Today on the blog I’m pleased to host an interview with Darlene Beck Jacobson, whose debut middle grade novel WHEELS OF CHANGE is an inventive look at a window of history as the car was making its debut. Here’s just a bit of the great review Kirkus gave the novel:
“Twelve-year-old Emily loves helping her father in his barn; she even dreams, in futility, of becoming a blacksmith like her father’s beloved employee, Henry. She and her best friend, Charlie, ponder such things as gender roles, women’s suffrage and “horseless carriages.” She dutifully tries to become a lady even while working on a secret that uses her “masculine” skills. As the year progresses, Henry falls ill, and Emily and her family are subjected to the uncertainties of changing times as well as some nasty treatment from white supremacists. Resemblances to To Kill a Mockingbird are strong, especially during a tea party hosted by Emily’s mother. A nice touch: Throughout much of the book, Papa teaches Emily—and vicariously, readers—new vocabulary words. The strength of the text lies in Jacobson’s ability to evoke a different era and to endear readers to the protagonist. The prose is straightforward and well-researched, heavily peppered with historical references and containing enough action to keep readers’ attention.”
Now, here’s Darlene:
Racial intolerance, social change, sweeping progress. It is a turbulent time growing up in 1908. For twelve year old Emily Soper, life in Papa’s carriage barn is magic. Emily is more at home hearing the symphony of the blacksmith’s hammer, than trying to conform to the proper expectations of females. Many prominent people own Papa’s carriages. He receives an order to make one for President Theodore Roosevelt. Papa’s livelihood becomes threatened by racist neighbors, and horsepower of a different sort. Emily is determined to save Papa’s business even if she has to go all the way to the President.
I love stories like yours that are set on the cusp of change. What inspired you to choose this particular time period and the shift from the era of carriage to car?
There were two family facts I discovered while researching my family tree. One was that my paternal grandmother’s father was a carriage maker in Washington DC at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The other was that grandma received an invitation to a reception held at the White House by Theodore Roosevelt. She attended that reception and met TR. The story grew from there.
While I was doing research I discovered just how much change was taking place during this time period in history. The more I looked, the more I realized how frightening it must have been to many people. I wanted to show how change affects us all and can bring welcome and unwelcome things into our lives. It’s up to each of us to decide the importance of those changes. We can’t stop change–it still happens all around us. But, if we make it work for us, we can see a better outcome.
Emily is a strong character. Do you generally begin with character or with plot?
I usually gravitate toward characters first, trying to find something special or unique that makes that particular character stand out. I also enjoy where the characters take me in a story; it is often to a place I hadn’t envisioned. Plot is always more difficult for me. I generally need several rewrites to flesh out plot elements. With WOC several plot elements were expanded or added after the manuscript was accepted.
You have several important subplots (in particular, Henry’s). Please tell us about them and how they came to be.
Henry was always part of the story. I wanted a character that was unexpected for the time and place, yet real and meaningful to Emily and her family. I doubt that a person of color like Henry would have been employed by my great-grandfather; but it seemed important to make that happen.
The rights and gender roles of girls and women became more fleshed out in rewrites than in my original version. The subplot with William and the mouse was also added later, as was the thread buying scene, and Emily building a miniature carriage for Papa. It amazes me how an editor – especially one who also writes, like Marissa Moss my editor at Creston Books – can make a suggestion that takes my mind in a whole new direction. I love that part of the revision process.
Do you have anything new in the works?
I have two projects actually. The first is a PB titled TOGETHER ON OUR KNEES about a little known abolitionist and suffragist, Matilda Joslyn Gage. The other is an MG historical set in a Pennsylvania mining town during Prohibition.
Here’s Darlene’s charming trailer for WHEELS OF CHANGE:
Darlene’s stories have appeared in CICADA, CRICKET, and other magazines. When not writing, Darlene enjoys baking, sewing and tea parties. She also likes hanging around forges watching the blacksmith work magic. She’s never ridden in a carriage like the one in the story, but hopes to one day. Her blog features recipes, activities, crafts and interviews with children’s book authors and illustrators. She still loves writing and getting letters. Check out her website at: http://www.darlenebeckjacobson.com or on Twitter: @dustbunnymaven
WHEELS OF CHANGE is available on AMAZON, Barnes & Noble, Indie bookstores, or on the Creston Books site: www.crestonbooks.com