Posted by Lynne Griffin
I admit, the more I write, the harder it is to read. I find it's all too easy for me to be pulled out of a story by two dimensional characters, implausible plot lines or stilted dialogue. So how refreshing it was to pick up and begin reading Becky--The Life and Loves of Becky Thatcher by Lenore Hart. I was immersed in the life of Becky Thatcher, Tom Sawyer's true love, by the end of the first page. Hart, or perhaps I should say Becky, held me captive until I read the last page; in fact, I'm still fascinated with this novel. And I'm delighted Lenore Hart has agreed to share her thoughts on living a literary life with me for our author spotlight series.
Lynne Griffin: Can you tell our readers a little about how you came to write fiction?
Lenore Hart: I began writing when I was in fifth grade. I wrote mostly short stories and moved on to poems in college. I was a writer-in-residence in Florida. Then my poems kept getting longer and my settings kept getting larger, until I ventured into writing a novel. I was a librarian while I wrote my first novel, a horror suspense story about a woman who comes back from the dead. When I graduated I had no idea how to tackle getting published. No one told you how to do it. Back then you were limited to sharing what you knew with a few people and they would share what they knew with you. It was difficult. I received nice letters, but the novel was rejected.
LG: You have a unique agent story that involves also finding a husband. Can you elaborate?
LH: Well, fast forward to my librarian days. I was in charge of coordinating an author luncheon for all the branches in my area. David Poyer, who'd written his fourth or fifth novel by then was to speak. After the luncheon, he asked me out. I didn't tell him I wrote fiction, I was intimidated. Later I didn’t want him to read my work because I didn’t want him to think I was dating him because I wanted to get published. And of course I didn't want him to think my novel was awful.
Later he took a short story of mine and gave it to his agent. When I met his agent, he asked me if I had a novel. I literally spewed my colorful frozen drink across the table. He calmed me by saying instead of giving it to him, why didn't I just tell him about it. I did and he encouraged me to send him the novel when it was ready.
LG: And I take it you did.
LH:I gave it to him six months later and he sold it as a paperback original to Putnam. I wasn’t afraid to have people read it by then, but it was a genre novel, so I decided to publish it under a different name--Elisabeth Graves.
LG: What made you make that decision?
LH: David gave me great advice about not typing myself. I wasn't sure the direction I wanted to take my career, and I thought this was a smart move at the time.
LG: Did you publish any more horror novels?
LH: No, but I did have a ghost story published in Scandinavia. It was around that time, I decided to get my MFA and pursue a wide range of writing. At the end of the program I wrote my novel Water Woman. It's about a woman in the 1920s who is the tom boy of the family. After her father dies, she takes over the boat trotlines. It's historical, with a strong sense of place. I grew up in Florida in a rural environment with lots of water, fisherman, farmers and woods. In this novel, I wanted to capture life on the eastern shore of Virginia, which at the time was the last undeveloped piece of coastline on the east coast.
It was published by Putnam, first in hardcover. The paperback is still in print.
LG: You continued to branch out, first with the literary novel, Ordinary Springs and then with a middle grade book and a young adult historical. When did the idea for Becky come to you?
LH: David and I took our daughter on a camping trip. We made our way home from the Grand Canyon by way of Missouri. We saw the cave from Tom Sawyer; it was all cleaned up and wholesome. My husband wondered if anybody had written about all the kids grown up. He asked me who I would write about--I didn’t even have to think about it. Becky.
In Twain's work, men seemed real, but woman insipid. I'd read he loved his wife, always wanting to please her. Did you know Twain let her read and make edits on his work? Yet his female characters were all Victorian, pure, weepy, and delicate. I thought girls even then wouldn’t be that way. I thought it would be really interesting to see how Becky grew up. I knew she needed to tell the story.
LG: What was the process of writing Becky like for you?
LH: This novel took me the longest to write. I read all of Twain's books, everything I could about Hannibal, and silver mining. I did so much research, and I was teaching at the time too. It was important for me to get Becky's voice right. I thought of her as southern, well read, with plenty of money because of her father, the Judge. She was a well-rounded character because of her social status, and she was independent, ready to cope with anything. I knew she'd be an articulate narrator, and though I didn’t want to imitate Twain's colloquial style, I knew I needed aspects of it.
LG: I loved the book. It was like taking a vacation from everyday life. I admired everything about Becky, and her story is completely believable. You must have been offered a contract quickly.
LH: Actually the editor for my two previous novels rejected it. I was devastated, but I believed in the book. My agent and I agreed it should be submitted to other editors. My editor at St Martin's got the novel immediately. I was sold on her because she understood the story. And of course she was very enthused about it. I’m very proud of Becky, it is my best book. I felt she got the short end of the stick and I really wanted to tell her true story.
Thank you, Lenore for sharing the details of your literary life and your writing process for Becky. Take it from me, it is a terrific read, and for writers looking for a stellar example of characterization, capturing voice and period details, wonderful pacing and plot--Becky should be moved to the top of your to be read list.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Posted by Lynne Griffin