Acknowledging the cliché “Home is where the heart is,” the middle grade writers on two panels at the recent Mississippi Book Festival discussed how home anchored their writing. On the first panel, Kimberly Willis Holt sang a tune familiar to me in her account of not really having a place to call home. As a military brat, she lived in multiple places. Like our children, she had a hard time answering the question of where she was from. Home became the place she went to visit her grandparents in Forest Hill, Louisiana. That area and Texas, where she has lived most of her adult life, came to be home to her and to the characters in her books, including her latest Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Hotel. Her fellow panelists from Mississippi, Arkansas, and Minnesota agreed that home defined the settings in their books.
In the second panel, Linda Williams Jackson (Midnight Without a Moon), Augusta Scattergood (Making Friends with Billy Wong), and Corabel Shofner (Almost Paradise) all had roots in the Mississippi delta and each of their historical fiction books grew like trees from those roots. Linda regaled the audience with her answer to the question often posed to her, “Why would an African American return to live in Mississippi?” All three authors had lived many years in other areas of the country or overseas, yet their stories came back to homes where their hearts were in Mississippi. Linda said she tried when she was living in Kansas to set a story there, but it just wouldn’t come from anywhere except Mississippi.
I wondered after this what Barry Wolverton, the only male member of the panel, would say – especially since his writing is in a fantasy world instead of historical fiction. Oddly enough, he agreed. While his world is unreal, he said the father-son relationship in the book comes from his own experience.
As a follow-up, someone asked if the characters in their books were real people in their lives. They confessed to modeling characters, especially villains, after people they knew. But that is another story for another time.