Our guest today is author A.B. Westrick, whose impressive debut, Brotherhood, came out last year to tributes and honors. A Junior Library Guild selection. An ALA 2014 Best Book. The winner of the history teachers’ 2014 Notable Trade Book Award. And most recently, a Jane Addams Award Honor Book!* In fact, school librarians were clamoring so loudly for the paperback of Brotherhood to arrive in time for their summer reading lists, Puffin sped up the release to June 12!!
In Brotherhood, Anne has created a gripping and all-too-real look at the war-ravaged South after the US Civil War. She tells the story of 14-year-old Shad, who joins a brotherhood to get tough like his older brother. The group turns out to be the early Ku Klux Klan, and Shad pledges allegiance before he realizes their murderous intentions. By day he secretly gets reading lessons from a formerly enslaved girl in exchange for giving tailoring lessons to her students in a school for African-American children. By night he runs with the Klan, and when his two worlds collide, Shad is caught in the middle.
Anne lives near Richmond, Virginia, not too far away from where Shad grew up. But beyond that, their lives are quite different. Anne has been a teacher, paralegal, literacy volunteer, administrator, and coach for teams from Odyssey of the Mind to the Reading Olympics. But, her real love is writing and she would skip sleeping—even eating—to do it, if she could.
So, with no further delay, here is A.B. Westrick with What Was on Her . . .
Bedside Table: The book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, which my book group chose for our June read. The writing mesmerizes me. Take this passage, for example (page 12 in the paperback), from the point of view of the 65 year-old protagonist, Harold:
It occurred to him it was Maureen who spoke to David and told him their news. It was Maureen who had always written Harold’s name (“Dad”) in the letters and cards. It was even Maureen who had found the nursing home for his father. And it raised the question—as he pushed the button at the pelican crossing—that if she was, in effect, Harold, “then who am I?”
The book includes so many delicious passages, I find myself lingering over the writing, the voice, the cadence, the author’s ability to create a profound sense of unbearable yearning… Ah, I think as I read, I want to write this well…
Refrigerator Door: A montage of photos of my cousin, Lisa, whose goal was to defend her PhD dissertation and receive her doctorate before turning 50. She did it, and her success inspired me to return to school after having four children. Then Lisa was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. She passed away in January 2011, the month I received my MFA in writing from Vermont College. Lisa was big into yoga (much of her research was in the field of “mindfulness-based stress reduction”), and I often dedicate my yoga practice to her.
Calendar: My daughter’s 27th birthday was/is the deadline to get this post to Sandra. I’ve also got a daughter who’s 28, a son who’s almost 23, and my youngest turned 21 in May. In December my dad will be 90. Eeh gads. Age-wise I’m in the middle of that spread, but when I walk past a mirror, I’m always surprised because on the inside, I feel like I’m… oh, maybe about 14. I wrestle with life questions that 14-year-olds wrestle with. Some kids might think that when they get to be my age, they’ll have answers to those questions, but… nah. Pretty much, I still have the questions.
Shopping List: Rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, kale and quinoa, because my husband’s doctor told him he’s pre-diabetic and must cut sugar and most starches from his diet. We’ve discovered a new world of ingredients (like quinoa) I’d never heard of. And now that we’re empty-nesters with no picky-eaters in the house, I don’t mind cooking (I used to hate it). Just give me a glass of pinot grigio, and lemme mince that garlic…
Writing Desk: The draft of a YA novel that my agent recently told me needed more depth and nuance. She sent me back to work, and I just spent three days writing a brand new chapter one and revising it until it flowed really well. Then I scrapped it because it wasn’t the right place to invite readers into the story. Now I’m analyzing my structure and reconsidering the point of view, and the revision process is making my head spin. Yesterday I confided to my husband that a lot of writers would give up at this point. Their doubts and the level of revision necessary would suck them down. It feels hopeless. But I told him I’m not giving up. I’m just not sure how I’m going to fix it. Then I woke up today, hearing the protagonist telling me a new angle on one of his scenes. So excuse me, Sandra, but I’m ending the post here. My manuscript is calling…
A.B. Westrick A.B. Westrick A.B. Westrick
To keep up to date with A.B. Westrick, follow her at abwestrick.com. And if you would like to add Brotherhood to your own summer reading list, you can order it here:
Be sure to stop by again on June 30 for my own What Was on My . . . and on July 10 for National Book Award Winner William Alexander.
*For our international readers, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award is given annually to the top books that advance peace and social equality.
Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel Sandra Nickel
What an awesome post! Thank you, Anne and Sandra! I’m also so excited that Brotherhood is going to be out in paperback so soon and more kids will get to read it for summer reading. I totally understand your writing-desk dilemmas too. While I must say I can’t wait to read your new book, I also know that the process can take a long time and shouldn’t be rushed.
Thanks so much, Lyn. Brotherhood is such a fascinating book. Because of Gone with the Wind, most of my thinking about post-Civil War America has revolved around wealthy plantation owners. Brotherhood looks at the every-day families and the devastation the war brought to their lives. It really is such an opportunity for entering a world most kids never see.
Thanks for this wonderful post, Sandra. I LOVED Brotherhood! I think it’s an important book and I’m so glad Anne wrote it. Can’t wait to read her next one!
I absolutely agree, Sharon.
Thank you so much! I really had fun writing this post. I love how Sandra got me to think differently about… well… whatever’s on my…
An absolute pleasure having you join in, Anne!
Love these posts! I’m so glad Anne’s book has received such great recognition.
Oh, I feel for her in the revision process of her novel!
Yeah… this revision process is a bear. But I keep going at it, and the good news is that new insights keep coming. Two days ago I felt completely stuck, then I tried re-writing scenes from the POV of a secondary character, and wow! The new voice sounded sympathetic (in a way that my protagonist wasn’t). So I’m going to keep re-writing from this new and different POV and see how it all falls out. Gotta love the process…