Hi guys! Today on the blog, I am hosting one of the kindest and most supportive authors I have ever met, Melissa Ostrom. Melissa is the author of the YA historical fiction novel The Beloved Wild, which I loved and you can see why in my review here, and I am very honored to have her on my blog to talk to us about her debut novel! I hope you enjoy this interview, and please check out The Beloved Wild! (By the way, Ruta Sepetys blurbed it, in case you didn’t know.)
About the Book
Harriet Winter is the eldest daughter in a farming family in New Hampshire, 1807. Her neighbor is Daniel Long, who runs his family’s farm on his own after the death of his parents. Harriet’s mother sees Daniel as a good match, but Harriet isn’t so sure she wants someone else to choose her path—in love and in life.
When her brother decides to strike out for the Genesee Valley in Western New York, Harriet decides to go with him—disguised as a boy. Their journey includes sickness, uninvited guests, and difficult emotional terrain as Harriet comes of age, realizes what she wants, and accepts who she’s loved all along.
1. Your YA historical fiction debut The Beloved Wild, which released in March from Feiwel & Friends, follows Harriet Winter as she disguises herself as a boy to venture into the Genesee Valley as she overcomes prejudice, nature, and eventually love. As a local resident, what do you love most about living in that region? How did the valley allure you to use it as the setting of your debut?
I’m originally from Chautauqua County. The teaching position at Kendall High School brought me to this area, and I fell in love with its gentle landscape—the sweeping orchards, Lake Ontario, the cultivated fields that alternate with woodlands, and the historical features, like the Erie Canal and cobblestone houses. I felt like a pioneer, traveling to a new place and making it my home. The families of my students warmly welcomed me. Writing Harriet’s story (and recognizing the significant role the Genesee Valley played in our country’s initial wave of westward expansion) became a way for me to show my gratitude for that welcome and my appreciation for this location.
2. The Age of the American Frontier is a time period that is often overlooked in historical fiction. How did you first stumble upon the exodus of New Englanders flocking to the uncharted wilderness of New York? What are some of the most interesting things you learned from your research?
I’m fortunate to have some dear friends who happen to know a lot about our local history. Three in particular—Diane Palmer, Adrienne Kirby, and Sharon Root—shared significant stories about the early pioneers (to whom these women can trace their own ancestries!), and those tales definitely stirred my interest. My friends also shared family memorabilia, access to the archives of the Orleans County Chapter of the DAR, and powerful reading materials, like the settlers’ reminisces, compiled by Arad Thomas. These firsthand pioneer accounts proved quite useful and remarkable. Most of the early settlers were young—just teenagers with little money and few tools—but they possessed a great deal of gumption. They worked hard to eke clearings out of the wilderness and faced incredible trials while starting their farms. Their stories inspired me. I remember reading about one young man who had nothing but the clothes on his back and an axe in his hand when he broached the wilds of his purchased lot of land. He started with practically nothing and yet made something of himself. Amazing.
3. What would be your dream adventure? Where would you go and what would you do?
Oh, I’d like to travel around our country and visit other parts of the world. But lately I’ve been thinking about walking the length of the Erie Canal—simply packing a backpack and taking off for a while, breaking up the hike with stays in inns and visits to the waterway towns. I love going for long walks and usually cover around eight miles a day. It’d be fun to set out—and just keep going! My family (when my kids get a little older) would probably enjoy this adventure, too.
4. Before you wrote The Beloved Wild, you wrote many short stories for various journals. Could you describe to us the transition you made from writing short stories to writing a full-length novel? What are the specific benefits and challenges of creating a short story versus drafting a novel?
Actually, about nine years ago when I initially decided to try fiction writing, I started with a novel, not short fiction. The novel became the first in a series of four. I finished the entire quartet before shopping around the first book. When querying this piece didn’t win me an agent, I set aside all four and got to work on another novel (a standalone). Concurrently, I began to craft short fiction.
My initial reasoning behind the short-fiction enterprise was I need to beef up my credentials! I just held a couple of degrees in English lit and my teaching certification. I couldn’t mention publications, conferences, retreats, or even an MFA in a query letter because I hadn’t accomplished any of these things. Publishing short stories would rectify that, I figured. And I have managed to find homes in literary journals for many of my stories.
But something else (something more wonderful) happened as a result of this foray into short fiction: my writing skills improved. Perhaps due to their sparer frame, stories (those admirable ones written by others and the ones I endeavor to create) showcase precise language and an attention to detail. A word must earn its place—or out it goes.