“Strong girls_________________.” (How would you fill in that blank?)
Strong girls don’t always look strong. They are often the quiet ones. There’s nothing wrong with being confident and assertive, but there’s nothing wrong with being thoughtful, patient, and diplomatic, either. Many of the strongest girls I know spend time watching and thinking before they act. Theirs are rarely the loudest voices, so they often express themselves by writing, creating art, and making conversation rather than proclamations. I respect and admire strong girls who command the podium, the bullhorn, the limelight. But I never underestimate the power of the strong girls at the edge of the crowd. And I always listen when they have something to say.
Who was your first “author idol” and why?
My first author idol was A.A. Milne. I had read and loved hundreds of books and authors by the time I met Winnie the Pooh, but I remember feeling something special for Mr. Milne when I learned that he had drawn inspiration from his son, Christopher Robin, and Christopher’s toys: Winnie, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Tigger. I pictured him watching his little boy, walking with him through the woods where they lived (which inspired the Hundred Acre Wood in his books), and allowing himself to be small again, to feel again what it’s like to be little and young, to rekindle a child’s imagination and innocence. He could not have written the Pooh books had he not given himself over – completely – to the world his son inhabited. Even as a child, I considered that act to be selfless and loving, and I admired Mr. Milne very much for it.
Why do you think the main character in your book represents a strong girl?
Crow, the main character in Beyond the Bright Sea, is one of the strongest girls I’ve ever known. As a mother of sons, I have loved spending time with the “daughters” I’ve created in my books, and I have managed to achieve, through them, some of the courage I lacked when I myself was a child. Crow faces a serious challenge: how to honor and remain part of her adoptive family while searching for her roots. Every step away from Osh, who took her in when she was newly born, causes them both pain but is also a step toward the truth about her birth family and why they gave her up. It takes strength to stay whole while being pulled in two directions. To defend herself and her family again injustice. And to face dangerous situations as she tries to both preserve and expand her world.
What compelled you to write about the topic/character in your book?
I have always been fascinated by the pull of the tides, the power of ocean storms, and the beauty of living at the edge of the land. The history of the islands off the coast of Cape Cod where I live is rich and layered, especially because one of them—Cuttyhunk—is best known as a summer home for wealthy people while another island that lies close by —Penikese—was once a leper colony. I imagined a young girl with one foot in each of those worlds, surrounded by the sea, and became immersed in her story.
How can girls become literary citizens–people who intentionally use words and story to promote goodwill in their lives, community and world?
Girls can become stellar leaders by understanding how women have always, always, always made enormous contributions with very little recognition. Reading about those contributions will help girls realize that they are part of a legacy that they will, in turn, strengthen and extend through their own work. Writing about their ideas, creations, and solutions to problems will amplify their voices and connect them to other girls—other people—throughout the world. And those who listen and read will, in turn, be encouraged to raise their own voices and to write their own stories of purpose and hope.
What surprised you most about yourself or your protagonist during the process of writing this book?
When I write a book, I am continually surprised by almost everything. I never plan ahead, predict, or take the lead. Instead, I create characters strong enough to lead the way into their own stories. I follow. What comes is often surprising. And what happens to me as I write is often surprising, too. I become so engrossed in the lives of my characters that I experience culture shock when I return to the present, to the world I inhabit. And when I’ve completed a book, I am often amazed by aspects of the work that I did not see from inside it. Connections. Layers. Things that came out of the well in which I was immersed. It’s hard to explain what happens to me when I write. It’s dreamlike in some ways.
What is your dream for this book or your writing life more broadly?
My dream, as a writer, is to be read. Period. All artists communicate through their work. They lay bare the secrets inside their bones, hearts, brains. They create in order to tell those secrets, a process that is very satisfying. Life-affirming. Important. But there’s more than the process. The art itself is a message. I want people to read my message. They won’t all like it or even understand it, but that’s okay. The point, for me, is to tell the story and hope that there is someone on the other side of the bridge eager to meet me halfway across.
What is the greatest challenge facing aspiring writers and do you have any advice on how to get past it?
The greatest challenge facing aspiring writers is the desire to be published. I understand and share that desire, but it can’t be the primary reason for writing. It gets in the way, messes with the brain (which has better things to do), and distracts writers from their work. And that’s the most important thing: the work. While it’s true that many excellent writers never find publishers, those who devote themselves to THE WORK stand a far better chance of being published than those who are preoccupied with what comes later: agents, editors, publishers, awards, movie rights, and all that jazz. It’s lovely jazz, but it should not come first.
What was your first experience with the power of language?
My first experience with the power of language was when I spoke and someone listened. When I wrote and someone read. Those things happened so long ago and with so little fanfare that I don’t remember them. But they set their hooks in me and have been pulling me along into stories and relationships ever since. Including the relationships I have with my characters. I love Annabelle and Toby and others from Wolf Hollow, and I love Crow, and Osh, and Miss Maggie from Beyond the Bright Sea. They are, in every way that matters, my kin.