Monday, July 23, 2018

Interview with Historical Fiction Author Anna Myers

Today, I'm super excited to welcome award-winning author Anna Myers to Middle Grade Minded. She is the author of nineteen novels, all for middle-grade or young-adult readers, and her first picture book, Tumbleweed Baby, was published in 2014 by Abrams Books. Myers is a four-time winner of the Oklahoma Book Award and has been honored by the Oklahoma Center for the Book with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Her books have received a wide range of honors, including New York Public Library Best Books for the Teen Age, American Book Seller’s Pick of the List, New York Public Library's 100 Books to Read and Share, Children’s Crown Award honor book, Society of School Librarians International Book Award, Parents’ Choice Award, ALA Quick Pick List, Junior Library Guild selection and more.

Hi, Anna! Welcome to Middle Grade Minded. Can you describe your process when starting a new MG historical fiction? Do you begin with researching the time period, creating a character or something else?

I am not an organized, methodical type. No two of my historical novels were likely to have been begun exactly alike. At some point, I always do a lot of reading about the time period. For most projects, I had a character in mind before I began, but not always. I remember ordering a book of court records from the Salem Witch Trials and reading it all before my character Drucilla from Time of the Witches began to come to me.

Immersing readers in a different time period seems like it would be overwhelming. What advice do you have for readers who might be too intimidated to approach historical fiction?

My advice is don't. In my experience, writers of historical fiction are lovers of history, those who find it easy to identify with the past. While historical fiction does sell in today's market, it is not the first choice of most publishers. There are too many other things to write to force yourself to try something about which you have misgivings. I'll go even further and say, don't write historical fiction unless you feel compelled to do so, unless you have fallen for a story that can't be set in today's world.

On a similar topic, do you have any advice for capturing a period voice while still making the language relatable to modern day readers?

Watch movies set during the period about which you are writing. Read novels that present the time. Make a list of words or phrases that were popular. Not many words need to be old fashioned or obsolete. Scatter the words and phrase among your sentences to help establish a time gone by. On the first page of my book, Assassin, I used the phrase, "When I was but little..." Those words would never come from the mouth of a modern teenager.

Describe your research process (type of sources, depth, how much of the research makes it into the text).

I like to do broad reading about a time period, and probably because I didn't grow up with computers, I like to do prolonged reading from books. I do, of course, use the internet for looking up the multitude of questions that arise while writing. I constantly need to know things such as when tree frogs make noise or what cotton looks like in the field. Thank heavens for Google. Not much of the information gleaned from the early reading makes it into the story. I am not looking for facts during that early reading, but rather I am seeking a feeling for the era.

Of all of your MG historical novels, which was the most difficult to write and why? Do you have a favorite?

Actually, some of my historical fiction stories are young adult, and it was one of those, When the Bough Breaks, that was the most difficult to write. It is a story set in two time periods, modern and historical. It is also the darkest book I ever wrote. In addition, it was the first book I ever wrote without the help of my husband, who had died a few months before.

I also remember struggling with my middle grade, Stolen by the Sea, because the kids were in the flood water so long. I found myself tempted to drown them and get it over.

As to a favorite, I have several different favorites for different reasons. For instance, my favorite to research was Time of the Witches. I believe Tulsa Burning is my most important novel and the one I most want kids to read.

What is the important lesson, from either the writing or the business side, that you would like to pass on to new writers?

I urge writers to take time to dwell inside your character. Make yourself very small and become the character. Coleridge said a reader has to be willing to suspend disbelief, but first the writer must suspend his or her own disbelief. Your character is out there, and it is your job to find that character.

Wow! What awesome advice! Thanks to Anna Myers for stopping by, and here's a link to her website for those interested in learning more about her books, writing academy and mentorship program:

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