This month, we talk to author Anne Nesbet about her new novel, The Orphan Band of Springdale.
Want to catch up? Check out last month’s Ink Splat here.
Anne drew inspiration for her newest novel from stories in her family’s history. For this writing challenge, go talk to an older family member and ask about a story from their childhood. Use that story as inspiration to kick off your own, brand-new story. Maybe your uncle was a star baseball player when he was a teenager. Ask him to spill the details and focus on the small moments that stand out. His real-life stories might spark an idea for a story about a winning season, a losing season, or an entirely unexpected event.
Submit your responses by emailing email@example.com and you might be published on our website.
An Interview with Anne Nesbet
When and how did you know you wanted to be an author?
I was always a voracious reader—one of those kids who would hang out of the bunk bed to hold my book up to the nightlight so I could read a few more pages of Lord of the Rings. But of course sometimes in life, the nightlight is too far away, and I remember the sense of joyful discovery when I figured out I could make up stories for myself in the dark: almost as good as reading a book! In fact, when I write, I do still feel a bit as if I am READING a new story—but reading it very, very slowly. By the time I was seven, I was sure I would be an author and not any old ordinary author, but an author of Oz books. These ambitions evolved: in sixth grade, I made my first attempt to write a novel, Liz in Artland (titles were not my forte), in which a girl faced perils in a world filled with squabbling painted characters taken from paintings by Klee, Chagall, and especially the Surrealists. That was the first time I made up a story with a beginning, middle, AND an end, though I didn’t get as far as the end, due to an argument with a classmate that ended with her wearing my story in her rain boot.
What was your inspiration for your newest novel, The Orphan Band of Springdale?
My mother’s family came from a small, rural town in Maine, inland from Portland, and we used to go there in summers and camp on the old farm. Every time we went by one particular old house, rather ramshackle now, she would say, “That’s the orphan home where they sent me as a kid when times were especially bad—my grandmother ran it.” That was really the seed of the story! She had been a snaggle-toothed, nearsighted, French-horn-playing child, one who went to eleven different schools as a kid because her family could never pay the rent. It was only much later that I began wondering where she had found the resilience that allowed her to make a meaningful life for herself (and become a beloved and effective schoolteacher), despite a pretty rocky start in the world. But by the time I was hungry for more information about her childhood, she was already gone; she died much too young. That’s why I decided to write The Orphan Band as a novel! It’s inspired by my mother’s stories, and based on research I did in the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society, but Gusta’s story is her own. (Out of respect for the distance between history and fiction, I even changed one letter in the town’s name: from “Springvale” to “Springdale”!)
You’ve written a mix of fantasy and historical fiction. What did your writing process look like for The Orphan Band of Springdale? How was it different from writing fantasy novels?
The process for The Orphan Band of Springdale was unlike any of my previous books. First of all, I started looking into my mother’s old stories—I looked up my great-grandmother in census records, found the old “children’s home” that she ran, with all the little children listed as “boarders.” Then I went back to Sanford-Springvale and read through the entire run of the Sanford Tribune in 1941. THEN I figured out a plot inspired by all the details I had found in the newspaper (including ads for competing dairies). Then I drafted and redrafted and drafted yet again—but revision is part of writing any book.
What do you hope young readers take away from The Orphan Band of Springdale?
Every time we read a book, we see the world for a time through someone else’s eyes. In this case, this is a world that may seem unfamiliar in certain respects to kids today (rural Maine in 1941, as the United States inches toward participation in World War 2), but of course Gusta’s hopes and worries, as she adjusts to life in a new place and among people she doesn’t know, are in some respects familiar. I hope Gusta and her readers become friends, and I hope the book leaves its readers curious about history (what did it mean to be an “American” in 1941? what were the effects of the Alien Registration Act of 1940?) and thoughtful about some of life’s quandaries (how can we figure out how to “do the right thing” in situations where people we care about may be hurt? how can we learn to communicate with people whose point of view is different from ours?). And, above all, I hope the readers of The Orphan Band enjoy the time they spend living in this story!
If you could tell your younger writing-self something, what would it be?
Dear Younger Writing Me:
Hey there! I know sometimes writing seems very hard. Take heart, though! Eventually you will notice a pattern: at some point in the writing of ANYTHING, you will experience hopelessness and despair. This book or story will seem uniquely impossible. The trick, dear Self, is to notice that pattern and to call its bluff: “Oh, right! This is the Despair-that-is-a-necessary-part-of-the-process!”—and then you can check that “despair” off your to-do list. Try this. It does help. Also, go on walks and look at trees. Life is hard, and life is amazing. I’m rooting for you!
Older Writing Me
Society of Young Inklings News
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- Parents, back by popular demand, we’re hosting a series of FREE online masterclasses titled, My Kid is Better at Writing Than Me: How Can I Foster Their Emerging Talent? This is one of our most frequently asked questions when we start to talk to parents of youth writers. Join us August 16th, 22nd, or September 5th. Sign up now!
Anne Nesbet writes books for kids and watches a lot of silent films. She lives near San Francisco with her husband, several daughters, and one irrepressible dog. She is the author of The Cabinet of Earths, A Box of Gargoyles, The Wrinkled Crown, Cloud and Wallfish, and most recently, The Orphan Band of Springdale.