Interview and Giveaway: SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS by Jeannie Mobley!

Colorado is for writersToday I am so pleased to welcome my friend and fellow author Jeannie Mobley back to the blog!

Jeannie was the very first interviewee in my Colorado is for Writers series, when her debut middle-grade novel, Katerina’s Wish, was released. Now we’re just days away from the release of her second book, Searching for Silverheels. I got to read an advance copy, and I loved it just as much as I loved Katerina. You can read my review of the book at the end of this post.

Here’s the blurb about Silverheels, then you can read on to my interview with Jeannie and enter to win a signed copy!


Searching for Silverheels by Jeannie MobleyA girl’s search for the truth about a legendary woman teaches her a lot about what bravery and loyalty really mean in this gorgeous novel from the author of Katerina’s Wish.

In her small Colorado town Pearl spends the summers helping her mother run the family café and entertaining tourists with the legend of Silverheels, a beautiful dancer who nursed miners through a smallpox epidemic in 1861 and then mysteriously disappeared. According to lore, the miners loved her so much they named their mountain after her.

Pearl believes the tale is true, but she is mocked by her neighbor, Josie, a suffragette campaigning for women’s right to vote. Josie says that Silverheels was a crook, not a savior, and she challenges Pearl to a bet: prove that Silverheels was the kindhearted angel of legend, or help Josie pass out the suffragist pamphlets that Pearl thinks drive away the tourists. Not to mention driving away handsome George Crawford.

As Pearl looks for the truth, darker forces are at work in her small town. The United States’s entry into World War I casts suspicion on German immigrants, and also on anyone who criticizes the president during wartime—including Josie. How do you choose what’s right when it could cost you everything you have?

Interview with Jeannie Mobley

Tara Dairman: I love how the relationship between Josie and Pearl is so layered, and continues to develop throughout the book. Did their dynamic come to you easily, or did it take a few drafts to get right?

Jeannie MobleyJeannie Mobley: The relationship between the two characters was the very first thing that came to me about this story, so I’m glad you loved it! This book was born when I was driving across the state of Colorado. I had driven from my home in Longmont, in the northeastern part of the state, to Cortez, in the extreme southwest corner. The trip was a bittersweet one, joining old friends who I hadn’t seen in some time, in order to scatter the ashes of another old friend. So, close, complicated, enduring relationships were on my mind. And on the way home, I was listening to an audiobook, Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas (one of my favorite historical fiction authors). In the book, a character briefly retells the legend of Silverheels. I had known the legend since childhood, having grown up in Colorado, and as a kid I had a very romantic view of it, but hearing it again as an adult, I had a more cynical take on it. It hit me like a bolt of lightning–what an interesting story to have an old cynic and a young romantic debating the truth behind the legend. By the time I got home from that trip, the characters and their relationship had taken shape in my mind. It developed so quickly, so naturally, and so solidly that I knew I had something, so I started building a setting, time period, and story around them. Their relationship was spot on from the first draft. It was elements of plot, secondary plot, and the shape the legend took that shifted through various drafts.

TD: Of course, I have questions about food. :) Between the cafe where Pearl works and the big picnic, there is so much scrumptious food in Searching for Silverheels! How did you learn what kinds of foods were popular in 1917? And do you have a favorite dish from the book?

JM: I must admit, I gained weight writing this book. For months while working on it, I craved pancakes, which I hardly ever eat. On several occasions I snuck away from my writing desk at lunchtime and went to the nearby Perkins Restaurant for pancakes. So while it’s not necessarily my favorite dish, it is something I associate strongly with this book. Plus, I love all the colloquial words for pancakes–like hotcakes and flapjacks. Somehow, they taste better when you call them flapjacks.

I actually didn’t do much research on 1917 foods. Instead, I drew on my own memories, from having grown up in the country and traveled a lot of back roads in my childhood. My dad loved to stop in for a cup of coffee and pie at small town cafes when we traveled, and I acquired my love of that setting from him. In small, agricultural towns, the café is often the gathering place, and there is almost always that table in the corner full of old timers, talking at length about nothing in particular. So that was the setting I tried to create in my book. It’s a setting I like to think of as perpetual and timeless in rural America, not just a feature of the early 20th century. I think of the food in those places as timeless too: pie and coffee, eggs, hash, pancakes, fried potatoes for breakfasts, sandwiches and stews and soups for lunch.

That said, I have looked at menus from the early 20th century to get a sense of some of the types of sandwiches, for example. Unlike today, where sandwiches are made out of processed lunch meats, then sandwiches were made from a big ham or roast or other chunk of meat, cooked and sliced on the premises. Cold tongue was a common sandwich meat in the early 20th century that you don’t see much on menus anymore. That one doesn’t show up in Searching for Silverheels, but I’m saving it for some book in the future. I figure that has a great gross-out factor for today’s kids that I should take advantage of at some point.  (I’m calling dibs on the cold tongue sandwich here, fellow authors!)

(Note from Tara: I actually love cold tongue! I grew up eating it at kosher delis in New York.)

What I had to do to put the café into 1917 was to think about differences in supply connections and in equipment. In a small mountain town in 1917, chances are Pearl’s mom would have been cooking on a wood-burning stove. Coffee pots would have been percolators on the stove top, not electric drip brewers, and hotplates/heat lamps wouldn’t have been an option. I can’t quite imagine feeding crowds of people cooking like that, but then Pearl’s mom is a pretty strong woman.

Mmm, cherry pie!

Mmm, cherry pie!

Also, in 1917, food would have had to come in and out of the area by train, and so seasonality of foods would be much more relevant–no fresh strawberries in December or apples in June. Anything out of season would have to be canned–no good frozen transport, at least not in rural Colorado.  I used the seasonality to my advantage–making it a big event when Colorado cherries arrive and Mrs. Barnell bakes cherry pies. The whole town turns out for a slice of those pies!

I also made use of what I knew would be local resources–trout out of the mountain streams and wild game like rabbits and deer (although I think my rabbit stew and venison might have gotten edited out of the book). Because it was a small, somewhat isolated town, I figured people would have used more neighborly barter to pay their bills, like bringing game to the café when they could. That is something that I think is more true to 1917 than to today. 

TD: Thank you for all this food insight, Jeannie! I love it!


Katerina's Wish by Jeannie MobleySearching for Silverheels,
like your first book, Katerina’s Wish, is set here in Colorado. Are there other parts of the state–or other periods in the state’s history–that you hope to explore in future books?

JM: I am working on a book now that is set in Denver in the 1930’s, but I don’t pick Colorado locations for their own sake. I tend to think of the premise of a story first, and then look for the time and place that best suits it. In both of my books so far, the time and place that suited happened to be in Colorado. Having grown up here, I know a lot of the local history, and that makes these settings easy for me to recreate. Silverheels had to be set where it was because it had to connect to a local legend, and I picked the time period (World War I) because I wanted to build a powerful theme around what gave women strength, so the First World War was an obvious choice because of the conflict between women’s suffragists and the war effort, and also the ways women had to step up and fill in for men on the home front.  However, if my next idea connects best to a time and place far from Colorado, I would certainly not hesitate to set the story elsewhere.  One of my current projects is set on a train running from New Orleans to Chicago, for example. For me, setting has to serve the story, not the other way around.

Thank you so much, Jeannie, for all this behind-the-scenes insight into your wonderful new book!

Tara’s review of Searching for Silverheels 

Searching for SilverheelsSearching for Silverheels by Jeannie Mobley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fantastic sophomore outing confirms Jeannie Mobley as one of my favorite middle-grade authors. This book has the perfect mix of mystery, history, politics, and romance, with a good dose of humor thrown in for good measure.

The story, set during WWI, focuses on the relationship between 13-year-old Pearl and 70-something Josie. Josie wants all American women to have the vote; Pearl wants Josie to stop bothering the tourists at her mother’s cafe with her political rants and suffragist handbills. And maybe she’d like a little romance on the side at the Fourth of July picnic, too.

Pearl’s and Josie’s brushes with each other lead to a bet regarding the truth behind a local legend: the dancer Silverheels, for whom Mount Silverheels is named. I could say more, but the twisty-turny plot is really so delicious that the less you know going in, the better.

I give this book two huge thumbs up–I fell in love with the characters, learned a lot about a specific corner of Colorado and a specific time in history, and was smiling the whole time. Can’t ask for a better reading experience than that!

GIVEAWAY ALERT! You can enter to win a signed and personalized hardcover copy of Searching for Silverheels by leaving a comment on this post! You can also earn up to two extra entries by posting about this giveaway on Twitter and/or Facebook–please mention or link your extra posts in your comment. 

Sample Tweet:
Win a signed copy of ‘s SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS at ‘s blog!

Sample FB status:
Win a signed copy of SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS, the new book by KATERINA’S WISH author Jeannie Mobley! 

I‘ll announce a winner on 8/28. Good luck!

The ALL FOUR STARS celebration continues!

Flat Gladys finds a brownie. Yum.

Flat Gladys finds a brownie. Yum.

Hello, friends!

I’ve been remiss at posting links over the last few days thanks to my sister’s wedding. But my Internet friends have been doing an awesome job of celebrating All Four Stars in my absence–and offering giveaways!

I currently have interviews up at the following places. Thank you so much to all of these bloggers for your fantastic questions!

Jessica Spotswood (including an ARC giveaway of All Four Stars and Pennyroyal Academy!)

Leandra Wallace (including a cupcake pin giveaway!)

Smack Dab in the Middle
(Tamera Wissinger)

Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire (Mindy McGinnis)

EMUsBadgeAnd last, but certainly not least, it’s launch week for All Four Stars at my beloved group blog, Emu’s Debuts! Yesterday, Jeannie Mobley kicked things off with a post about cake (as in “Let Them Eat Cake”–fitting on Bastille Day), and today the Emus are sharing pics and reviews from their adventures with “Flat Gladys,” who has been traveling the country reviewing meals. And more fun is scheduled all week–comment on any post to enter to win a signed copy!

The ALL FOUR STARS blog tour – stop 5

The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher - coverIt’s Monday, which means it’s time to announce the winner of my giveaway of Jessica Lawson’s magnificent debut novel, The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky ThatcherCongratulations to Lindsay Eland, who is the winner! *cheers*

Monday also means that the All Four Stars blog tour is back at full swing. At Xpresso Reads, I have a guest post up called “Diversity is Delicious.” I think that the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is important, and I thank Jenni for giving me a chance to write a little about my own path to including diverse cultures in my writing. The post is about a very special teacher I had in high school and the culinary experiences that helped me get out of my picky-eating bubble.

all four stars tour buttonI’m also interviewed today over at With Faith and Grace, which is my lovely friend Allison’s blog. We talk about the publishing process, and there’s a whole new chance to win a copy of the book. The giveaway ends this week, so hurry on over!

There have also been some terrific new reviews over at Carina’s Books and Great Imaginations. I’m really enjoying hearing what new readers are enjoying in the book, and noting their intelligent critiques. Keep the opinions coming!

The ALL FOUR STARS blog tour – stop 3

all four stars tour buttonToday is the third stop on the official All Four Stars blog tour! Over at For What It’s Worth, Karen is featuring an excerpt from an early chapter of All Four Stars. Many thanks, Karen, for your enthusiasm for the book! :)

Also, over at Pop! Goes the Reader, Jen (who wrote this wonderfully in-depth review of AFS last week) has created a desktop wallpaper inspired by the book. It features macarons, and it is adorable. 

Finally, the radio interview I recorded last weekend at KRFC in Fort Collins is now available online for listening! Eleven-year-old junior broadcaster Lacy Miller asked me such fantastic questions; her mentor Vincent Burkardt is really doing something special with this program. Here are some pics from recording day, including a couple of the three of us. (Yes, I am the shortest.)

Outside the studio

Outside the studio

Pre-interview chat

Pre-interview chat

In the hotseat!

In the hot seat!

Vincent, Lacy, and me

Vincent, Lacy, and me

Gettin' silly

Gettin’ silly

Finally, today is the last day to enter to win The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica Lawson by commenting here!

The ALL FOUR STARS blog tour – stop 2

all four stars tour buttonToday, for the second stop on the official All Four Stars blog tour, I’m being interviewed at The Reading Date! Lucy has asked me some terrific foodie and literary questions, and my list of restaurant recommendations in NYC expands. :)

I am also at Literary Rambles today! My guest post, “The time it takes to get it right,” is about  my looong journey to publication, and there is also a giveaway going for commenters.

Finally, All Four Stars got a lovely review yesterday from Katie at Spirit of Children’s Literature (which will also be featuring a recipe and an interview with me in the next week). Katie’s reviews have a unique focus on spirituality that I find fascinating, and I love what she illuminates about the book.

(And don’t forget that I’ve got my own giveaway going on–win The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica Lawson by commenting here!)

Huzzah for THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY (and giveaway!)

On May 1, one of the loveliest books I’ve read in a while hit the shelves: The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer.

The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy HolczerTwelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. Just when she thinks she’s found it her mother says it’s time to move again. Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels and will always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.

After her mother’s sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she’s never met. She can’t imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe itis her mother, showing her the way to her true home.

I’d been wanting to read it ever since Tracy and I were co-entrants in the 2011 Baker’s Dozen Agent Auction at Miss Snark’s First Victim. We both signed with agents shortly after the auction, and both ended up selling our books to Putnam shortly after that. (I know, what are the odds?)

The lucky thing about having the same publisher is that I was able to snag an advance copy of Secret Hum (which I’m giving away–find out how to enter below!), and it was just as incredible as I had hoped. But you don’t need to take my word for it: check out this starred review from Publishers Weekly! (It also has a star from School Library Journal, and a rave review from Kirkus.)

In addition to its beautiful writing and meditation on loss, this book has a fantastic collection of quirky characters and some very nice moments of humor, too. Here are a few of my favorite funny lines.

As they prattled on about manure and weather and other boring nonsense, I tried to think.

Fifteen minutes later, Grandma showed up with my duffel, wearing her usual prune face and lumberjack costume.

“He likes her because of her bra size…And is she decent enough to be insulted? Nope. She goes around smoothing her shirt and posing this way and that like she has something to be proud of. Plus she eats meat.”

Intrigued? Here’s where you can purchase a copy of The Secret Hum of a Daisy.
Once Upon A Time | Amazon | B&N
{For an autographed copy, order through Once Upon A Time, and don’t forget to mention in the purchase comments that you’d like it signed}

You can also enter to win my advance copy of The Secret Hum of a Daisy by leaving a comment on this blog post. Cranes play an important role in this book, so if you have a favorite bird, please share what it is and why you like it.

Thanks so much for reading this post! Tracy also has an official blog tour going, where you can learn more about this wonderful book and enter to win a Secret Hum “bag of treasure,” including a $20 Amazon gift card. Here are the stops!
May 6: Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire
May 7: Leandra Wallace
May 8: Heidi Schultz
May 9: AuthorOf
May 10: Read Now, Sleep Later
May 11: Kidlit Frenzy
May 12: Literary Rambles
May 14: Smack Dab in the Middle

Find Tracy online here:
Website  | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook | Smack Dab in the Middle

Good luck in the giveaways! I’ll announce a winner for the advance copy next Thursday, 5/15.

Interview with Aiken Avery, author of The Disaster Tourist

Ahoy there, blog readers! (Yes, that nautical greeting was deliberate–you’ll understand why in a moment.)

The Disaster Tourist by Aiken AveryIf you follow me on Goodreads, you may recently have seen my ecstatic review for a book called The Disaster Tourist, which takes place on a round-the-world cruise and is one of my tippy-top favorite reads of 2013. But I wasn’t content merely with reviewing it and gushing about it to friends. I just had to hunt down the author, Aiken Avery, and lure him over for an interview at this here blog.

Luckily, hunting him down wasn’t too difficult, since Mr. Avery and I were college classmates (where we both studied creative writing with Ernie Hebert). And even more luckily, he agreed to share his insight and wisdom about travel, writing, travel writing, and today’s publishing options for literary novels. Hooray!

Here’s a blurb about the book itself, and my interview with the author follows. (Also, since this is a blog usually devoted to children’s literature, I should probably insert a disclaimer here that this is most definitely an adult novel, complete with strong language, queer content, and all that good stuff.)

About The Disaster Tourist:
When foul-mouthed RG boards the S. S. U. Sea for its fall semester voyage, she does so with her usual intentions: knock people down a few pegs and hopefully score some hot chicks along the way. But intentions and itineraries don’t always sync. Part international romp, part descent into madness, The Disaster Tourist follows a crew of sometimes thought-provoking, often ridiculous characters as they circumnavigate the globe on a cruise ship turned floating college. RG’s plans to corrupt her lovely, wholesome Midwestern classmate Dottie fail when she turns out not to be the simple beauty she seems. The two forge an unlikely partnership—straight with gay, principled with radical—as the climate on-board, and in the various ports of call, grows from silly to paranoid to downright dangerous. In the end, The Disaster Tourist strives to capture what it means to be an American abroad in the 21st century.

Tara Dairman: Welcome, Aiken Avery!

Your debut novel, The Disaster Tourist, takes place in so many different locations—Japan, Vietnam, China, and India, just to name a few—and you write about them so evocatively! Here are a couple of my favorite descriptions:

India was like an ice cream cone with every topping imaginable—not just ice cream ones but pizza toppings, too, salad toppings, cereal toppings, and then handfuls of dirt and sh*t thrown on for good measure.

The poor—which, from what they could tell, was everybody—subverted physics in order to balance great loads of merchandise on tiny carts and rickshaws and bicycles, Pisas of metal tins, breaching whales of straw baskets, to name only ten degrees of the surrounding three-sixty.

I was wondering how you carried out your research on these locations for the book. I believe that you’ve been to most or all of these places yourself—did you go back to journals or photographs? Rely on memory? Or did you need to look to books and the Internet to bring yourself up to date on these destinations?

Straight from the old photo album: Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima, Japan

Straight from the old photo album: Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima, Japan

Aiken Avery: I definitely appealed to my old photo albums for detail. I come away from a trip with a general sense of the place, but detail gets lost just because of the overwhelming abundance of it—especially in crowded places like China and India. In years past, writers might have needed to shell out for plane tickets to these places or bury themselves in books at university libraries (which I’ve done plenty of myself). Now, without the benefit of photographic memory, we have the Internet to help flesh out descriptions.

I’ll admit, it felt a bit like cheating, but I definitely made use of Google Earth! I could zoom in on a locale like Ho Chi Minh City and click on the icons for other people’s photos, a great feature of theirs. What does the Rex Hotel look like these days? What would a typical street scene bustling with locals look like? Now we have a wealth of evocative imagery and information right in front of us on our laptops. So yes, I’ve been to all of the countries in the book—authentic experience is still top dog—but technology helps to fill in the gaps.

TD: Follow-up question: Did you have any trouble separating your own, real-life experiences in and opinions of these places from those of your characters in the book?

AA: Like most people (I assume…), I leave a place with all sorts of conflicting feelings about what I’ve just experienced. Is India dirty and stinky and wretched in a lot of ways? Absolutely. Is it also a beautiful, diverse, fascinating place? Of course. I would go back and travel around it for a year if I was able (still barely scratching the surface). So I actually found that it wasn’t all that difficult to voice these varieties of opinions through characters; they already cohabitate, bickering in my head.

A scene on the Ganges river in Varanasi, India

A scene on the Ganges river in Varanasi, India

The really interesting question is whether or not I had trouble separating my real-life experiences from those of my characters. Fictionalizing real events, adding new people, contexts, twists—which I did often when writing this book, having gone on a study abroad program similar to The Disaster Tourist‘s “University of the Sea”—can change your memories of those events, or even replace them with the new ones to an extent. I don’t mean to say that I’m incapable of separating fiction from reality! I just mean that taking actual events and attaching meaning to them—in the way that the very deliberate process of writing always does for bare reality—can often place the fictional event even above the real one in importance. I now value my experiences much more because of what I was able to cultivate from them, if that makes any sense.

TD: Here’s another quote from the book that I loved, describing the main character, RG.

She could feel the claws of her personality climbing up the walls of her skull to predetermined places—a large, articulated crab getting into position—and then it was only through its eyes, the lenses of this refracted self, that she was able to see and act.

On paper, RG, might turn some readers off; she’s snarky and manipulative (not to mention doggedly, unapologetically anorexic). But I was completely charmed by her—just like many other girls on the ship are, and I’m sure many readers are, too. How did you come up with this complicated character—and did she take any turns over the course of the book that surprised you?

AA: RG is an amalgam of a few different people I’ve encountered: a solitary and obsessive exerciser from my college days (never knew her, but found her compelling); the beleaguered adopted daughter of relentlessly well-meaning Brahmin parents in Cambridge, MA (where I did a lot of private tutoring); and my own “Negative Nancy” inner voice. RG is a minority and a Devil’s advocate in every possible way, and as such, I risk alienating people who start reading and can’t handle her! Trust me, I worry about that.

But the intention was always for her to change, to soften and wise up over the course of the story. Really—without giving too much away, I hope—she was always meant to become more and more like her “silver linings” friend in the story, Dottie, while Dottie grows more and more (to RG’s horror) like the old, bitter RG. To say “the characters took on a life of their own” would be cliché, but yes, they changed in surprising ways—unpredictable even to me—as I slowly discovered what their motivations should be. I guess my long-term writing strategy is “plan, but in pencil.”

TD: You write such beautiful (and often twistedly funny) descriptions and observations. Here are a few of my favorites:

Her jokes were like puppies head-butting the gate to get out and play.

He’d been crying like an old man—which was to say that his eyes were completely dry over a low, trembling voice.

To go abroad, even to sail to the other side of the world, is to be taken for a walk on a leash—and then, inevitably, brought back home again.

This makes me curious about your writing process. Do the words just tend to just come out this way for you in the moment, or do you do a first draft more focused on plot and focus on the language later?

AA: I can’t say I’ve never written a passage and then thought of an improvement—either to the plot or to the language—later on. An advantage to undertaking big, novel-length projects is that you have as much as a year or two for all of the best “improvements” to occur to you, sometimes well after the first draft. But for the most part, I focus on the language and the tone as I’m writing for the first time, not later. I’m glad you liked the head-butting puppies comparison—I came very close to ditching that one!

TD: You self-published The Disaster Tourist as an e-book rather than pursuing traditional publishing. Can you share what led you to choose this path, and how it’s working for you so far?

AA: At the time I was writing my first novel (a yet-unpublished Civil War story), self-publishing was basically taboo. In most cases, doing so meant that you had tried traditional routes and no agent or publisher would touch you, so you must have written a dud. The only recourse for duds was self-publishing. I used to go so far as to say that I would rather not publish at all than self-publish.

However, as I was writing my second book, the Kindle was introduced, and e-books really took off. Opinions both in the industry and among laypeople have shifted pretty dramatically on the subject of self-publishing, so a writer no longer has to pray for a big publishing house to discover his needle status in the haystack of the “slush pile.” He can be much more proactive about getting himself noticed: by taking the book to market himself and by proving, sometimes in a big way, that customers are indeed lining up with dollars in hand. I’m still learning the ropes, but I hope my marketing campaign will do just that.

Well, Aiken, I’m with you in hoping that many, many readers discover this incredible book!

To that end, here are a few links where you can purchase The Disaster Tourist:

Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Kobo * Google Play

You can also find the book via the iBooks app on iTunes–and other digital formats (including optimized for laptop, if you don’t have an e-reader) are linked on its Facebook Page.

Thank you so much for this interview, Aiken Avery! And readers, if you end up reading The Disaster Tourist, please let me know–I’m dying to find some more folks to discuss it with. :)