Rebecca is the April author in the Spotlight here on Booksnob. She agreed to answer some questions about her book and her busy life. Let me tell you what I like about Rebecca, she is kind and open-hearted and a teacher, like me! If you like to get out into nature and ride your bike, you will enjoy this fast paced mystery of a novel. Please read this great interview that provides great insight into her young adult book, Chasing Alliecat.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up on a farm in Iowa. I always wanted to write (see #3). I loved riding ponies in the fields, and I missed that when I grew up and moved away. I think that’s why I became a runner, and then a cyclist—because I still needed the feeling of moving through the air outside. I have run marathons and raced my bike. I still race a little bit. Right now, I live in the country, and I have a Newfoundland dog named Freya who weighs 170 pounds. She’s bigger than I am! I also teach English, Humanities, Creative Writing, and Children’s Literature at South Central College in North Mankato. I write all summer and every chance I get.
2. What inspired you to write to Chasing Alliecat?
Well, my guest post goes into some of this. I wrote this story by “prairie-dogging.” That means that I had a bunch of fun, unrelated ideas that I thought would be good in a story. My job was to “dig the tunnel” that connected all the ideas into one coherent story, just like a prairie dog tunnel connects its holes.
I wanted to write a story about a competitive female cyclist. The first part of the book I wrote is now on page 179—the scene where Allie finishes the race. Then I wanted to include a cannon shot blowing up a neighbor’s building because some friends of mine actually did that—but not nearly as destructively as in the book. When I stumbled upon the real Junk Woods, and thought that someone could hide a body there….I had a story.
When I saw the “chainsaw” sign in the Junk Woods, all I changed was the name and number. That was too good not to use. I needed Allie to be connected to the priest in the woods, and maybe to whoever wrote that sign, and all those pieces fell in place. I wanted to have dogs play a major role in the story because dogs are so important to me. The rest was making it all fit together.
The thing that I struggled with at the beginning was that I wanted Allie to be a really gifted cyclist. As I started writing, I realized I couldn’t have Allie be the narrator because I wanted the narrator to admire Allie. That’s when I knew this would be the story of two girls, not just one. And of course Joe just showed up at the truck stop and Sadie was attracted to him immediately. I wasn’t expecting him, but there he was, and it was kind of funny to cram him into an over-crowded house where he wouldn’t be Sadie’s cousin at all, and he had enough of his own issues that he was there to stay. And Sadie couldn’t help falling for him…
3. Can you tell us why or when you decided to become a writer?
I have wanted to write since before I learned to read. My mom read to me a lot, and I loved stories. It never occurred to me not to want to write stories. I honestly thought everyone in the world wanted to be a writer because wanting to write was so natural to me. I guess I thought in words, too, and I liked narrating to myself…probably sounded like I was having psychotic episodes if you listened to me as a six-year-old talking to myself, but I was always narrating what I was doing, as if I were putting it in a book at that moment. I actually remember moments like this: “She scuffed along the driveway, kicking dirt up between her bare toes.” I have no idea how old I was when I said that aloud to nobody.
4. Usually an author puts some of her own life experiences in the book. Did you do that?
Yes, indeedy. I always do, I guess. I’ve explained a lot of that about Chasing AllieCat in #2.
Both “Mars at Night” (the short story in Girl Meets Boy) and my first novel, Jake Riley: Irreparably Damaged take place on farms in Iowa like the one where I grew up. Neither one of those stories of much of anything to do with what happened to me, but the place—the place is real—and it’s so fun to write about the farm because it’s like being back there again.
5. Do you like to read? What authors or books influence you?
Do I. I’m always, always in the middle of a book, and a book on CD whenever I’m driving. I read whenever I have five minutes to wait or in between things, and before I sleep.
Authors that influence me. Lots. Whoever I’m reading at the moment influences me, because I try to pay attention to what that writer does that I like—or that I don’t like.
Authors I have LOVED in my life are Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird, my all-time favorite), Carol Ryrie Brink (Caddie Woodlawn, my favorite as fifth and sixth grader; I think I read it twelve times), Mary Calhoun (I loved all the Katie John books), Lois Lenski (I read every single book of hers I could find; her stories let me travel and live all over the U.S.), Marguerite Henry (Misty of Chincoteague and many other horse stories, which I devoured. Also, she was the first “real live” author I met, when I was about 28 years old). More recently, my favorite is Barbara Kingsolver—I love all her novels. I also have a growing list of writers for young people that I admire.
6. How do carve out time in your day to write when you are busy teaching college? Are you writing another book? (see #9)
Sometimes I really don’t know how I make time. I don’t always get time. When I’m busiest at school, writing gets shoved to the back burner until the weekend, and then sometimes, I’m grading papers all weekend.
I write all summer. I refuse to teach summer school so I can write, write, write. I start to feel panicky by the end of the first week of summer that I’m not going to get enough written. Then I settle down and get into a routine of writing, biking, and doing other summer stuff in between.
There are never enough hours in a day, but every now and then, I get to the end of the week and think, wow, I really got a lot done. Other times, it’s I didn’t get anything done all week! But you know what? It’s never enough! There’s so much more to do, and I have so many more book ideas that I want to write.
7. Have your students read your book? What is their reaction to having a published author as a Humanities teacher?
Lots of my students have read my book, and lots haven’t. Usually, they come tell me when they’ve read it and then we talk about the story. I haven’t had anybody tell me (yet) that they didn’t like Chasing AllieCat, but it could happen! I tell them at the beginning of the semester, when I’m telling them a little about myself, but they don’t pay attention because they don’t know me yet. Then later, when they’ve actually started to like me (hopefully) as a teacher, if they find it out, that’s when they get excited to read it. I also teach Composition and Children’s literature and creative writing…so it comes up in some of those classes, too.
8. What is the most important lesson/idea you want readers to take away from Chasing Alliecat?
Wow. I don’t think anybody has asked me that before. To LIVE life to the fullest. Sometimes that means being a great friend. Sometimes that means taking care of yourself, and sometimes it means protecting a friend. Sometimes it just means being kind. Sometimes it means being brave and doing stuff you don’t want to do. Sometimes it means pursuing your dreams, no matter how hard you have to work and if other people disapprove. It also means being honest—with yourself and with everybody around you. It also means being physically active so that you can feel strong. I think a balance of a physical life and an intellectual life is essential.
I would love it if this book inspired girls or guys—or adults—to want to be strong and physically active.
9. Are you working on another book? How did get involved in the anthology Girl meets Boy?
I’ve finished another book. My agent has it right now. Slider’s Son is a murder mystery set in North Dakota during the Depression. The main character wants to be a major league pitcher and his dad is the sheriff. They’re the ones who find the body…
I’m working on another after that, but it’s too early to talk about it. I have to use the energy to write it, not talk about it at this point.
I had written the story, “Mars at Night,” and Terry Davis had read it. When Kelly Milner Halls asked him to be in the anthology, he asked me if he could write a companion story to “Mars at Night.” It was hard giving up “control” of Rafi—the character I created but from whose point of view Terry wrote…but I had to let Rafi be the way Terry conceived him, and then I had to edit my story somewhat so that the two matched. Terry and I found a way to sort of compromise and meet in the middle. (Terry, by the way, wrote Vision Quest). He’s my ex-husband, but we are still very good friends.
10. In one sentence tell readers why they should read Chasing Alliecat?
Chasing AllieCat is a biking adventure in southern Minnesota that hopefully makes you want to get out and ride your bike, be a great friend, and get rid of all the creeps in the world!
That sentence makes me laugh, but it’s true.
If you are interested in winning a copy of Rebecca's book Chasing Alliecat click the link:
Chasing Alliecat Contest