Melissa, what was your inspiration for writing THE BELOVED WILD?
The Genesee Valley where Harriet and her brother pioneer inspired me. It’s where I live, and I admire so much about the area—the Erie Canal, big sky, endless orchards, rich soil, sweeping lake, and old cobblestone houses. Some of the local families have been farming their land for generations. Their histories intrigued me. I wasn’t born in this Lake Ontario fruit country. A teaching position at Kendall High School brought me to the area. But I settled here, and I’m very glad I did.
What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?
The abuse Harriet’s friend Rachel faces was hard to write, but I also felt like it was very realistic and therefore necessary to write. During this era, women’s restricted status made their lives precarious. Situations like Rachel’s starkly demonstrate why societal norms, expectations, and laws had to change.
My favorite scene (and probably also the one of which I’m most proud) occurs at the end of Part I. Harriet, fired up over her oldest brother’s callous remarks, flees her house. Daniel follows, and he ends up getting an earful. Harriet spells out for him, in no uncertain terms, why being born a girl is such a curse. I love that she articulates the truth and how angry the truth makes her.
What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?
They would absolutely enjoy PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES series. Elizabeth Bennet and Anne Shirley are smart, fierce, and funny. I adore them.
How long did you work on THE BELOVED WILD?
The initial draft took me perhaps seven or eight months to write. The revision process—tweaking, adding, and deleting scenes—probably required another six months.
What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?
Writing THE BELOVED WILD made me deeply appreciate those novelists who devote all their energy to creating historical fiction. Not only do the preparations for historical fiction require a great deal of research, but the actual writing of the work demands a constant attention to language in order to convincingly and accurately capture the minutiae of a long-ago time. Exclusively writing historical fiction would be a tough gig.
What do you hope readers will take away from THE BELOVED WILD?
The importance of friendship. The value of being yourself. The legitimacy of pursuing your dreams.
How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?
It was a long, bumpy road. My very first writing venture was a YA series of four books. I finished all of them before unsuccessfully querying the first—so that was that with those four. Then I wrote a work of contemporary adult fiction and another of romantic suspense, neither of which won me an agent. THE BELOVED WILD, though my debut, is actually my seventh novel.
Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?
I experienced two AHA! moments, the first thanks to my brother Robbie, a poet and professor. After I unsuccessfully queried the novel of romantic suspense, he suggested I write some short fiction, try to publish a few stories, and beef up my credentials. I took his advice and managed to do just that. But the most important thing creating short fiction did for me was make me a better writer. Perhaps because of their spare frame, short stories taught me to write tighter, more deliberate prose. Each word in a story has to earn its keep—or out it goes.
Around that same time, I had another epiphany. This is what I realized: even if I never successfully queried a project, never nabbed a literary agent, and never saw one of my novels in print, I was going to keep writing. The joy it brought me justified the labor.
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?
I write in my office at home very early in the morning, while my husband and young children are still asleep upstairs. I love the quiet coziness of my mornings, the crackle of the fire in the woodstove, the moon in the sky, a delicious cup of coffee, and whatever story I’m endeavoring to tell on the computer screen. Starting my day with a writing session is starting my day off right. It gives me a sense of accomplishment.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
Read widely and avidly, and write regularly. Whether or not you get anything published, commit to your writing, and recognize your works’ inherent value as profound exercises in and manifestations of creativity. Writing is a magical endeavor—truly transformative and deeply satisfying. Whatever else you do to pay the bills, make writing your real job, your passionate vocation.
What are you working on now?
I am working on the revisions of the second novel that Macmillan will be publishing, hopefully in a year’s time. It’s a contemporary YA about a young woman who, after enduring a traumatic incident, drops out of college and goes to live with her aunt, a sculptor.
ABOUT THE BOOKThe Beloved Wild
by Melissa Ostrom
Feiwel & Friends
She's not the girl everyone expects her to be.
Harriet Winter is the eldest daughter in a farming family in New Hampshire, 1807. She is expected to help with her younger sisters. To pitch in with the cooking and cleaning. And to marry her neighbor, the farmer Daniel Long. Harriet’s mother sees Daniel as a good match, but Harriet doesn’t want someone else to choose her path―in love or in life.
When Harriet’s brother decides to strike out for the Genesee Valley in Western New York, Harriet decides to go with him―disguised as a boy. Their journey includes sickness, uninvited strangers, and difficult emotional terrain as Harriet sees more of the world, realizes what she wants, and accepts who she’s loved all along.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Have you had a chance to read THE BELOVED WILD yet? Have your tried writing and publishing short fiction? Does writing bring you enough joy to justify the labor? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!
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