This week I posted my review of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
. As a follow up, I have interviewed the author of this marvelous book , Jacqueline Kelly. Here is the interview.
1. Where did the inspiration for The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate come from?
The entire story was inspired by my 140-year-old Victorian farmhouse in Fentress, Texas. The house has plumbing from the 1920's, and an electrical system from the 1930's, and only a few of the rooms have window units for air conditioning, so it gets uncomfortably hot during the summer. One day I was lounging on the day be in the living room under an inadequate AC unit, when I thought, "How did people stand it in this house, in this heat, a hundred years ago?" And just like that, Calpurnia and her family sprang to life to answer the question.
2. The story is based in Texas , where you now live. How did you find out what it was like to live in Texas in the late 1800’s?
I have always been interested in the turn of that century, and I just seem to have picked up details along the way. There's also an excellent resource, The Texas Handbook Online. Plus, you can find out all sorts of interesting details by looking at old advertisements, either online or in old magazines and catalogs and newspapers.
3. In the story, Calpurnia Tate develops an interest in the natural world. Is this an interest that you share with your character?
I do. I love sitting on a cushion on the front steps early in the morning and just waiting to see what I can see. Cardinals, toads, cottontails, moles, all manner of life goes by.
4. Why did you decide to bring Charles Darwin and his book into the story?
It was clear to me that Callie was going to have a deep interest in nature, and I know that, at least in certain parts of the world, Darwin was still considered a controversial character. Although I can't be completely positive, I'm fairly sure that she, as a young girl, would never have been allowed to read The Origin of Species at that time. Bringing him into the book struck me as a natural way to set up conflict between her desires for her future and what society expected of her.
5. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is full of humorous moments. I particularly like the part where Callie’s little brother gets upset because he doesn’t want the family to eat the Thanksgiving turkeys that he has cared for. Where did the ideas for these moments come from?
Sometimes, even I don't know where the ideas come from. They just show up in my head when I need them, and the turkey scene was one of those. I know that I wanted Callie to have at least one brother who was sweet and soft-hearted, and showing him as fond (maybe overly fond) of animals was one way to do that. And remember, probably all children growing up then would have seen chickens killed, possibly even pigs and cows slaughtered. Today we would shield a child from that, but back then, it was just part of life.
6. Animal characters pop in and out of the story regularly. Are you fond of animals?
My husband and I presently have two dogs and three cats, and we are very attached to them. I think every child should have a dog or cat, some kind of pet that has the capacity to show affection and responsiveness.
7. Callie’s grandfather is a wonderful larger than life character. Is he based on someone you know?
Granddaddy is physically based on the portraits of Charles Darwin taken late in his life. There are elements of his personality that remind me of myself, my father, and a couple of friends of mine, whom I probably should not name.
8. Do you have a writing schedule that you stick to?
I would love to be able to write every morning for three hours, but alas, my other work prevents this. I find that I do best in the mornings with a large cup of coffee inside me. I like to play the local classical music station while I work. Chamber music is very helpful when the work is flowing. When it is not, reggae provides a good shot of energy.
9. Are you working on another book for young readers? (I hope so)
I am presently working on a sequel to The Wind in the Willows, entitled The Willows Redux. I may be about to begin a sequel to Calpurnia, as well.
10. What kinds of books did you like to read when you were young?
I loved Black Beauty, National Velvet, The Jungle Book, the Doctor Doolittle books (especially the one where he flies to the moon on the back of a giant moth), Alice in Wonderland, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and The Wind in the Willows. Thank goodness these books are all classics and are still being read.
Thank you so much for this interview Jacqueline. I look forward to reading your forthcoming books. You can find out more about Jacqueline on her website.