Monday, September 26, 2011

Eleven Up: Interview with Tami Lewis Brown

Anne Greenwood Brown here. I’m with author Tami Lewis Brown, talking to her about her recent release, THE MAP OF ME. Tami, why don’t we start with you telling us a little bit about the story.

Tami: THE MAP OF ME is a middle grade novel about two sisters, one stolen car and a whole flock of chickens. Twelve-year-old Margie Tempest thinks she'll never live up to her "big brained" brilliant little sister Peep. When she steals a car and careens across Kentucky searching for her run away momma she ends up finding herself. It's a little bit sad and a little bit funny and a little bit... weird.

Anne: Have you always written for young people, or do you write in lots of different genres?

Tami: I'm a middle-grade author through and through. I love writing for nine to twelve year olds. Those are the magic years when books open unexplored horizons. So THE MAP OF ME was always intended for middle-grade readers. It does have some heavy themes and some family conflict, but these are the sorts of problems that nine to twelve year olds see every day. Sometimes I don't think we give that age group enough credit. I've always written for young people and I always will.

Anne: THE MAP OF ME is all about the main character's search for her Momma and on another level the journey toward self discovery; what kind of journey did you take toward publication?

Tami: Not long after I fell in love with writing for young people I enrolled in Vermont College of Fine Art's MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. The teachers at Vermont College are fabulous and so are the students. I learned so much--both about writing and, like Margie in The Map Of Me, about myself. I also met my editor, Melanie Kroupa, when she lectured there. Our first book together, SOAR, ELINOR! was a picture book biography and THE MAP OF ME is our first novel. Vermont College focuses on writing not publishing, but I can't recommend it enough. I know I wouldn't be published if I hadn't gone to Vermont.

Anne: I noticed that you are/were an attorney. (So am I!) What part, if any, of your legal training helped you to write this book?

Tami: Doesn't every lawyer secretly want to be a novelist? As a trial lawyer I learned to tell my client's side of the story. It's really very similar to constructing a plot, although obviously you can't make anything up. I also learned to write clear, concise prose. The biggest difference as I wrote this novel was I had to learn to convey emotion on the page. Most legal briefs are pretty unemotional!

Anne: I also notice that you've lived in several states in different regions of the U.S., how did that experience help you develop the story?

Tami: Margie, the protagonist in THE MAP OF ME, has lived her whole life in a small town in Kentucky and the book has a strong Southern/Appalachian tone. I've never lived in a town like Ithaca (and I didn't drive a car until I was old enough to have a driver's license!) but I worked hard to imbue the novel with a strong sense of that place. My "people" are from Eastern Kentucky and that region came out in the rhythms of my character's speech, place names, mannerisms, and every other thing I could think of. At the same time I didn't want the book to be a caricature so I revised and revised and revised to get the voice and tone just right.

Anne: Given all your work/life experiences, I have to ask, have you also been a chicken farmer? If not, how did that aspect of Momma's life come about?

Tami: Ha! Actually I don't have any "hands on" experience with chickens (although I really envy author Jan Brett's chicken coop! I'm fascinated with the whole collectibles market--those ads in women's magazines for porcelain figurines and the collections hawked on home shopping television. Margie's mamma is obsessed with chicken collectibles. To Helen Tempest (and many real women) collectibles are way more than decorator accessories. They represent plenty, home, and fulfillment, even though they're mass produced commercial products. In the end of the novel chicken collectibles lead Margie to discover what is really precious and unique. It's also a little wink to all the chickens in southern literature, although I wouldn't necessarily expect a child reader to pick up on that.

Anne: What was one thing you learned about yourself as you wrote The MAP OF ME?

Tami: So much! THE MAP OF ME was the first novel I completed. I literally learned to write as I wrote this novel. I discovered a lot about perseverance and and my own perfectionism. I also learned to translate true things from my heart into a story that isn't factual or autobiographical. It was hard but it was exciting.

Anne: What is the message you want young readers to take away from THE MAP OF ME?

Tami: Follow your own path, even if its steep and twisty. Don't let other people's expectations set your limits!

Anne: Best snacks for a road trip?

Tami: Gotta say fried chicken! Don't forget the napkins. And Margie would suggest a cold bottle of Kentucky's soft drink Ale-8-One to wash it down.

Anne: Thanks, Tami. Best of luck with THE MAP OF ME!


In bookstores August 30, 2011

“[A] slim gem of a novel... Brown’s straightforward prose, short chapters, and engaging narrator are perfect for reluctant readers ages 9 to 12.”--Ingram

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