Lucky for us, Ellie and I both got the chance to email Frances some questions, which she very graciously replied to.
Take it away!
Have you ever lived on a hobby farm?
No, though we have about an acre of land, and we grow a lot of vegetables. I hope we’ll get chickens one of these days soon.
I have some chickens I could lend you!
If you were in the shoes of Janie what would you have done different?
That’s a tough question! In some ways, I’m a lot like Janie, so I would have done a lot of the things she did, mistakes and all. I’d like to say I would have embraced farm life a lot more quickly than she did, but I’m not sure that’s really true. When you’re Janie’s age, a lot of life is about figuring stuff out—what you really believe, who the right friends for you really are, what’s the best way to spend your time, etc.—and in the process of figuring that stuff out, you tend to make mistakes and travel some wrong roads.
What was you favorite book growing up?
Harriet the Spy when I was in elementary school; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and To Kill a Mockingbird when I got to middle school. I pretty much read everything, though, including Strange but True Football Stories and True Confessions magazine. I didn’t discriminate.
Ten Miles Past Normal is pretty high up on my list!
When did you start writing?
I started writing poetry when I was in first or second grade. I started writing novels when I was 27. I always loved writing. The only things I didn’t like to write were books reports and research papers. The rest of it I loved. I really loved writing letters, and I’m nostalgic for the days when I used to correspond with twenty or so friends on a pretty regular basis. Email’s not the same.
27? I haven't ever finished writing a novel, but you give me hope!
Which character are you most like?
I’m probably most like Janie; the character I’d like to be most like is Monster. Monster’s very sure of what he wants and what he believes. Sometimes teens who’ve gone through a lot as kids, but who’ve had a lot of support, mature faster. Monster’s a pretty independent guy. All my girlfriends are in love with him.
I think I'm most like Verbena. I loved how crazy she was. :D
Did the book end the way you always thought it would?
I never know how my books will end. I like to surprise myself!
The end really surprised me, too!
One of my favorite things about Janie was that she wasn't afraid to be quirky! (Especially when it came to playing the bass in a band!) How much of that came from personal experience, and how much of it was pure yarn-spinning on your part?
Growing up, I was a lot quirkier than I wanted to be, actually. I tried hard to fit in at school (and often succeeded), but at home I was writing poetry and teaching myself to play guitar and listening to all kinds of music. It wasn’t really until I got to college that I found people who were interested in stuff that I was interested in and could let my quirky flag fly.
As I am also a college student learning to let my quirky flag fly, I salute you!
I also loved how the civil rights story was woven in with Janie's story. How much research did it take to get that right?
I’ve spent the last four or five years as an informal student of the Civil Rights Movement and so, for instance, knew a lot about freedom schools when I started writing Ten Miles. I had to do some research on literacy laws in North Carolina, to make sure I had my facts straight.
Any advice to aspiring farm girls and writers?
Read all the time! Write all the time! Learn to can your homegrown vegetables!
I think my mom would agree with you on the learning to can part!
Thank you so much for your time, Frances! And as always, see you next week, Ellie!