Friday, June 24, 2011

Interview with Pat Lowery Collins by Victoria Dixon

Many thanks to Pat Lowery Collins for answering my questions concerning her two most recent books, Hidden Voices and Daughter of Winter.

VLD: Writers tend to have themes they revisit and you do a great job in both of these books delving into questions that occur to orphaned children, so I’m wondering if you intend to write more on that topic.

PLC: One reviewer offered the opinion that all my novels have protagonists who are out of sync with their own society. I hadn’t realized that this was a recurrent theme of mine, but it obviously is. I tell my students not to be too concerned with theme, because it will reveal itself as you go, or even, as in my case, at a time long after you have written the book or books. No, I don’t plan on writing any more books about orphaned children, but I’m already working on one with another heroine who is very different from her peers.

VLD: You have a talent for submerging the reader in place and time – especially so considering what disparate settings you used in these books. How do you do your research?

PLC: For Hidden Voices I spent some time in Venice learning as much as I could about the 18th century in that particular city and about its social service system under the doge. I walked the same path that Vivaldi would have taken to work at the Ospedali della Pietá, saw the site of the original orphanage and the location of the foundling wheel, and even the view that the girls would have seen from their window on the Riva. I also traveled in the surrounding countryside to get a feeling of what Luisa and Catina would have encountered when they were sent away to get well. And I did considerable research on the music of the time, particularly the work that Vivaldi composed during the years that I cover in the book. For this endeavor, I kept a card file with sections on just about everything – clothing of the period, occupations for women, musical compositions and theory, other artists of the day, the social service system under the republic of Venice, etc. etc. I bought a number of helpful books in Italy, did some research on line, and attended performances of Vivaldi’s work and a wonderful exhibition in Florence of musical instruments of the period.

I didn’t have to go far to do the research for Daughter of Winter, set in 1849. The shipbuilding activity I mention in the book was in the town of Essex, which is next to my town of Gloucester, MA. I had already done a great deal of research on the building of a schooner for my picture book, Schooner. At the time I was working on that, I became intrigued by the Shipbuilding Museum in Essex that had once been a school in the middle of a graveyard. Much of my actual research was also done online and included what information I could find on such things as the slang of the time, the conditions on the schooners traveling to the goldfields, the topography of the Essex River and islands, the Agawam and Wampanoag Indians, the school curriculum, the clothing, etc. etc. For this book, since most of what I learned could be printed out, I kept a large notebook with specific sections for each category. Because I live nearby, I was already very familiar with the tides, the topography, and the flora and fauna.

VLD: What aspects of these stories did you find most enjoyable to write?

PLC: I particularly like developing the characters and establishing their voices. I also enjoy writing dialogue and describing the various settings in detail. I read everything aloud as I go, because the sound and rhythm of the words is very important to me, as is the art of crafting a beautiful sentence.

VLD: What other books out readers should know about?

PLC: My next book will be a picture book with Candlewick Press called The Deer Watch. It is being illustrated by David Slonim. I’m presently working on another young adult novel. This time it’s a ghost story.

A few of my other books that your readers might want to know about are Just Imagine, set in the Great Depression, and The Fattening Hut. Just Imagine was my first historical novel and didn’t require much research because I remembered many aspects of the time period. I also checked with older family members for some details. The Fattening Hut is a novel in verse set on a mythical island but addressing a real world problem. To create a believable and colorful background for that book, I went to the island of Anguilla where I learned of its industry, history, topography, birds and trees etc. That book won the 2004 Julia Ward Howe Award from the Boston Author’s Club, was an Indie pick and an ALA Amelia Bloomer choice. My very first YA was Signs and Wonders.

Pat Collins' website is at

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