|Photo by Andy King|
Eleanora E. Tate, author of eleven children’s and young adult books, has been an author in schools, libraries, on university campuses and at literature conferences around the country (and in Canada and Bermuda) for over 40 years. She’s on the faculty of Hamline University’s Masters degree seeking low-residency program “Creative Writing for Children andYoung Adults.” She taught children’s literature at North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC and has been an instructor with the Institute of Children’s Literature at West Redding, CT.
1. Don’t Split the Pole: Tales of Down-Home Folk Wisdom consists of stories told from different points of view. Can you talk about how the idea for the book came to you, and the virtues and challenges of writing a book in short story form?
Proverbs and sayings have been part of all cultures ever since people first gathered around fires or in their huts to share feelings and embrace community. Proverbs and sayings are also known as aphorisms, mottos, Biblical expressions, similes, or rich brief anecdotes. They explain a truth or a moral, offer opinions, summarize an action or thought, are phrases or tidbits of songs repeated so often that they enter the lexicon, and so on.
I’ve written several books that contained proverbs and sayings and that reflected their settings’ regional vernaculars, but with this book I wanted to pinpoint particular adages and wrap stories around them in a short story collection. Short stories aren’t any easier to write than novels, but they can take less time.
As to points of view, four stories -- “You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks,” “Slow and Steady Wins the Race,” “A Hard Head Makes a Soft Behind” and the title story “Don’t Split the Pole” -- spoke most strongly in third person, for distance.
The remaining three stories -- “What Goes Around Comes Around,” “Big Things Come in Small Packages,” and “Never Leave Your Pocketbook on the Floor” made better fits through their narrators’ first-person voice. I switched POV back and forth during revision until I was satisfied. Each story maintains only one point of view, which I like.
Choosing the sayings was easy. Coming up with convincing stories using each saying as a vehicle for plot and theme was not. At the time I approached my editor with my idea I was living on the North Carolina coast, where I’d already written Retold African Myths and A Blessing in Disguise. After weeks of dismal literary meanderings, I finally pretended I was holding a conversation with a unconditional, loving, best friend. I started out by talking into my tape recorder (remember those?): “I want to tell you about the time … ”, rambling along until the seed of a viable story sprouted.
When about one-third of the stories stubbornly refused to germinate, I climbed among the dunes on the beach with my tape recorder. While watching the seagulls, dolphins and the ocean, I “talked” to my best friend. That’s probably why most of the stories take place on the North Carolina coast and several involve a coastal environment.
2. Was Don’t Split the Pole always for middle-grade readers? If so, why did you choose middle grade? If not, what had to change for it to be considered a middle grade novel?
4. When Don’t Split the Pole was first released in hard cover in 1997 (in paperback in 1999), Publisher’s Weekly wrote in a starred review, “Adult rules and regulations are turned on their heads by this crafty author whose stories leap off the page and lodge straight in the funny bone. This collection of seven short stories … are unconventional and exuberant.” Can you talk about the process of re-releasing a book? What, if any, changes needed to occur?
After my book went out of print (OOP) a few years after the paperback was issued, I requested from my publisher that all rights be reverted back to me, and this was granted. I’ve since been able to have two of the stories reprinted in anthologies and in educational publishing programs, so they continue to bring in money.
Last fall Hamline faculty member Liza Ketchum told me that the Authors Guild writers organization (we’re both long-time members) had a “Back in Print” program through which Authors Guild members can get their OOP books reprinted at no charge. I jumped at the chance.
If my book sells well on this next go-round I’ll reap nice royalties again. That’s important when senior citizen writers like me are on fixed incomes. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
A final note: In order for OOP books to get reprinted by other publishers, writers should already have reversion of rights provisions in their contracts with the original publishers. When their books go out of print they should immediately contact their publishers and request written reversion of rights letters. This speeds things up or at least keeps things less complicated when they decide to take that reprint step. When negotiating with new publishers, they should carefully read the fine print in all contracts and instructions, and question anything they don’t understand or that they disagree with.
The publishing world evolves at warp speed these days, and writers need to be aware.
Thank you for joining us, Eleanora. Congratulations, again, on the rerelease of DON’T SPLIT THE POLE: TALES OF DOWN-HOME FOLK WISDOM!