She has the coolest name of any author I've met recently, not to mention a fantastic new MG book on shelves now: Augusta Scattergood (some of you may remember her recent interview featured on Smack Dab in the Middle) has kindly dropped by my blog, as well, to discuss writing for kids, Southern storytelling, and junk poker (a game I'm bound and determined to take up myself)...
For those of you who haven't yet read the book (which features a strong young protagonist and some lovely, detailed writing), the synopsis:
As much as Gloriana June Hemphill, or Glory as everyone knows her, wants to turn twelve, there are times when Glory wishes she could turn back the clock a year. Jesslyn, her sister and former confidante, no longer has the time of day for her now that she’ll be entering high school. Then there’s her best friend, Frankie. Things have always been so easy with Frankie, and now suddenly they aren’t. Maybe it’s the new girl from the North that’s got everyone out of sorts. Or maybe it’s the debate about whether or not the town should keep the segregated public pool open.
Augusta Scattergood has drawn on real-life events to create a memorable novel about family, friendship, and choices that aren’t always easy.
My conversation with Augusta Scattergood:
I love that GLORY BE is based on two kinds of history, really—the history of the Civil Rights Movement, and your own personal history. What made you decide that now was the right time for this story?
Oh, dear. I wish I could say that I decided now was the right time. Truthfully, I started writing the story in 2001, about the time I decided to leave my school library position to write full time. GLORY BE started as a short story for grownups. Then it tried to be a novel for kids titled Junk Poker. Pretty soon, fortunately, that title got tossed out the window! I submitted it way too soon. I tucked it into the proverbial bottom drawer. But I loved the story a lot, so I never gave up.
What was the most rewarding part of writing a book based, in part, on things that actually happened—both in your own life, and in history? What was the hardest?
The hardest was getting it right. I struggled with telling a story about a place I knew so well. I found details from my own life and from talking a lot to contemporaries. I researched. But then I had to turn it into something kids would actually want to read. Not just a memoir or a Moment in Time. That was also hard.
The most rewarding part? When I found a terrific agent who loved the voice, the story, the characters, I was over the moon. Then an important and highly regarded publisher and editor praised it—no loved it!—and I knew those ten years of struggling had been so worth it.
You state in the Author’s Note that you didn’t realize the importance of the events of the 60s. What was the first moment in your life when you were aware of the historical significance of what was playing out around you?
When I was Glory's age, our world in small Southern towns was very insulated. By the time I was in college and certainly right after that, a lot was being written about Mississippi, the Deep South, the entire country's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Word may not have traveled as fast and as far as it does today, but specific events sure made the news. So I was probably in college, in what was known as a hotbed of liberal thinkers!-- Chapel Hill, North Carolina—and I think I realized that historical significance pretty quickly.
How is the South of your youth like the South of GLORY BE? Different?
Much of the "Southerness" in the book is just like I lived it! Lazy summer days, playing at the park with friends, swimming pools, bossy big sisters like Jesslyn (oh, wait, that was ME and that's not just Southerners!). The pimento cheese and peach pie, biscuits and bacon- all part of my growing up.
The important difference is that living in a small town where everybody knew me, I didn't have the courage to speak out like Glory did.
What is it about the South that seems to grow storytellers?
In the past it may have been front porches and cool drinks. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and her friends. I was a fill-in Canasta player for her group and oh could they talk! I was a good listener. Southern preachers, teachers, so any of them were great storytellers. I wish I knew why. I wonder if it's still happening around Sunday dinner tables and card games.
I love the “furniture” of GLORY BE—the items the family uses (Jesslyn’s makeup, etc.) that really give the piece a 60s feel. What items do you miss from your own youth?
My plaster of Paris Elvis statue that my mother "misplaced" when I left home for college. I never saw it or my Elvis scrapbook, post-high school. She claimed no credit for disposing of it. But I'm not bitter.
One of my favorite details in the book is Junk Poker. Tell me more—how did it come about? What was in your junk box?
When I first started this story, it was really about the game of Junk Poker. I consulted my younger sister for details. She had no memory of our making this game up! Isn't that how families are though? The more I described it to her, the better she remembered. Most of our junk was literally that. Mismatched earrings from our dress-ups, postcards, Crackerjacks prizes.
As I got older, secret boxes became more important. I hid my diaries in mine.
I now have a Junk Poker box, exactly like my childhood shoe box. I show it to students when I visit their schools. They are fascinated.
My niece gave me a new, tinier Elvis statue. He has cool sunglasses, a crown, a lei. In my box, I also have an old skate key, and pecans in the shell, because many kids outside the South have never seen a real pecan, right off a tree like the one that grew in Glory's backyard.
Most kids like the Elvis statue best.