I'm so excited to have long-time best-selling author Marcia Thornton Jones visiting today On the Verge. I've known Marcia for years-- since my Lexington, KY teaching gifted/talented students days, (Marcia used to be my boss in the G/T department!), and I am always happy to share her publishing news.
Side note for those who don't know Marcia: She's written over 130 books and developed several beloved series for younger and middle grade readers, including The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids with co-author Debbie Dadey, Ghostville Elementary and Barkley's School for Dogs. She's also written popular standalones Ratfink and Champ.
But this year she's turned to something different, historical fiction. Woodford Brave is set during WWII and features a boy named Cory Woodford who is determined to live up to his family legacy of bravery. But right and wrong and the meaning of bravery become much more complicated when Cory discovers a secret about his neighbor…and about his family.
Jody: I have to tell you: I started reading Woodford Brave last night and was completely drawn in. It's funny. A little spooky. And has a voice that I know will appeal to middle grade readers. Historical fiction, though, is not your usual genre...
Marcia: That's true. This book is a departure from the contemporary, light-hearted, chapter books for which I’m mostly known. Don’t get me wrong, Woodford Brave is packed with kid-adventure elements including super heroes, go-kart races, a spy hunt, and ghosts. But it also includes themes of bravery, prejudice, and friendship. Not only that, it's a novel full of personal meaning.
Jody: You didn't grow up during WWII--
Marcia: No. But I did grow up during Viet Nam. That war was not popular by the time my brother Randy turned 18 and was eligible for the draft. I remember my family anxiously waiting to learn Randy’s draft number. My brother didn’t get drafted. A neighbor, however, was not so lucky.
Jody: Jeez. What happened to him?
Marcia: One night he headed for the Canadian border. While some people called draft dodgers cowards, I couldn’t help but think of the courage it took to leave family, friends, and the only home he’d known. That’s when the seed for Woodford Brave’s theme was planted: courage and fear are two sides of the same coin.
Jody: And we see that now too, in wars fought today.
Marcia: Right. When conflicts erupted in the Middle East it occurred to me that while the languages of our country’s enemies may change, the central themes of conflict, bravery, and prejudice during times of war do not. I tested my ah-ha moment by reading about World War II. That’s when I found Cory’s story.
Cory and his world are made up, but as so often happens, a writer’s real life creeps into the writing. For example, the idea for the dogs that terrorize Cory and his friends came from two Irish Wolfhounds that terrorized my own walks to and from elementary school each and every day.
Jody: I'm curious about the research you had to do. What kind of resources did you look at to recreate Cory's 1940's world?
Marcia: Most information about life in that time was found through book and online research. My best source, however, was my mother who sat in her den and reminisced about being a young telephone operator when the war broke out. She told me how the switchboard lit up the day war was declared. How the telephone operators knew that something big had happened. They just had no idea how big. She told me about the boys who rushed to enlist and how everyday items like silk stockings became scarce due to rationing. My mother also told about meeting a sailor named Robert Thornton who was home on leave because his ship had been torpedoed.
Jody: Your father! Now there's a story, I bet.
Marcia: (laughing) Yes, but Woodford Brave is a work of fiction, although, woven throughout are threads of mom’s history, my personal experiences, and lessons I’ve learned about bravery, friendship, and prejudice.
Jody: Not to dismiss your other books, but writing this one seems to have a touched you in a way that maybe your previous books haven't?
Marcia: It does contain one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever written; a scene that involves a death. When I found myself crying over the scene I’d written, I knew I finally had it right!
Jody: Can you share a bit about your writing and revising process? I'm trying to imagine weaving all of your research and your mom's anecdotes into this story.
Marcia: I used multiple charts to keep track of characters, themes, and to keep the plot moving. I wrote many, many, many drafts. As I wrote and rewrote, I became very aware that the themes of friendship, bravery, and prejudice are as relevant today as they were in the 1960's and the 1940's. But most of all, Woodford Brave challenged me to honor my mother’s history…and my own.
Jody: Well, I can see that I'm going to have to break out the tissues as I dive back into it tonight.
Thank you, Marcia, so much, for telling me the story behind story of Woodford Brave.
Note to readers: Woodford Brave is available in bookstores everywhere August 25, 2015.
For more information about Marcia Thornton Jones, See here www.marciatjones.com
You can pre-order a copy of Woodford Brave on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or from your local indie.