We’re happy to welcome Randall Platt to Damsels in Regress today! I was lucky enough to meet Randall in October at an event my local SCBWI hosts for local authors with new books. After we chatted, she (yes, she–Randall’s female) told me I had just bought the third or fourth copy of Hellie Jondoe–it wasn’t even officially released until the following week! I was tickled, both at getting an inside scoop and at finding another writer as passionate about historical fiction as me and my fellow Damsels. I knew she’d be a great fit for our little corner of the web.
1. Welcome to Damsels in Regress, Randall. According to your web site, this is the second YA novel you’ve set in 1918. What draws you to this time period? What specifically drew you to make it the setting for Hellie Jondoe?
The first novel of that time period was THE LIKES OF ME and it also was set during World War One. I have always been attracted to times of war and how that affects the people at home. THE CORNERSTONE and HONOR BRIGHT take place during World War Two, now that I think about it. Hmmm, so does the book I just started. I guess it’s because I feel there are so many great stories of a war within a war and a peace at a time of peace.
2. What sort of research was involved in writing this book?
YIKES! A lot more than I thought I would have to do since I was, in effect, revisiting that era. I knew the culture and the times. And the war. But for HELLIE JONDOE, I first had to learn about street kids, slums and pickpockets (No, I did NOT go to the mall to do ‘hands on’ research!) My Hellie begins her adventure in the slums of New York City. Then, when I was researching train travel so I could get her out of the city and cross country to Eastern Oregon, I stumbled across a little known experiment in our social history – orphan trains. Fascinating stuff and a perfect device to get this kid out of town fast! Since I have already set other novels in Eastern Oregon (the “Fe-As-Kos” – which are humorous novels of the historical west) and have researched ranching, I didn’t have to work those topics too much. But then came the Spanish Influenza of 1918. Not only was that essential research, it was frightening research.
3. You published Hellie Jondoe through a university press, though your other YA novels were published through trade publishers like Random House. How did you wind up with the university press this time and what was different about the two experiences?
I have been published by large, medium and small trade houses, as well as foreign and audio presses. It was through the suggestion of a friend and terrific writer, Jane Kirkpatrick, that I sent the manuscript to Texas Tech University Press. Working with a university press has been a great experience. A manuscript gets the attention of a professional team and that treatment just bowled me away. In working with a huge house, like Random, I always got the idea no one there even knew each other, let alone worked together as a team.
4. Your use of 1910’s slang words in this book is wonderful, and you mentioned both in person and on your site that you are a collector of historical slang. How do you find these words, what do you do with them, and what about them do you find interesting?
I am a true slangaholic! I mention the fact that I wrote a series of westerns. My characters have very unique and individual ways of speaking. In order to keep those idiosyncrasies consistent from book to book, I began a database of their slang – specifically cowboy and western slang. Then, as I researched and wrote another book in another era, I databased the slang and added it to what I now have trademarked as SLANGMASTER. I do have a website and am planning a series of specialized slang books for a variety of markets. I find the words in a variety of sources – old dictionaries and old fiction are some of the best and most accurate sources. I am a stickler for the right slang in the right era and under the right circumstances. SLANGMASTER currently has over 35,000 terms/expressions – each dated, sourced, and coded into over 100 different categories. I think I need to get a life.
5. Do you approach your adult novels any differently from your YA novels? Which do you enjoy more?
There is a reason why my tag line has always been ‘Randall Platt writes fiction for adults and young adults and those who don’t own up to being either.” I came up with that because teens tell me how much they enjoy my ‘adult’ novels and visa versa. So, my job is to write the best story I can and let the editors and, of course, readers decide the appropriate age slot. I just this morning got an email from a man who drives trucks for a living and who has not read a novel in years. His wife had bought a copy of HELLIE JONDOE and he opened it. He got hooked and read it in short order and loved it! Hearing that just makes my day!
6. What do you want readers to take away from Hellie, especially in terms of the time period?
No matter how bad the circumstances are, there is always a way out and always a way up. Friends and enemies are not always who they seem at first and when you finally find someone who will stand with you, stand with them.
7. Just for fun: where did you ever come up with the name Scholastica Gorence?:)
So glad you asked! Scholastica was the first name of a highly respected and highly valued teacher at my high school. Although I never had her in any of my classes, I was so in awe of her and her spirit and intelligence, I knew I had to honor her with that name. Gorence? I usually turn to the obituaries for names – my silly way of hoping that the memory of someone lives on. Yes, I read obituaries and try to get a glimpse of someone’s life. I have even cut out photos and use the faces for character inspiration. Corny, huh?
Thanks so much for these great and funny answers. More info, humor, and advice can be found at Randall’s web site, www.plattbooks.com. And stop by Friday for a chance to win that super-early edition of Hellie Jondoe.