Local Author Anola Pickett on her New Novel, Whisper Island
October 02, 2013
Anola Pickett, Kansas City native and long-time resident, recently launched her second historical novel for children, Whisper Island, published by Sweetwater Books. Ms. Pickett was kind enough to stop by MCPL for an interview. Read on!
Laura: Welcome to Mid Continent, Anola. You’ve been a long-time patron of MCPL. Have you had just one home branch all these years?
Anola: For the most part, I’ve always gone to the Red Bridge Branch, but when my parents lived in Grandview, I sometimes went there. Of course, as a historical researcher, I’ve made good use of the Midwest Genealogy Center, and I’ve taken some classes at Red Bridge and Liberty. And, I did an evening program at the Liberty Branch when I did a two-day author stint in the Liberty schools some years back.
Laura: Your website says that you’ve been writing since the third grade! How did your love of writing evolve into a career?
Anola: I majored in English and creative writing in college and learned a lot about the craft of writing, but nothing about how to get my work into print other than the campus newspaper and magazine. When I graduated, I needed to earn a living and taught for several years. I kept writing but mostly kept it to myself until I met a wonderful woman named Wilma Yeo who led a writers’ group at the old Jewish Community Center on Holmes. Her encouragement and guidance, along with the group critique, got me on the road to publication. Many writers in the KC area owe Wilma a great deal, and the Wednesday morning group she began is still meeting.
Laura: You’re quite a world traveler. Did your travels inspire your latest novel, Whisper Island?
Anola: Yes, the first time I visited the Outer Banks several years ago, I went to a park ranger program about the shipwrecks along the coast there and about the work of the US Life-Saving Service. Those men (and they were all men!) went out in every imaginable kind of weather and peril to rescue crew and passengers from sinking ships. One story in particular got me started on the journey that ended in Whisper Island.
Laura: Your book launch party in July took place in the Chicomacomico Life Saving Station in the Outer Banks. That must have been fun.
Anola: It was great fun! James Charlet and Linda Molloy, the directors of the Chicamacomico Historic Site, read the manuscript before publication to be sure it was factual. They were so excited about the book and put a lot of effort into promoting the launch. They’re both passionate about telling the forgotten story of the original Life-Savers and were pleased that Whisper Island could help them do that. A mix of tourist families and local residents turned out for the launch. A young friend of mine portrayed Primmy and was a big hit, especially with the young people in the audience. James and Linda invited us back the next day to talk a bit about the book before the weekly rescue drill exercise. Local Coast Guard men and women volunteer every Thursday to demonstrate the strenuous drill of rescuing shipwrecks in the early 20th century. Truly amazing!
Laura: Was it your research into the history of life saving stations, or the idea for your main character, Primmy, that really got the book started?
Anola: It was a combination. It took me several years to get it right! I was intrigued, as I said, with a specific shipwreck story. I tried to work with that as a storybook and then as an early reader. As I learned more about the history of the US Life-Saving Service, I realized that this was a forgotten—and important--piece of American history. I kept digging. When I learned that the service was closed to females, I had a problem for a young girl to wrestle with. Along came Primmy. She marched right into my imagination and came burdened with the “high-falutin’” name of Primrose Estella, which she and I both agreed should be shortened to Primmy.
Laura: Is Primmy based on anyone you know? She’s one sweet, spunky little girl.
Anola: When I was a teacher, I always found spunky girls to be challenging but always interesting. Tales I’ve heard about my mother as a child also gave me some ideas for Primmy and some of the mischief she gets up to.
Laura: Would you tell us a little about her story?
Anola: Primmy lives with her father and two older stepbrothers. Pa and Jacob are life-savers, and Primmy envies the courageous, important work they do. It’s a career path she’s determined to follow, although folks constantly point out that the Life-Saving Service is closed to her because she’s a girl. She rails against the unfairness of this and is determined to change it. An additional conflict arises when Primmy receives an invitation to meet her mother on the mainland. Primmy hasn’t seen her mother for nine years. She left Whisper Island when Primmy was three and has had little contact with her daughter. Pa leaves it up to Primmy to decide whether or not to accept the invitation. Primmy also puzzles over the changes in her friendship with Will, who seems to think that they’re more than friends. Primmy has a lot to figure out!
Laura: Each chapter of Whisper Island begins with a very unusual word and its definition. Why did you start them that way?
Anola: As a writer and former Language Arts teacher, I love words! In my research, I came across a book titled HOI TOIDE about the language of the “old-timers” on the Outer Banks, especially on Ocracoke Island. Some of the words intrigued me, and I decided to introduce young readers to a regional dialect and vocabulary. So, each chapter begins with either a “Banker” word or a word that originated long ago. I include a definition and use it within the chapter-–a leftover technique from my teaching days: know how to spell it, learn its definition, and use it in a sentence.
Laura: Lessons to live by! Thank you so much for spending time with us.
Anola: My pleasure!
Laura: I’ve already had the great pleasure of reading Whisper Island and can enthusiastically recommend it! It'll be on our shelves soon. In the meantime, check out Anola's first novel, Wasatch Summer!