And for children? I’ve written another Wiscasset book, set in 1777, and I’m working on a book set in New Jersey in 1970 with the background of the Vietnam War and women’s liberation. 
For any teachers out there, Lea has a Teacher’s Guide for Uncertain Glory available on her website. For more information on Lea Wait and her books, see www.leawait.com