Thursday, April 16, 2020

Q&A with Michele Weber Hurwitz on Hello from Renn Lake

Smack Dab in the Middle blogger Michele Weber Hurwitz can't wait for her new middle grade novel, HELLO FROM RENN LAKE (Penguin Random House/Wendy Lamb Books), to dive into the world on May 26. It's a story of community, youth activism, and fighting for the things you love as 12-year old Annalise Oliver tries to save the lake in her small Wisconsin town after it's closed due to a harmful algal bloom. We asked Michele ten questions about this hopeful and impactful book.


Q: How did you come up with the idea? What was your inspiration?

A: My book ideas always start out as loose threads that seemingly have nothing to do with each other, but then they weave together in my mind. I was inspired by the kids who've been protesting and speaking out on the climate crisis, and harmful algal blooms that have been increasing in all bodies of water. I love lakes, and the entire lake culture, and was saddened to learn that many are not healthy. I also had been thinking about themes of abandonment and roots, both of which ended up as part of Annalise's and Renn Lake's story arcs.

Q: Did you do a lot of research?

A: Yes! Even though this is fiction, my editor and I wanted to make the events as factual and accurate as possible. I researched harmful algal blooms (HABs) online and also worked with extremely helpful people at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Division of Public Health. I included an informational section in the back of the book for kids who want to learn more about lakes, rivers, and algal blooms, and it's narrated by one of the characters, Annalise's friend Zach.

Q: What is one of your favorite things about this story?

A: That it's not only told by Annalise, but also by Renn Lake and its cousin, a river, Tru. They are both genderless, by the way, which seemed right to me. Having the nature elements as narrators really deepens the plot, as they are able to relay events in a way that human narrators couldn't.

Q: What three words best describe the novel?

A: Inspiring, hopeful, thought-provoking. That might be four words.
 
Q: Flip to a random page and give us a short teaser.

A: "I've thought long and hard about those four heart chambers. A brilliant design. If one should break, as it must have for Annalise when she was first told about being abandoned, there are still three others to rely on. But what about me and Tru, with our simple heart? What if it breaks?"


Q: Is there a scene that makes you tear up, or laugh?

A: There are many! Annalise's little sister Jess is very funny at times but also makes me tear up. She's tough and spunky but fragile, too. There's a scene at the end where she makes her voice heard and stands up for what the kids have done. I smile and cry at the same time.

Q: Annalise's friends, Maya and Zach, each have some issues going on, but they're all supportive of each other. Did you set out to portray their friendships that way?

A: I did. I specifically didn't want a mean girl or a bully, but kids who had their own problems to work through and still cared for and helped each other. Zach is coming off a recent breakup with his boyfriend and Annalise is a great listener. Maya takes charge and gathers the troops when things seem bleak.

Q: The setting is pure small town Wisconsin. How did you go about making it realistic and accurate?

A: I live in northern Illinois, very close to Wisconsin, and I've spent many summers enjoying Wisconsin's lakes. My younger daughter graduated from UW-Madison and there was a small town I'd drive through when I was going to visit her. Just one main street and a few blocks of houses. There's something about these kinds of towns that fascinate me because many of them have remained unchanged for decades and they give us a glimpse of how life once was. While I was writing, I pictured that town in my mind.

Q: Tell us about the Thought Wall in the office of the lakeside cabins that Annalise's family runs.

A: There was a pizza place everyone went to when I was a teenager where patrons could scribble on the wood tables, and I loved that. The idea that guests who were staying in the lakeside cabins could write messages on the office wall just delighted me because it's so present and not online. It speaks to the plot, too, because the messages change when Renn Lake is closed and the reader gets a sense of how people are reacting -- both positively and negatively.


Q: What do you hope that kids take away from the book?

A: To keep raising their voices about changes we need to make to save our planet. And to do whatever they can in their homes, schools, and communities, no matter how big or small, everything will make a difference. Water, land, trees, and plants are so crucial to the balance of all living things. We need to do a better job of caring for them so the earth is healthy for future generations.

Find out more about HELLO FROM RENN LAKE on Michele's website: micheleweberhurwitz.com and consider pre-ordering from bookshop.org, an online bookstore with a mission to support independent bookstores and give back to communities.


2 comments:

  1. I am sooo intrigued by the POV of this book, I can't wait to read it! Congratulations, Michele.

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  2. Can't wait to check this one out!

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