I’m SO excited to have Margo L. Dill joining me today! Her debut middle grade historical fiction, Finding My Place, has been out for a month or so and Margo is visiting blogs to share her story and her wonderful writing expertise. So I put five questions to her that I thought might be helpful to any and all writers out there, a little something for everyone! And P.S. You’ll want to read to the very end because Margo has something special for one lucky commenter!
1. Finding My Place is set in Vicksburg, Mississippi during the siege there in 1863, and honestly, I think the setting really makes this a unique Civil War story! I often wonder whether, when it comes to historical fiction, writers have an idea, then jump into the research? Or if a writer falls in love with a subject, then comes up with a story. So which came first for you, the history or the plot?
What came first for me was the history. I was teaching fifth grade social studies, when I read in the book, ONE PARAGRAPH about Vicksburg, Mississippi. It said how the citizens showed remarkable strength, lived in caves, and ate rats to keep from surrendering to the Yankees. I needed a novel idea because I was taking a correspondence course about writing for children, and so there was my idea!
2. Your heroine, Anna Green, has several siblings, but it’s her younger brother, James, who really tries her patience! How much of your own sibling relationships came into play in the story?
You are going to laugh at this—I am an only child. I have no idea what it’s like to have a sibling, but my husband has two younger siblings—a brother and then a sister. Whenever they are together, they talk all about the past and all the awful things they used to do to each other. Now, they love each other and are close—but back then, my husband is lucky that he has all of his limbs! Actually, my brother-in-law is the one that is lucky—one time my husband accidentally shot him in the leg with a bow and arrow!
3. I know this is totally geeky, but I love research notes as much as story, and you had some wonderful tidbits of information in your notes! What surprised you the most about life in Vicksburg during the war? And what made you say, “Ewwww. You’ve got to be kidding!”?
The substitutions that the Vicksburg citizens used so they wouldn’t surrender to the Blue Bellies were amazing to me. Instead of drinking coffee, they created coffee out of acorns! When they didn’t have any paper left, they printed their news on the back of wallpaper. They were creative and resourceful, and I love that spirit. As for gross—all the stuff I read about wounded soldiers and their treatments—gross—it is amazing anyone survived the Civil War. I couldn’t put a lot of that in my book since it’s middle-grade, but I do have some in there when Anna goes and works at an army hospital.
4. The road to publication for Finding My Place seemed to hit a few bumps along the way, but I’m so glad you succeeded! What advice can you give to writers struggling to get their novel published?
Don’t give up. It took 11 years from the idea to holding the book in my hand. Part of that was the fact this was my first novel, and I had no idea what I was doing. J I had a critique group that helped me , and I went to writing conferences. Once I had it revised and ready-to-go (really!), I found a publisher fairly quickly—I think I sent to three or four and got two responses—to get to that point took five years. Then once I signed my contract and turned in my final copy, instead of 18 months to publication, it took almost five more years! This was because of the economy and things beyond my control. I just kept writing and kept publishing and kept communicating with my publisher. In the end, it all worked out!
5. So we’ve talked about history, but now it’s time to take a look at the future. Inquiring middle-schooler (and older) minds want to know, so what can we expect to read about in the next Margo L. Dill novel?
I am working on a few things—I have a YA that is almost finished—my critique group says send it out, but I have a few more things I want to do. I also have a rough draft finished for a middle-grade mystery novel (contemporary, humorous) that I want to work on in the winter and hopefully send out in the spring. I have two picture books under contract, and those will be out in the future, too. As for more historical fiction, I’m not ruling it out, but it is very time-consuming and difficult to write. I’m going to have to wait until my daughter is in kindergarten!
So there you have it–all you wanted to know about Finding My Place! Oh! Hold on a tic. I didn’t give you the story itself. As it happens, I read Margo’s wonderful book and was lucky enough to review it over at The Muffin. I’m also lucky enough to know Margo, in a virtual way. She’s a contributing editor at WOW! Women-on-writing, which brings me to another lovely surprise for you!