I’m grateful to recent Friend Friday guest, Margo Sorenson, for introducing me to Bonnie Graves, fellow historical fiction lover. As Bonnie shares below, historical fiction gives us great tools for looking at tough issues through the lens of the past. I am eager to read Catch Me When I Fall (Fitzroy Books), her latest book. Read on for Bonnie’s writing insights!
Hello! I’m delighted to be here, thanks to my favorite partner-in-crime, Margo Sorenson, who introduced me to Kirby’s fabulous Friend Friday blog, and to Kirby for giving me this platform to talk a little about my middle grade historical novel, Catch Me When I Fall (Fitzroy Books). Thank you!
Acclaimed author Virginia Hamilton once wrote, “Writing is what you know, remember, and imagine.” Well put, indeed. Each of these elements plays a role in all my fiction but, perhaps, most vividly in Catch Me When I Fall, the story of a young girl, Emma Monroe, and her search for the father she never knew.
Much about Emma I drew from my own childhood—what I knew and remembered. When I was nine, my father drove our family—my mom and two siblings—out to California to his brother’s family where he left us–and returned to Wisconsin–to be with his lover. He was never spoken of again, by anyone. It was as if he’d never existed. My sibs and I instinctively knew that speaking his name was taboo, forbidden and even, to a kid, dangerous. So, I suppose, writing the story was an exploration of this childhood trauma, one that had remained forever in the shadows. Emma’s story, in a way, would help bring it into the light.
Again, “Writing is what you know, remember, and imagine.” I knew and remembered what it felt like to be fatherless and could imagine how a gutsy (even though I was anything but gutsy) twelve-years-old girl might go about searching for her father. However, since the story is set during the Great Depression and most of the action takes place in a traveling circus, I couldn’t rely on just my own experience and knowledge of the world, or even my own imagination but had to do reams of research—on life in the 1930s and the ins and outs of the traveling circus. I had to discover things I didn’t know but needed to, in order to make the story come to life, to be as accurate a portrayal of the times and of the circus as I could. Of course, that meant hours and hours in the library and researching the internet for articles and images of the 1930s and the circus during that period.
“Known, remembered, imagined.” Once I’d immersed myself in the 1930s and circus life through extensive research, I could begin imagining what it was like to be a young girl living during that time, to experience the thrill of the circus, the sights—the breathtaking aerialists, the parade, the midway; the sounds—calliope, trumpeting elephants, roaring tigers; the smells– animals, hay, sawdust–all through the wonderful world of imagination which had been fueled by the research I had done.
Over the years, Emma’s story went through countless revisions of that journey into the “known, remembered and imagined” that were stored in binders in file boxes. But researching and writing a book and placing it with a publisher is, for most writers, not the end of the book’s journey, but a beginning–like a birth. Now that my young hero Emma in Catch Me When I Fall has launched out into the world, my hope is that she will find her way into the hands and hearts of readers, that her story will resonate in some way, perhaps bring comfort, laughter, a bit of wonder or hope or courage—“if Emma can do this, maybe I can too.”
Author of dozens of children’s books, both fiction and non-fiction, and professional books on teaching reading, Bonnie spent her growing-up years in Wisconsin and Southern California. There she romped through childhood with her boy cousins and their pals and in her preteen years wrote and produced plays for family and neighbors. A former elementary school teacher, Bonnie’s work has been honored with Work-in-Progress grants from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Minnesota Arts Board, first place in literary contests sponsored by the Loft Literary Center and also the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and her chapter book, Taking Care of Trouble, received a South Carolina Children’s Choice Award. Catch Me When I Fall is her first work of historical fiction. She currently lives in Bloomington, MN with her husband Michael, a retired professor from the University of Minnesota. They have two amazing daughters, and four adorable grandchildren.