Today I’m chatting with Lois Ruby, who is offering a book giveaway of her ghost story, The Secret of Laurel Oak! Post a comment on this interview, and we’ll randomly choose one lucky winner to receive a copy. Please be sure your post links to your e-mail or website so we can contact you, or check back on Sunday’s post to see the winner.
Lois, tell us about your books.
The Secret of Laurel Oak is a gen-u-wine ghost story – my first. Daphne was born an African slave around 1830 and sent to spirit after a violent death at the age of fifteen. She’s modeled after a girl named Chloe whose brief life was spent at Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana. Myrtles is on the Smithsonian list of the ten most haunted houses in America.
What’s come down through history is that Chloe poisoned two little girls at Myrtles. Whether by accident or design, or if she even did it, we do not know, but her ghost has been spotted by dozens of visitors to the plantation. Nor does Chloe herself (Daphne in my book) know what happened that horrific night. For 160 years, she’s waited patiently for the right person to show up to solve the mystery. Now Lila has arrived, and all the spirits of Laurel Oaks are quickened. The book’s written in alternating voices, half in Daphne’s and half in Lila’s, as the shocking story unfolds both from the here-and-now and from the other side. Will Daphne’s spirit finally be released to eternal rest? Maybe.
I’ve also done another novel, yet to find a publisher, set in the early years of spiritualism, the 1850s. Two intrepid girls fake séances, enthralled by the popular new belief that we can all talk to dead loved ones in the realm beyond. It’s just a profitable game for them – until they discover that one of them actually has the gift and begins to hear the wails of six children murdered by their mother. Based on a true story of Polly Frisch, who poisoned her children with arsenic-laced bread and butter. Cold, hunh?
Are there challenges in writing in this genre?
Let’s be honest. In my normal life, I do realistic fiction for middle graders and teens. I’m so steeped in realism that my toes are growing roots like trees. But as I’ve gotten more rings around my trunk, I’ve hungered for flashes of the visionary life. So, I’ve begun studying about other realities, in hopes that some day I’ll experience what now is only wide-eyed speculation. The challenge for me is to escape from the bonds of having to explain every phenomenon in some logical way. It doesn’t have to make sense; it only has to sense. But that’s hard for a prove-it girl like me to reconcile. I’m working on it!
[Chris’s note: Lois’s powerful realistic novels for middle grade and young adult readers include Miriam's Well, Skin Deep, and the humorous The Moxie Kid. Her historical novels include Shanghai Shadows, Journey to Jamestown, and Swindletop. Two of her previous books also cross between the past and the present: Steal Away Home and Soon Be Free. Learn about them all on her website.]
Have your loyal readers followed you down this new path?
They’ve led me down this path. It’s where young readers already are. Now that Laurel Oaks is in Scholastic book fairs, I hear from kids around the country who never would have opened my other books. They take speculative fiction very seriously and clamor for more.
What are some of your favorite speculative books for young people?
I love classic science fiction. The old Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury books are among my favorites, probably because they’re strongly written, character-driven novels about brave new worlds, and they don’t depend on super technology and flashy special effects.
I like some time-travel books, especially Jane Yolen’s wonderful The Devil’s Advocate, which catapults a contemporary girl into the milieu of the Nazi Holocaust, then gets her safely home again. I’m not interested in magical, fantastical books or vampires or elves and faeries, either in medieval or urban settings. I’d rather read post-apocalyptic, dystopian novels such as Rosoff’s How I Live Now, Beth Pfeffer’s Life as We Knew It, and Haddix’s Among the Hidden series. Of course, I join the zillions of fans of the Hunger Games trilogy – unmatched for heart-thumping excitement coupled with contemporary satire.
However, in my estimation, as a librarian and author, the finest book for young readers in this genre (maybe any genre) is Lois Lowry’s The Giver. That’s a book I can read over and over, holding my breath all the way through the quiet, understated horror of a world without color, art, music, blemish, passion, memory – and the awakening of Jonas, who is given the gift of these forbidden emotions by the one dying old man who safeguards them all for future generations. Magnificent book. Fifth graders can read it for sheer story, seventh graders get the subtleties and begin to think about the implications. Adults are devastated by it.
Why do you think young people are drawn to dystopian novels?
Some say the 21st century high school is the quintessential dystopian society. It can be a cruel and hostile place with its social stratification, intense bullying and hazing, and its refusal to accept those who are “different,” however that difference is defined from within a clíque. Other people say that we live in a gloom-and-doom world that is totally out of control. The young heroes of dystopian novels find and earn ways to out-smart and overcome the doom of their worlds and change society for the better.
Once you read your way through the muck and joylessness of those post-apocalyptic worlds, you see hope at the end of the dark tunnel. Young people want to know that there are ordinary kids just like them who summon the determination and courage to triumph over incredible obstacles, foes, and threats, and come out whole on the far side of the adventure.
Is the same true for ghost stories?
It’s different. I think people of all ages wonder about what’s beyond life. Very religious people think they know, but most of us see death as a mystery, and life as something we don’t want to let go of. So, we speculate about reincarnation and a vibrant spirit life after we shed our bodies. Besides that, young people just love to be scared witless and then to be reassured that things will be set right again when the nail-biting, heart-racing story ends.
Anything else we should know about you?
I have a wonderful husband that I met the first day of college at Berkeley, three sons, three daughters-in-law, and five grandchildren. I’m older than permafrost, but I made the decision way back when that I’d never totally grow up if I wanted to write stories for and about young people. You could say I’ve stayed blissfully immature. I have the pleasure of visiting schools all over the country and have encountered some awesomely good teachers and librarians. It’s the kids, though, who make it so much fun. Oh, one more thing. I collect pigs, though not live ones. Yet. Please follow me on Facebook and visit my Website.
Post a comment on this interview, and we’ll randomly choose one lucky winner to receive a copy of The Secret of Laurel Oak!