19th century, historical fiction, writing

The Next Big Thing Blog Tour!

Most of the time this blog is all about history and homesteading. But today you’ll get to hear about another interest that takes up a big chunk of my days: creative writing. (And of course, there’s a lot of history involved in that, too!)

For the past few years I’ve been working on a YA historical novel with a wonderful critique group in Providence. Gaia Cornwall, fellow crit-member and fabulous writer/illustrator, tagged me to participate in the Next Big Thing Blog Tour, which moves from blog to blog to highlight the latest projects of writers and illustrators. Thanks, Gaia! (Learn more about her picture book Jabari Jumps, about the challenges of jumping off the high dive, here.)

I’ll answer ten questions about my novel below (complete with fun historical photos) and tag two writers/illustrators that you should all check out. And without further ado, here we go.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Drawing from Life.

a few of the family letters

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

After my freshman year of college, I discovered a big collection of family letters, most of them written by my great-great-grandmother Maud Kerruish and her family. Maud traveled to Europe on the Grand Tour from 1890 to 1892, and she wrote about everything, including the fact that she would never get married and would spend the rest of her life as a “wanderer.”

I ended up writing my senior history thesis about her travels, and during the research I found out some tantalizing information about her (and my) family. Her sister Mona, for example, never married, but the letters refer to Mona’s fiance Tom. What happened to him? What was the “unhappiness” that Maud and her family members referred to in the letters? Because I couldn’t find out anything more through straight research, I decided to make up the answers. And this book was born.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

It’s a young adult historical novel.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Since I have photos of the actual people I’m writing about, it’s hard to imagine actors in their place. Nevertheless…

Maud would be played by someone with quiet strength, like Romola Garai, who was wonderful in I Capture the Castle.

Her older sister Mona would be played by Jodhi May, who did great work in Daniel Deronda.

And her friend and potential love interest Owen would be played by Andrew Garfield, my crush from the latest Spider-Man movie.

sisters L to R: Maud, Mim, Helen, Grace, Mona

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In 1883, 17-year-old Maud Kerruish pursues her dream of leaving Cleveland to become an artist, while struggling against the confines of her gender and a tragedy that still haunts her family.

6) Who is publishing your book?

I wish I knew! My goal is to have the book revised and ready to submit to agents by December.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I’m finishing up the draft now, and it’s taken an embarrassingly long time to get to this point. I began research in 2010, and I started writing in 2011.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Maud struggles with some of the same feelings of family duty that Mattie does in Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light, and she and Mattie both want to follow their passions. She also has the same pluck and independent spirit as Hattie from Kirby Larson’s Hattie Big Sky.

the real Maud, c. 1883 (age 17)
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The real Maud Kerruish is the main inspiration. I loved her independence and determination to see the world.

Major subplots of the book were inspired by my ongoing interest in gender issues, both past and present. In the 19th century, many women suffering from depression or anxiety were diagnosed under the catch-all term of hysteria, when in reality they were struggling to care for their families while ignoring their own passions. Hysterical women were confined in sanitariums or at home for long periods of time, and they were treated terribly (like the heroine of the story “The Yellow Wallpaper”). I began to wonder under what circumstances a woman might be diagnosed with hysteria, and the ideas just wove themselves together.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Maud’s life revolves around her family, not her friends, unlike most main characters in YA novels these days. Her close relationship with her older sister Mona provides a unique perspective on teen friendships.

Now for the tagging!

Next week check out Christina Rodriguez, a fellow crit-member in Providence who writes and illustrates picture books. She brings a unique perspective to whatever project she’s working on, and I love reading her work every month. Find Christina’s blog here, where she’ll be writing about a book she’s illustrating for Arte Publico. She writes:

“The main character is a little girl, a daughter of Mexican immigrants, whose mother cleans houses in order to provide a better life for her family. This story recounts a time when the little girl accompanies her mother to her job in a rich suburban neighborhood, and what happens when she meets the wealthy homeowner there.”

Shelley and Haggis

And in a few weeks be sure to check out Shelley Sackier, a writer who blogs at Peak Perspective. We first got in touch over a year ago, when I had the chance to critique her fun middle-grade novel Dear Opl. And I’ve just learned that her first love is historical fiction, too! About Opl, Shelley writes:

After two years of hiding beneath a sugar-laden junk food diet meant to soothe the bitter loss of her dad, thirteen-year-old Opl Oppenheimer is told she’s gained so much weight she’s pre-diabetic and now must start weighing more than she bargained for. DEAR OPL is a middle grade humorous novel.”

Happy reading! 

9 thoughts on “The Next Big Thing Blog Tour!”

  1. It's not terribly surprising to find that I adore each book you listed by means of comparison in some way or another. It must go without say then that with such impressive influences on your story, I will want to inhale your book in a single sitting.
    Until then, hurry up.
    Ok, that might be a bit unfair. But I support you nonetheless in this lengthy process. Mostly with the part where the book ends up in my hands ASAP.
    Congrats on the hard work won thus far, Abby!


  2. Thanks so much, Shelley! I've definitely been thinking of those books A LOT during the writing process.

    Can't wait to read your post!


  3. Your book sounds so interesting! I love the fact that your based it off of your family's history and made up your own answers to the mysteries you couldn't solve.
    Good luck with getting it finished up and submitted! 🙂


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