Danny: WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE is the first middle grade mystery I've read since I was in Elementary School and, frankly, I don't remember them being half as engaging as your debut, Tess. Care to share a little bit about the story with Apocalypsie's readers?
Tess: With a Name Like Love is a heart and soul mystery set in 1957 Arkansas. It is full of light and hope with just a little thread of darkness to pull you through.
Danny: There's a genuine empathy for the characters in your novel, which really shines through in the voice of your amateur sleuth, Ollie. What led you to write for this age group?
Tess: Being thirteen was hard, I remember it! I think I write this particular age group because it is a time when you are longing for connection and understanding. I hope to offer that in my stories.
Danny: As I was reading WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE, your descriptions and setting reminded of the "grotesques" of Flannery O'Connor. Are you a fan of her work? If not, what other authors informed your writing style and the decision to set your story in 1957 Arkansas?
Tess: I am a huge fan of Flannery O'Connor and remember well studying her works in high school. I hadn't thought of the connection but am flattered you would think so. I set my story in 1957 Arkansas because my father's side of the family comes from that area and time and I had access to family journals and stories. The idea of place came from that side and the idea of a travelling preacher came from my mother's side. I just pieced my own history together and came up with a basic framework for the novel.
Danny: In WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE, you certainly didn't shy away from issues of abuse and alcoholism. But you dealt with them in a skillful, sympathetic way. Describe your process in finding that perfect balance for middle grade readers.
Tess: It was a challenge and something I really had to ponder. I wanted to create a dispicable character so readers would be okay with him being dead (that's the murder mystery part) but had to be careful not to make the situation too graphic. I chose to have most of the events happen in the past so my characters were looking back on the sad and sorry stories instead of actually living them. This degree of separation helps create that balance required for this age group.
Danny: Traveling tent revivalists are fascinating, no matter how you slice it, but the Reverend Everlasting Love has to be the most awesome name I've ever read. Was there a lot of research involved to nail this slice of life?
Tess: Like I said, I did have a travelling preacher on my mothers side of the family long ago. I used bits of stories handed down, mixed with my own imagination of what type of a man might choose that lifestyle. What I didn't want to do is fall into the trope of writing an angry preacher that wasn't really who he proclaimed to be. That seemed too easy. I wanted to write a sincere portrait of those families who gave their lives to share their beliefs. I wanted the family to be genuine and kind and doing the best they could, even if it wasn't always perfect.
Danny: If there's one things that binds The Apocalypsies to our readership, it's our joint love of reading...a lot. What are some of your favorite reads, YA, MG, or whatever?
Tess: I adore classic historical fiction like The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Island of the Blue Dolphins. For me, it just doesn't get better than that.
A big thank you and congratulations to Tess Hilmo for stopping by and birthing such a wonderful MG novel! Stop by her blog and don't forget to pick up WITH A NAME LIKE LOVE!