Tuesday, January 10, 2012
GLORY BE An Interview With Augusta Scattergood
Augusta is one of my writer friends living here in the Tampa Bay Area. I was delighted to attend her book launch party at Inkwood Books earlier this month, and to hear her interviewed on NPR.
Recently, I had the chance to chat with Augusta about her debut novel, GLORY BE, which was edited by Andrea Pinkney and published by Scholastic.
GLORY BE takes place in 1964 during Freedom Summer. What was your initial inspiration for this story?
I actually started writing the book in 2001, after hearing Ruby Bridges speak at Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, where I worked for ten years. Soon after that, I joined a critique group and mostly wrote book reviews and personal essays. Actually GLORY BE started life as “Junk Poker,” an essay/ short story about a game my sister and I played as children. That remained the working title of the novel for quite a while, through several premature submissions. Till I realized neither junk nor poker was a particularly appropriate title for a middle-grade novel.
But I need to go back a bit to tell you that this story really started in 1964 when I worked for my state’s Library Commission as a summer college intern. Sunflower County, Mississippi (And no, I didn’t make up that county’s name) was in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. It was Freedom Summer, 1964. A lot was going on, to say the very least on that subject. History unfolded while I shelved books and ran story hours.
As a library intern, I worked with an amazing director. She stood up to a very vocal library trustee who wanted us to close down the library, or at least remove all the chairs, rather than allow it to be integrated. By the end of that summer, Story Hour had turned into a remedial reading class attended by children who’d never been inside a library. That same summer, I briefly met a young, white civil rights worker from Ohio. In town to register voters and teach in the new Freedom School, she spent her off hours hanging out in the library. It’s not a reach to say I learned a lot that college summer.
And now, both my library director and that civil rights worker have ended up in my book.
I read a Willa Cather quote on your blog that said: “Let your fiction grow from the land beneath your feet.” Tell us how growing up in the Mississippi Delta influences your writing.
I see setting as almost another character in my writing. GLORY BE takes place during two short weeks in July. I always loved summers growing up. As I wrote this novel, I pictured mimosa blossoms from the tree outside my childhood home, and I heard crickets — that almost deafening sound that happened every early evening. When Glory and her friends gather to play kick-the-can or baseball, the pecan tree that shaded my backyard is home base.
Another quote I love is from Eudora Welty, as reported in One Writer’s Beginnings. She shared this advice from a literary critic: “Always be sure you get your moon in the right part of the sky.” I tried very hard to get the details of the Mississippi Delta right.
Give us a brief plot synopsis for your novel.
All Gloriana June Hemphill wants this summer is for her pool to stay open and her big sister to stay her best friend. But things are beginning to change in Hanging Moss, Mississippi, whether she likes it or not. The town is divided by the closing of the community pool and the civil rights workers who’ve come to town. Her sister has a boyfriend, the new football hero who’s mysteriously turned up in town.
Glory begins to make sense of these changes when she befriends the daughter of one of these “outside agitators.” Her maid, Emma, also helps her understand what’s changing in her life, and more importantly, why things shouldn’t stay the same.
GLORY BE is historical fiction. What research tips do you have for other authors?
Having spent most of my career as a librarian, the research part was fun. I think when writing for kids about such an important time in history, writers need to make sure young readers understand what it was like living in another century, in a different place or in someone else’s shoes. Quite honestly, even though I was there during this crucial time in our history, as a child I was shielded from a lot of what was happening in the South. So I’ve always been interested in learning more about Freedom Summer. For this book, I tried to read oral histories and also to interview my contemporaries about the actual events. Then I had fun remembering early 1960s music, the hairstyles, the food.
So many debut authors complain about the lack of marketing support for their novels. That has certainly not been your experience. Share with us the wonderful journey you’ve been on pre-publication.
A whirlwind. That’s about the only way I can describe it! My editor loved the book from the very start. We worked together for several months, then she started sharing it with everybody at Scholastic. For me, that’s when the excitement truly began.
Along with four other debut novelists, I was invited to speak at the spring sales meeting. Having been a school librarian for so long, I went prepared. I took my Junk Poker/ Buster Brown shoebox filled with treasures, and did a Show and Tell. After that, I was asked to read from the book for an audio recording Scholastic made to share with potential bookstore purchasers, then a video recording for their Librarians Preview. I could go on and on. I have no complaints! I adore Scholastic!
What has been the most exciting thing that has happened to you in the past year?
Wow. So many things. Re-connecting with old friends (mostly via my blog and Facebook) who have their own memories of the summer of 1964. Hearing grown-up readers tell me they want to share the book with their children and grandchildren and students to help them understand Freedom Summer. Lunch with my editor and tea with my agent when I returned to New Jersey for the summer. All the amazing events at Scholastic. I pinch myself on an almost daily basis. Even before the book is officially in print!
What are you working on now?
Aha. The hard part! I’m working on a second middle-grade novel, set in Florida, started at a Highlights Founders Workshop with Carolyn Coman at least three years ago. I try not to think about how long it takes me to write, from idea to fruition. I’m working hard to speed up that process. GLORY BE took almost ten years from the time I put pen to paper until the book hit the stores.
This “new” novel was critiqued by an amazing agent, Linda Pratt, at an SCBWI regional event. That’s how we met and totally connected, but she didn’t take me on until I revised and submitted GLORY BE a year later.
I have another tiny kernel of a potential master plan for something new, also middle-grade, set in the South of course. Always be prepared. Just in case.