Kristina McMorris is the author of the new novel Sold on a Monday. Her other books include The Edge of Lost and The Pieces We Keep. She lives in Oregon.
Q: You've said that the inspiration for your new novel came from a photo. How did that image lead to this book?
A: I was online one day, actually researching for another novel, when I happened across a photo. It was a black-and-white image of four children huddled on a stoop in Chicago, with their mother shielding her face from camera and a sign that read: “4 Children for Sale, Inquire Within.”
As you can imagine, I was stunned. I could understand a mother giving up her children for their betterment, but what would push a parent to ask for money in return?
That question kept haunting me until I finally did some research about the photo and discovered a recent follow-up article about the kids (now adults), and how some of them were reuniting for the first time since childhood.
Learning that the 5-year-old girl in the picture (whom I’ve since befriended) was sold for two measly dollars—apparently so her mother could have bingo money!—was astonishing. As was a claim by some family members that the photo was staged.
That’s when I first noticed the perfectly painted letters of the sign, complete with reflective accent marks, and I suddenly knew that my story would be told from the perspective of a reporter, one who snaps a photo of two children for sale on a farmhouse porch, leading to his big break, but also a series of devastating consequences.
Q: What kind of research did you do to write the book, and did anything you learn particularly surprise you?
A: All of my previous novels were largely set in the ‘30s and ‘40s, so thankfully I already had a lot of information compiled. For the newsroom scenes, I relied mostly on memoirs from 1930s reporters, as well as my own experiences from working at an ABC-affiliated news station, where I hosted a kids’ weekly TV show for five years, starting when I was nine. (I know—that’s a story in and of itself!)
As for the most surprising facts I learned, I would have to say… finding out that Al Capone had once opened bread lines and soup kitchens in order to improve his public image after the Valentine’s Day Massacre; that reporters sometimes got their best scoops from switchboard operators and firefighters, since both tended to know about the juiciest happenings in their town; plus all kinds of fun facts about the famed Model T, known as the Tin Lizzy.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your characters Ellis and Lily, and what differences and similarities do you see between journalism in their era and today?
A: Ellis came to me first—and actually I first thought it was primarily going to be his story. But then, with my savvy agent’s guidance, I ended up developing Lily as far more than a secondary character and was really moved by her struggles as a woman trying to maintain her job during the Great Depression, let alone trying to get ahead in a male-dominated newsroom.
Between then and now, for both its vital and less-than-stellar aspects, I think journalism largely remains the same—except for the heightened speed of news and the easy accessibility to a microphone by “citizen reporters” today.
Also for how quickly our current society is impacted and even forms judgements based on sound-bite news, too often absent of details and context.
Then again, given the premise of my novel, I suppose those aren’t exactly new concepts.
Q: Did you plot out the novel before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: As I do with each of my books, I plotted initially with bullet points, followed by a detailed synopsis, and finally a mini-Post-It board. Then as usual, of course, the story and characters developed fully, and even changed, once I began the actual writing.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have a nugget of an idea for another historical novel in mind that I’ve been researching, but since I’m only halfway through a 50-stop (as in, insane!) book tour at the moment, I’m afraid I won’t be able to dive into the next story until the new year. (Granted, my kids jokingly insist that I should be writing a sequel to Sold on a Monday… titled Returned on a Tuesday.)
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: For readers who enjoy the characters in Sold on a Monday, I’m excited to share that you can find a few of them again in my previous novel, The Edge of Lost. Oh, and on my website, there’s a Sold on a Monday book club event guide featuring fantastic themed recipes, playlists, activities, and more!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb