Posted by Tamera Wissinger
Today, A.B. Westrick is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. A.B.’s debut middle grade novel BROTHERHOOD, from Viking, released two days ago, on 9/12/2013! Congratulations, A.B.!
Here is A.B.’s short biography:
A.B. Westrick is the daughter of Southerners who sought to leave the South behind. Raised in Pennsylvania, she later moved with her husband to Virginia and spent hours walking Richmond’s brick streets, wondering how her ancestors fared during and after the War Between the States. Brotherhood grew from these wonderings. A.B. Westrick has been a teacher, paralegal, literacy volunteer, administrator, and coach for teams from Odyssey of the Mind to the Reading Olympics. A graduate of Stanford University and Yale Divinity School, she received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of the Fine Arts in 2011. Brotherhood is her first novel. She lives in Richmond, Virginia.
Here’s a description of BROTHERHOOD:
The year is 1867, and Richmond, Virginia, lies in ruins. By day fourteen-year-old Shadrach apprentices with a tailor and sneaks off for reading lessons with Rachel, a freed slave, at her school for African-American children. By night he follows his older brother to the meetings of a brotherhood, newly formed to support Confederate widows and grieving families like his. As the true murderous mission of the brotherhood—now known as the Ku Klux Klan—emerges, Shad is trapped between his pledge to them and what he knows is right. In this unflinching view of the bitter animosity that stemmed from economic and social upheaval in the South during the period of Reconstruction, it’s clear that the Civil War has ended, but the conflict isn’t over.
Now it’s time to hear from our guest:
Smack Dab Middleview with BROTHERHOOD author A.B. Westrick
1. What does your main character, Shadrach, want?
Shad wants so many things! When the story opens, he wants to bring his brother back for Mama (his brother has just been arrested), and he sets off to do so. But along the way, it becomes clear that Shad also wants to grow up, be a man, learn to read, do the right thing, make Mama proud, make Rachel proud… He wants so much, and yearns for so much that my heart breaks for him.
2. What is in Shad’s way?
The Yankees who patrol the streets of Richmond, VA, after the War of Northern Aggression are in Shad’s way. But that’s not all. The Ku Klux Klan is both a support and a threat for Shad. Then there’s his dyslexia… his poverty… his grief… and his misguided notions of right and wrong. Shad has many obstacles.
3. Did you know right away that this was your story, or did you discover it as you wrote? How did the story evolve?
I started Shad’s story with a feeling of being stuck in a situation you can’t get out of. That was my daddy’s story; he grew up in the South with an unspoken expectation that as a white boy, he would learn to treat black people badly. Daddy vowed that he’d never raise his own children in the South. When I set out to write a novel, the story of a boy stuck in a tough place was the story that called to me. Shadrach pledges allegiance to the Klan before he understands what the Klan is all about, and once in, he can’t get out. Along the way, he befriends a freed slave girl, and his relationships (with her, with his brother, with Klansmen) develop through the novel. The writing process was definitely one of discovery! When I started out, I had no idea that Shad’s story would take me where it did.
4. Was BROTHERHOOD always for middle grade readers or not? If so, why did you choose middle grade? If not, what had to change for it to be considered a middle grade novel?
BROTHERHOOD was always for older middle grade readers and up. I really enjoy middle school kids—their energy, their honesty—the fact that they’re stuck, not little kids anymore, but not grown up, either. It’s a great age, and for me it was a time when I devoured books. I still read a lot, but back then I had more time to read than I do now, and I loved that.
In the first draft of BROTHERHOOD, Shad was 12. Early readers gave me feedback that the circumstances of the story called for a slightly older boy. So I aged him up to 14, and his brother up to 17, and with those changes, not only did the boys grow 6 inches in height (I had to re-imagine a number of scenes from the point of view of a taller character), but their language became more vulgar. When Viking purchased the manuscript, my editor asked for some revisions, and one was that I tone down the language so that school librarians would not find it offensive. I had to find the delicate balance between historical accuracy, modern sensibilities, and age appropriateness.
5. What is the best part of writing for middle grade readers?
Getting to visit middle schools! There’s just nothing like returning to that time… that sense of possibility that your life could go in any direction… that awkwardness in relationships… that smell from the cafeteria… that yearning for people to respect you and stop treating you like a kid. But you are a kid! What can I say? I just love middle grade readers.
Thank you for joining us for a Middleview at Smack Dab Blog, A.B.. Again, congratulations on the release of BROTHERHOOD! We’ll look for it on bookshelves!