March 28, 2018

The Beloved Wild Blog Tour: Q&A with Melissa Ostrom

The Book

Pride and Prejudice meets Cold Mountain in this debut YA American epic/adventure.

Harriet Winter is the eldest daughter in a farming family in New Hampshire, 1807. Her neighbor is Daniel Long, who runs his family's farm on his own after the death of his parents. Harriet's mother sees Daniel as a good match, but Harriet isn't so sure she wants someone else to choose her path—in love and in life. 

When her brother decides to strike out for the Genesee Valley in Western New York, Harriet decides to go with him—disguised as a boy. Their journey includes sickness, uninvited guests, and difficult emotional terrain as Harriet comes of age, realizes what she wants, and accepts who she's loved all along.

The Author

Melissa Ostrom teaches English literature at Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York. Her short fiction has been published in literary magazines, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The Beloved Wild is her YA debut. She lives in Batavia, New York, with her family.

The Q&A

Emma: One of my favorite things about historical fiction novels is hearing about the research authors have done. What's the coolest or weirdest fact you learned while researching for THE BELOVED WILD?
Melissa: Oh, my gosh, did I ever encounter a weird piece of information! I came across it when I was reading Arad Thomas’s 1871 collection of early pioneer reminiscences. 
The strange tidbit appears in the firsthand account of Lansing Bailey, who pioneered to the Genesee Valley in 1811: “The bear seized the dog, and my brother reached in his hand and pulled the dog out badly hurt. The bear presented her head at the hole, and I killed her with the ax. On searching the log, we found a cub, which we took home with us…. Mrs. Adams, who had recently lost a babe, took it and nursed it, until it got to be quite a bear, and rather harsh in its manners.”
Isn’t that bizarre? I found the passage so startling that after I read it, I had to go back and reread it, just to make sure I was understanding it correctly.

E: What parts of history do you enjoy reading about most?
M: I’m much more interested in the daily minutia of a long-ago era than I am in battles, treaties, government policies, and so on. I like reading about what people wore, how they danced, the food they prepared, the songs they sang, their means of travel, the clothing they spun, their childrearing practices, and the seasonal labors, like making cider, boiling maple syrup, and dipping candles. Such details make me feel closer to the past—help me visualize it in an intimate way.

E: Which character do you feel is the most similar to you?
M: I think there’s a little of me in several of the characters. I share Harriet’s indignation with injustice and admire Daniel’s work ethic. I love to sing, like Rachel does. I’ve got a silly streak like Phineas’s and a practical side like Marian’s. And of course, in other ways, these characters don’t resemble me at all. They accomplish many wonderful things that I wish I were bold enough and talented enough to do.   

E: What is your writing process? Would you consider yourself as more of a plotter or a pantser?
M: I’m a pantser, for the most part, though I’ll thoroughly research my topic ahead of time and also develop a good sense of who my protagonist is. What does my main character want more than anything? Why does she long for this person, place, state of being, thing, etc.? Who and what impede her? These questions and their answers guide my writing. 

E: Do you listen to music while you write; if so, what? Or have you created a playlist that fits with THE BELOVED WILD?
M: Honestly, I don’t listen to music while I write. I prefer perfect quiet. This is one reason why I write very early in the morning, hours before the rest of my family rises. In order to concentrate and get into a good writing zone, I need a silent stretch of time. I love music…just not while I’m writing.

E: What's been the best part of your debut author experience?
M: I’m very happy that this novel celebrates the Genesee Valley because that’s where I live—where my husband and I are raising our kids and where I’ve taught secondary and college English for several years. I wasn’t born in this Lake Ontario fruit country, but I settled here when I began teaching at Kendall High School, and I’ve grown to love the area’s big sky, sweeping orchards, and old cobblestone houses—and its warm, down-to-earth people. 
The best part of my debut author experience is the feeling that, in celebrating my area’s pioneer history, I’m honoring this place and giving something back to the community that has given me so much.

E: What other historical fiction novels would you recommend?
M: I would highly recommend Jane Austen’s novels, especially Pride and Prejudice, and the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery. I also love many of the Regency romances by Georgette Heyer. 

E: Cake or pie, and what kind?
M: Oh, gosh, Emma, you’re going to make me choose? This is tough. I suppose I would go with French silk pie, as long as the crust is homemade, the chocolate filling truly is as smooth and sumptuous as silk, and a dollop of whipped cream tops my slice.    

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