Interview: Kirby Larson

Please help us welcome Kirby Larson, award winning author of Hattie Big Sky, as we discuss her new book, The Fences Between Us.

Welcome to Damsels in Regress, Kirby.  It’s fun to talk to you, rather than about you as we so often do here. 😀

1. So, how did Piper’s story come about?

A combination of factors came together — as often happens in writing! I was researching another book and came across the story of Pastor Emery Andrews, who relocated his family from Seattle to Twin Falls, Idaho during WWII in order to continue to minister to his congregants — most of whom had been sent to Minidoka War Relocation Camp. I thought this was such a compelling story but it didn’t fit the book I was working on at the time. Then Scholastic approached me about writing a WWII book for their relaunch of the Dear America series . . . and the rest was history! (no pun intended).

2. Piper is both a sweetheart and a typical teenager.  Was it fun developing her character?

Piper is probably not all that different from a typical teenager today. Or from the teenager I was. Though I love creating characters, what was most fun about her was tracking down all those details that would make her a believable teen from the 1940s.

3. You’ve included a lot of period details in this book—everything from teenage girls wearing dungarees to Tangee lipstick and Sky Bar candy bars.  What kind of research did you do?

More than you can imagine!!! I love scouring through newspapers, not only for news but for ads which give you brand names and even prices (that’s where the Tangee lipstick came from). The Sky Bar came from my mom who remembered them being her favorite candy bar when she was a kid — it was a great bargain because it was 4 different candy bars in one.

In addition to getting my fingers grimy with newsprint, I spent a lot of time in the special collections at the Seattle Public Library and the University of Washington. And, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, there is so much more information available on the internet now than even 5 or 6 years ago when I was working on Hattie Big Sky. For example, the Library of Congress has great photo archives that are accessible from the comforts of home. I spent hours pouring over those photos — there’s something about black and white that so powerfully captures emotions.

Another terrific resource I found was the Densho Project (www.densho.org). This is a nonprofit group committed to recording the stories of the Japanese and Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in the War Relocation Camps, before it is too late. I spent many teary hours listening to these stories.

I also listened to snippets of old radio shows, read books popular during the time period, studied maps, read government publications — I do everything I can to construct a solid foundation from which to build a book.

4. I can understand how fear and long-standing prejudice caused people to demonize Japanese Americans during WWII.  What I don’t understand is how President Roosevelt could have issued the Executive Order that resulted in American citizens being incarcerated.  Did your research uncover anything about why he did it?  Was it pressure from the military or Congress?

I’m no presidential history expert and I focused more on the ordinary folks affected by the Executive Orders President Roosevelt signed. But, as bold as he was about some things — like the New Deal — Roosevelt didn’t exhibit the same boldness when it came to standing up for American citizens. I would imagine the pressure to do what he did was tremendous. You could probably count on one hand the number of influential people and papers speaking out against such exclusionary tactics. But you’ve given me something to learn more about!

5. I enjoyed your video on Scholastic’s Dear America website.  Could you talk a little bit about “making a difference?”

I think one thing books help us do is figure out what it means to be a decent human being. In my experience, that means to contribute in some way to your community, to the world. That’s why I served for two terms on my local school board and why my husband and I started a nonprofit foundation to help build a theater in our community; it’s also why I support literacy efforts like Page Ahead (www.pageahead.org), Jane Kurtz’ Ethopia Reads (www.ethiopiareads.org) and fellow writer, Michele Torrey’s, Orphans Africa (www.orphansafrica.org). The glasses I wear are rosy enough that I believe one person can make a difference in this crazy, hurting world. “A kind word can warm three winter months.” ~ a Japanese proverb

6. What are you working on now?

Oh, take a wild guess! You’re right — another historical novel. Only this is more of a historical chapter book. I started my career writing for the younger reader and it’s been great fun revisiting that voice. Next on the docket (it gives me the willies to even say it) is a sequel, or perhaps companion, to Hattie Big Sky. Wish me luck!

7. Good luck!  What were some of your favorite books when you were a teenager?

I was a maniacally voracious reader with an itty-bitty social life. I read so many books, it would be hard to recall one specific title. But I loved (and still love) J.D. Salinger’s short stories, most specifically “For Esme, with Love and Squalor.” I re-read that every year at least, and sometimes more often when I just need to be reassured that even when life clocks us a good one, there is still something worthwhile to move toward.

Thanks so much for chatting with us today.

Thank you for inviting me. I love your blog!

Thanks!

For more information on Kirby, visit her website at www.kirbylarson.com. And don’t forget to stop by on Friday for a chance to win an ARC of The Fences Between Us.

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4 Responses to Interview: Kirby Larson

  1. Jennifer says:

    Great interview! I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of the book to read!!!

  2. Susan Haas says:

    Great research on period details and a wonderful story, Kirby!

  3. Emilie says:

    A companion…to Hattie Big Sky…

    Oh, be still my heart!!!

    YEA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. […] Kirby Larson has a new historical novel hitting bookstores in May called The Friendship Doll.  It’s set during the Great Depression and tells the story of a Japanese doll and its effects on four young girls.  In Kirby’s own words, don’t expect her to be cute and cuddly just because she’s a doll! […]

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