As Fast as Words Could Fly
by Pamela M. Tuck; illus. by Eric Velasquez
32 pages, ages 5 - 8
Lee & Low Books, 2013
A quick overview: Trouble is brewing in Greenville, North Carolina. That's where fourteen-year old Mason Steele lives. It's the sixties, and Mason has an important job - he writes letters for his father's civil rights group. When the group gives him a typewriter, he teaches himself where every letter and symbol is located on the keyboard.
That is the year schools are integrated, and Mason and his brothers are bussed to a formerly all-white high school. Despite his fears, and injustice from some students and faculty, Mason does well. He works in the library and joins the typing team. His skill lands him a place at the county tournament where he chooses to type on a manual machine because, he says, "it reminds me of where I come from."
The story, though fiction, is based on the real live experiences of author Pamela Tuck's father, Moses Teel, Jr. He used his typing talent to defy the prejudices of people who considered him inferior, she writes in her author's note.
Pamela, winner of Lee & Low's New Voices award, graciously answered Three (and 1/2) Questions about her new book:
Sally's Bookshelf: How did your father's writing experiences influence your path to becoming a published author?
Pam: I actually wrote for my dad, for his business, and that strengthened my confidence in my writing ability. But my love of writing - I trace that back to being raised by southern storytellers. I loved to recite stories, but once I learned how to write - that was it! I give some credit to winning a second-grade poetry contest; that empowered me and gave me proof that I was a "poet". Then in high school I joined the drama club and wrote a couple of plays - they really showed me how words affect the viewer. I kept on writing after high school and created a home writing business, writing short poems for people and framing them.
SB: Why did you choose to tell this story as fiction rather than biography? And did you have to do research?
Pam: I chose fiction mainly because my father couldn't remember all the details from some of his experiences, and there were lengthy time lapses between some events. Biographies require accuracy in dates, sequence of events and quotes, and I felt I had more control of the flow of the story and the direction of my plot if I wrote my father's story as a work of fiction. Most of the events in the story actually took place as written, but I created dialogue and creative transitions to connect one event to the other.
(It turns out that writing fiction can take quite a bit of research)... In the book I feature a civil rights activist, Golden Frinks, so I did research on him to get a better feel of his character beyond what my father could tell me. Although I may not use all of my research in my stories, I want to know my characters well enough to talk about them like family members. I researched school names in Greenville, NC during the 60s, to add authenticity.
SB: You are the winner of the New Voices Award. Talk about your evolution as a children's writer.
Pam: I got into writing children's stories through a family storytelling night we held. When I decided to get serious, I realized that I didn't know the first thing about queries. Someone told me about SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and I attended the 2007 SCBWI conference in NJ. I returned home a bit overwhelmed - but my husband, Joel, encouraged me to submit this story to the New Voices. So I called my father and then sat down and wrote.
SB: You have eleven children - how do you manage to get your writing done?
Pam: Being a homeschooler, I'm used to structuring our time - and that actually helped me schedule writing time into my day. Everyone has some individual quiet time in the evening, so that's when I write. Also - when you know you're limited on time, you make the most of it!
And make the most of it she will. Pam says she has two more projects in the works: a mid-grade novel on the civil rights era and a historical fiction picture book.
Review copy provided by publisher.
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