Monday, September 7, 2009
Book Launch: Road To Tater Hill
I have the pleasure of announcing another exciting debut novel, Edie Hemingway's ROAD TO TATER HILL.
Congratulations on the publication of your novel, ROAD TO TATER HILL! Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
Thank you, Janet! I’m very excited to be talking to you and your readers about my book! ROAD TO TATER HILL (Delacorte Press) is a middle grade novel, set in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina during the summer of 1963. Eleven-year-old Annie Winters struggles with grief after the death of her newborn sister and is isolated by her mother’s deepening depression. Left much on her own, Annie finds comfort in holding an oblong stone she calls her “rock baby” and secretly befriends the mysterious Miss Eliza McGee, a reclusive mountain woman living in an abandoned house that folks say once belonged to a murderer. As their friendship grows, Miss Eliza helps Annie come to terms with her loss, while Annie draws Miss Eliza back into the mountain community, but only after a crisis reveals their unlikely alliance.
I don’t want to emphasize the grieving. More than anything, ROAD TO TATER HILL is the story of a strong, resourceful girl, friendship, family, and finding solace in surprising places. It was inspired by an autobiographical experience.
Like Annie, I spent all my childhood summers at my grandparents’ home in the mountains of North Carolina and enjoyed many of the same pastimes —picking blackberries on Tater Hill, building dams in the creek, swinging on the rope in the barn, reading many of the same books. It’s also where my own baby sister was born prematurely and died. Beyond that, the story moves into fiction completely with Miss Eliza and her background. One of the things I enjoyed most about the writing process was researching the craft of weaving and the music of the mountain dulcimer. I even learned how to play the dulcimer (or the “hog fiddle” as Annie calls it) and plan to take it with me when I visit schools.
How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
I’ve been writing on and off ever since I won a writing contest in fourth grade. As an adult, I have juggled writing with several different fulltime jobs, including teaching, owning and operating a frozen yogurt store, and working in college admissions. In the early 90s, a friend and I decided to collaborate on a Civil War novel based on an actual 12-year-old Pennsylvania 49th drummer boy (Charles King), whose photograph we saw in the Antietam Battlefield museum. After our success with BROKEN DRUM (White Mane Publishing Co., 1996), we wrote a second Civil War novel, REBEL HART (White Mane Publishing Co., 2000), based on another true-life figure—this time a girl, Nancy Hart, who was a Confederate spy and rebel raider living in what is now West Virginia. Her life was quite an amazing adventure, which my co-author, Jackie Shields, and I had so much fun researching and recreating in historical fiction. Nancy Hart’s great great grandson looked us up after finding our book at the Harpers Ferry bookstore and learning more about his relative than he had ever known before. In 2006, BROKEN DRUM was licensed by Scholastic Book Fairs, and under a new title (DRUMS OF WAR) and cover art has enjoyed a “second” life in schools across the country. REBEL HART, too, was licensed by Scholastic Book Fairs in the spring of 2008. It’s been wonderful receiving letters from our readers, including teachers, who have used the books in conjunction with their Civil War curricula.
Can you describe your path to the publication of ROAD TO TATER HILL?
ROAD TO TATER HILL is my first “solo” novel. My manuscript began as my creative thesis during my MFA Program in Writing for Children at Spalding University in Louisville, KY. Years ago in an exercise to write about an emotional childhood experience, I wrote a 10-page memoir-style essay about the death of a longed-for baby sister shortly after she was born. I used that piece in one of my workshops, and, because of the emotional core of my essay, the workshop leader and other students encouraged me to take it further by turning it into a novel. So, I set aside the novel I was already working on and dove into TATER HILL. Since then it has gone through a number of major changes and revisions.
During the summer of 2006 (before the novel was finished), I attended the SCBWI Conference in Maryland and had the first 10 pages critiqued by Michelle Poploff, V.P. and Executive Editor of Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. She liked those pages enough to invite me to submit the entire manuscript to her once it was finished. She also suggested I read three different middle grade books set in roughly the same time periods and also dealing with death and the grieving process: MY LOUISIANA SKY by Kimberly Willis Holt, BELLE PRATER’S BOY by Ruth White, and EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS by Deborah Wiles. (The books, btw, were great reads and helpful examples of similar themes done well.)
Nearly a year later I mailed the completed manuscript to Michelle Poploff and was worried she wouldn’t remember her invitation to submit. She did remember me, however, and liked the story enough to set up a telephone conversation, which led to a very detailed revision plan and an eventual contract. So, I guess you could say I’m one of those SCBWI Conference success stories that every aspiring author is hoping for when signing up for a manuscript critique! I did not, and still don’t, have an agent, but definitely hope to sign with one before submitting my next manuscript.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Yes, I do!
1. You are never too young or too old to write, so write whenever you get a chance and try to stick to a regular schedule.
2. Grow a thicker skin! Realize that you’ll never please everyone, so start by pleasing yourself.
3. Read widely and keep up with current trends in your chosen genre.
4. Never be satisfied with a first, or even a second, draft. The true meat of writing is in the revision process.
5. Realize that very few people get rich by writing, but there is always that hope and possibility!
Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
My husband and I live in a secluded 1930s-era log cabin, Misty Hill Lodge, nestled against the rocks of Chigger Hill along Braddock Mountain in Frederick County, Maryland. I often hike up to the rock cliffs across the top of our property to write in my journal. The first time we saw the cabin and property, we recognized it as our dream house. Its setting is just about as similar to the mountain setting of ROAD TO TATER HILL as we can get without actually being in North Carolina.
For about three years now, I’ve been teaching creative writing workshops at Misty Hill Lodge and have a loyal following of students. When I’m not writing or teaching workshops, my husband and I love spending time with our two grown children and five grandchildren.
I plan to continue my writing for many years, as I have no shortage of ideas for future stories. I am also kept very busy by my brand new role as Regional Advisor for the MD/DE/WV SCBWI chapter.
Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
Yes, I’m working on another middle grade novel, set on Vinalhaven Island off the coast of Maine. This one was inspired my husband’s and my favorite vacation spot, where we love to kayak.
Do you have a website where readers can learn more about ROAD TO TATER HILL?
My author website is http://www.ediehemingway.com. I also am a member of the One Potato…Ten blog of writers and illustrators for children. You can follow our blog at www.onepotatoten.blogspot.com, and I am proud to be a member of the Class of 2K9, http://www.classof2k9.com.