WILL WRITE FOR COOKIES
INSIGHT – INFORMATION – INSPIRATION
When I joined Storm Literary Agency in 2015, not only did I get an awesome agent, but I also got a wonderful support system – all of the other clients – authors and illustrators. And one of the most active is today’s guest, Alexandria LaFaye. I grabbed a bit about her from her wonderful website.
ALEXANDRIA: Family is at the core of who I am which why families are at the center of most of my books whether it is families torn apart by injury (Worth) or absence (The Year of the Sawdust Man) or drawn together by tragedy (Water Steps and The Keening) or seeking each other (Walking Home to Rosie Lee).
When I’m not joining my family for a board game, a jaunt to the park, or a trip to the zoo, I’m usually writing or reading, but I’m also an associate professor of English at Greenville College in the academic year and a visiting associate professor in the Hollins University Summer Graduate Program in Children’s and Young Adult Literature.
ME: Welcome, Alexandria! Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with us and share your writing journey. and a little bit about yourself. Can you name a book that changed the way you saw the world?
ALEXANDRIA: I seek out books that show me things about the world I did not previous know like Michelson’s The Alphabet of Angels revealing that Hebrew had nearly died out as a spoken language until one man, Ben Yehuda, popularized it in Isreal in the 19th century. Hesse’s Aluetian Sparrow opened my eyes to the horrific treatment of the Aleut people of the Aluetian Islands during World War II. I love books that expand my world one page at a time and that’s the type of book I was trying to write with FOLLOW ME DOWN TO NICODEMUS TOWN. By sharing a story of the Exodusters who built Nicodemus, KS and homesteaded in Oklahoma, Nebraska, and other parts of Kansas, I hoped to celebrate their achievements and spread the world about these historical heroes who are often overlooked in historical accounts of homesteading the US.
ME: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
ALEXANDRIA: How to write in way that is true to my own voice and experience, but that reaches out to readers of all walks of life and speaks to them in a way that makes them feel understood, inspired them, or lead to see things in a new way. I’ve also always wanted this literary connection to lead readers to spread the news about my books to other potential readers. I’m still trying to figure out this formula for great writing.
ME: Where do you like to write – inside, outside, special room, laptop, pen and paper?
ALEXANDRIA: The answer depends on the genre. I prefer to write poetry and short stories with a pen and paper and usually in one of my writing journals and I can do that pretty much anywhere, but I often do it at my writing desk at home or in my office at work (I’m an associate professor at Greenville University). I have to admit that when I write “outside” of these spaces, I’m usually too drawn into observing things around me to focus on writing.
ME: When do you write – early morning, late in the day, middle of the night, on schedule, as the muse strikes?
ALEXANDRIA: I’ve always been quite bad at doing things routinely, so I write as the muse strikes most of the time. I often get a burning idea I need to write down and that often leads to more ideas which means I put other things on hold until I’ve followed this vein of creativity to its conclusion, then I go back to my daily activities. Other times, I leave things at home in my husband’s capable hands and spend a weekend in a cabin on a nearby lake and write, write, write. That often involves a lot of revising, revising, revising. But it’s a great time to fully emerse myself in my work.
ME: Why do you write for children?
ALEXANDRIA: I write the stories that come to me. Since I so enjoy children—understanding them, raising them, helping them, I believe I’m drawn to the stories that interest them. I also have an alterior motive. If the books children read are inclusive, inspiring, historically and culturally accurate, and open the world up to young readers, then they will grow up with a kinder, more accurate, and layered view of the world. The things we read as children shape our views of the world and prepare us for all the learning and experience that follows, so I guess, I’m hoping to help kids build expansive and supportive views of the world through the stories that I write.
ME: What is your writing advice?
ALEXANDRIA: Write to become the best writer you’re meant to become—don’t try to measure up to some external ideal of writing and writers—find your own voice and speak in it through your writing. You’re a uniquely made person who has a singular life experience and point of view to share with the world, so embrace that and become the best writer you can as you learn to speak in your own voice.
ME: Is there anything you’d change about your writing life right now?
ALEXANDRIA: Yes, I’d love to do more school visits! As a greater admirer of kids, I love to create school presentations that are entertaining, educational, and uplifting. As a geek who was bullied in school, I can inspire the kids who struggle with self-confidence and engage with the kids who are following the crowd and need to be encouraged to become the “kind kid” who says “no” to bullying. I’m also a professor who teaches preservice teachers how to integrate literature into the classroom, so I’m uniquely skilled to help kids become life-long learners and process writers. My professional credentials also make it possible for me to do professional development programs for teachers, administrators, and librarians. And I love the school visits where I learn as much as I mentor. If anyone would be interested in hosting me for a school visit, they can contact me at Alexandria.email@example.com
ME: WOW…thank you so much, Alexandria. I love your authenticity…it shines right through all of your answers. I know we all appreciate you stopping by…and I know you are not done yet. You’ve got a recipe to share with us that is kind of special to your new picture book, right?
ALEXANDRIA: Yes, this is a recipe Dede’s mama would have known by heart – hoecakes:
The legend is that African Americans who had been enslaved “baked hoecakes on a hoe in the fields for their midday meal. Elizabeth Lea, a cookbook author from Montgomery County in the mid-19th century has several corn cake recipes, one of which she called a “Virginia hoe cake.” Indeed, hoecake was the hardtack, the matzah, of enslaved Blacks for several centuries. Some Maryland hoecakes were made over a griddle in the hearth (also known as a hoe), others were baked on a “bannock” board placed facing the fire.” Although an African-American staple it was also a food served in many kitchens across the frontier in the 1800s.
1 cup of white stone-ground cornmeal
3/4 cup of boiling hot water
½ teaspoon of salt
¼ cup of lard, vegetable oil or shortening
Mix the cornmeal and salt in a bowl. Add the boiling water, stir constantly and mix it well and allow the mixture to sit for about ten minutes. Melt the frying fat in the skillet and get it hot, but do not allow it to reach smoking. Two tablespoons of batter can be scooped up to make a hoecake. Form it into a small thin pancake and add to the pan. Fry on each side 2-3 minutes until firm and lightly brown. Set on paper towels to drain and serve immediately once all the hoecakes have been cooked.
Recipe and background by Michael W. Twitty in “A Few Antebellum African American Recipes” published in Afroculinaria (2011)
My dear friends, please join me in thanking Alexandria for her wonderful insights and the fantastic hoecake recipe…plus, she is generously donating a signed copy of her wonderful picture book, Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town, so make sure you leave a comment to be entered into the giveaway.
I hope you all have a wonderful weekend and I’ll see you back here next week for another review (and a giveaway!) of a fabulous new picture book, HONEYSMOKE, by Monique Fields. I’ll be cloistered away, working on the redlines for the big compilation book – 9 stories means 9 times as many edits to go through, right? So if I am a bit MIA on social media this weekend, you’ll know why.