Gayle Rosengren visits The Hiding Spot today to answer a few questions about her recently released sophomore novel, Cold War on Maplewood Street, its historic setting, Little Women (spoiler alert!), and more!
Can you tell us a bit about your decision to write a MG novel set during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
I wrote about the Cuban Missile Crisis because it played such a life-altering rolein my adolescence. It tore open the protective cocoon of childhood and exposed a harsh truth--that there were things in life my family, and even my country, couldn't protect me from, and nuclear war was most certainly one of them. Everyone lived with the possibility of a nuclear attack for seven long days. Yes, we survived, but not without some emotional scarring and disturbing memories. The most vivid of those memories found their way into Cold War on Maplewood Street, which, when all is said and done, is a story about the loss of innocence--of a child, but also of a nation.
Tell me a little bit about your writing process: Do you outline? Start at the beginning? The middle? The end?
I don't outline in the traditional sense, but I write chapter summaries, which are rough ideas of what I visualize happening in each chapter. For example, in Cold War on Maplewood Street, I wanted to end the first chapter with Kennedy's announcement of the crisis on television, which meant the earlier part of the chapter needed to establish the time, the setting and, most importantly, Joanna's character and inner conflicts. This meant I had to start with her at home alone and already a little on edge, then introduce Pamela, provide a bit of back-story about Joanna's relationship with Sam, and include a brief school scene, all before the president's announcement that evening. But even before I begin writing my chapter summaries, I know where I see the story ending. Sometimes I know what the last sentence will be. This doesn't mean I won't change the ending if I come up with a better one while I'm writing. It simply means I have a clear destination in mind, so I'm not likely to get sidetracked and lost mid-manuscript, which can happen all too easily.What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing or provided inspiration?
I've worked as a pre-school teacher; a youth services librarian; an advertising copy writer; a reference librarian and copy editor at a publishing house; and I had a few office jobs that I hated but that paid the bills. I think everything except the office jobs impacted my writing in some positive way. Working with pre- schoolers, for example, re-enforced what I knew to be true from my own childhood--that even the youngest children love stories and respond to the language and rhythm as much as the plot and illustrations. Writing copy for ads taught me to be concise and choose the strongest possible words. Working at a publishing house, especially one that specialized in historical fiction for children, emphasized the importance of fact-checking and digging for accurate details about a time period and setting. It was also a great opportunity to view publishing from the inside out and to better understand and appreciate the editorial process.If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?
"Inspiration," because it holds within it the promise of something very special.My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Name a notable book that provided you with a hiding spot.
From the moment I first read it at age nine, my hiding spot was Little Women. Even today, I sometimes return to it when I'm feeling nostalgic or when I simply need a break from today's more complex, uncertain, and fast-paced world. I loved the whole idea of having sisters (I had not a one, just three brothers who teased and spoiled me by turns) And though I have read hundreds and hundreds of books since the first time I read Little Women, it remains a cozy, safe world that I can slip away to and hide in sometimes. It isn't a perfect world. (Spoiler alert!) Father is in danger. Beth dies. Jo and Laurie don't get married. But the embrace of a loving family is always there to welcome me.
About the Author
Gayle Rosengren grew up in Chicago. Like Esther from What the Moon Said, she enjoyed school, was an avid reader, and loved dogs and horses. She attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where she majored in Creative Writing and was the editor of the literary magazine. Gayle never outgrew her passion for children’s books, and she worked as a children’s and young adult librarian at a public library for several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, enthusiastically sharing her love of books with young people.Also like Esther, Gayle eventually moved to Wisconsin, but by then she was a mother with three children. She worked in the reference library, and later as a copyeditor, at American Girl. During this time period she published short stories for children in Cricket, Ladybug, Jack and Jill and Children’s Digest magazines.
Now Gayle writes full-time in her home just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband, Don, and slightly neurotic rescue dog, Fiona. She is living her dream, she says, writing books she hopes will make the same difference in children’s lives as her favorite books and authors made in hers.
About the Book
Cold War anxieties play out in a sensitively told story set during the Cuban missile crisis in the 1960s, perfect for fans of Gary Schmidt and Kristin Levine. Joanna can’t get over how her brother broke his promise to never leave like their dad did. Sam is thousands of miles away on a navy ship, and no matter how often he sends letters, Joanna refuses to write back. When she makes a promise, she keeps it.
But then President Kennedy comes on TV with frightening news about Soviet missiles in Cuba—and that’s where Sam’s heading. Suddenly Joanna’s worries about being home alone, building up the courage to talk to a cute boy, and not being allowed to go to the first boy-girl party in her grade don’t seem so important. Maybe sometimes there are good reasons to break a promise.
The tense timeline of the Cuban missile crisis unfolds alongside a powerful, and ultimately hopeful, story about what it means to grow up in a world full of uncertainty.