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Publishers’ Preview: Debut Authors: Five Questions for Gillian French

Publishers' Previews: Special advertising supplement in The Horn Book Magazine

This interview originally appeared in the July/August 2017 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Summer 2017 Publishers’ Previews: Debut Authors, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a first book. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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In a tough coming-of-age novel (and mystery!) Grit, Darcy, her sister Mags, and their cousin Nell spend one summer haunted by the disappearance of another girl, Rhiannon, from their small Maine town.

Photo: Jacqueline Hall.

1. “Takes to the sky like a bird in flight…” Are your Rhiannon and Stevie Nicks’s related?

You’re the first person to mention that reference! Yes, the song was the inspiration for her name. I grew up listening to a lot of classic rock — still do — and I’m always on the lookout for unique character names. “Rhiannon” was a great fit for my missing girl: both are changeable, magnetic personalities, “taken by the wind.”

2. “Berry picking” sounds so bucolic, but the girls’ summer job raking blueberries is not exactly idyllic. What’s the hardest thing about it?

Working bent over all day is extremely hard on the back, and the August heat is no picnic, either.

3. I want a Mrs. Hartwell, the good-hearted beauty-pageant director, in my life. Who should play her in the movie?

Kathy Bates, without a doubt. She has the perfect homegrown resilience — plus she nailed a Maine accent in Dolores Claiborne.

Do you wonder where Darcy, Mags, and Nell will end up?

4. I think the events of this particular summer — the missing friend, the beauty pageant, the secrets exposed — leave the girls ready for the next phase of their lives, with their bond stronger than ever. All three have their own kind of grit — Darcy’s fierce devotion, Mags’s strong moral compass, Nell’s belief in the goodness of others — and that will see them through.

5. People still drink Moxie?

Absolutely! It’s the official soft drink of Maine.

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  1. Julie Curtis-Peavey says:

    I loved this book. Being one that was on the blueberry fields every summer bent over for hours in the heat of August, dehydrated, hot, sweat dripping into your eye stinking and burning, back aching. Waking up in the morning with extremely sore muscles, blistered hands, sun burned and knowing you had to wake up to another day of this. Doing this summer after summer to buy my school clothes. I started on the blueberry fields at the age of eight years old, so small I could not carry my baskets to the scale to be weighed. Once our baskets were full of blueberries we would carry them to the scales and got paid by the pound. I was too young to even know what the money per pound was. I remember being paid three cents per pound and ten cents. I remember being on the fields checking out the boys in my teens and flirting with them, that got me a few free baskets of blueberries. As I was reading this book I could vision myself being in the shoes of Darcy.
    The Beauty pageant brought me back to the days of the blueberry queen at the Union Fair. How I always thought I would love to have run for that but never did. I was able to imagine being Darcy as I read the book.
    Reading about the parties and the wildness of her teens made me think of my days as a teen. I remember things I had forgotten and they were brought back to me as I read. I was thinking how lucky I am to be alive. Some of the wild things I did as a teen paralleled the characters in this book.
    I would never take back those days because I learned from those life lessons. I grew to be a very strong willed lady with a kind heart and feel I can survive hard times and come above them and am very blessed today.
    I have to thank Gillian French for those precious memories. As I read her talented writing, she allowed me to feel my memories through the character Darcy.
    As for Kathy Bates, one of my most favorite actresses, her role as Mrs. Hartwell would be perfect.
    Thanks Gillian French.

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