Betty Culley is the author of the new young adult novel in verse The Name She Gave Me and the new middle grade novel The Natural Genius of Ants. Her other books include the YA novel Three Things I Know Are True. She is also a nurse, and she lives in Maine.
Q: What inspired you to write The Name She Gave Me, and how did you create your character Rynn?
A: Thanks for the question! Part of my inspiration came from the circumstances of my own life. I went into foster care at nine months old and was adopted three years later. As an adult I was found by five siblings I never knew I had.
Growing up, I loved to read but never found any books that really spoke to the thoughts and feelings I had about being adopted. Also, as a labor and delivery nurse, there were times I cared for mothers who relinquished their babies for adoption.
My inspiration for The Name She Gave Me is a combination of all these experiences. And Rynn’s voice spoke very clearly right from the beginning.
Q: The writer Joy McCullough said of the book, “Told in spare, evocative verse, The Name She Gave Me is a love letter to anyone finding their way home.” What do you think of that description?
A: I’m so appreciative that Joy McCullough generously read an early copy of the book. Her description gets to the heart of what the novel is about.
In fact, the dedication in the front of the book says, “To anyone searching for their true home—wherever that may be.” I meant it to say that there are many ways of finding your place in the world and the people who feel like family to you and I hope everyone can find that true home.
Q: You also have a new middle grade novel, The Natural Genius of Ants. What was the inspiration for this novel, and for your character Harvard?
A: I admit it. I’m afraid of making mistakes! And I spent a large part of my adult life living with that fear. Especially since, as a nurse, making a mistake could have had tragic effects.
The inspiration for The Natural Genius of Ants was thinking about the consequences of making the worst mistake and how it would affect a family, especially a child in that family. I also considered what we teach our children about forgiveness, for themselves and others, because in the end we are human, and we are all bound to make mistakes.
In the novel, Harvard Corson has a huge task in front of him and only a short summer to accomplish it—trying to get his father to forgive himself for a very big mistake. Not only that, but Harvard also needs to keep an ant colony alive!
Despite the seriousness of some of the subject matter, I had a lot fun writing this book and getting to know Harvard, his little brother Roger, and his poet friend Nevaeh!
Q: Do you usually know how your novels will end before you start writing them, or do you make many changes along the way?
A: I usually don’t know how my novels will end until I get there! As I write, I see what is happening, and I write what I see. That means I’m often surprised by new characters that appear and events I didn’t see coming!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on another young adult verse novel.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: My family lives on 85 acres of woods and fields in a small town in Central Maine. Also, like Rynn’s adoptive father, we grow a lot of garlic!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb