Today at Inside the Writer’s Studio we welcome debut author Tess Hilmo. Tess is a member of The Class of 2k11 and writes in the genre I most love: Southern Middle Grade!
About the book:
From the Publisher--FSG
When Ollie’s daddy, the Reverend Everlasting Love, pulls their travel trailer into Binder to lead a three-day revival, Ollie knows that this town will be like all the others they visit— it is exactly the kind of nothing Ollie has come to expect. But on their first day in town, Ollie meets Jimmy Koppel, whose mother is in jail for murdering his father. Jimmy insists that his mother is innocent, and Ollie believes him. Still, even if Ollie convinces her daddy to stay in town, how can two kids free a grown woman who has signed a confession? Ollie’s longing for a friend and her daddy’s penchant for searching out lost souls prove to be a formidable force in this tiny town where everyone seems bent on judging and jailing without a trial.
Welcome, Tess! Thanks for being with us today!
Is there a story behind the story that you wish to share? (Ie: the ah-ha or lightning moment where the story inspiration struck.)
I grew up loving southern gospel music and have memories of singing songs like Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Let My People Go and This Little Light of Mine as a little girl. I'd sing them while I was walking home from school or doing my chores. I'd sing them in the shower or after an argument with a friend. Now you should know that I am a terrible singer but that didn't matter. Those songs made me believe in myself. Fast forward many, many years and you would find me, now a busy mom, trying to write novels for kids. I decided that I wanted to write a novel that would embrace these songs I love so much. With A Name Like Love is that story.
How do you stay inspired to face the dreaded blank page? Is it something you dread? Look forward to? Share a bit about your writing process.
I'd love to tell you that I have a strict writing schedule...that I follow the good advice to sit down and write some every day, but I don't. My creative process takes a lot of musing. I need to go on long drives and sit in parks. I need to gaze out windows and let my mind wander. Sometimes I even need to eat whole tubs of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. It's a hard life, but someone's got to live it :)
How does “place” come through in your writing? How important is place in this current novel/picture book? Is it tied to a place you once lived or are familiar with or is it a new world entirely?
I knew this story would need to be set in the south, but really had little experience of the south myself. Generations ago, I did have distant relatives in Arkansas and a great uncle who was an itinerant preacher. I honestly believe those angels looked down from heaven and guided my writing. I read some of their journals and lots of books on Arkansas. I combed the internet. I wrote key facts on paper and taped them all around my workspace. I did my best to imagine the world they lived in and make it come to life for Ollie and her family.
Writers love books; we love reading. What book do you turn to over and over again and why do you love it?
Anything by Gary Schmidt is a favorite. His writing style is very different from mine, but it inspires me. I can imagine myself dancing on the rocky cliffs with Lizzy Bright from Lizzy Bright and the Buckminster Boy or tossing a baseball with Doug Swieteck in is most recent (and amazing) novel, Okay For Now. Everything he writes encourages me to strive for real characters living in a real world. No one does characterization better.
If your protagonist and antagonist were competing on American Idol what songs would each sing? And who would have the better voice?
I couldn't pass this question up! Ollie sings old gospel songs that her daddy teaches her and her sisters ... at one point in the novel she sings Let My People Go, her daddy's rich voice guiding her in her head. If she were to be on the American Idol stage, she'd sing that song and rock the house! There are a few antagonists in the story...I'll chose Esther Roberts for this question (a pinch faced shop keeper who is mean as they come) and say she'd stand on the stage and start singing I'm A Little Teapot --- but about two sentences in, she'd stop singing and tell everyone how dumb the whole competition is before stomping off stage. That woman is a pain in the hind end!
In ode to Maebelle, the main character in my new book Truth with a Capital T, who keeps a book of little known facts about just about everything, please share a wacky piece of trivia that has stuck with you or please share a little known fact about YOU.
I used to be terribly superstitious as a child...always careful never to step on cracks in the sidewalk or pick up "tail side up" pennies. I even recall separating all of the silverware in the dishwasher because I was afraid the knives would hurt the forks and the forks would hurt the spoons. It may have been extreme, but it was for their own good.
Tess, thanks for being with us and thanks for keeping those forks and spoons safe!