|Award-Winning Author Deborah Wiles|
Lee: Congratulations of winning the Golden Kite Award for your novel, "Revolution!"
Deborah: Thank you so much! It's such a thrill, and a delight, to be recognized by my peers. I am a late bloomer! I won a SCBWI work-in-progress grant in 2001, which fueled me and kept me hopeful. EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS was a Golden Kite Award honor book in 2005. And now REVOLUTION is a Golden Kite Award winner ten years later, or 14 years after that work-in-progress grant and a good 24 years after I started writing for young people. It is never too late to get started. Never give up.
Lee: Love learning that – thanks for giving us the overview of your writing journey so far! For those who haven't read it yet, can you share what your book is about?
Deborah: REVOLUTION is book two of The Sixties Trilogy, published by Scholastic, three novels of the 1960s for young readers. It takes place in 1964 and examines the civil rights movement through the lens of Freedom Summer, in Greenwood, Mississippi.
Sunny is twelve and sees her town "invaded" by freedom workers -- including Jo Ellen from COUNTDOWN (book one of the trilogy) -- who have arrived to register black voters in a state where African Americans are totally disenfranchised. Raymond, who is 14 and lives, literally, on the other side of the tracks, is spurred to action by those freedom workers and decides to integrate the LeFlore Theater when the Civil Rights Act proclaims that all public places will be open to all citizens.
Things get ugly very quickly, and Sunny and Ray -- along with Gillette, Sunny's stepbrother -- are thrown together (even though they never meet) in a mutual struggle for self-respect and understanding. Then there are the Beatles arriving on America's shores, and Willie Mays having a great season with the Giants. Friendships, family, kinship, community -- my usual themes.
Lee: You've crafted something that feels unique and very fresh - it's a novel, but it's packed with nonfiction elements including photos, quotes, news reports, maps, and even nonfiction essays… all helping to create the very real time and place setting for your fictional characters. Tell us how you came upon that mix.
Deborah: As a kid, I most loved to read books that had "parts" to them and different ways of seeing, or understanding. As an adult, I read the John Dos Passos trilogy U.S.A. and was impressed with how he included "newsreels" of the day and biographies of famous people -- biographies that were acerbically opinionated and shone a light on how we became who we are as Americans. So I wanted to recreate this for young readers.
I've worked as a writer in schools for over 20 years, and I have seen how hard it is for kids to grasp history -- just the idea of years, that there were 100 years between Emancipation and the Civil Rights Act, for instance -- and to see themselves as part of history, with choices to make that matter. I wanted to offer them a way of seeing the outside history of the world, including those opinionated biographies, so they could see that history marches on we are living our day-to-day lives. I want them to see an outside story and an inside story -- both are important.
Lee: Very cool, the outside story and the inside story. What a neat way to conceptualize it! You also tell the fictional story of Revolution from multiple points of view – did that evolve as you created the story, or did you set out with the idea to make use of those different voices?
Deborah: The differing points of view came to me as I worked to tell a story that had so much nuance in differing opinions about race, equality, humanity. I didn't want to tell kids about those opinions. I wanted them to experience them.
Lee: Including photos in Nonfiction can be complex, often with the author responsible for negotiating rights. What was your experience including so many historical photos in the book?
Deborah: We had a photo budget, and I didn't have to negotiate rights. What I did have to do was select all ephemera for the scrapbooks, put them in the storytelling order I wanted them to appear, and source them. I had to give Scholastic the source of every photo, every song, every quote, etc. I kept (and still keep) Pinterest boards of all the scrapbook possibilities I was working with. And when push came to shove, as we were getting closer to cut-off dates for permissions, I called some of the recalcitrant or hard-to-find sources and begged for permissions. I shamed one source on twitter (that we'd been trying to get in touch with for a year) and they got right in touch. I sent one photographer a lemon icebox pie so he would give us a decent price on the four photos of his we wanted to use. It was a collaborative effort, and we wouldn't have a book without Els Rijper and Erin Black at Scholastic doggedly pursuing those sources and putting together affordable permissions packages for us. Here is my Pinterest link: https://www.pinterest.com/debbiewiles/
Lee: What a neat dual use of Pinterest - both for your readers and as an organizational tool for you!
"Revolution" is the second book in The Sixties Trilogy. Can you share with us the big-picture arc of that series, and how the stories come together?
Deborah: COUNTDOWN is book one. It chronicles the beginning of the '60s, the space race, Communism, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. REVOLUTION details the civil rights movement. Book three, tentatively titled TRIBE, centers around the Vietnam War, the counter-culture, and rock-and-roll. When all three books are published, I hope they will serve as not only a document of a decade, but as three interconnected (but stand-alone) gripping stories of fictional characters who come off the page to help you experience what it felt like to live in that time and place. All the scrapbooks will fit into one another neatly, across all three books, as will all the biographies -- there will be (roughly) 21 scrapbooks and there will be 12 biographies. You'll be able to understand the sixties in a number of ways. This decade was -- as I wrote in my proposal to Scholastic -- one of the most turbulent, changing, challenging, and defining decades in American history. It shaped a generation, and generations to come.
Lee: What's your favorite piece of writing advice that you can share with our readers?
Deborah: I would never have been published if I hadn't read everything I could get my hands on in the genres I wanted to write. I know my canon inside-out. That helped me tremendously to see what a story is and isn't. So... read. And write. Write from your heart over your head. Open up to the things that scare you or intimidate you or confuse you, and write from that place. Whenever I do that, I write authentically, and that's where voice comes from.
Thanks so much, Deborah!
If you'd like a chance to win a copy of "Revolution," leave a comment on this post. We'll select one winner at random a week from this posting. Good Luck!
Deborah will be on faculty at the upcoming 2015 SCBWI Summer Conference, offering a Sunday afternoon workshop, "Structuring Your Novel: Providing A Scaffold For Your Plot."
We hope you'll join us. Information and registration information are here.
Illustrate and Write On,