What inspired you to write your first book?
Before writing NOLA Gals, I was deeply moved by Hurricane Katrina. The constant media coverage engrained the tragedy in my mind. I wanted to share it with younger readers who would not know about it in years to come.
How did you come up with the title?
NOLA Gals seemed a natural to me. The city “NO”, state “LA” and a touch of the south, “Gals.” I made sure, however, that not far into the novel I explain it for those who might not figure it out.
Is this your first book? How many books have you written (published or unpublished)?
This is my first published book although I have a draft of another earlier novel about a teen whose dad has cancer brought on by his military service in Vietnam.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I want readers, particularly teens to realize the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, the disruption of the lives of those who survived, the racial prejudice encountered and the importance of reading a really good book. The NOLA Gals are helped by lessons of tolerance they read in To Kill a Mockingbird.
How much of the book is realistic?
The book is historical fiction from just ten years ago so I did extensive research. The Source List at the end of the novel contains every book, movie or music CD I used in the writing of the novel.
Are your characters based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Some are based on people I know, others are completely made up (the two main characters, Essence and Grace, for instance). George, the poodle is very real, my sister-in-law’s dog. His photo is at the end of the book.
Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why?
Good question. I think probably little Char. At five-years-old, she exemplifies the combined innocence and terror of a child in the midst of a terrible natural disaster. Her quest to honor her grandmother’s life with a ceremony for her ashes was very moving to write.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I tried to keep the book “clean” so it could be used in classrooms. I might have softened the relationship between Harold and Mama. Making her older when it began.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Keep reading. It is such a source of learning in life. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself by reading realistic books, even the classics. And never lose curiosity. That, to me, is the most important trait to get you through life. Never lose the wonder of discovery.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I have total power over the universe I create. I can tell when I’m onto a good passage of writing because I give myself chills as I write. Such chilling passages in NOLA Gals for me were the extended metaphors of both Hurricane Katrina and Rita. The impromptu jazz parade at the Superdome. The cocktail party/dance juxtapositions. Mimmi’s ashes. The To Kill a Mockingbird defense.
I also love working with kids in schools and meeting with adult groups, too. The kids love the book and want tips on writing, especially extended metaphors. I have photos, samples kids have written, and ideas for writing on my website, nolagals.com I have donated some of my royalties to schools in New Orleans and hope to visit there, too. Adult book clubs are fun. I just met with a group of twelve ladies who all loved the book. Several said they had read it in one night. When a sixth grader approaches you with tears in her eyes and asks for your autograph on her notebook, “cuz I’ve never met a real author before” those chills pop. Or when a 7th grade boy says in front of the whole class that, “I’ve never read a book that makes me feel so deeply,” you know your job is done, and done well as a writer.”
What age did you start writing stories/poems?
I wrote at a young age. In fourth grade I was fortunate to have a teacher, Miss Downes who let me write and direct plays at school. Later I had a southern lady, Mrs. Hartwig for three years in junior high who assigned us weekly compositions. She would read a few aloud to the class every week, and I was always so proud when she read one of mine. She really instilled creativity in all of us that stuck. I wrote dreadful poetry in high school. Later as an adult, I wrote serious poetry and published some and won a few awards.
What is your favourite theme/genre to write?
I like writing for kids, especially historical fiction. I am writing a sequel now, for NOLA Gals as so many people have requested one. It is Essence’s memoir written ten years later, looking back on her struggle to survive during the rebuilding of New Orleans. I am in the research stage now, having soaked up so many ideas during the recent tenth anniversary commemorations for Hurricane Katrina.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
Not a subject, but writing for kids I try not to get too negative. Some of the post-apocalyptic fiction kids read can be such a downer. I hope to give kids hope. The ending of NOLA Gals does that.
What book are you reading now? I just read “The Martian” by Andy Weir. I can’t wait for the movie. It was a great example of surviving by your wits.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? My current favorite is Hillary Mantel. Her British historical fiction is amazing. I’m awaiting the third book of her Wolf Hall trilogy about Henry the VIII. I tend to become obsessed with a writer and read all his/her works. I’m doing that now will Mantel. I love to go to London, England and see plays. And last time there I saw both of the adaptations of her two books in one day. I was thrilled that she was there signing programs, too. I’ve also watched the new BBC version of her books, too. Her memoir is also great.
A personal favorite is a memoir written by my friend, Anne-Marie Oomen. Love, Sex and 4-H is one of my favorite memoirs ever.
Do you see writing as a career?
No, I couldn’t live on my royalties. I’m retired with a pension. It’s still hard for me to accept money for my writing. I volunteer all my time in classrooms and for adult groups. Let’s face it: schools are mostly broke these days. I taught for over 30 years so I figure I’m giving back now to kids and adults.
Do you nibble as you write? If so what’s your favorite snack food?
I don’t nibble while I write, but when I finish a session with my laptop, I seem to need a victory ride, so I hop in the car and head out for a delectable snack. Depending on the hour, it might be a trip to the Dairy Queen, for a tin-roof sundae, or a drive-thru shake somewhere. If it’s been a long writing session, I’ll grab a meal somewhere. A glass of wine doesn’t hurt either.
Do you have any odd habits or childhood stories?
I tend to be phobic about people talking during movies. I’ve been known to get up and move more than once when people around me talk. And don’t get me started on texting in theaters. Rudeness seems to be the new norm.
I grew up in a suburb of Detroit with a very British dad. I was the second of six kids, a big Catholic family. When I was in first grade I was part of the First Communion class at Saturday catechism classes. Every week we would recite our prayers, learn our saints (especially the martyred – so gloriously bloody), and receive the priest’s blessing, before we trotted off down the road to see a double feature at the local movie theater. It was the fifties when for a quarter you could eat a sloppy Joe and sip a root beer at the dime store counter before the movies for another fifteen cents. Then we’d settle in for two features of Martin & Lewis or Laurel & Hardy, lots of cartoons and even a newsreel. The audience was rowdy, but we loved it. Those were the days when kids could wander and parents didn’t worry. That Saturday morning however, catechism was scary, the reason to make me worry. Sister Bartholomew stood before us and peered down at us through her wire-rim glasses. “Girls and boys,” she said. “If the Russians came today…” We all stiffened in our seats at the mention of our evil enemies. “If the Russians,” she repeated, “came here and set up a pot of boiling oil right outside this window,” she pointed with her crooked finger, and rasped lowly,” if they lit that oil, and it began to bubble.” We began to shrink in our seats, our fear also bubbling. “If they then came up those stairs outside that door.” She swung around, the large crucifix hanging at the waist of her black habit swinging, “And they burst through that locked door, with loaded guns aimed at your hearts.” We sank even lower, terrified. “Now they walk up and down these rows and stop before each desk. They lean over and hiss in each face and ask you if you are Catholic. What would you answer if you knew…” Again she turned to the window, “What would you say if you knew a “yes” would deliver your small body to the boiling oil?” We were paralyzed, seeing ourselves bobbing in the oil. We all shouted we would say “yes,” of course. There was no other response to Sister.
“Class dismissed,” she said. And we ran out of the room. No horror movie we were about to see could ever equal this torture.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Hopefully alive. With at least one more published novel under my belt. I also have a memoir in me when time allows it. I’d also like to see NOLA Gals as a play or movie.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Writing comes easy for me. It always has. Publishing is another story. It took years to get someone to even look at the manuscript. I hate writing query letters and being at the mercy of agents and publishers who see dollar signs as the reason to give a work a chance. Thank goodness for the small presses of the world who will read a manuscript and take a risk.
What reward do you give yourself for making a deadline? None, really. I’ve always been right on target with deadlines. I grew up in a family that was always way too early for every event and deadline. If we were going to a concert, we’d get there long before the doors opened, and the musicians arrived. Fifteen minutes early for others was late for us.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Looking back on things I wrote like early teen poetry, I see it as very bad, but I chalk that up to inexperience. I hate writing done for assignments written to a specific formula like the “five-paragraph theme.” They don’t really exist in nature, only in teachers’ minds.
What book do you wish you had written?
My all-time favorite is probably Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. I first read it when I was in junior high and have never forgotten it. The eerie mood she sets of the old mansion Manderley on the Cornish coast of England still gives me chills. I’ve seen all the movie versions of it and will find myself up late at night watching Sir Lawrence Olivier and Joan Fontaine combat the evil Mrs. Danvers until the wee hours even though I know I have all the movie versions in my collection. Just hooked forever on this mystery.
What is your best marketing tip?
Set a budget and stick to it. Don’t let vanity overrule your pocketbook. There are many people out there who want your money. Join all the writing groups on facebook that do free promotion. Use twitter and tumblr and other social media. If you want to enter contests, chose selectively and research past winners to see if your book fits in. Beware of goodreads and its reviewers. They can be abusive and face no recourse. Trolls can do in an author.
What genre is your next project? What is it about?
A sequel to NOLA Gals, at this time untitled. A memoir.
How do we find your books, blog and bio? NOLA Gals is available on Amazon. Website is: nolagals.com
NOLA Gals was a finalist for the IAN Book Awards