Carolee Dean, Kimberley Griffiths Little, and Lois Ruby
Welcome to Lunch with the Spellbinders.Before breaking for the summer we wanted to take a breather from our hectic year.We're busy gals!We have husbands and children, we teach, we present at schools and libraries and conferences, we travel for fun and research, and through it all, we write, write, write.But for now, let's kick back ...
KIMBERLEY: It's so nice to get together and have lunch with you ladies before we all go our separate ways for the summer to launch our upcoming books and research our new ones.
CAROLEE: Why don't we talk about some of our research stories/experiences?During my last research trip I visited the Texas Prison Museum.I got to interview the retired warden who is now the curator of the museum.He used to oversee all the executions at the Walls Unit in Huntsville.Boy, did he have some interesting stories to tell.
LOIS:Sounds deadly! Was it hard to pin him down for details?
CAROLEE:No, actually, he was very helpful.He even sent me photos of the prison before I made my trip out to Texas to see it.
LOIS:It's the visuals and tiny details that give our stories zip and credibility.I couldn't write about China without going there, so I made two trips for my novel on war-torn Shanghai and the underground spy network.Believe me, dashing around as a spy during the Japanese occupation was deadly-dangerous.
KIMBERLEY:Compared to being chased down by an alligator?When I was researching The Healing Spell, a gator came out of the bayou and crawled up the back lawn of the house we were staying in as I was filming him.I was so excited I didn't realize he was only a few feet away and getting closer.My husband called out a warning and I raced for the house, my heart pounding. Mr. Elward kept saying that gator was more scared of me than I was of him.Right!This from a guy who grew up in the swamp, "running around barefoot," and jumping into the bayou as a kid - with the gators - on hot summer days.
CAROLEE: One of the things I enjoy most about research is getting to meet people I never would have known if I weren't working on a book. While I was writing Take Me There, I had breakfast with a man convicted of murder. He spent 17 years on death row before being exonerated because someone else confessed to the criime. Not only were his stories about prison fascinating, but I also learned some frightening things about the justice system.
LOIS:So many of our stories are about justice.There sure wasn't a lot of it in Shanghai during World War II.Ilse and Erich, my characters in Shanghai Shadows, were among the 20,000 Jewish refugees locked into the Shanghai ghetto from 1943 until the end of the war. They had to appeal to a totally insane Japanese officer just to get a pass to leave the ghetto and hear those metal gates clang behind them.Of course, they were spies, but the officer didn't know that!It was sobering and exciting to research that book, stand in that very place, and interview ghetto survivors.
CAROLEE:I'll bet that was a life changing experience, Lois. It's ironic that I love research as much as I do, because when I was a kid, I hated all those note cards and biographies.
LOIS:I loved that stuff!I've still got shoeboxes filled with notes from school reports. I guess that's why I became a librarian.
Kimberley Griffiths Little
KIMBERLEY: I hated researching term papers, but when it's something you're interested in, that makes all the difference.Twelve years ago, on my first trip to Louisiana, I drank some of that magical bayou water, and have been enchanted ever since.
CAROLEE:I hope that's a metaphor, but knowing how deeply you get into your research, I wouldn't be surprised if you actually did drink the bayou water.
KIMBERLEY:I'll take the Fifth on that little metaphor.I've returned to Louisiana and Mississippi numerous times, made some wonderful friends, and gobbled up every book I could buy, borrow, or steal so I could bring my upcoming novel, The Healing Spell, to life.All the research was worth it: last week I got my first book review from The Cajun Book Lady, who said the book was so accurate and spot on, she thought I'd been born and raised right on the bayou. Book reviews don't get better than that - AYEEEE!
LOIS:I've had some reviews that sent me soaring, and others that made me want to crawl into a cave until the book disappeared from the face of the earth.But even miserable reviews won't keep me from writing on the themes and subjects that pique my curiosity.
CAROLEE:I agree that research is so much more interesting when you find a topic you're passionate about.As a speech-language pathologist in the public schools, I work with a lot of kids with learning disabilities.When I found out the alarming statistics regarding the number of people in prisons who can't read, I was compelled to write Take Me There.It's the story of a teenage boy who goes looking for his father who is in prison in Texas.
KIMBERLEY: I never knew that learning disability stats were your impetus for Take Me There, Carolee.
CAROLEE: Among many other things.I've had several students with parents in prison, and I've seen how strongly it affects a teenager to have a parent who's incarcerated.
LOIS:Things sure come around, don't they?I did my master's thesis on prison libraries, especially San Quentin, and that was way before I knew you, Carolee.
CAROLEE: Ooh, that sounds interesting. I'd love to read it. It's amazing how many famous people educated themselves in prison through the use of the prison library.
KIMBERLEY: It would be great if Take Me There could end up in prison libraries across the country.
LOIS: Interesting that the three of us write about such different topics, but we're similar in that we all like to create vivid settings for our books.
KIMBERLEY:The new manuscript I just turned into my editor stays in the bayou country, but with a whole new spin: hoodoo beauty spells and graveyards and ghosts.A spooky experience I had in the Natchez, Mississippi cemetery came in real handy.Dusk in a hilly cemetery with graves 150 years old sent the hairs on my neck straight up when I heard someone walking up behind me, crunching leaves-and when I turned, thinking it was my friend, nobody was there.I was completely alone-and got out of there fast!
LOIS:It's serendipitous that Kim and I were both drawn to bayou country and voodoo for our recent books.The area's steeped in otherworldly, weird history and is so rich in atmosphere that it's irresistible to a curious writer.What are the odds of two New Mexico authors publishing Louisiana novels?Last October I got to go to the Louisiana Book Festival to talk about my book, The Secret of Laurel Oaks, and this year Kim's going for The Healing Spell. Very exciting!
CAROLEE:I wish the kids at my high school knew how exciting it was to research fascinating topics.
KIMBERLEY:Here's a great writing/research project for all of our parent and teacher readers: Wouldn't it be fun for your students/kids to interview people they meet over the coming summer break, then come back and write about the interesting places they've been and people they've met, and share it all with their classmates? I'd love to listen to those stories!
LOIS:Not like the boring old "what I did last summer" essays.It would be about real people doing quirky or scary or funny things.Everyone has intriguing history to share, if you know how to ask the right questions and take the time to listen.
CAROLEE: Well, I guess now's the time to say goodbye so the three of us can get busy researching our next books.
ALL:Bye for now, everyone.Have a great summer.See you again next fall with the October issue!
Dylan Dawson is trying to pull his life together after his release from juvenile hall. But going straight isn't easy, and Dylan just can't seem to keep out of trouble-or keep away from rich, beautiful Jess, who is way too good for him, and way too taken.
Dylan's problem's escalate fast, and soon he has no choice but to hit the road. He heads south for Texas, in search of his father. (Dylan has no idea how his life became such a mess, but he knows his dad is at the root of it.) When Dylan finds him, he certainly gets answers--but they're answers to questions he wishes he'd never asked.
Sometimes sexy, sometimes sad, and always intense, Take Me There is a dark and surprising novel about a boy on the run who's headed nowhere fast. (Synopsis by Simon & Schuster)
Twelve-year-old Livie is living with a secret and it's crushing her. She knows she is responsible for her mother's coma, but she can't tell anyone. It's up to her to find a way to wake her momma up.
Stuck in the middle of three sisters, hiding a forbidden pet alligator, and afraid to disappoint her daddy, whom she loves more than anyone else, Livie struggles to find her place within her own family as she learns about the powers of faith and redemption. Livie's powerful, emotional, and sometimes humorous story will stay with readers long after the last line is read.
Set in the lush bayou of Louisiana, Kimberley Griffiths Little brings Livie's story to life with power and grace. (Synopsis by Scholastic Press)
Ilse and Erich, an Austrian brother/sister duo, survive World War II in Shanghai, China.Life is so different for them way on the other side of the world, but not awful -- yet.But when the U.S. comes into the War, conditions worsen with a blockade preventing necessities like food, medicine, and beloved American movies from reaching China. Else and Erich refuse to give in to the bone-chilling cold and blistering heat of Shanghai, or to the hardships and starvation of a city under Japanese occupation.
With the help of the kindly Japanese neighbors, they plunge into the underground spy network and are soon steeped in intrigue and danger around every bend. And then a strange and shocking development in their family changes everything. Everything.
"For suspense and surprises, twists and turns, no one invents plots like Lois Ruby!"(Linda Silver, Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter, September/October, 2006.)