I am so excited to tell you about my interview for today. Author Michelle Isenhoff has agreed to let me ask questions about her book “The Candle Star.” Mrs. Isenhoff just posted a chapter of her historical fiction novel, “The Candle Star” on her blog Bookworm Blather, every week for the past 20 weeks and I was able to read a new awesome chapter every week!. PLUS comment at the end of the blog to be entered to win a copy of “The Candle Star” (thank you Mrs. Isenhoff for donating it!)!
FIRST THE REVIEW! (read on for the interview)
By Michelle Isenhoff
164 pages – ages 8+
Published by Create Space on November 8, 2011
Emily was a Southern girl who thought slaves working on he family’s plantation was how things should be. Emily LOVED living on the wonderful cotton plantation and was happy there. When her parents decide to send her to her Uncle’s place in Detroit, Michigan for a holiday, she was FURIOUS! (Actually, she got in trouble for her temper and her parents thought her Uncle Isaac would teach her to be disciplined). In Detroit, Emily not only had to WORK in her uncle’s hotel, but she had to work with freed slaves! Emily soon finds out she can’t boss the freed slaves around. She becomes friends with Malachi, the son of a freed slave. Malachi sees good in Emily and tries to show her that black and white people are the same. Emily won’t listen… at first. When Emily sees a run-away slave’s bloody leg and sees that the blood is red, just like hers, she is shocked. Emily realizes that her Uncle actually helps runaway slaves and she is torn between the way she was raised and what she has just learned. The bounty hunters are looking for the slaves! What will Emily do?!?
The Candle Star is the first book in Mrs. Isenhoff’s Divided Decade Trilogy. I already read and reviewed book 2 “Broken Ladders” (see my review HERE). I know, I know, I read them out-of-order, but it is OK to do that!
First of all I have to tell you that I am a HUGE fan of historical fiction books and Mrs. Isenhoff has made me an even bigger fan by reading “The Candle Star”! I really liked the character of Malachi because he was trying to show Emily that black and white skinned people are the same. Malachi was calm, intelligent and persuading. Emily was also a good character. She really made me mad sometimes but other times I felt like cheering her on! I learned a bunch about slavery, racism and the Underground Railroad from the book. I could imagine myself actually in the places Mrs. Isenhoff was describing. There is also a section in the back of the book that talks about the actual historical events mentioned in the book which I thought was nice. The only thing I would change is that the story wouldn’t have ended! I am waiting for the third book in the series called “Beneath the Slashings” to be released hopefully sometime this year!
I highly recommend this book. I think the book is good for kids 8+ and adults. It is a good clean read for kids. There are some more grown-up topics like slavery in the book, but it is kid-friendly.
Mrs. Isenhoff’s new adventure novel is “The Quill Pen”. I reviewed it HERE. Her book “The Color of Freedom” was nominated for the Maine Student Book Award this year! To learn more about Mrs. Isenhoff and her books please visit her website HERE.
NOW THE INTERVIEW!
I like to use primary resources whenever I can. There are so many digitized collections of photos, documents, census reports, death certificates, diaries, battle records, etc. that I can (find) most of what I need right online. For example, right now I am writing a lumberjack story that takes place in the northern Michigan wilderness that includes some Native American history. I stumbled on an account written by a local Ottawa Indian in the 1880’s that included many tribal customs, memories, traditions, etc. Then I located a MOBI file and downloaded the whole thing to my Kindle!
I also like to go to the places I set my stories in and experience as much as I can for myself. Last summer, I visited a recreated lumber camp and crawled into a tiny wooden bunk with a straw mattress and a scratchy wool blanket. I walked through several hundred acres of ancient forest that someone had the foresight to preserve before it was lumbered. I even tried log-rolling! (I got very wet.) So far, all my settings have been in America, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit all of them.
In “The Candle Star” there was a lot about slavery and how America was very divided about slavery. Was it hard to write about slavery?
It was a little challenging. First, it’s something I can never truly experience, so in some instances I had to rely on my imagination. Second, it’s simply a difficult subject to navigate. I had to give some characters views that I didn’t agree with – and still make one of those characters likeable. I also had to find a balance between fact and sentiment. It’s easy to get extremely emotional about such a horrible subject, so I needed to round that out with facts – from North and South. But it’s also very easy for historical facts to start feeling distant, like they do in a text-book. I wanted to blend the two into an engaging story that just might teach a thing or two on the side.
Emily (from “The Candle Star”)and Hannah (from “Broken Ladders”) both seem to be like tom-boys. Do you see yourself as a tom-boy or in other words do you give your characters parts of your personality?
Yep, I’m very much a jump-right-in-there kind of person. I love a strong lead character, but I try not to let them become too modern. Emily was still frilly and proper, as a southern girl of the time would be, but she was very opinionated and stubborn. And because much of Hannah’s story centered on how she was trying so hard to fill her brother’s shoes, I thought it okay to let her do farm chores in her brother’s clothing. In my current lumberjack story, however (it’s called Beneath the Slashings), I’ve set myself a new challenge. Grace is very timid and fearful. Because I often base a character’s actions on what I would do, I have to be very careful to consider what she would do.
Why did you have Emily try to convince Isaac to not marry Shannon?
Emily is very prideful and snobbish. Before the Civil War, wealthy Southern landowners saw themselves as an aristocracy, or a class above commoners. Their way of life was very exclusive. They had their own society circles made up of other “blue bloods.” Shannon, a serving maid, was not of the same socioeconomic class and therefore, in Emily’s eyes, not a suitable match for her uncle. The character of Shannon was sort of a gauge that helped measure the changes taking place in Emily.
I LOVED “The Quill Pen,” first fantasy / adventure book. It was different from the historical fiction books you usually write. Will you write a sequel, or another fantasy / adventure book? If so, can you tell us about it? If not what are you working on now?
I have written another fantasy called Song of the Mountain. I even published it as an ebook late last year, but I had the unsettling feeling that it wasn’t quite done yet, so I pulled it. This summer, after Beneath the Slashings is finished, I’ll touch it up and republish it in the fall.
Song of the Mountain takes place in ancient China. Song lives with his grandfather, a poor man who earns a little income telling stories. But Song comes to find out Grandfather is much more than he seems, and his stories aren’t fanciful. They disguise an age-old secret and a prophecy of things to come. A prophecy Song finds himself caught right in the middle of:
“Mud and mire shall birth a tree,
A sprout shall grow of ancient seed.
The five unite to break the one;
The curse of man shall be undone.
But brothers rise ere dragon’s bane.
The last shall smite the first again.”
What made you decide to write children’s books?
I’ve never outgrown them. I think children’s books are the most imaginative, fun, well-packaged stories anywhere. As a teacher, I got to indulge in them and interact with the kids who read them. When I stopped teaching to raise a family, I decided I’d try my hand at a novel. (I had dabbled at writing for years.) I just knew it had to be for kids.
What do you hope that kids learn from your books?
First, to love reading. Literacy is vital in our day and age. Of course it’s the starting point for a decent job, but it’s also the means by which so much information is passed on. We learn everything from what’s on sale, to how government works, to how to plant seedlings by reading. But so many kids struggle with or just plain hate it. If I can engage a kid’s imagination, if I can make reading FUN, perhaps that kid will try a little harder, become a little better. Maybe they’ll even learn there’s pleasure in it.
And you may have noticed I kind of like history. Maybe I can pass on some of that, as well. ;)
Thank you Mrs. Isenhoff! I hope you had a good time with the interview! DON’T FORGET TO COMMENT for your chance to win a copy of “The Candle Star”! I will (or actually my sister, Josie will) pick a winner on the 26th! Don’t forget to leave an email in case you win so I can contact you!