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 Today we conclude our interview with Kekla Magoon, author of The Rock and The River.

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We're glad to welcome you back, Kekla.  Readers loved your interview yesterday.  Let's pick up where we left off.  I was just getting ready to ask you about one of the characters, Maxie. 


9. You add an additional level of complexity in your portrayal of the relationship between Sam and Maxie. I guess we could say Sam has a crush on Maxie. She is attracted to him as well, but they come from different backgrounds and this causes friction between them. Could you talk a bit about creating Maxie and about her place in the novel?


Early in the novel, Sam buys a pair of mittens for Maxie, who he wants to be his girlfriend. The scene occurs before we ever meet her, and sets up his crush. He pictures her standing in the schoolyard, tucking her fists up her sleeves to keep warm. This was the first scene I wrote mentioning her, and Maxie emerged from that image.


I loved writing Maxie because she brought an energy and lightheartedness to the story that would have been hard to find elsewhere. Though she deals with issues as serious as Sam does, she rolls with it slightly better. Sam’s overwhelmed by the decisions he has to make, but he’s also a young teenage boy who would absolutely be taken with a perky, pretty girl, despite the political turmoil. Maxie’s fun and brave, and she pushes Sam to do things he wants to do but that he’s slightly afraid of, which helps drive the story.


Maxie embraces the Panther ideology more readily than Sam does, and that has a lot to do with class. The Panthers’ message resonated with the poorest people first. Sam’s family is middle class, because I felt that the most authentic story I could tell on this topic would be about a child whose upbringing and values might be most similar to my own. Sam’s broadening understanding of the movement and the Panthers really mirrors my own. But it would be impossible to tell a story about the Panthers without dealing with class. His relationship with Maxie gives Sam a higher stake in understanding the needs of the whole community.


10. Several months ago, I talked about writing historical fiction and quoted several people who emphasized the need for detail to make the story feel real. Your story is set in 1968, which was not that long ago, but still it was before computers or cell phones or microwaves. Did writing in a time period somewhat different from your own present any special problems or challenges?


This is something I worry a lot about, actually. I think my writing style is atypical among historical authors because I don’t focus on including details the way that many others do. I remain pretty tightly focused on the characters’ emotional life, rather than his physical world, most of the time. When I “see” the characters in my mind, the edges of the world around them are fuzzy. A lot of the setting I just don’t care about, so I have to struggle to fill in those images of the world to help the reader. I only put in what I think I have to for the story to make sense. I like to think that I’m tapping universal emotions, and merely placing them in the context of a particular period of time.


As far as writing in ‘68, it was a recent enough period of history that I still had a frame of reference for dealing with it. There were still cars, radios, and relatively similar articles of clothing. It wasn’t hard for me to remember to exclude major things like cordless phones and iPods, but there were things I definitely had to look up to be sure they were around in the 1960s. For instance, Sam is interested in architecture, and the story’s set in Chicago. I initially had him mention the Sears Tower, but I looked it up and learned that it didn’t become the building it is today until 1973. Things like that tripped me up occasionally. 


11. I know you are part of a writing group in New York. Is working with a writer's group an important part of your process?


Yes. I find writer’s group extremely valuable. I meet with two different groups, actually, because I really enjoy working with fellow authors. It helps keep me on track, and it makes it more fun to write on a day-to-day basis when I know my material is going to be read by someone. As much as writing is a personal endeavor, it’s also a means for communicating. There are scenes I’ve written that may never see the light of day again, but having put them before my writers group satisfies whatever need I had to express those things. It makes it easier to cut things that don’t serve the final story.


It’s also just wonderful to have extra eyes and different perspectives on what works and what doesn’t. When someone doesn’t “get” what I’m doing, it inspires me to think. Often, in the face of strong critiques, I find reinforcement for my vision, and it pushes me to dig in and own what I’m attempting, even if some people don’t like it.


I very much enjoy the process of critiquing others’ work, too, and writer’s group has really helped me hone my skills. I offer manuscript critique services for other writers, and I hope to teach and lecture more formally in the future.


12. You and Bethany Hegedus, author of BETWEEN US BAXTERS, are getting ready to do your first joint school visit. Could you describe your presentation?


Yes, that's going to be really fun. We've developed a joint presentation called "The Movement: Two Books. Two Authors. One Powerful Presentation." The theme is "A Decade of Change: Civil Rights in America 1959-1968." 


Bethany's novel, Between Us Baxters, (WestSide Books, 2009), is set ten years earlier than The Rock and the River, in a small town in the South. The main character is a girl, Polly Baxter, whose close friendship with Timbre Ann Biggs is in jeopardy due to racial turmoil in their community. Together, The Rock and the River and Between Us Baxters span an important decade in U.S. History, and give readers a glimpse of what life was like in these times and places.


Our books explore similar themes from different perspectives, and our presentation inspires a unique classroom discussion about race, class, history and social change -- all topics which have taken on new meaning in light of the recent election. As part of our package, we provide follow-up material for teachers and lead interactive activities appropriate for small and large groups (ages 10-16).  


Talking about Between Us Baxters and The Rock and the River together gives students an opportunity to understand many aspects of the Civil Rights Movement and how things changed over time.


Creating "The Movement" has been fun and collaborative effort, and given us a greater scope for reaching young readers. For more information about our joint presentation, email us at TwoBooksTwoAuthors@gmail.com.]



13. Are you working on another book now?


Yes. Several, actually. I tend to work on multiple projects at once. I have a contract with Aladdin for a contemporary middle grade, so I’m building a draft of that story, which is in its early stages. I also have two YA novels in progress, one that I’m drafting and one that I’m revising. Fun!


Thanks so much for talking with us, Kekla. It's been great. And, congratulations again, on the release of The Rock and The River. 


Happy Writing!

I'll be back tomorrow with one more posting for the week.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 19th, 2009 04:43 pm (UTC)
What a thoughtful, intelligent,and inspiring interview, Kekla and Sarah! Makes me want to read and meet Keckla soon!

Feb. 19th, 2009 08:11 pm (UTC)
Part Two
I can vouch for Kekla's critiquing abilities and stamina in getting her writer's groups their pages. We meet weekly and for those readers who nab up THE ROCK AND THE RIVER, wait until they see what else Ms. Magoon has up her sleeve.

Great interview, Sarah.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )