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!
Thank you, Cathy, for featuring me and for reviewing the book! I love the snow on your site here!! 🙂 But don’t want any in real life.
I tried to leave a comment. Did it work?
I found it, Margo! And you’re very welcome–I’m enjoying your tour!
I really enjoyed Finding My Place! If I get back into teaching, I’d love to use it as a lit. study. It’s not always easy to find engaging, historical fiction for that age group.
Great post, Cathy and Margo, great answers! I used to teach 4th grade US History and loved studying history through literature. It seems not so boring to kids. Great factoids about about Vicksburg. BTW, would you also consider critiquing a picture book instead of a novel or nonfiction?
Margo, thanks for sharing your process of writing “Finding My Place”. They were insightful, and helpful as I take the journey towards publication with my MG Historic Fiction. I’m taking baby steps, but moving forward! I will look for your book…
Gail–yes! I love picture books. I have two under contract and am anxiously awaiting illustrations! 🙂
@Jarm–baby steps are great. I can’t remember if I said this in this interview or not but I started my research on this book in 2001 and saw it published in 2012. Historical fiction is time consuming, but if you believe in your story, you should not ever give up.
@Rose–you are the best! 🙂
Margo–There is a historical event that happened in the 20th century that I’m intrigued by. I thought I would try to write a novel about it, but after reading your post, perhaps a picture book would be best.
Hi Margo, 🙂 Thank you for sharing your story about the road to publication for Finding My Place. I appreciated your thoughts, I am writing a MG novel that needs historical research. I wrote the first draft without doing the research and now am doing the research to go back through the draft. Wishing you great success with Finding My Place and your other books! 🙂 Abigail
Wow, 11 years! This writing biz is not for the impatient! Congratulations for sticking with it, and I hope you enjoy great success with your terrific book!
Thank you Cathy and Margo. What a wonderful post. I’m writing pic books right now (pre-published) and I have one historical fiction I kind of gave up on. But You have given me a little push to give it another try. Thanks for all the great information! And I look forward to reading your novel. Jill
As a nonfiction writer dabbling in picture books and contemplating a novel, I found this fascinating. I love fact-based fiction – and it seems that there are so many really good “true stories” begging to be told. Thanks for sharing your process – it’s inspiring me to just keep on pushing.
Thanks for stopping in, y’all! And see, Margo? You’ve inspired all these folks! I’ll be drawing a winner on Tuesday so good luck!
@Sioux–oh my, I didn’t want to discourage anyone from writing a novel. 🙂 I don’t think it takes most people 11 years. 🙂
@Abby–that’s a good way to do it, too, especially if you know something about it already and just need to fill in some details.
@Jill–thanks and good luck. I hope you finish your novel some day.
@Sue–Great! Yes, we all must keep on–the New Year often brings us great hope and promise. You can do it!
As always, I enjoy reading Margo’s advice to writers and about her own journey to publication. Thanks for sharing!
It’s always fascinating to me to read about an author’s journey to publication. And historical fiction is my favorite genre, so this was especially interesting. Cathy, thanks for the great questions! Margo, I’m really looking forward to this book. As a homeschooling mom, I love books that pull out on event in history and teach us something we didn’t know before – but likely won’t soon forget. I have a feeling we’ll never know all the amazing stories hidden within the Civil War.
Great interview, Margo and Cathy! Wow, 11 years for this book’s journey. Congratulations it’s finally out!
Reading Margo’s journey about her book gives me hope! YAY for her. And the book is great… just loved it. Nice interview Cathy!
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