F.A.Q. – Frequently Asked Questions:
The professional biography page is here.
If you are doing a report on Deborah Wiles and her books, or if you are preparing for a school visit from Deborah, this is a good place to start.
The Wikipedia entry on Deborah Wiles is accurate (and evolving) and contains links to interviews and press as well:
You can find me on the web in various places:
My website (you are here now, of course): www.deborahwiles.com
Pinterest (where I list resources for my books, including the playlists for COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION) http://www.pinterest.com/debbiewiles/boards/
When and where were you born?
May 1953 in Mobile, Alabama. Both my parents were born in Mississippi and grew up there, so it became the homeplace. I spent much of my childhood there, and continue to spend time there with family today. I am the eldest of three children. My brother is Mike, and my sister is Cathy.
Where did you grow up?
My dad was an Air Force pilot, so we moved a lot. I started kindergarten in Hawaii and graduated high school in the Philippines, at Clark Air Base. I lived in Charleston, S.C. for two years, and for seven years I lived in Prince George’s County, Maryland, while my dad was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, in the early-to-mid sixties. I spent my childhood summers in Mississippi, in the town where my father was born, and where my grandmother lived. Her name was Miss Eula — just like the grandmother in Love, Ruby Lavender.
Where do you live today?
I live in Atlanta, Georgia today. Before I moved to Atlanta in 2004, I had lived in Frederick, Maryland for 25 years, where I raised a family. I go back to Frederick to visit often.
Where did you go to school? Did you go to college?
I went to Camp Springs Elementary School in Prince George’s County Maryland, just like Franny does in Countdown. I graduated high school from Wagner High School at Clark AFB in the Philippines. I went to college at Jones County Jr. College in Ellisville, Mississippi, then didn’t go back to school until I was in my 40s, when I graduated from Vermont College in 2003 with a Master of Fine Arts, or an MFA, in Writing.
What jobs did you have growing up?
I did lots of chores, weekly, at home. I had to dust all the furniture, clean the bathrooms, make sure my room was clean, and I did the dishes every night. I ironed pillowcases! I did a lot of babysitting when I was a teenager. My dad wouldn’t allow any of his kids to work at a job outside the house while we lived at home. If he got time off work and wanted to go somewhere with his family, he wanted us to be able to go along. And we did!
Are you married? Do you have children?
I am married to jazz musician Jim Pearce, a piano player and composer. He wrote the music for my book One Wide Sky which I take to schools with me. I have four children: Alisa, Jason, Zachary, and Hannah. They are all grown up now.
What do you do when you aren’t writing? Do you have hobbies?
I read, garden, sing, swim, play banjo and piano very badly, cook, tell stories with my friends, and take pictures.
How many books have you written?
I have written two picture books and five novels.
What are they?
The picture books are Freedom Summer and One Wide Sky.
Three of the novels are Love, Ruby Lavender, Each Little Bird That Sings, and The Aurora County All-Stars. These three books are called The Aurora County Trilogy. They are companion novels, which means that they take place in the same location, and feature cross-over characters.
I wrote them because I loved growing up in Mississippi, surrounded by people who couldn’t wait to see me every summer. Those were amazing years.
The fourth novel is Countdown. It is book one of The Sixties Project, three novels of the 1960s for young readers. Countdown takes place in 1962 outside of Washington, D.C. during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The fifth novel is Revolution. It is book two of The Sixties Project and was published in 2014. It takes place in Mississippi in 1964 during Freedom Summer.
Why did you write….
FREEDOM SUMMER: I wrote it because I didn’t understand what happened the year I was eleven and the Civil Rights Act was passed. I wanted to talk about friendship and fairness.
LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER: I wrote it because I had lived such idyllic childhood summers in Mississippi, visiting all the whacky and loveable relatives, and I wanted to celebrate that. I especially loved my great-grandmother, Nanny, and my grandmother, who really was named Eula and who becomes the character Miss Eula in Love, Ruby Lavender. My aunt Beth really had a chicken named Rosebud who became… Bud.
ONE WIDE SKY: One of my son’s favorite books was TEN NINE EIGHT by Molly Bang, and I wanted to write something like that (a counting book). I added the outdoors, morning-noon-night, and the counting backwards from ten to one, after counting forward from one to ten. The book is dedicated to my children.
EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS: I wrote this book because I was so full of grief, so sad, and I didn’t have a place to put my feelings of loss. This book gave me a place to think about what I had lost, and to begin laughing again, especially when Comfort started writing her “Top Ten Tips for First Rate Funeral Behavior” and “Fantastic and Fun Funeral Food for Family and Friends.”
THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS: I started this story as a serial novel for the Boston Globe. After it was published there, I turned it into the third Aurora County novel. I wrote it as a challenge to write for boys, about boys (with boy protagonists), about baseball (which I loved as a kid), and about all the things I loved as a kid, including poetry and dance and summer and friends and Mississippi, as well as the books I loved growing up, including Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
COUNTDOWN: I wrote Countdown because I wanted to tell the story about how scared I was in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when I thought the world might end any day, and we were doing “Duck and Cover” drills under our desks at school, and I was in love with the boy down the street and I had a best friend who didn’t like me anymore.
REVOLUTION: I wrote this book because I am still working out what happened in Mississippi in 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed, because I wanted to write a novel about it, because I am writing three books about the 1960s and I wanted to talk about the Civil Rights Movement in one of them, and because I wanted to revisit Mississippi.
What are the themes in your books?
I think it’s best to read a book and decide about themes for yourself, although I can tell you that, in general, every book I’ve written is about friendship and family — kinship. I write about community, and how important love is, how essential kindness is, and how we are all connected.
My books are all personal narrative turned into fiction. When I visit schools, I teach personal narrative writing, even within the assembly program. When I do workshops, we sometimes move into turning personal narrative into fiction. I write what I know and what I want to know, and that’s how I teach as well.
Do you have pets?
My wonderful old dog Sandy, who died in 2004, was the model for Dismay in Each Little Bird That Sings, and also the dog Eudora Welty in All-Stars. Probably also Jack in Countdown.
I miss her.
For a long time we had three cats: Gus, Shiva, and Cleebo. And yes, Cleebo was named after Cleebo in The Aurora County All-Stars.
What has influenced your writing?
My writing comes out of my life. I write about my childhood summers in Mississippi and my life as an Air Force kid. I take what I know and remember, mix it up with how I felt, and imagine that into a story. I always keep a notebook with me, and use it daily – I put everything in it, even my grocery lists. You never know what will turn into a story.
How did you learn to write?
I learned to write by reading and practicing. I am still reading and practicing, still learning. I also had good teachers.
What were your favorite books?
I loved Nancy Drew, Little Golden Books (especially Mr. Dog), and the Reader’s Digest Treasury for Young Readers. Also Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. As an adult, my favorite novels are Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty, Deliverance by James Dickey, and the trilogy of novels by Conrad Richter called The Awakening Land: The Trees, The Fields, The Town. I also love to read books of letters and essays. My favorite essay writer is E.B. White. I love his book One Man’s Meat and read it every year.
What is your favorite book that YOU have written?
My favorite book of mine is always the one I’m currently working on. It’s the baby and needs the most attention.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a mother, a teacher, and Nancy Drew. I got to be two out of three. I didn’t know I could be a writer, growing up. I’m glad I discovered that possibility as a grown-up.
How old were you when you discovered you wanted to be a writer?
I was in my twenties. I didn’t know how to become a writer. I figured it out a little bit at a time. I read a lot. I modeled my writing after the stories I admired.
Thanks for visiting! Back to scribbling…. xo