Title: The Growing Rock
Author: Susanna Lancaster
Genre: Early YA, Historical
Date published: December 12, 2017
Page count: 197
Available formats: Paperback
Papa is a good liar—he can tell a fib all the way from Ripley to Nashville to calm everyone down or make a situation seem better, including the Great Depression. But the day he promises fourteen-year-old Caroline that everything will be okay when he leaves the farm to find work elsewhere, she isn’t so sure. After all, her favorite brother George told her something similar not long ago. And no one has heard from him since.
Caroline has to believe George will come back. Otherwise, she won’t have the strength to do her share of the work while looking after her sickly little sister Phoebe and telling her hopeful stories about the Growing Rock that magically grows every summer. But as time moves on, Caroline feels more and more discouraged. When tragedy occurs that threatens to break the large family apart even more, will Caroline give into the hopelessness that has consumed Mama?
The Growing Rock (Harvard Square Editions), by debut author Susanna Lancaster, depicts the Great Depression era in a fresh light with striking historical details and transports readers of today to the world of 1937. Intended for early Young Adult readers, the book explores complex family dynamics and significant cross-generational themes.
– AUTHOR INTERVIEW –
1. How long have you been a writer? And did you always know that you wanted to write books?
How long have you been a writer? And did you always know that you wanted to write books? I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember! Some of my earliest memories include writing my own stories and showing them to my parents. I was a very shy child, and I was a true bookworm. Reading and writing were my favorite things to do. Both not only entertained me and helped me use my imagination, but they provided an escape outlet from reality. Because of this, I was constantly writing. I dreamed about publishing a book my entire life.
2. What inspired you to write The Growing Rock?
There were several things that inspired me to write this book. When I was a college student, I needed to write a new story for one of my creative writing classes. I was having a phase of writer’s block and wasn’t sure what to write about. I remember talking to my grandmother and leaving her house feeling inspired because she told me a few stories about her childhood that I hadn’t heard in several years. As a child during the Depression, she would go visit a relative with her parents. This person had a gigantic rock in her backyard, and my grandmother and her siblings loved to climb on it. They called it the Growing Rock and joked that it grew larger every time they saw it. The story was sweet and simple and reflected this whole entire other way of living that the current generation will never fully understand. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I wrote a small short story based off of this idea. In graduate school, I began expanding the plot and turned it into a novel.
The other thing that inspired me was my family. My siblings, without a doubt, helped lay the foundation for much of the book and helped me develop all of the family dynamics and themes. Like the main character, Caroline, I have a pretty big family. I’m the middle of five children and have an older and younger brother and an older and younger sister. We were all extremely close growing up. As I worked on this book, I found myself reflecting on my own childhood and teen years. I don’t completely know what it was like to grow up during the Depression, but I do know how it feels when a family income is tight, I know how it feels to share bedroom, and I know plenty about sibling rivalry, but also the strength of sibling bonding and love. I know how it feels to be worried sick about a brother or sister. Like Caroline’s favorite author, Louisa May Alcott, I took elements of real life and wove them into this story.
3. What inspired you to write about the Great Depression?
Again, the stories my grandmother told me about the Growing Rock, but other stories inspired me as well. As an eighteen/nineteen-year- old college student, it was crazy to me hearing about my grandparents eloping at the young ages of eighteen and twenty. It was hard for me to imagine, but it was also perfectly romantic. Every time my grandpa told me about how he knew he would marry my grandma as soon as he first laid eyes on her, I began imagining characters doing and saying the same things. (In the book, Caroline’s older sister Blanche is far different from my grandmother, and the events leading up to her wedding are entirely fictional. But ideas were inspired from my grandparents’ elopement.)
It was also inspirational to read and learn more about the Great Depression era as a whole. It was such a dark time for our nation, and I think it’s important that we don’t ever forget it or take things for granted. Also, most books I’ve read set during this time are set in the north, rather than the south, and they often take place in large cities. I had several older people, including my grandpa, tell me that in some ways the south had sort of been in its own kind of depression since the Civil War—many parts of the south had never fully recovered from it. It was, overall, poor and still rebuilding itself. It was interesting to hear this information first-hand, something the history books don’t always tell us. Caroline’s world slowly unfolded in my mind, and the more research I did, the more I wondered how would her family react to Amelia Earhart’s disappearance? How would the river floods mentioned in the book affect them? What was it like to work long, lonely hours on a field? The more I wondered these types of things, the more I felt compelled to tell this story.
4. Where exactly do Caroline and her family reside?
They live in a small town called Ripley, located in Tennessee. It’s about an hour away from Memphis. I wanted them to live in a very rural area to help break the north / big city setting we see in most Depression era books. I wanted the setting close to Memphis, though, because Memphis has a Cotton Exchange.
5. Was The Growing Rock meant to be an early YA readers book from the beginning, or did that happen along the way?
This is a great question because the specific age group did do some shifting during the writing process. I was warned while I was a graduate student that it might be difficult for publishers to place the book because of Caroline’s age: fourteen. In some ways, her age can still fall under the middle-grade category. After all, most children read older, meaning an eleven-year- old girl would probably enjoy reading about someone who’s fourteen or fifteen. On the other hand, fourteen is also a teenager, and so the number itself does fall into the YA category. So, this was a huge dilemma for me as a writer. It’s crucial to know which market your book best fits.
As a reader, the limitations of an age category were even more frustrating to me—I believe the age of fourteen is awkward in real life because of this exact reason, the not know where you belong. I remember how at the age of fourteen, I wasn’t by any means an adult or fully ready for some of the things the teen years bring with them, but, at the same time, I wasn’t a complete child anymore either. Thinking back on that year in my life, I can’t recall reading any books where the protagonist is fourteen. I read lower (age 12) or read older (age 16). The publishing industry loves even numbers—I read plenty of books with characters ages ten, twelve, sixteen, etc., but for some reason, age fourteen is often skipped.
In the end, even though I was advised by several people to change Caroline’s age, I felt so strongly about it that I couldn’t change it. Her age—the awkwardness and the growing and changing that comes with those early first teen years—is important. I knew the story wouldn’t be the same if I had changed it. Age is never a one-size fits all, but, of course, I did have to place the book in a category. During the long revision process, my publisher and I both saw that a lot of the themes and the physical changes Caroline undergoes fit the YA category better than middle-grade. I believe it’s a soft transitional book for those who sometimes read middle-grade and are starting to read YA too. It’s the kind of book I wanted to read when I was thirteen or fourteen, but I think that in the end, it depends on the reader and what he or she needs to read at the moment.
6. Do you think that you will continue writing books for early YA readers?
I enjoyed working on this book so much, and I’m hoping it can shed some light on an age that literature doesn’t tend to focus on. If I have other ideas that fit into the early YA category, then I would definitely run with them. Right now, I’m working on another YA book, but the main character is several years older than Caroline. I’m also working on a story told through the eyes of a ten-year- old. So, really, I’m open to writing for any age group if I have a story that needs to be told.
7. How long did it take for you to write The Growing Rock?
It took about a year to write the book from beginning to end, but revision is another story. I revised the manuscript for over two full years before it was accepted for publication. Even after it was accepted, revision continued for a while.
8. Are you normally drawn to writing historical fiction? Or was The Growing Rock a unique exception for you?
I am definitely drawn to books set during a historical time. I grew up reading books like The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry, Little House on the Prairie, and the American Girl books. It’s always been fascinating for me to read a good story and learn more about another time period. I’ve written other pieces set in different times, but The Growing Rock is the one I spent the most time on. I have another manuscript I’ve worked on here and there for a while now, and it’s set during the 1960s.
9. Is there a particular time of day when you feel more inspired to write?
Most writers I know seem to have a point in the day that inspires them, but for me, inspiration hits when it hits. Usually, this is when I’m working and too busy to write! I just write whenever I can, but I do try to jot down ideas or dialogue as they come.
10. Did you experience writers' block at all, while writing The Growing Rock? And if so, how did you deal with it, and overcome it?
Absolutely! Whenever I got stuck and wasn’t sure what to write next or wasn’t sure how to change something in the book, I took a break from it and worked on another project. I know this stretches the writing process out greatly, but it’s difficult (and for me, counterproductive) to write if there’s no inspiration at the moment. Sometimes, I took days away from the book, and other times, it was weeks.
Another thing I did to help inspire me and give me fresh ideas was to immerse myself into the 1930s as much as possible. I listened to 30s music, watched 30s films, read newspapers and magazine ads from the 30s, and I was always looking up clothing and trends from the time as well. Feeling as if I had entered Caroline’s world pulled me back to her story and fight off the writer’s block.
– ABOUT THE AUTHOR –
Susanna Lancaster writes for readers of all ages. True to her southern roots, she enjoys creating stories set in the south and has a passion for historical fiction. Her work has appeared in Balloons Lit. Journal, Hieroglyph Literary Journal, The Perpetual You, and the Dear English Major website. She is a regular contributor to the Memphis Health + Fitness magazine. Susanna earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young people from Lesley University. She teaches English at Southwest Tennessee Community College. She lives in Memphis, TN with her husband and pet yorkie Boston. The Growing Rock is her first published book.
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