March 2017 Part 2: A Little Piece of the Past
The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Shawn K. Stout and her historical fiction book A Piece of Sky. She provided a great challenge about perception for us. Submit a response to the challenge to firstname.lastname@example.org and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?
The Challenge: Seeing is Believing
In A Tiny Piece of Sky, Frankie Baum is the youngest of three girls and often feels as though people don’t see her for who she really is, beyond her age and family ranking. Seeing people for who they really are, and not for who the world tells you they are, is a prominent theme of the book.
Write about how you think people see you, why they see you in that particular way, and whether they’ve got it right or not.
Submit your responses by emailing email@example.com and you might be published on our website!
“A Tiny Piece of Sky” and Shawn K. Stout
Shawn K. Stout is the author of several books for children, including the critically-acclaimed PENELOPE CRUMB middle grade series. Her new novel, A TINY PIECE OF SKY, a summer story of three sisters, one restaurant, and a (possible) German spy, is in bookstores everywhere.
An Interview with author Shawn K. Stout
1. A Tiny Piece of Sky is based on true events. How did you come to find out about the true story?
I grew up hearing stories about my grandfather, who died when my mother was a young girl–how he had German parents, how my mother was taunted by classmates because of her German last name, how my grandparents owned a restaurant in Hagerstown, Maryland in the 1930s and 1940s, how my grandfather was accused of espionage, and how there was a subsequent boycott of his restaurant. These were stories that were fed to me at the dinner table, but I only really thought of them as stories. Then, in the late 1990s, my grandmother died, and as we were cleaning out her apartment, we found letters from 1939 addressed to my grandfather. These letters were from various local civic organizations, and they voiced support for my grandfather in light of the German spy accusations and boycott. I knew as soon as I read those letters that one day I would try to write his story.
2. What sort of challenges come with writing historical fiction like A Tiny Piece of Sky?
Oh, lots. I’d never before written historical fiction, so there was a steep learning curve as I tried to figure out how much research I needed to do and how many details I should include in the story. Then, once I worked that out, I struggled with how much of my family’s life I should fictionalize. Many of the characters in the story, and events, are inspired by my actual family members, but they are not necessarily true to life. Ultimately, I wanted to get a flavor and real sense of the time period and the personalities of my characters, and how they are shaped by the events of 1939, and once I felt comfortable in that time period, I was able to let the fiction take over.
3. Tell us a little bit about how you came to be a professional writer.
I’ve always wanted to write, but that was something so personal to me, so full of hope, that it took many years to admit it to myself. Somehow I ended up in writing and editing jobs for various companies, mostly about health care. Although that sort of technical writing was interesting to me, it wasn’t the kind of writing that would leave me with a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. I wanted to write fiction–that’s what had been tapping me on the shoulder for years trying to get my attention. So, I took a writing class at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, and the first day of class we were assigned a writing prompt. What came out, to my surprise, was the voice of a young girl, and I knew soon after that I wanted to write books for young readers. I took more classes, wrote and read as much as I could, and then I heard about the Masters program in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I applied, and by some miracle was accepted, and my life changed. I got a contract from Simon & Schuster to publish my first book in 2009, and I’ve written seven other books since then.
4. Is there anything else you would like to share or would like us to know about A Tiny Piece of Sky?
Because the movie “The Wizard of Oz” came out in 1939, the same year that my story takes place, and because I’d named my main character, Frankie Baum, after L. Frank Baum, the man who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book and the movie would play an important part in my story.As the youngest of three girls, Frankie wants to stop being cast aside as someone who is not quite old enough to really matter. She doesn’t feel as though she has a real place in the family—her oldest sister Elizabeth is as perfect as a “princess,” which just so happens to be her nickname, and Joan, in the middle, a natural performer, has the best singing voice in town. Perhaps Frankie could get others to see her, she thinks, really see her, if she could clear her father’s name and save his reputation. Like Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” Frankie lives in a bleak, colorless place and wants so much for her world (and her place in it) to change. The more I wrote about Frankie, the more similarities I began to see in Dorothy’s journey to Oz and finding her way back home.
A special thanks to Shawn K. Stout!
You can purchase A Piece of Sky at most bookstores or online on Amazon HERE.
Shawn K. Stout is the author of several books for children.
Find out more about her on her website at www.shawnkstout.com.
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