Welcome! We’re excited to have you here today as we celebrate the book release of one of our own contributors. Danette Haworth’s The Summer of Moonlight Secrets launched a couple of weeks ago to favorable reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and even made Scholastic Instructor’s list for “Teachers’ Picks: 18 Road Trip Reads.” Danette’s first book, Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning, is now available in paperback.
Welcome to The Meriwether, Florida’s once-grand hotel built on Hope Springs, where nothing is quite as it seems. Hidden staircases give way to shadowy servants’ quarters, and old-fashioned speakeasies make for the perfect hide-and-seek spot.
Allie Jo Jackson knows every nook and cranny of The Meriwether—she’s lived there her whole live—and nothing surprises her. Nothing, that is, until she spots the beautiful Tara emerging from the water of the springs. Tara’s shimmery skin, long flowing hair, and strange fondness for moonlight swins hint at a mysterious secret—and once Allie Jo and her friend Chase uncover Tara’s secret, nothing will ever be the same.
Leave a comment to be entered! Tweets and Facebook posts earn you more entries; give us the link in the comments. The winner will be announced Saturday.
Welcome to From the Mixed-Up Files, Danette! Since we’re all about middle-grade, we would love to hear why you write for middle-grade readers.
Thank you, and it’s good to be here. It’s very exciting to see the response this site is already receiving-it’s surpassed all of our expectations!
I didn’t start out writing for middle-grade. I started out writing for myself. This covered a hodge-podge of genres—murder, short stories, interviews of unusual people. In college, I’d taken this sort of test to help you determine what kind of writer you were, and the results came back that I was best at factual writing, where I could make observations, analyze them, and back them up with figures and statistics. I was insulted by that test! It was akin to saying I wasn’t imaginative enough to make things up. That paper went straight to the trash.
The whole time I was growing up, from first grade through college, I wrote stories on my own time. In college, a professor suggested I submit an interview I’d done for class. I was thrilled! I was even more thrilled when the magazine accepted the piece, then devastated when, a few weeks later, they withdrew their offer. But the die had been cast—I knew now that the world of publication was something that could open for someone as common and unconnected as myself.
From there, I regularly submitted short stories, articles, interviews—whatever caught my interest—and I submitted them with very little research on the market. It was only after I took the time to get to know certain magazine that I began to have pieces published here and there. The real market I was trying to tap was the literary short story market. I loved short stories for their profundity, their melancholy. I wanted to write that sort of story.
When I sat down to write my first novel, I knew it would be a literary novel. My first idea spanned generations and was epic and unwieldy. I had to pin it to a piece of paper and chisel it down to fit into an outline. When I considered the rough form, I knew it was a children’s book I was looking at. And I was thrilled. I loved being able to create the emotions of that age and have my characters express them, sometimes to the anger or irritation of the other characters. I spent months in the woods running behind them like a cameraman, watching what they did, recording it. What I love most about writing middle-grade fiction is that if I write honestly, I can trust my readers to respond honestly. There’s a lot of satisfation in that.
You had a lot of reader response to Violet Raines, especially after Scholastic picked it up for their Book Fairs. Is The Summer of Moonlight Secrets a sequel to Violet Raines?
I do get emails asking for a sequel to Violet, and many of these emails have lots of good ideas for what could happen to Violet in the next book (if there is one). Violet was a fun character to work with. She had no artifice; she didn’t have the wiles to disguise her feelings and I loved that about her. So, although I don’t have immediate plans for a sequel, Violet is nearly always on my mind. She’s just that kind of person.
The new book, SOMS, is set in Florida but no one almost gets struck by lightning! Allie Jo and Chase (a boy) narrate the story in alternating chapters as they meet, explore the hidden spaces of the hotel, and discover a beautiful teenage runaway and her mysterious secret. This book was different to write because of the alternating viewpoint, which was fun because Allie Jo and Chase weren’t always together and yet their separate accounts push the story together toward a single climax. Also, SOMS is part mystery, part magic realism (if you believe Allie Jo), and part every day realism.
How could teachers use The Summer of Moonlight Secrets to touch on and further topics their classes are already studying?
SOMS is set in more or less contemporary times, but because of the nature of the hotel, a lot of history is involved. One big thing that underlies the setting is something you wouldn’t even think of—transportation. In the 1800s, Florida was cattle pasture and little else. With blistering heat, insects, snakes, alligators and no air conditioning to speak of, Florida didn’t lend itself to easy settling.
All that changed when Henry Flagler laid railroad tracks to Florida. Suddenly, people with money could escape the harsh northern winters, and many grand resorts went up to accommodate them. It was the birth of a tourist state. You can trace America’s history from that point on: tourism declined during the Depression, leaving many of these beautiful resorts abandoned. The government leased some of them during World War II, turning guest rooms into barracks or sick bays. Other resorts became derelict, often housing vagrants, runaways, or criminals. Many people didn’t care about preserving the past.
Yet it was an interesting past. A behind-the-scenes tour at most historical hotels or mansions is a lesson on the class system as it existed in America’s late 19th century. Grand staircases and beautiful woodwork grace the public areas. Narrow, angular staircases accessed by hidden doors took servants up and down, allowing them to accommodate the guests without being seen. Whole networks of underground tunnels, staircases, and secret quarters housed an army of workers, keeping them at bay from society’s elite. If there was ever any question about class distinction in the United States, the very architecture of these resorts cries out with the answer.
How did you choose the setting for your book? Is it a real place?
The settings for all my stories are inspired by places I love to be. The Summer of Moonlight Secrets is set in a once grand hotel that sits on the edge of a spring. The Meriwether is not a real place, but it feels real to me. For the record, I LOVE visiting old houses, historic forts, mansions and hotels that housed people of days gone by. It’s a wild feeling to know, when I put my hand on the rail going upstairs, that a woman wearing a hoopskirt and corset once held the same rail, walked over the same floorboards.
What kind of books did you like to read when you were a middle-grade reader?
Oh, I was never without a book! I was consummate book orderer, counting out the pennies and nickels from my allowance to buy as many books as I could whenever the book form came around. Generally speaking, I very much enjoyed Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, but I also loved Alfred Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators series. My tastes haven’t changed that much; beside my bed right now sits a stack of mysteries with middle-grade and adult realistic fiction mixed in.
Thank you, Danette, and Happy Book Release! Readers, we hope you enjoyed the interview! If you’d like to a chance to win a hardcover of Danette’s new book, make sure you post in the comments section. Tweets and Facebook posts earn you more entries. The winner will be announced Saturday! Also, Danette will be checking in from time to time, so feel free to leave questions for her.
Don’t forget to check out Danette’s books, The Summer of Moonlight Secrets and Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning, available in bookstores and online. To read reviews or excerpts from her books, visit Danette’s website: www.danettehaworth.com