Monday, February 8, 2010

INTERVIEW: Alison Hart,author of young adult books, novels, mysteries and historical fiction, nominated for an Edgar Award

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing their views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Alison Hart. She is the author of more than forty books for young readers, including many popular mysteries and historical fiction novels for children. She loves writing books that keep young readers glued to the pages.

Her books “Riding Academy” series and “Shadow Horse” was a 2000 Edgar nominee for best children mystery.
At the age of seven she wrote, illustrated and self-published The Wild Dog, a book which she shows to young readers to make the point that it is never too early to be an author.

Alison has a master’s degree in Communicative Disorders from Johns Hopkins University. She taught elementary school and is currently a college instructor specializing in improving reading and writing skills.

Ms. Hart honed her craft writing Nancy Drew mysteries and quickly developed a love of strong characters who are thrown into suspenseful situations. Research is another passion for her. She loves old journals, letters and memoirs because they provide her with an amazing connection to the past. She believes that "well-researched historical fiction should bring to life the people, events and struggles of the past and make them relevant and real for today's young readers."

Her two books Gabriel's Horses and Gabriel's Triumph, are both Junior Library Guild picks. She has also written books for younger ages under the name of Alice Leonhardt. Among these books are: Turtles; Tide Pool Creatures; Mystery at the White House; and Why the Ocean is Salty.

She has also written books for American Girl/Pleasant Co. Publications in addition to her other novels for grades three and up.

Her upcoming novels are: Emma's River and Whirlwind. “Emma’s River” will be available April 2010 The main character, Emma and her pony Twist find sudden danger on the Missouri River. Based on a true river disaster in in 1854, Emma's River will take readers on an incredible steamboat trip back in time.

“Whirlwind” is the exciting sequel to the Edgar nominated Shadow Horse. Whirlwind (Random House May 2010) answers readers' questions: what happened to Whirlwind? Will Hugh get caught and punished for his crimes? Does Jas ever find her beloved horse? Do Chase and Jas ever admit they like each other?

Ms. Hart is a teacher at Blue Ridge Community College and lives in Virginia.

E.I. Would you share some early self-reflection to give us a sense of who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Give us three “Good to Know” facts about your first job experience, the inspiration for your writing career, any fun details or anecdotes that would enliven your page. Also tell your readers about Alison Hart today -- the woman behind the award-winning author.

A. Hart: I apologize, but I rarely talk about ‘me’—there are a few details on my website: I have lots of animals two cats, two horses, three dogs and I teach at a community college--that’s about as personal as I get. Also I haven’t won any awards yet! Nominated many times, yes, won, no.

E.I. Please tell your readers about your upcoming books, Emma’s River Peachtree Publishers, March 2010 and Whirlwind Random House, Mary 2010. What sparked your interest about these books?

A. Hart: Emma’s River takes place in the spring of 1852 on a steamboat traveling up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The story is based on a real steamboat disaster in Lexington, Missouri. Steamboat disasters were commonplace during this time, and they were horrendous. Fires, explosions and sinkings were common. Between 1819 and 1897, over two hundred and eighty-nine boats sank in the Missouri. Fog, high winds, ice, storms, and dark nights also made river travel dangerous.

Steamboats were also a microcosm of 1800’s society. The immigrants and deck hands traveled crowded together with cargo and animals on the main deck while ‘upper class’ folks traveled in luxury on the cabin deck. Emma’s River combines these elements with a plucky heroine and her pony for an exciting read!

Whirlwind is a suspenseful mystery set on an animal rescue farm in present-day Virginia. It is the sequel to Shadow Horse, which was nominated for an Edgar Award. Since I am an animal lover and have been riding since I was five years old, many of my books are about horses, plus I have been writing mysteries since my first story was published in Highlights Magazine in 1984. Yeah, a long time ago. Combining horses and mystery is a natural for me. Whirlwind has a twisting plot laced with romance and animal rescue details. To me, the book crackles with each turn of the page. I can’t wait for it to come out!

E.I. In your novel Emma’s River, how much of the lives of Emma and her pony Twist is planned out in your head? How do you know where to go next with your story? How does your creative process work?

A. Hart: For all my books, I do an incredible amount of research. For historical fiction, I begin the creative process by reading general history books to understand the era. For Emma, I also read about steamboats and steamboat travel and then read journals and diaries. I noted down broad details such as which states were territories at the time as well as tiny facts such as what the immigrants ate as they traveled until I filled a notebook. I toured the Louisville Belle with a ‘captain’ who knew every detail about steamboats and visited the town of Lexington on the Missouri River. As I research, characters and plot ‘stew’ in my head until the characters are clamoring to be “written” so they can tell their stories. I work hard to mesh accurate history and sensory details, making readers feel as if they have traveled back in time, with an intense and suspenseful story arc that keeps young readers turning the pages.

E.I. Do you try to do character development, chapter outlines, various novel-related brainstorming? Do you have sheets of newsprint covered in story boards all over your walls?

A. Hart: I work many different ways depending on the editor. Some request a complete manuscript, others a synopsis and first chapters, others a detailed outline and first chapter. However, for all my books and proposals, the research comes first—before I write anything. I create plot and characters as I learn the factual and sensory details—whether the story is a mystery set on a present day rescue farm or historical suspense set in the past.

E.I. When you finish a novel, it's off to your agent and publisher, then you're on to the next. Do you find letting your manuscripts, especially your characters, as easy to part with when finished?

A. Hart: This varies with the project. I just finished a romance and suspense YA that I loved writing and it was difficult to part with. However, often I am on deadline and another project is waiting, so I have no choice but to send it off, and really I am not ‘parting’ with it for long, since I know the revising stage will soon follow.

E.I. What can fans anticipate from you in the coming months? Can you give us a hint of what to expect?

A. Hart: I just finished final edits on book four in a new American Girl series very hush-hush until launch date. I have handed my agent a completed YA manuscript titled Remembering Kate, which will require revisions before she sends it out to publishers. I am researching book seven in the Horse Diaries series Random House, which will be about a Thoroughbred racing in the 1930’s. It is tentatively titled Risky Chance and is due April 1st. And I am brainstorming and doing early stage research for a sequel to Whirlwind.

E.I. And, finally, if you could say "thank you" to someone for helping you become a successful writer, who would it be?

A. Hart: Writing and publishing books, like raising a child, takes a village. I would have to thank family, friends, editors, my agent and anyone who has helped me with research. Lastly, I need to heartily thank teachers, librarians and media specialists who champion historical fiction; they’re the ones who help my books reach young readers!

Photo of Alison Hart by Beth Thompson

To learn more about Alison Hart, please visit her website
To purchase her books, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Nobles

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