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Thursday, September 02, 2010

Story Secrets: THE FENCES BETWEEN US by Kirby Larson

Friend, writing mentor, and fellow Seattle author Kirby Larson is here today with a a brand new treat: THE FENCES BETWEEN US!

Kirby has not only generously shared her writing wisdom with many of us, both through workshops and classes as well as at her Kirby's Lane blog, but she was one of the very first authors to be featured at readergirlz with her Newbery Honor-winning historical novel, Hattie Big Sky. Kirby's writing is voice is warm, funny, and fascinating, and her books much-beloved.

So I am thrilled to welcome Kirby to Story Secrets!


I was so honored when Scholastic asked me to write a book for the relaunch of their beloved Dear America series, the first new title in 5 years! It officially came out yesterday, September 1st--woo-hoo--and is called THE FENCES BETWEEN US.

Holly Cupala: Tell us the story behind the story!

Kirby Larson: Since writing Hattie Big Sky, I've become a history nerd. I had been working on another historical novel (which takes place between 1927 and 1941) and had thought it would include something about the incarceration camps to which over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry -- most of them American citizens -- were sent during WWII. That bit of history didn't end up fitting into that particular book (called The Friendship Doll; it will be out in May 2011 from Delacorte) but Scholastic was looking for a WWII story and, boy, did I have it!

HC: I remember reading that you had "a healthy lack of interest in history" until you read your great-grandmother's story. What's so fascinating about history now?

KL: Writing historical fiction lets me be a detective, without the danger! I spend many hours in dusty, musty special collections at the fabulous downtown Seattle Public Library or at the University of Washington or in historical societies. While poking around one day, I stumbled across the story of Pastor Emery "Andy" Andrews, who was the pastor of the Seattle Japanese Baptist Church in the 40s. I discovered that he had courageously followed his congregation to Idaho, to continue to minister to them there, after they were incarcerated at Minidoka War Relocation Camp. I was so impressed by his actions that I googled around and found his son, Brooks, -- who had been very young during the war. Brooks graciously agreed to speak with me and from him I learned that there were two sides to this story. Yes, Pastor Andrews had acted bravely. But at a huge cost to his family. That led me to think about what it would have been like for me, as a kid, had I been Pastor Andrews' daughter. And the next thing I knew, Piper Davis was born!

HC: Did anything unexpected come about as a result of writing?

KL: I never expected to meet Pastor Andrews' son, nor to end up being a pen pal with three sailors who served on the USS Enterprise in WWII. (Ed. note: see the picture below.)

HC: What do you find inspiring?

KL: I have been blessed to have been loved and encouraged by so many people: my parents, my husband, my children, and friends. It would be difficult to call out one inspiration. Having said that, I have to say that hearing Karen Cushman speak at one of my early SCBWI LA conferences planted the first seed of my courage tree, when it came to writing historical fiction.

HC: Karen Cushman is a terrific speaker - I heard her at SCBWI LA, too, when TMAS came to me! Speaking of planting...have your own life experiences planted the seeds for your fiction?

KL: I think two things have significantly impacted my finding the heart of my stories -- each of them, not just Piper's story. First, I grew up poor and we moved around a lot. I was always an outsider as a kid -- always the new kid, never the right clothes, often not enough food, etc -- which was crappy as a kid but terrific for me, now, as a writer. I would be willing to bet there aren't too many class presidents/cheerleaders who are successful writers! Second, I have cared for two beloved grandparents -- my paternal grandfather and my maternal grandmother -- as they were dying. Those powerful, painful and amazing experiences gave me huge respect for the Story of Life.

HC: One last thing...please tell us about that next historical novel!

KL: I'm very proud of the historical novel coming out next spring, The Friendship Doll, and am working on two things right now -- an historical chapter book (another WWII setting) and another historical novel (the main character's initials are H.I.B.)


Thank you so much, Kirby! Readers, if you've already read some of Kirby's work, I'd love to hear what you liked about it below!

1 comment:

  1. I love historical fiction--and this sounds amazing!