Today we’re visiting with award-winning author Carmine De Young, a contributor to Many Genres, One Craft with the article, “Linking Past to Present.” Hello, Carmine. Welcome to Damsels in Regress.
Hello, Tricia. Thank you for inviting me to Damsels in Regress. Your website is of interest to both readers and writers, and how wonderful it is to see a focus on historical works.
1. Historical research is a recurring topic here at the Damsels. In your MGOC article, you state the following about historical fiction: “The author must learn every aspect of daily life in the given time period — language, clothing, toys, food, dwellings, transportation, politics, religion, education, and laws regulating the affairs of the day and place.” In light of this, how can one know for sure whether she’s researched enough?
It’s all about chocolate covered ants! Research is a search for the truth, and I feel compelled to bring that truth to readers of all ages. I was the worst history student until World History teacher, Mrs. Frances Meredith, showed me the world beyond the textbook. Her sense of wonder became mine. Every moment in her classroom was an in-depth look into the times and cultures of others. She did more than scratch the surface of people, dates and places. Mrs. Meredith taught us to re-search, to look again and again and again for what is the truth. She wore a sari to school when India was the topic. I recall a sampling of chocolate covered ants as a cultural delicacy another time. That was my “ah-ha” moment. That moment of inspiration, and the passion by which Mrs. Meredith brought the times and lives of others to the classroom stays with me each time I sit to write historical fiction.
How will we know when our research is enough? It is when the writer samples the chocolate covered ants. It is when the writer can taste, smell, feel, and see in her mind’s eye that she is there. That she is living, breathing, and moving among the people and times about whom she writes. If the writer cannot feel this nor can the reader. Does it require the writer to seek more than will ever be used in her historical piece? Absolutely, if the truth is what she seeks for her readers. It is also the writer’s duty to filter through the research, weave into the text only what validates the timely piece and moves the story forward, and yet maintain the passion.
Research is an adventure if it takes the writer and reader into the unknown, and does more than scratch the surface to seek the truth. Research is enough when the writer becomes a Mrs. Meredith sharing that sense of wonder with the reader, who then feels that she, too, is sampling chocolate covered ants. I should mention that the character, Miss Dobson, in A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt, is based on Mrs. Meredith…my way of saying thank you to a wonderful educator.
2. Can you tell us a bit about your experiences with hands-on research?
Fun! Fun! Fun! Interviews are a favorite of any piece I write. My term as the 2008 – 09 National Hobo Queen was the epitome of research as it all began while interviewing the men and women who rode the rails during the era of the Great Depression. Many of them have “Caught the Westbound,” the term railriders use when one passes from the earthly life. Their life stories are documented on tape and embedded in my heart. I also hopped a slow moving train in order to write about it. I got on just fine…jumping off was not quite as successful.
An irate resident carrying a broom approached me, thinking I was the Tax Collector. I was filming his street for the setting of a story. We got along famously once he put the broom down and determined that I am of Italian descent and realized that he graduated from high school with a relative.
While considering writing a non-fiction magazine article, I corresponded with Cedric Charles Dickens, last surviving great-grandson of Charles Dickens. He passed soon after, but what a delightful man.
Just in case there is ever a need, I have also gone skydiving, learned how to drive a tractor, and completed a zip-line canopy tour through the treetops of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Research into the unknown is such an adventure!
3. What drew you to the middle grade market?
Though I enjoy writing for all ages, young readers are like sponges absorbing every element of a good story, including the historical details neatly woven therein. I also taught second and third grades. There is a natural choreography between the middle-grade readers and me as writer.
4. How long have you been writing historical fiction?
I’ve been living history for all of my life through the stories my parents shared at the dinner table every evening. In the best of times and the worst of times, I have also been a storyteller telling tall tales throughout life. Writing historical fiction became a matter of coupling those factors, which began about twelve years ago.
5. What is your middle grade novel, A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt, about? (Besides the obvious. 😀 )
Though historical fiction, A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt is based on a true story handed down through my family. During the era of the Great Depression, the well-being of the Coco Family was threatened when the Sheriff Sale sign was posted on my father’s family home.
The story is told through the eyes of young Margo, who fights to save her family home. Margo’s desperate attempts to be courageous and responsible are challenged by the antics of her nine-year-old brother, Charlie, whose leg operation created the need for an emergency bank loan.
Grandfather, Michael Coco, dictated a letter to the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, which was penned in the handwriting of my father’s older sister, Mary. Grandfather Coco did not ask for money, but for the gift of time. An answer arrived to his plea for help.
6. What are your favorite historical novels?
This is a difficult question for me, as I love to read just about anything. However, my favorite historical novels are peppered with a bit of mystery and adventure. Yet, the writing of Charles Dickens and his passion for the times in which he wrote, though considered present-day when published, has become classical literature sharing the history of his time. Once again, I am sampling those chocolate covered ants when I read his work.
7. What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a non-fiction magazine article, two historical fiction middle-grade novels, and enjoying author visits to meet my young readers.
Thanks for taking time to chat with us.
Thank you, Tricia and to all at Damsels in Regress, for inviting me to chat. I send wishes of success to our fellow writers. Please visit my website at www.ccocodeyoung.com, and feel free to contact me. I’m smilin’ at you all from my writing desk that overlooks the treetops in Connecticut.