Interview with Jacqueline Kelly

This month we’re pleased to welcome Jacqueline Kelly, winner of a 2010 Newbery Honor award for her debut novel, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.

1. Welcome to Damsels in Regress, Jacqueline. How did Calpurnia’s story come about?

Calpurnia’s story was inspired by the huge old Victorian farmhouse that I own in Fentress (Texas). The house is old, and lovely, and falling down, and inadequately cooled by ancient window units. I was lying on the day-bed in the parlor one hot summer day thinking, how did people stand it in this house a hundred years ago? Especially the women, who had to wear all those layers of clothes? And just like that, Calpurnia and her whole family sprang to life to answer that question for me. The first page of the book was basically me taking down dictation from them, especially Callie, in answer to my question.

I love it when that happens with characters.  Did Callie continue to dictate the direction of the novel for you?

Callie continued to dictate the direction of the book most of the time, but I found that Granddaddy took over every now and then, seemingly without my input.

2. Though set in 1899, your novel also looks at the Civil War through the eyes of Calpurnia’s grandfather.  What kind of research did you do?  Were there any difficulties?

I did a little research into the dates and locations of the Civil War, but I already knew about some of the dreadful medical aspects of care then. The best surgeons were those who could get a limb off the fastest, giving their patients the best chance of surviving the operation.

How did you research the rest of the book?

I used the Texas Handbook Online for research. It contains a small snippet about the town of Fentress.

3. Callie has such a strong, witty voice, especially when she’s dealing with her brothers.  Did you come from a large family?  If not, how did you come up with some of those situations?

I am an only child. I loved this growing up, but now that I’m an adult, I dearly wish I had siblings, especially a sister. I’m not sure where I came up with some of these situations.  I guess they come from watching other families over the years and the way the children interact.

4. Callie’s grandfather is such an interesting and fun character.  How did you decide on his traits?

Granddaddy is a combination of four people:  my father, my mother, and two older male friends of mine. I picked the best characteristics (or at least the most interesting) of all four of them and melded them together. My family is from New Zealand, but we left there when I was quite young and moved to Canada, so I basically grew up without a grandfather. This left me free to create the kind of grandfather that I would have wanted as a child.

5. Are you working on anything new? If so, can you tell us a little about it?

I am working on The Willow Redux, which is an updated sequel to The Wind in the Willows. I am disappointed to find that American children are not reading the original so much any more, although it’s still wildly popular in Britain with both kids and adults.

6. You are both a doctor and a lawyer.  Do you still work in those professions or is your time devoted to writing?

I don’t practice law any more. I continue to practice medicine part-time in Austin, and spend the rest of my time writing.

7. What were some of your favorite books as a teenager?

When I was growing up, there really wasn’t a body of teen literature per se, so my favorite books as a young reader included The Wind in the Willows (of course), the Dr. Doolittle stories, National Velvet, the Kipling books, Treasure Island, and all sorts of animal books.

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us.

For more information on Jacqueline and her work, check out her website at www.jacquelinekelly.com. Don’t forget to drop by on Friday for a chance to win an autographed copy of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.

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