MMGM: Katerina's Wish--and an interview with author Jeannie Mobley!
A few weeks ago I discovered a gem of a book: Katerina's Wish, by Jeannie Mobley. I've mentioned before that I love stories of immigrants--many of my own ancestors came to America in the past few generations, and reading fictional stories of immigrants helps me to understand what their own experiences may have been. So Katerina's Wish,with its Slavic main character whose father works in a Colorado coal mine (Katerina is from Bohemia, while my relatives from the neighboring Poland and Ukraine found work in Pennsylvania coal mines), was especially meaningful. As a reader, I was so drawn into the tension Katerina felt, longing for her old home while trying to make a place for herself in a new one.
As a writer, I was incredibly impressed with the author's ability to take what could be viewed as a "quiet story" and fill it with so much tension that you didn't want to put it down. I absolutely loved the characters, worried about them, feared for them, rejoiced with them...yeah, wanted to hug them. And I was enchanted by the use of traditional folktales and legends, the way they were incorporated into the story both to move plot along and to deepen the understanding of the characters' rich traditions.
I'll close now, because not only was the book a gem, its author is equally sparkling. I am so happy to have her here today to share a little bit about herself and her book with all of us! Everyone: the delightful Jeannie Mobley!
What are some qualities that you share with your main character, Katerina? In what ways are you most different?
Funny you should ask. For a long time, I felt Katerina was really boring, and that her actions were totally predictable. I couldn't figure out why others found her compelling. Finally, my agent told me: you can't see what's special about her because she's just like you. Once I thought about it in those terms, I began to see she was right. In Orson Scott Card's wonderful writing book Character and Viewpoint, he says exactly this--a character must be enough like the reader that he/she can relate, but different enough that the character feels special. Trina didn't feel special to me because she was too much like me, always facing a lousy situation and turning it into good. When I realized that, I also saw myself a little differently. I have always been lucky, in that I tend to "fall in and coming out smelling like a rose," as my dad put it. It hadn't occurred to me that maybe it hasn't been dumb luck all my life, maybe I have made my own luck, as Trina does. Unlike Trina, however, I have never wanted to raise my own chickens.
I'm with you there! :) And I love your perspective....I often think of myself as boring, too.
The catalyst in the story is a fateful wish that Katerina makes. When you were thirteen, what was your most ardent wish? Did you believe in wishes, or were skeptical like Katerina?
Sadly, I squandered my middle-grade years of wishing on wanting to be thin, pretty, popular, and in the arms of the ever-charming Mike Lee, who was in most of my classes. As none of those things came my way, I didn't really believe in wishes. Had I been less passive in my wishes and more willing to reach for my dreams, it might have been otherwise. It wasn't until I was well into my 20s that I realized beauty is as much about attitude and presentation as it about physical appearance.
What was the strangest topic or question you ever had to research?
I recently found myself looking up information about toilets on trains in the 1800s. Specifically, I had learned that early trains simply had a hole in the floor under the toilet seat, and when someone went, it just came out on the tracks underneath. For that reason, a person was not allowed to use the bathroom while the train was stopped in a station. However, I also found some disturbingly fascinating information about the potential effects of different wind sheer patterns. Enough said, right?
I am oddly curious as to where you found that info... :) You're obviously a hard-core researcher!
What was the most interesting fact you discovered in research that you weren't able to use in the story?
One that I used in the story initially and later had to change, was the remarriage of the Martina after her husband died in an accident. The event was based on an oral history of a woman who remarried on the same day as the funeral, because the priest was in town. If she had waited until the priest returned on his usual schedule, she would have been evicted and had no where to go. I included this in my story, but my editor asked me to change it, leaving a few weeks between the funeral and the marriage. She felt it was too implausible to have the funeral and marriage on the same day. Sometimes, truth is too strange to include in fiction.
What do you love most, and hate most, about being a writer?
I love the first draft. I love sinking into a story and letting it sweep me away. Nothing is more deeply satisfying than that feeling of writing when the story is flowing, and I am the instrument that channels it into words. What I hate most is having to act like a grown up when my critique partners read that glorious first draft and tell me its not so glorious after all. And of course, there is the wallow of despair that comes with rejection. So far, I haven't experienced any viciously ugly reviews, but I'm kinda thinking those aren't going to be a barrel of monkeys either.
What's your best method for handling difficult writing moments or rejection? And what's your favorite way to celebrate?
Did I mention the wallow of despair? No one can out-wallow me. If wallowing was an Olympic sport, I would break Michael Phelps' record in no time. However, when I do decide to finally behave like an adult, I find it useful to seek community and offer supportive to other writers. And getting busy on other manuscripts and blog posts really helps, too.
I'm not great at celebrating--I think modesty (and possibly self loathing) was too drummed into me as a kid, so I always feel embarrassed and conspicuous about celebrating my successes. However, I did a very extravagant, private, happy dance when my first review arrived and it was a starred review from Kirkus. There was impressive fist pumping and arm waving involved, while no one was looking.
Can you give us any hints about any new projects you're working on?
I am currently working on a story set in World War I, about a young, romantically minded girl and an old bitter women's suffragist who get into a debate about a local legend. The legend is the story of Silverheels, a dance hall girl who nursed sick men during the Colorado gold rush, and as my characters debate her role as a woman, they also must decide what their own is going to be in a time of war and prejudice. The working title is Searching for Silverheels. I also have a 1930s hard-boiled detective story that is lighter, and that I'm hoping might be part of a series. And then there is the train book, with the toilet scene. Again, enough said.
I really can't wait to read those and any future work from you, Jeannie! Thank you so much for joining us today and especially for writing such a lovely, moving, and powerful story!