For National Reading Group Month’s 10th anniversary, NRGM chair Jill Tardiff assembled a panel of authors whose debuts were featured on Great Group Reads lists: Julia Franks, Over the Plain Houses, Susan Henderson, The Flicker of Old Dreams, Laurel Davis Huber, The Velveteen Daughter, and Margaret Wrinkle, Wash.
At the October 27th anniversary event, Tardiff turned things over to moderator Susan Larson, host of The Reading Life and past president of the WNBA New Orleans chapter. Read on for some highlights of the panel!
Larson: How did you choose the times and the women you wrote about?
Huber: My portrayals were based on research in collections and libraries. The Velveteen Rabbit creator Margery Williams Bianco had a relationship with Richard Hughes. It was exciting to come upon an angry letter from Margery to Richard in which she enclosed wood chips for a fire.
Franks: We bought property with a 19th century house full of things the owners had saved, including hair and fingernails. From the owners’ 88-year-old son and papers, I learned his parents were eccentric even for the mountains: his mother wore a bonnet until 1973.
Wrinkle: My great-great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy. I checked out microfilm and toured plantations, and found myself haunted by a man descended from slaves my people had owned.
Henderson: I learned how feminism and racism rubbed against
the status quo in the 1970s. To build that time, I listened to music and watched commercials.
Larson: When did you commit to the book?
Henderson: I didn’t want to tell a mother’s suicide from her eight-year-old daughter’s viewpoint, but the character insisted.
Huber: I got bored working on a Benedict Arnold novel and began thumbing through a children’s book by author/artist Pamela Bianca, which entranced me.
Wrinkle: I didn’t think I was writing fiction. I was troubled by the rumor about my ancestor and tried writing in the voice of this man who had been a stud.
Franks: There was a shooting in the church where my parents went. They were fine, but I became obsessed with the shooter’s profile.
Larson: Are trauma survivors too damaged to have a life of their own?
Huber: Margery lost her father at 7. She was criticized that The Velveteen Rabbit made children too sad, but she said they could deal with it.
Wrinkle: My book deals with the idea that there are victims and perpetrators but also witnesses.
Larson: These are stories of women resisting the strictures in their lives.
Henderson: In that stressful time, the only light was people rising up and protesting.
Franks: Southern literature is filled with women who seem weak but who turn out to be strong.
Larson: How did you get published?
Huber: A hybrid press worked for me.
Wrinkle: Editors were interested but wanted to change everything, until I found Grove.
Franks: Again, luck: I met my publisher at a book festival.
Henderson: It can take years. Comment on blogs: post book reviews and publicists come out of the woodwork.
This was edited and will appear in The Bookwoman.