Sunday, October 21, 2007

History and Halloween in Salem

I had a great day in Salem, MA on Saturday. Ever since I visited Salem one October with my Girl Scouts a few years ago it has become a tradition to visit around Halloween. This year my family stayed for an evening presentation of the Spirits of the House of Seven Gables. It was terrific. Wonderful costumed actors performed bits and pieces from the House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne throughout the house. The town itself was spirited! What a mix of history and hoax! Celebration and scare!

Here's a few historical fiction reads inspired by the Salem witch trials that are perfect for your nightstand these nights before Halloween.

Witch Child - by Celia Rees
The Sacrifice - by Kathleen Benner Duble
Beyond the Burning Time by Kathryn Lasky
I Walk In Dread: The Diary of Deliverence Trembly, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials (A Dear America book) by Lisa Rowe Fraustino

And for a little fact with all that great fiction read Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials by historian Marc Aronson.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

An Interview with Author Kashmira Sheth

Kashmira Sheth’s new title, Keeping Corner, is a powerful work of historical fiction about Leela, a child widow. It has already received praise and will be released in the coming days.

I'm not sure if we choose our stories or if they choose us. What was the case with Keeping Corner?
Keeping Corner chose me. The story is based on my great-aunt who was a child widow. I met her when I was nine and always wondered about her life. At that time I didn’t realize it, but that was when the story had chosen me. After all these years it still had a hold on me and I had to write it.

What were the challenges in bringing this story to life?
The most difficult part of the story was how to weave Leela’s story with the larger story of India’s awakening. The research was fun. My dad and mom told me most of the details of that time and I also read many fiction and nonfiction works written in Gujarati about that time. I went to India and visited Gandhiji’s ashram, bought many books written by him and about him and researched archives. But when I started writing the story, I struggled to bring it all together.

How will teens relate to your main character, Leela?
Leela is like any teen at the threshold of a new adventure when her life falls apart. She gains strength from adversity and fights back. The teens will root for that. I think they will realize that even in the most dire of circumstances an individual has a choice and a responsibility to question authority. It may be family, society, or government. I hope Leela’s courage will make them care deeply for what happens to her and help them find strength when facing their own problems.

Many historical fiction authors have a favorite time period. Do you?
Even though my first novel Blue Jasmine was inspired from my own immigrant journey it is not a historical fiction. My second novel Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet is a novel set in contemporary Mumbai. Keeping Corner is my first Historical Fiction. I choose this time because of the parallel journey of a young widow and her country to seek freedom. I really enjoyed doing it and would love to write another historical fiction.
I am be interested in writing a novel that is set in ancient India.

What can your fans look forward to next?
I’m working on two young adult projects and haven’t decided which one I will finish first.

Learn more about Kashmira’s novels at

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

An Interview with Author Kathleen Ernst

I had a great time with Kathleen Ernst at the Historical Novel Society Conference where we sat together on a panel. I was so pleased she agreed to be interviewed. Her latest book is Hearts of Stone, set during the Civil War. The New York Public Library has selected it among their Books for the Teen Age list and it has received many other honors.

I'm not sure if we choose our stories or if they choose us. What was the case with Hearts of Stone?
Hmmn, a very interesting question! I think Hearts of Stone chose me.
I'm never short of ideas; I have so many story ideas swirling in my head that I'll never have time to write them all. But somehow, certain stories wriggle up to the top of my subconscious, nudging until I take the time to write this particular story. Sometimes stories simmer for years before I feel compelled to write them. Other times it happens more quickly, and this was the case with Hearts of Stone. As soon as I started reading and thinking about homeless refugee children during the Civil War, Hannah appeared, wanting her story to be told.

What were the challenges in bringing this story to life?
Patience, patience, patience. I wrote the rough draft in probably about six months, then spent eight years revising, marketing, revising again.
In hindsight, I realize how much I learned about the craft while revising this novel. It's a much better story than it was in its earliest incarnations, and I'm glad (now!) that it didn't sell quickly!
I did major revisions for several editors before the novel found the perfect home at Dutton. My Dutton editor asked for only one significant change, which called for starting the story in a different place by adding a new first chapter. I did, and I *love* the addition. I'm trying to hold on to that knowledge--that it's OK, even necessary at times, to take years delving into a novel, polishing, deepening, making it the best I can.

How do you feel teens relate to Hannah?
I think teens can relate to Hannah in a couple of different ways.
First, they see modern refugees on the news, but often know very little
about their experiences. I hope that reading Hannah's story will help them imagine the plight of all the young people made homeless by wars and violence. Perhaps it can help personalize what they see on TV. And in a broader sense, I think teens can relate to the core emotions Hannah had to grapple with: grief, hurt feelings, homesickness, worry, regret, the burdens of responsibility. The time and place may be very different, but the human emotions transcend any period.

Many historical fiction authors have a favorite time period. Do you?
I've written five novels and one nonfiction book about the American
Civil War, which obviously says something! I grew up in Maryland,
surrounded by Civil War history, and certainly that fostered my interest. I've written about many times and places, though, and would not want to be identified only with the Civil War. I enjoy the challenge of delving into a new period. In any case, I try to look for untold stories--little known threads that have largely or entirely escaped novelists' notice.

What can your fans look forward to next?
I have a new historical mystery, "The Runaway Friend," coming out in Spring 2008. It's set in Minnesota in the 1850s, and is about a Swedish family settling into their new home. I'll soon start work on another historical mystery, which is slated for release in 2009. I've also just finished an historical ghost story that I'm quite excited about! I hope to have more news to share about that soon. Readers can always keep up with the latest on my website,

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Everything I Need To Know I've Learned From Reading Banned Books

Yes, it's that time again - Banned Books Week. Although historical fiction titles do not appear often on the lists of banned and challenged books, they do pop up.

Here's a few to consider reading, if you haven't already.

My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier (Newberry Honor Book)

The Color Purple by Alice Walker(Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National book Award)

Beloved by Toni Morrison (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (Newberry Medal)

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)

Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene (National Book Award finalist)