Monday, August 27, 2012

APOCALYPSE NOW: Interview with Jeannie Mobley, author of KATERINA'S WISH

*   "Thirteen-year-old Katerina and her little sisters want to believe in their dreams, but life in a Colorado coal camp threatens to turn them into pipe dreams. Take one maybe-magical carp and three sisters who believe in wishes, stir them together with an evil shopkeeper and add a dash of romance, and you have one dandy first novel. "

 *   "The importance of ingenuity, faith, confidence, and the willingness to dream shine through in a rich story threaded with traditional folk tales, which offers realistic dilemmas and a vibrant setting and cast."
                                                                Publishers Weekly

Thanks for chatting with us today, Jeannie, and congratulations 
on your beautiful *starred* debut!

Thanks for having me!

A central theme of this story is wishing, and working hard to make those wishes come true. Can you tell us about all the wishing and working that got you to this point?

ALL the wishing and working? How much time do you have?

Actually, my journey with writing fiction follows a strange path. I wrote a lot as a kid and teen, but I fell in love with archaeology in grade school, so most of my wishing went toward that career rather than a career as a writer. When I was in my early 30s, I uprooted my entire family and moved to Arizona to enter a top-ranked PhD program in Southwest archaeology. Shortly after I started that program, I read some articles about traditional weavers for one of my courses, and they reminded me of a story I had started in high school and never finished. I was suddenly filled with an overwhelming desire to write fiction. It was terrifying--here I had risked everything to be in this difficult archaeology program and I wanted to write fiction?

That was fifteen years ago, and the desire to write fiction hasn't ever gone away. It was about six or seven years ago that I decided to take it seriously and start working toward publication, partly because it took me that long to improve my craft enough to move forward, and partly because it took me that long to accept that this was going to be a permanent part of my life. By then, I had written three or four "drawer manuscripts" before finally writing one I thought was worthy of publication. So that's when the wishing really started in earnest. For me, getting an agent wasn't too difficult. Getting that first sale was. I think I was down to my last wish before it happened.

Did I hear that a dream was your inspiration for this story?

Yes, but that's where the similarity to Twilight ends.


My dream really doesn't appear in this story. I dreamed I was in a beautiful green valley, and it used to belong to my family, but it had been taken away from us. I was standing on a bridge, looking down into a stream, and a fish rose to the surface and told me to make a wish. And I wished to get our land back. There was more to the dream, but that is the part that sticks with me.

When I woke up, the first thought that went through my mind was, that would make a great novel. I thought about it for several days, mulling over who the characters would be and coming up with a setting (all of which is different from the dream) and then I sat down and started writing. The first draft took me about four weeks.

KATERINA'S WISH is historical fiction. What is your process? Research, then write? Write, then research? A little of both?

A little of both. I have a general background in history that allows me to start writing and get much of the history/historical feel correct without doing a lot of research. When I am in the early stages of formulating a story, I do unconventional research, focused more on getting my head into the era rather than finding accurate details. I read other novels set in the time period, watch period movies, and listen to period music to help me get into the mood of the era, including the speech patterns, slang, and setting. I look up popular names of the era, and spend time browsing through historical photos to transport my own mind frame back.

My next step is to read up on the big details of my story. For KATERINA'S WISH, that included historical books and oral histories on life in the coal mine communities, reading books and travel guides about the Czech Republic to know what a homesick immigrant might miss, and studying photos of company towns to know how they were laid out. This is big picture stuff, and while I do it before I write, I continue it throughout the process.

When I start writing, I often focus first on the flow of the story, so if I am missing a historical detail, I will make a note in the manuscript to look it up later, and I keep writing. If it is a really important detail, I will stop and look it up, but once I start doing research on the internet, I have been known to get lost in it for hours, so I try not to let myself disappear down that path. So after the fact, I have to go back and fill in quite a bit. Sometimes, I find places where I was historically inaccurate and I have to re-write part of the story to correct it, but it usually works out.

Your first career is as an anthropologist. How did your love of history and artifact affect this story?

I'm never quite sure what is cause and effect here. I think the same thing draws me to writing fiction and being an anthropologist: a curiosity about, and love for, the human condition. In both careers I love exploring what we hold in common as humans, and what pulls us apart. I think that is reflected in KATERINA'S WISH, as my characters discover that the people they have stayed away from and distrusted because of ethnic differences, are really just like them. And I hope, too, that my readers will see that my characters of one hundred years ago, aren't that different from people of today in their dreams, ambitions, insecurities, and needs. As an anthropologist, I love the color and diversity of different cultures and places, but central to my work is a constant amazement of what binds us all together as human. In my writing, I try to achieve both a strong sense of setting and character for these same reasons.

We had a lot of fun picking plums in honor of your main character Trina's plum dumplings. The next time I visit, will you also have a chicken hutch in your backyard?

That probably depends on the time of year. Every spring, when I am tired of grading papers, sitting through meetings, and dealing with student disciplinary issues, I have an urge to till up the entire back yard for a vegetable garden, get some livestock, put in a windmill and some solar panels, and go off grid. By late August, when it is hot, and I'm sick of weeding the little corner veggie garden I have, I start looking forward to the freeze so I can be done with it all. As I write this in early August, I am poised between my two annual extremes. I have cucumbers soaking in brine on the way to becoming pickles, and a box of Colorado peaches in the garage, many of which will become jam. I also put up some jars of super-tart plum butter from our mutual harvest, and I'm already plotting to figure out how to get myself invited over to pick your plums again next year.

But if chickens are in my future, you'll be the first to know!

Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Jeannie. I know readers will wholeheartedly love your debut!

Thanks, Melanie, and congratulations to you and all the Lucky 13s as well on your upcoming releases!

You can purchase a copy of KATERINA'S WISH here, and learn more about Jeannie here:

Jeannie Mobley is a Colorado native, whose interest in the stories behind colorful local history was forged through many summers hiking, camping, and exploring the state while growing up. She holds degrees in history and anthropology, and currently teaches anthropology in northern Colorado. Katerina's Wish is her first novel.
This interview was conducted by Lucky 13s author Melanie Crowder, whose middle grade novel, PARCHED will be released from Harcourt Children's books in June, 2013.


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  2. This sounds wonderful! The setting and characters are very intriguing. Thanks for the interview! (I'm off to go find the book now! :)

  3. Wonderful interview, guys! I really enjoyed hearing about Jeannie's research process. Very impressive! I've been lucky enough to read this book already, and it's wonderful. :)

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