Most of the time, my idea for a book comes after I have visited a place that intrigues me. Or I discover a little-known historical fact, person, or event that needs showcasing. Here are my latest Works-In-Progress with a few reasons why I chose to tell these stories.
In 1910, during the industrial revolution in North Carolina, a powerless fifteen-year-old girl has little more to hope for than unending work in a cotton mill under manipulative bosses. But Trilby King, with a voice like a nightingale, has dreams: dreams of going to music school and teaching others to sing. When fate disables her parents, Trilby must somehow keep the family afloat. How can she possibly make her dreams come true now? THREADS is a story of determination, of family love and conflict, of desperation and lies, of budding romance. Ultimately, it is the story of how one girl conquers the odds stacked against her and literally finds her own voice.
When I was a child, my family attended a church in a rural area. We passed this property every Sunday. Imagine this lovely home with a forest of trees in front of it, with vines and underbrush growing within the forest. We could barely see that there was a dilapidated house behind the trees. Did anyone live there? Was the house filled with ghosts? Little did I know then that the house had been built in the 1890's and was the home of the local mill owner.
Many years passed before I discovered the actual mill village that was on two streets behind the mill owner's house. These simple structures housed families who worked in the cotton mill. I was struck by the disparity between them and the mill owner's home. I began to investigate what life was like for a mill worker in the early 1900's and was shocked to learn that children as young as nine worked in the mills six days a week, twelve hours a day.
The more I explored the mill village, the mill, and the mill owner's house, ideas for a novel formed. I created the King family whose teenage daughter is forced to work in the mill to help the family survive. The main problem...she wants to finish high school and attend a music academy. Her parents agree to Trilby returning to high school if she works for a year in the mill. But soon Trilby is solely responsible for the welfare of her family. Her desperation leads to lies and deceit that can ruin them all.
Following is an excerpt from THREADS:
In my fifteen years of living I’d never woke up in a bed by myself. But there I was, stretching my bare legs from one side to the other, and the only things I felt were the lumpy mattress underneath and the quilt on top. Cousin Esther’s smelly breath wasn’t blowing in my face, and Cousin Pauline’s rump wasn’t planted square in the middle of my back.
Bright morning light beat my eyelids open like steam on a sealed letter and reminded me my year of misery had begun. It was time to get dressed for my first day of mill work. A knot of dread lay hard and cold in my stomach, anchoring me to my bed.
I looked around the bedroom in the unfamiliar house, noticing patches of dull wood that fought their way through old blue paint. A small fireplace held an empty grate. Diffy, my seven-year-old brother snored softly in his bed. Yellow-white hair curled on top of his head, and his normal foot stuck out from under his quilt. His shriveled leg and club foot lay hidden under the covers.
Usually I greeted the day with singing. Most times I’d just as soon sing as eat. But for weeks, the thought of quitting school and moving away from everything I’d ever known dried up every song in my mouth. In my heart.
THE DAM NOVEL (no joke!)
This is an aerial view of the tallest dam in the eastern USA. Fontana Dam. 480 feet tall. It was constructed in the NC mountains in Welch Cove during World War II in only 3 years! Notice the tiny building at the base of the dam? That building is 7 stories tall. Huge Fontana Lake was created when water from a river backed up behind the dam and flooded over 7,000 acres, including 7 former towns. ALCOA plants needed electricity produced at the dam to run their aluminum plants - aluminum for war machinery.
10-year-old Joe Miller reluctantly moves to this remote mountain area with his mother and uncle who will work at the dam. Because of an earlier tragedy, Joe has intense fears of water and heights. Can he control his stutter and fit in with his fifth-grade classmates? Can he earn the friendship of Frankie, the outspoken Irish/Cherokee Indian girl whom he admires? Can Joe and Frankie solve a local mystery and help save the lives of men who work on the monstrous dam?
It has been my great honor to spend time at Fontana Dam interviewing Dam Kids - men and women, now in their 80's and 90's, who lived as children in Welch Cove during the building of Fontana Dam. They have willingly and unselfishly shared their unique lives and memories with me. I am forever indebted to these friends. Please meet Doris, Homer, Mildred, and Harvey. Yay, Dam Kids!
The Girl Who Parachuted Into History
This manuscript is a picture book biography that introduces the world to Tiny Broadwick who was a tiny girl. Born in North Carolina, she weighed only 3 pounds at birth and never weighed more than 80 pounds her entire life which spanned 85 years. In spite of her small stature, she harbored a huge dream to escape the hard life she led as a mill worker and fly like a bird. When she was only 15, she made her first parachute jump from a hot air balloon...landing in a blackberry bush! In 1913, at the age of 20, she became the first woman to ever parachute from an airplane. And later...she invented the rip cord in an attempt to save her life!
BILLI MAC AND ROCKY
An Early Chapter Book Series
My mother, Betsy Glenn Matthews Chandler, inspired my ideas for this series. Mom was an imaginative young girl. Add fearless to that equation, and you’ve got excitement…and sometimes trouble. Observe the photo to the left. Now, look at the child, seated, third from the left. Yep, it’s a girl. Betsy Glenn herself. Just a day before this picture, she had taken scissors to her beautiful long hair because she wanted short tresses like her blonde cousin Carolyn. Just two days before that, she had visited her neighbor’s chicken coop and stolen eggs to put in her mud pies. Miss Nora Hughes was NOT happy! Neither was my grandmother. I’m surprised she let Betsy see the light of day so soon after the theft!
The little boy in the stroller is my mom’s brother, my uncle, Billy Mack Matthews. He will grow up to be Betsy’s nemesis in their younger years. He will hit Betsy in the head with a hammer, and she will push him off the porch. Little things like that kept my grandmother on her toes.
When I approached my agent about a series of books featuring a girl of grit and action, who believes problem solving to be her forte (yes, of course, she creates most of the problems!), my agent fell in love with my uncle’s name and suggested I call this little female dynamo Billi Mac. I acquiesced. I’ll never forget the shock and disbelief on Mom’s face the day I had to explain the decision, but to her credit, she loved the story ideas.
Sometimes, Billi Mac’s problem solutions don’t go exactly as planned. Lucky for her, her dog Rocky is there to help herd her to safety and sanity - even if it’s after a disaster. Book One in the Billi Mac and Rocky series is THE CHICKEN COOP CAPER, based on Mom’s short run as a thief. In this debut rip-roarin’ early reader, Billi Mac’s spur-of-the-moment decision to take eggs from Miss Nora’s chicken coop, in spite of Rocky’s “ruh-rohs,” sets off a chain reaction of frantic hens, a disgruntled neighbor, and a long road back to a happy friendship.