Margo Tanenbaum interviewed me for her wonderful blog, THE FOURTH MUSKETEER (www.fourthmusketeer.blogspot.com) She posted this morning:
Thanks so much to Kimberly Newton Fusco, the author of the terrific new middle-grade novel, The Wonder of Charlie Anne, for agreeing to this author interview!
Q: Charlie Anne has such a distinctive voice in this novel. What inspired you to tell her story?
A: There was a little girl who lived across the road from my grandmother’s house in Maine . She had to watch her little brother and do chores from morning till night, or so it seemed to me. This was very upsetting because she had a pony and I wanted to play with her and ride the pony! I have thought about her a lot over the years, about how she didn’t have time to play. So she was the first twinkling of an idea that led to Charlie Anne.
The first chapter actually began as a poem for my writing group. I am very interested in what “women’s work” has been through the ages. When I heard Charlie Anne’s voice for the first time, I was nearing the end of another novel. I scrapped that book because Charlie Anne’s voice was so powerful and strong. There was no looking back!
Q: I loved how the cows in this book were almost extensions of Charlie Anne, providing mirrors into her feelings, particularly her grief over her mother's death. I understand from your author's note that you spent a lot of time on a dairy farm as a young girl. Are cows a particular favorite of yours? And what is the story with vinegar pie? I was hoping for a recipe at the end of the book!
A: I loved being on family farms in Maine when I was young. I live with my husband and children in a rural town in Rhode Island now and although we don’t have cows (we have our sheep, Daisy and Wilbur) there are many cows on neighboring farms. While writing Charlie Anne, I rode my bike to the fields up the road, crawled through the barbed wire fence and watched them..
As for vinegar pie, I got that idea while I was researching the Great Depression. Here’s the recipe I found (and tried) while I was writing the book.
1/2 c. butter, softened
2 tbsp. cider vinegar
1 (8 inch) unbaked pie shell
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 c. sugar
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until inserted knife comes out clean.
Q: Before turning to children's fiction, you spent many years as a journalist. How does your writing process differ writing novels vs. when you were a journalist? Are you still involved in journalism or are you writing fiction only now?
A: I only write fiction now, but journalism taught me that everyone has a story if you only take the time to listen. Journalism taught me that the difference between a great story and a lousy one is research. I was on cloud nine when two women who attended a one room schoolhouse in Rehoboth , Massachusetts, during the Great Depression shared their memories with me. Where else could I have found the “standing in the trash bucket” punishment?
Q: You have four children; do their personalities and experiences influence your writing? If so, how?
A: Many, many parts of my books come from ideas I get from watching my children. My sons and daughters have all loved climbing trees and fishing and running all over our six acres and splashing in the brook that runs across our land. The chicken races that Mirabel gets so angry about were actually something my daughters made up as a birthday party game when we had a flock of Rhode Island Reds. Also, the song that Rosalyn sings when combing Phoebe’s hair is a song that I made up so I would remember to brush my daughters’ hair gently.
Q: What writing projects are you currently working on?
A: I have just finished a draft of my next novel and sent it to my editor at Knopf.
Q: You mention on your website that Harriet the Spy, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Where the Red Fern Grows are particular favorites from your childhood. What current authors for young people do you particularly admire?
A: I love Karen Cushman. I have also recently enjoyed The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. I can’t answer a question like this without saying that The Diary of Anne Frank is the best book for young people that I have ever read.
Q: What books are currently on your nightstand?
A: The novel, Les Miserables. When I read it in high school, I knew that my decision in sixth grade to become a writer was the right one! The novel is amazing. The action is so fast-paced that I have to force myself to slow down and enjoy the prose. I am halfway through now and can’t wait to get back to reading it.
Q: Charlie Anne clearly suffers from dyslexia, although it's never named as such in the novel, and the heroine of your first novel, Tending to Grace, has a severe stutter. Could you comment on whether you are particularly drawn to characters with disabilities?
A: I was a child who stuttered, so yes, I am drawn to characters who have the courage to put on bigger boots and keep going, no matter what the difficulty.
Q: What is the funniest question you've ever been asked at a school visit?
A: “Do I really eat all the food that Agatha serves Cornelia in Tending to Grace”? The answer is yes! Or at least I have tried them all. My parents used to take us hiking and foraging for wild foods when I was a child. My father is very knowledgeable and we collected fiddleheads, dandelions, wild mushrooms, poke, sorrel and more. I can still brew a pretty good cup of sassafras tea!