Saturday, August 12, 2023

Q&A with MaryLou Driedger




MaryLou Driedger is the author of the new middle grade novel Sixties Girl. She also has written the middle grade novel Lost on the Prairie. An educator and journalist, she lives in Manitoba.



Q: What inspired you to write Sixties Girl, and how did you create your characters Laura and Will?


A: I created Laura first although her name changed many times along the way. The things that happened to her in the 1960s were all inspired in part at least by something that happened to me and my family during that decade.


During the pandemic, my husband and I started telling stories about our childhoods to our grandsons on FaceTime and their interest in those stories about my childhood in the 1960s made me think that maybe other kids would be interested in learning about that time period too.


When I did an online search I found there weren't many books for middle-grade kids set in the 1960s so I thought perhaps mine could fill that niche. 


Will started out as a teenage girl in my first draft, then became an 11-year-old girl in future drafts and finally an 11-year-old boy in the final manuscript.


I thought that since Laura was telling stories from a girl's perspective maybe having a male character as the grandson would make the book more appealing to both girls and boys who might read it. I have two grandsons and so I was probably thinking of them as possible readers of my novel and wanted to create a character they could identify with. 


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Laura and Will?


A: It's a warm, respectful, and loving dynamic. I know several readers have commented that they wish they could have had that kind of a relationship with a grandparent. I was close to both sets of my grandparents so that served as a role model for me.


My own mother was a very loving and warm influence on her grandchildren's lives and I try to follow her example as I interact with my own grandkids. 


Q: Did you need to do any research to write the novel, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I did tons of research and learned so much! 


For example, I knew we'd had 8-track tapes in the 1960s but could I put an 8-track tape in a story set in 1965? Were they already popular by then? In one scene I had Laura buy a Diet Coke in 1969 but when I did my research, I found out Diet Coke only came on the market in 1982.


I did lots of research about bullying to see how it can impact kids so I could make Will’s experiences with bullies and his reactions to them authentic. I had to find out if a kid who was 11 could actually play a big instrument like a tuba the way Will does, and I knew I wanted one of his friends to be from India but what were popular first and last names for boys there when Will’s friend would have been born.


And I knew I wanted there to be a dog in the story, but I had to research and find out what kind of dog would be best and I found out that basset hounds fit the bill. Will, my hero, meets the basset hound Mendelsohn in the book when he sniffs Will’s sandwich crusts and my research revealed that bassets have an uncanny scent.


I knew in one chapter that takes place outdoors that Mendelsohn would try to get away from Will and I found out that basset hounds, while agreeable at home, are stubborn outside on a trail. When Laura gets hurt in the book Mendelsohn remains at her side till help comes and I found out from my research that basset hounds are steadfastly loyal. 


I think I probably had to do some research to write almost every page of the book.  


Q: The writer Gabriele Goldstone said of the book, “An empowering book about sharing stories, Sixties Girl is sure to stimulate conversation between generations.” What do you think of that description?


A: I LOVE that description! It's absolutely what I want to happen with the book. I hope grandparents who read it will be inspired to tell their grandchildren stories about their past. I hope grandchildren who read Sixties Girl will be motivated to ask their grandparents to tell them stories about their childhoods. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I've started working on a biography for kids about a Canadian artist who has led a very inspirational life. I was a tour guide at the Winnipeg Art Gallery for 10 years and I'm really excited about how this project will allow me to combine my writing skills with my love and knowledge of Canadian art. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Although both my novels, Lost on the Prairie, set in 1907, and Sixties Girl, set in the 1960s, are geared for a middle-grade audience, I have been so pleased with how many older adults have read them and enjoyed them too. I have visited lots of classrooms to talk about my novels but also have received plenty of invitations to adult book clubs, seniors' residences, and community and church groups.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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