Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Interview with children's author Lea Wait
BLOG INTERVIEW WITH CHILDREN'S AUTHOR LEA WAIT
Today is the first of what I believe will be many fine blogs (on Wednesdays) with children's authors. Today, I’d like to welcome acclaimed children's author, Lea Wait, to my blog. Lea has written several historical novels for ages 7 and up, her latest being, “Finest Kind.”
Katie: Welcome, Lea, to my blog. I’m so pleased to have you here. What got you interested in writing, and especially for children?
Lea: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I realized (when I was in second grade!) that there were people who actually wrote books! For many years I wrote for corporations, to support my family, but my first love was always novels for children aged 8-12. I believe some of the best books ever written were written for that age, and I’m thrilled that now I’m contributing a little to those enticing shelves.
Katie: I see your books are a meld of fact and fiction. What led you to pairing the two? Did you find it difficult to do? How much research did you have to do before you could finish a book?
Lea: When I was a child I loved historical fiction. As a writer, I want to share my love of the past, and the best way I know to do that is to tell a good story. But it’s very important to me that every historical detail in my books, from language to attitudes to everyday tasks, is accurate. I spend between three and twelve months doing research specific to each book.
The major characters in my books are fictional. But I set those characters in a real town, and the other people in that town, and what happens in that town, are real. I’ve found children love knowing “that really happened!” The challenge for any writer of historical fiction is not allowing the history to become more important than the story. Although I probably know 100 facts for every 1 that’s in one of my books, the other 99 help form my characters.
Katie: You have written several stories set on the coast of Maine. Tell me, what has inspired you to use that setting?
Lea: Maine has always been a bit outside the norm. It was called the “frontier” for many years. And very few books for children are set in nineteenth century New England outside of Boston. I wanted my books to tell Maine’s story. At first I planned to write a series of books that would take the town of Wiscasset, Maine from the American Revolution through the nineteenth century, to show how the town changed, socially and technologically. Now I’m not sure I’ll do that – I have so many other ideas! But the books published so far are STOPPING TO HOME (set in 1806), SEAWARD BORN, (1804-1807), WINTERING WELL, (1819-1820), and FINEST KIND,(1838).
Katie: Tell us more about “Finest Kind,” your most recent book set in Wiscasset, and what inspired you to write it.
Lea: “Finest Kind” is about a family with a secret that moves to an isolated farmhouse in Wiscasset in 1838. They are city people; they don’t know how to get food from the land,
and they can no longer hide their secret behind servants and high walls. Winter is coming on, and thirteen-year-old Jake must find a way for his family to survive. I loved writing the characters in “Finest Kind.” My granddaughter who has Down Syndrome inspired the character of Simon, who is simple-minded, but who has a place in the community. Nabby, who befriends Jake and helps him learn about finding and preserving food, and cares for her younger brother and sister, also has a family secret. Granny McPherson, a Penobscot Indian, may be a witch. And then there is a fire at the jail, where Jake has taken a job …. As in all my books, many incidents in this book really happened. The fire at the jail is one of those, and it was why I set “Finest Kind” in 1838. I’m thrilled that “Finest Kind” is on the Mark Twain student choice award list in Missouri this year.
Katie: Looking back on your first book, “Stopping to Home,” and your latest, “Finest Kind,” how have you grown as an author? What were the hardest things you struggled with writing-wise? Those that came more naturally?
Lea: I’ve always written about serious issues, but my plots and characters have become more complicated, and I’ve sometimes written about times and events which, although historically correct, were not politically comfortable today. As a result I’ve written several books that have not been published. Finding the right characters and plot and historical period is still a challenge. My most recent challenge was writing a book set during the Revolutionary War, and fitting a fictional storyline into a detailed timeline of historical events. I never thought I would do that – or write a battle scene – or include major figures in American history in my books. I had always said I wouldn’t do that. So – never say never! I’m looking forward to taking on another major event in American history, perhaps in my next book.
Katie: As you look to the future of your writing career, how do you see your writing evolving? Do you plan to stick with historical fiction? To write for a different age group? Perhaps write non-fiction?
Lea: I have written for adults; I’ve had four contemporary adult mysteries published with Simon & Schuster, and I’ve also written an historical mystery for adults currently looking for a home. Right now I’m taking a break from fiction and working on a non-fiction book about American history, but I’m looking forward to getting back to historical fiction. I have several ideas I’ve started to research, and I’m excited about getting further into the research and deciding which will be my next middle grade novel.
Katie: I’m sure that you have come across many aspiring children's writers. What advice would you give them about becoming a successful author?
Lea: Know your competition. Read. Read everything you can that is written for the age group you want to write for, especially in the genre you want to write. Read all the reviews, so you stay on top of what is being published, and what is being written about it. Never forget that writing may be an art, but publishing is a business. And – good luck!
Katie: Thanks, Lea, very much for being on my blog today. I wish you the greatest success in your writing career. Check out Lea's website here.