Sunday, July 14, 2013

Author Spotlight - Jeannie Mobley

I am hoping to step out of my comfortable box and try something new. I will continue to read and review books (for all readers) on this blog, but I would now like to allow you to meet some of the authors and illustrators who create these fantastic books I share with you.

Jeannie Mobley
Today, my first Author Spotlight will be with Jeannie Mobley, the author of Katerina's Wish, her debut novel for grades 3 - 7. 

When reading about Ms. Mobley, I discovered the idea for Katerina's Wish came from a dream. "I dreamed that I had had a prosperous farm and my family had gone broke and lost it. In the dream, I was standing on a bridge over a creek, looking down into the water. As I stood there, a fish just under the surface of the water told me to make a wish, and I wished for the farm. That's where I woke up, and immediately I thought, that would be a great start for a novel! Later, I decided I would rather have the characters be immigrants, making their way in America for the first time. I also decided that I wanted their struggles and triumphs to be real. Success in a new land isn't easy, and I didn't want a magic fish to make it easy for my immigrant family either, so I decided the magical elements of the story should be ambiguous." (author's website)

Ms. Mobley has excellent resources for aspiring writers. She has posted a number of her grandmother's photos. "What happened right before this photo was taken? Right after?" (author's website

I used these images as the basis for my first question of the author. 

Do any of the incidents in the book come from family experiences?

Not exactly. As a kid I loved to sit around and hear the older generation tell their stories when my dad's family got together, so that comes to play in the character of Old Jan. I hope I was able to invoke the warmth and comfort I always felt in those gatherings into the book. But for the most part, specific incidents that came from real life were not things from my own family, but from others. I read a number of oral histories, and some of the more striking or moving events inspired similar events in my story. The remarriage of Martina to her dead husband's best friend was based on a real occurrence. In real life, the widow remarried on the same day as her husband's funeral, because the priest was there for the funeral and could bless the wedding. I originally wrote it that way in the book, but it was changed to a longer time span during revisions, because various readers found it too implausible she would have married that same day. Just goes to show that life can be stranger than fiction.

Katerina's Wish
by Jeannie Mobley

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Katerina's Wish and became attached to the characters.

Have you considered writing a sequel?

Several readers and reviewers have asked for one, but I don't have any plan for one at this time. For one thing, I like the hopeful feeling of the end of the book, as the family heads off to pursue their dream on a farm. But the truth is, farming was hard, dangerous work too in those days. In fact, in 1900 fully half of the work-place deaths in the country occurred in two industries. You guessed it: coal mining and farming. And since a good book needs conflict, I think the family would have to encounter these dangers and disappointments on the farm. So to me, a sequel would risk turning the message of "strive for your dream and you can achieve it" to "strive for your dream to achieve it and discover that life's pretty rotten there too!"

I've noticed, however, that many people who ask for a sequel really want to know what is going to happen between Mark and Trina. I've had reader suggestions ranging all the way from "they need to get married! to "Mark should die!" The continuation of Mark's story might be a sequel I would consider one day writing.

I think that would be a wonderful idea. Mark had his own dreams and it would be interesting to see how he would go about reaching for his own American dream. I really like that twist. It is kind of like a spin off series.

How did you come up with the character names?

I did a lot of searches of Czech names, and picked ones that felt unique to the culture but also familiar. The trickiest name in the book is Old Jan's, which is the Czech equivalent of John. Like in German, the J is pronounced as a Y, so the name should be pronounced like "yawn". Most people don't read it that way. I kind of regret using that name, because I find myself correcting readers, and then thinking, "oh, that was rude of me!"

Trina's family's last name is Prochazka (or Prochazkova for the women). This is a fairly common Czech surname, and I chose it for the family name because it means "wanderer." Since this is an immigrant story, I thought it was a fitting name.

I am so glad you shared the meaning of the family surname. What a wonderful bit of inside information. It does fit very well with the story and the family's pursuit of their dreams.

What information surprised you the most when conducting the research for this book?

I had done a lot of coal mine history research while working on a museum exhibit several years before writing this book, so in that regard, there weren't many surprises. I was surprised at how difficult it was to find some of the specific details I needed. Like prices of things in 1901. Back then, store ads didn't often list prices, even if something was on sale. Mail-order companies like Sears and Montgomery Wards had catalogs with prices for bigger items, but I needed prices for small things, and also the going rate in the local area. I spent hours and hours scanning through old newspapers on microfilm to put together a list of prices for things like a can of plums.

If you were granted three wishes, what would you wish?

Hmm. There are a lot of frivolous things that tempt me, but I think first I would have to wish for safe and happy lives for my kids. Second, the anthropologist in me would wish for a more equitable distribution of food and resources in the world. For my third wish, I'm feeling pretty torn between world peace or eradicating the bindweed and thistle form my yard once and for all. Either is about equally unlikely to happen without a magic carp.

Speaking of the anthropologist in you, I understand you recently stepped back from your full time position teaching anthropology. Are you now working in your dream career?

Both anthropology (specifically archaeology) and writing fiction have been my dream careers for some time, and balancing them has been tricky. I do intend to continue to pursue both, and stepping down from the job I was in seemed like the best way for me to focus more on the things that are important to me in both careers. I will be teaching anthropology part time, and that will hopefully give me more time for research in archaeology, which is near and dear to my heart, as well as to write fiction. If I don't go broke, that will make it a dream job scenario. It was a risky decision, but then, if I don't take the lesson from my book, who will?

What a wonderful way to look at your life and how your story connects to you personally. What lesson would you want your readers to take away from Katerina's Wish?

Well, the clear message of the book is one of hope and faith. Believe in your dreams and be willing to work for them. Take risks for the things that are important to you. But I think there are other take-aways from the book as well, about immigration and the history of corporate-worker relations in this country. I do think Americans often tend to look at these complex issues too simply. I think a little historical perspective on these things that have remained issues throughout our history is useful.

How many books do you have in the planning stages? Are you willing to share any informaiton at this time?

Well, that's a tricky question. I always have a whole bunch of book ideas rattling around in my head. My second book, Searching for Silverheels will come out in Fall 2014, also from Margaret K. McElderry Books. It is the story of 13-year-old Pearl Rose Barnell, a romantic girl who waits tables in the Silverheels Café and delights in telling tourists the local legend of the dancehall girl Silverheels. But, as the summer of 1917 heats up, so too does the First World War, along with accusations of un-American behavior and the outrageous fanaticism of a local suffragist, with whom Pearl has taken a potentially dangerous bet.

In addition, I have two other manuscripts which I hope will soon be on their way to publication, and three more that are somewhere in the idea/writing stages. It's too early to share information on those, but they include both historical and contemporary stories, for both middle grade and young adult readers.

I can't wait to read about Pearl and the suffragist. I think I see another great storyteller in this book. I have to say that was one of my favorite elements of Katerina's Wish, Old Jan and his stories. I love to listen to stories almost as much as I love to read.

What was the last book you read?

Right now I'm in the middle of Kissing Shakespeare by Pam Mingle, which I'm loving. Before that, Grave Mercy by Robin LeFevers, and Parched by Melanie Crowder, which is just out. I'd recommend all three!

I understand Jeff Kinney (author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid) loves to sing 80s hair band songs while doing karaoke. What would be your featured song?

I've actually never done karaoke, but I am part of my agency's "house band," Erin Murphy's Dog. We perform at our agency retreats. This year, my favorite song to perform was "You and I," an Ingrid Michaelson tune, but I think the song that resonates with us as the agency's "theme song" is Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours," because it's all about sharin' the love!

Erin Murphy's Dog
left to right - C.G. Watson, Arthur Levine, Mike Jung, Shayla Armstrong,
Deborah Underwood, Kristin Nitz (back), Ruth McNally Barshaw,
Jeannie Mobley, and Conrad Wesslehoeft
You have stated your tastes are eclectic. Is there something about yourself that would surprise your readers?

Ah, so now we get to the True Confessions part. Sadly, I can't think of anything wildly scandalous to share. One thing that has surprised some of my readers who have read my blog or Facebook posts is that my book isn't funny. My blogger voice is a humorous one, and I tend to get pretty goofy online. For example, I took dares to do an interpretive dance about dead chickens, and a reading from my book dressed as a chicken (and in a terrible fake accent). A lot of people who got to know me online said, "I can't wait to read your book--I know it's going to be so funny!" Right. Because there's nothing quite as hilarious as life in a coal camp circa 1900. And my next book? World War I, smallpox epidemics, suffragists being arrested. Oh yeah. It's a laugh a minute, folks. I tried to warn people, "The book isn't funny!" and they kept saying, "Oh, haha, Jeannie, you're being so modest. Of course it will be funny." So, yeah. SURPRISE! I do have some humorous books in the works, but by the time those come out, people will have this impression of me as very serious from Katerina's Wish and Searching for Silverheels. I like to keep 'em guessing.

Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself?

Only that I am happy to announce that Katerina's Wish won this year's Colorado Book Award. I'm pleased that my story, that tells a little-known bit of Colorado's history has been recognized this way. I hope it inspires young readers to see the stories in their local histories, and to find hope in their own dreams.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jeannie Mobley for her time in answering these questions. I think she has provided a great insight into her wonderful debut novel Katerina's Wish and I look forward to reading Searching for Silverheels in a little over a year.

Jeannie Mobley is married with two children. She lives in Colorado in a home with a Winnie the Pooh wallpapered bathroom. She has three cats, 1 dog, and does her creative writing by hand. Katerina’s Wish is her first novel and was published by Margaret K. McElderry Books in 2012. In addition to the Colorado Book Award, Katerina’s Wish has been named to the NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing – Stories for Older Readers. Mobley is represented by Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Katerina’s Wish has been reviewed in the following publications:

  • Booklist – starred review
  • Kirkus Reveiws – starred review
  • Publishers Weekly – starred review
  • School Library Journal

2 comments: said...

What a wonderful interview, Texas Library Lady and Jeannie! It was fun hearing more about Katerina's Wish and how it came from a dream.

And I love Erin Murphy's dog! I think you could call me a groupie as I heard them at Big Sky and have a t-shirt!

Tara Dairman said...

What a wonderful interview! And I *love* the idea of a companion book that continues Mark's story! You know, whenever you have time, Jeannie. =)