Author Kirby Larson has joined us to answer questions about historical fiction and her latest book, Dash, which is also this year’s winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.
DW: Congratulations and welcome! What were your favorite books as a child?
KL: I was crazy for Pippi Longstocking (I wanted to be her!) and I loved Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, too. Other favorite reads included anything by Marguerite Henry, the Mushroom Planet books by Eleanor Cameron, and the Encyclopedia Brown books. I recall reading lots of biographies in 3rd and 4th grade, and all through grade school you could find me with my nose in a comic book.
How did you go from a history-phobe to an award-winning historical fiction novelist?
It was all about the human connection. As a young student, I had no concept that history could be personal. Then I heard that snippet of a story about my great-grandmother homesteading in eastern Montana prior to World War I and I was hooked — how did she manage it? Why did she attempt it? And why did she never talk about it? Once I began trying to answer those questions, I realized there are so many rich and wonderful stories waiting to be told, stories about the people — generally girls and women — who did not make the headlines but who still accomplished remarkable things. I have enough such story ideas now that I think I’ll be writing until I’m 99.
I love your author’s note and how the actual Mitsi’s story sparked your idea for Dash. Ideas are followed by research and writing. What did you need to learn about to write Dash, and how did you accomplish that?
That particular episode in American history — the incarceration of nearly 120,00 people of Japanese descent, most of them American citizens — has been one I’ve done lots of reading and research about. So I was fairly well grounded in the general elements of the story. My research for Dash required me to gather more details about Mitsi and her unique experiences. Fortunately, I was able to connect with her family and they were extraordinarily generous in sharing photos, letters and other personal documents. In addition, there has been very little written about experiences at Camp Harmony for younger readers. I had to familiarize myself with the camp so that I could move my characters around on that stage in a believable and authentic manner. I am so grateful to Mr. Louis Fiset for sharing a rare map of the camp with me.
What is your typical writing process?
Have you ever come upon a traffic accident and a police officer says something like, “Move along: there’s nothing to see here”? That’s what writing is like for me! My process is a huge, disorganized mess that no one else should ever be exposed to.
You’ve written before about WWI and II, especially in the U.S. West and Pacific Northwest. What is it about those eras, and those geographic regions, that speaks to you?<
There is a great discussion happening right now about the need for diverse books; I heartily agree that it’s so important for kids to be able to see themselves in literature. When I was growing up, I never saw kids like myself in books. I especially never saw kids that lived in the northwest. It seemed the stories I read took place in the midwest or on the east coast. I think we have a fascinating history here on the west coast and I want to make it as familiar to young readers as Chincoteague was to me. As to the eras I’ve written about: one thing a novelist needs is conflict. And what better source of conflict than a war? Though I do have two more WWII novels coming out, I also have two novels in the works that are set in 1910, sans war.
Kirby is also the author of other children’s historical fiction, including Hattie Big Sky (a Newbery Honor book), Hattie Ever After, The Friendship Doll, Dear America: The Fences Between Us, and Duke. For more info about Larson, see her website. In addition, check out my post last week about Dash and My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge.
Kirby and I have a copy of Dash and some Dash swag to give away to one lucky, random commenter (U.S. only). The winner will be announced next Tuesday. Do you have a question or comment for Kirby?