Award-winning children’s writer Anne Loader McGee has published numerous magazine articles for both children and adults. Her recent work appears in The Los Angeles Times and in online ezines. She also won the Young People’s Division of the International Peace Award for her latest historical novel about the Civil War, Anni’s Attic. In addition to The Mystery at Marlatt Manor, Anne is the co-author of the Sing Out Loud instructional singing books for children. Originally from New Zealand, Anne now makes her home in California.
I recently read and reviewed Anni’s Attic and I loved it. I had to know more about this incredible story so I asked Anne for an interview. You will enjoy our conversation.
Caterpillar: In the Author Introduction you tell about your shared interest in Civil War history with your friend Jean Henry, which was what inspired you to write Anni’s Attic. What you describe sounds like a fascinating shared past life experience. Could you tell us more?
Anne: Yes, the story of Anni’s Attic came about quite by accident. My best friend, Jean, and I would often have long nocturnal conversations about all kinds of things, and on this one particular night I revealed to her that I always had tremendous feelings of nostalgia and sadness whenever I saw movies or read stories about the Civil War. Even the songs from that period would fill me with reminiscence. I found this surprising because I grew up in New Zealand so had not been taught much American history. Jean said she had the same feelings for the Civil War, and went on to reveal that she clearly remembered a plantation house, a nearby ambling river, a swing hanging from a live oak tree, and many other things––memories that, surprisingly, seemed just as vivid to me. In the weeks that followed, as we continued to discuss these odd memories, we found we were finishing each other’s sentences, describing identical experiences, including days spent in a secret attic that only the two of us knew about. By now we had come to the conclusion that we had lived as cousins on a cotton plantation outside Savannah, Georgia. As we continued to unravel this life, I began taking notes. After accumulating many pages of information, I decided to write a book about our memories, but present it as a fictional story about two young girls who lived together from 1861 to 1865.
Caterpillar: I applaud you for sharing this background with your readers. For me it added depth and intrigue to this story. Historical fiction requires an enormous amount of research. Your research shows in your attention to details that bring this story to life. The reader feels immersed in the Civil War Era. Please tell us more about your research for this book.
Anne: I am a stickler for correct information so I went to great lengths to make sure I had the right terminology and facts surrounding our memories of that period of time. I joined a local Civil War Round Table group and attended many meetings regarding the history of the war and its participants. I went to Civil War re-enactments, and at one point flew from Los Angeles to Georgia to go on plantation tours. I read endless books, watched movies and PBS history videos, and consulted with experts about the details of life in the south during the Civil War. I love research and will do it to ad nauseam, but often in the course of this journey I found it emotionally difficult to read the diaries written in that time, and peruse the letters still in existence, written by both soldiers and family members. It triggered memories that were not always comfortable.
Caterpillar: I’m sure it was heart-wrenching. The Civil War tore apart this nation and your portrayal is poignant. I also share your passion for research. In the case of Anni’s Attic, your exhaustive research gives this story authenticity. How long did it take you write this book?
Anne: I probably started this about twelve years ago. I stopped writing children’s stories at one point so I could study music and songwriting. Yet Anni’s Attic always nagged at me to be completed.
Caterpillar: As a reader I connected with Anni and Jenn. Their story lingers beyond the final chapter. Will there be a sequel?
Anne: I’ve been asked that question by almost everyone who has read the story. It wasn’t my intention to write a sequel when I first started Anni’s Attic, but then memories of what followed after the last chapter in the book, began to bleed through––encouraged, of course, by my best friend Jean. At this point I pretty much have a rough outline for the sequel, and hope to be starting that story soon.
Caterpillar: That’s great news Anne. I’m looking forward to it. What methods do you use to promote your book and build readership? Do you blog or use social media (Facebook Twitter, Goodreads, etc.)?
Anne: I have been quite torn between whether I should spend time on social media sites (which I find very challenging), or just concentrate on writing. I have a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Blog site, etc., but at this time I have not been too active on them as I’ve been busy writing. What I do feel important in building my readership is to enter contests that offer Awards, and acquire reviews that will be posted on such sites as Amazon, Goodreads, children’s newsletters or list serves for the younger groups.
Anne: I always find that a difficult question to answer. Things that work for me may not work for anyone else, but I believe there are some general points I could pass on that might benefit other writers. I am a firm believer in the revision process. In the past I have spent countless hours on a particular story or article, and then convinced it had to be the greatest piece of writing ever penned in the history of mankind, I would put it away for some “drawer time”. Upon reviewing it at a later date, I would be shocked to realize that it was far from being ready for publication, and I was glad I hadn’t sent it out. I understand how frightening revision can be for many because there’s always the fear you may end up making your story worse, but if you are willing to get past the fear and keep revising in spite of it, eventually you develop an intuitive sense of what needs to be taken out, and what needs to be left in. I believe this is how one ends up becoming a great self-editor and ultimately, a great writer.
Caterpillar: We have a lot in common, Anne. I actually enjoy revision. It’s so important for writers to learn how to take a step back and learn how to edit their own work. Thank you so much for taking the time to introduce yourself to my readers. You are a remarkably gifted author. Let’s keep in touch!