Today, we’re excited to celebrate the launch of Insight, Diana Greenwood’s debut novel from Zondervan. One of our own Mixed-Up Files members, Diana has a signed copy ready to mail to one lucky winner in the U.S. or Canada. All you need to do to enter is leave a comment on this post.
Some secrets won’t let you go. Elvira Witsil lives about as far away from civilization as you can get, in a remote corner of Wisconsin where nothing much ever happens. In a house crowded with her mother, her cantankerous grandmother, and her little sister, Jessie, Elvira feels forgotten and alone. Their house also contains numerous secrets, and Elvira’s family holds their secrets closely. Secrets about the father that Jessie never knew, and that Elvira can’t forget. Secrets about that day five years ago. And the one secret that Elvira can’t quite understand: that Jessie sees things no one else can see. These secrets will lead Elvira and her family on a journey far away from home—on a journey toward redemption and healing—if she can just bring herself to believe.
Welcome, Diana. What led you to create the story and characters in the book? Were you personally drawn to the story?
I’m drawn to characters that suffer yet find the strength and knowledge and faith to rise above their pain. I’m drawn to situations that don’t match or fit into a neat package; characters plunked into unexpected settings or exploring the unexplained against traditional beliefs or delving deeply into hidden emotions. I’m drawn to characters with secrets.
Insight began as a spark of an idea when I heard the first few lines in Elvira’s voice. Writers say this all the time but it’s actually true. I knew right away that she was in a rural setting, a baby was about to be born, and that the bulk of the story would be post WWII.
To show how ideas combine, my mother’s brother, Clifford Rasmussen, was killed in WWII, Royal Canadian Navy, Seaman First Class. His ship was torpedoed and all crew lost at sea. There is a family story I heard growing up that always gave me shivers. One night my grandmother sat up in bed in the middle of the night, awakened by a flash of light and a loud noise. She felt as though she were swaying, woozy. She glanced at her bedside clock and the green illuminated hands showed 2:00 a.m.
This, according to the family story, was the exact day and time her son’s boat was torpedoed. Weeks after my grandmother’s sleepless night, the uncle I never met was declared missing in action. I still have the telegram.
My grandmother’s faith got her through that loss but I always wondered how it felt to lose someone so young and vital, someone missing in action forever. So those first few lines in Elvira’s voice led to the seed of the idea, mixed with that family detail, although much altered, and Insight was born. From there, the characters led the story and I let them do what they needed to do.
Insight is historical fiction with a paranormal twist. What can you tell us about your research process?
I love research and I also very much dislike research. For one thing, I tend to go off on tangents while researching, finding new story ideas in the strangest places, which does not improve one’s daily word count. (Not that I actually do a daily word count.)
I am a collector of vintage non-fiction books and magazines, in which I can get lost, but they are invaluable for advertisements, fashion, popular products, pricing, and other period information as well as language of the day. One of my most well-used research books is Look at America, Houghton Mifflin, 1946, a “look” in big, bold pictures at every region’s industry, landscape, history, landmarks and people. I also spent hours and hours in the reference section of the library checking WWII timelines, rationed items and when rationing was lifted and general details of the time period.
For help with Wisconsin terrain and 1947 Portage city and street details, I used a primary source, a friend who grew up there. Her mom had once worked with the historical society and had saved maps, newspapers, and photos, which brought the town to life for me. Although much is fictionalized in this story, street names and landmarks are real.
In Insight, there is alcoholism and since I did not grow up in a family dealing with the disease I had to interview adult children of alcoholics in order to ensure that the details of a character growing up in an uncertain environment were consistent and truthful, yet also portrayed compassion.
You can never do enough research. Trust me here. When the book was in final review, my editor pointed out that a car brand I’d mentioned in the story had not been introduced until after the story took place. Oops. I thought I’d fact-checked that. Thank goodness my editor caught that mistake and also has a sense of humor.
What inspired you to write a novel for the middle grade and young YA audience?
I write for young people because it’s their books I read. Over the years, the most memorable books—those that have stuck with me because of storyline or a strong character or a particular setting I could not forget—have been young adult or middle grade books. To name just a few, I still dream about Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, Tangerine by Edward Bloor, Under the Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisbury, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Fever by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. Those main characters (and their creators) are my heroes.
Insight is recommended for ages 10 and up. This audience is sophisticated with high expectations. Characters must ring true and keep the reader emotionally engaged, plot and subplots can be complicated, and subject matter is wide open for this age group. They are fearless readers and they demand the truth. I enjoy that challenge.
What would you like your readers to take away from the story?
First and foremost, reading fiction is entertainment and a good story should stay in your heart because you enjoyed it and if there was something just for you on those pages, then that’s a bonus.
Insight explores the existence of intuition. Since I believe that all talents are gifts from God, I find it interesting and likely that intuition is also a gift. I have always said that this book is a love story that shows the depth, insecurities, misunderstandings, and joy of all kinds of love, including the love of God. Love is not perfection. Love just is.
What is your favorite part of the book writing process?
I used to say that my favorite part is the very beginning when that new idea tingles and nags and begins to form and the voice of a new friend emerges. I’d settle myself at my desk with the fat lump of a cat on my lap and see who showed up on the page. It’s still delicious, that newness.
But as a more “seasoned” writer, I’d have to say that my favorite part of the process at this point is revising with the right editor. That editorial letter is a lifeline. Your story is basically complete but there is an opportunity to work with an expert, a true admirer of the written word who may suggest a tweak to a subplot that makes your stomach flip with the knowledge that it’s right. In revision, a scene may move from touching to gut-wrenching, a character’s motivation might change from shallow to profound; love might develop where you saw animosity. Anything can happen. I was so grateful to work with the delightful and brilliant Jacque Alberta, Zondervan’s finest. Even if she does call herself “Queen Pickypants.”
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on two projects; another upper middle grade historical fiction called Three-Penny Poet where the main character in the untamed Chicago of 1933 is forced to confront mental illness in his family, and a futuristic YA that explores faith in a skeptical world. In the future I’d like to switch gears and work on contemporary humor for middle grade, which I expect will appeal to my sarcastic side.
If you haven’t seen the trailer, now’s your chance: Insight trailer
Diana Greenwood grew up with the Bobbsey Twins, Laura Ingalls, Huck and Tom, the Hardy Boys, Jo, Francie Nolan, and Oliver Twist. She tried to duplicate the adventures of her favorite characters by writing poems, stories, and scripts for summer performances in her backyard. Today, she still has those childhood editions on her bookshelf and spends her days writing stories of young people embarking on life-changing journeys. Diana makes her home in the Napa Valley, where she watches college football, volunteers at her church, and continues to devour books. Visit her website at www.dianagreenwood.com or find her on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/diana.greenwood1