Celestia is the vacationing sixteen year-old daughter of a wealthy Pittsburgh businessman, and Peter is a local teen from the opposite end of the social strata. Peter has temporarily escaped the start of what will likely be a life in the coal mines -- like his father -- by finding work at the resort for the fabulously wealthy of Pittsburgh which is situated on the edge of man-made Lake Conemaugh. We know from history that the dam creating the lake -- perched 450 feet above Johnstown, Pennsylvania -- will fail on May 31, 1889, and that over 2,200 people will perish thanks to the destruction caused by the sudden release of 20 million tons of water. Nearly a year before that fateful event, while Celestia is summering with her family at the resort on the lake, she meets Peter. These two teens are among the characters who narrate in prose poetry this tale of the filthy rich and exceptionally poor as the clock ticks down to the day of disaster.
You mentioned that all your vacations as a child were spent visiting museums and historical sites. Did you visit the site of the Johnstown flood as a child with your family? If so, did it leave a lasting impression on you? Can you describe that impression? No, we didn't visit Johnstown in ye olde browne station wagon, which means it may very well be the only national monument, park, tomb or museum that we missed. But I do think that, in general, all the historical sites we visited prepared me to be a writer of historical fiction. They definitely made a lasting impression: for example, I often dreamed at night that I was fighting in the Revolutionary or Civil War, or that I was hiding from soldiers in a false cupboard. The past felt very real and alive to me---still does. I could walk into any restoration or living history museum and start carding wool or something.
Was there something in your background/education that made you such a good writer of verse? This answer also goes back to my childhood and my parents. Both my parents are extremely creative, they have extensive vocabularies and they are always reading. So I had access to as many books as I could consume and my mother often read the same book at the same time. Everyday was book group in our house: at the breakfast table, we'd analyze our dreams and see how our nightly reading seeped into them, then we'd try to predict where we thought the book was going, etc. We still do this, just over the phone now. And I mention dreams because I think the language of dreams is similar to that of poetry (and literature, in general). Symbolism. Emotion. Transformation. Don't you wake up sometimes and say, "What a dream! That would make a great book!" As far as my education, I think I probably had the same exposure to poetry that most folks get in a public school and liberal arts college. For some reason I didn't shut down when I heard the word "poetry" the way others seemed to do. I love stories and I'll take them in any form. I didn't really plan to be a poet, but when I decided to try writing, poetry came naturally.
Other than the genre that you already write, what other sort of book would you like to attempt? A picture book would be ideal for my poetic style---I hope---but I haven't crossed paths with the right story idea yet. I'm trying my hand at a middle grade historical fiction work in progress, but usually when I try to write MG, it gets older and older until its YA by about page three. Contemporary YA sounds good, too. I love to make people laugh, so I'd like to try humor, or humorous elements. I guess I'm open to any genre.
At what point in the writing process do you prefer to have other people read your work? Do you want feedback at the first draft stage, or once you’ve done all you can with it and don’t know where to go next? In the past, I've always tried to make everything as perfect as possible before showing anyone, but I don't think I'll have time for that going into the future. I write very slowly! So, I'll need to know if something's not working far sooner now. I'm getting much more comfortable with showing early versions to my critique group or mentor. My word of caution to other writers: don't spill the whole story to your group before you write it! Save the energy for the page.
What is the question you never get asked but are always dying to answer? Q: What's your super power and what's your Kryptonite? A: My super power is telling apart all kinds of diet cola. My Kryptonite is artificial cherry flavor (shudder).
Thanks, Jame, for visiting with us! We wish you great success with your book.