Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Dianne Gray

Posted on: November 19, 2011

One of my favorite author finds in Nebraska juvenile fiction is Dianne Gray. Although she is currently busy with other projects, she graciously gve me permission to use answers from couple of interviews she did for others. The bulk of the answers I borrowed from the one she did with Hamline University. I also used a few from an interview about her book set in Minnesota: Tomorrow, the River.

Q: What in your own life most prepared you for a writing career?

A: I wasn’t an avid reader when I was a kid, so that’s not it. I didn’t take my first college class until my youngest daughter started kindergarten, and then it took me 16 years to finish my bachelor’s degree, so it wasn’t academic. I spent 20 years programming, designing and managing computer information systems, the antithesis of creative, artistic work, so that’s not it either. What it is, I think, is that I’ve always been hypersensitive to my interactions with people. I can vividly recall conversations I’ve had, ten, twenty, forty years after the fact. It’s part gift, part curse. If the interaction was joyful, I relive the joy. If the interaction was hurtful, I relive the sting. With all these voices from my past chattering away in my head, why not mine them, let them out through my fiction.

Q: How do you most enjoy spending your time when you’re not writing?

A: I love travel, playing tennis, and working on DYI projects with my husband and best friend, Lee.

Q: What are the issues you care about most as a writer? Why do you think these are of significance to your readers?

A: Social injustice and intolerance of any kind! Classism, sexism, racism, lookism, you name it. Without banging my young readers over the head, I strive to raise their level of awareness. It’s so sad, but some of the issues in the forefront of Sarah’s story in Holding Up the Earth, remain issues today. Nuclear proliferation, fear of foreign attack.

Q: Which writers do you look to as models for the kind of book you wish to write?

A: Karen Hesse and her YA novels–Out of the Dust, Phoenix Rising, Witness. Karen consistently and courageously takes on the most serious themes – nuclear accident, the Klan in the late 1920s, Inuit interment camps of WWII. Her characters are strong, yet utterly “real” and accessible to young readers. Linda Sue Park–A Single Shard and When My Name was Keoko–for the beauty of her prose. And Richard Peck–A Year Down
Yonder and A Long Way to Chicago–for his multi-generational cast of characters, humor, and his use of episodic structure.

I’ve been telling readers of Tomorrow, the River about another novel that came out in 2006 and is also set on the Mississippi River. Title is Horns and Wrinkles, by Minneapolis author, Joe Helgerson. It’s a fantasy, complete with magic and mayhem.

Q: Do you see your books as filling any gaps in the literary landscape, in terms of subject matter, message, etc. for young readers?

A: When I signed books at UMBA in 2002, the HMCo sales rep as much as told me that I was squandering my talent by setting my books in Nebraska. And one of the librarians at St. Thomas, who sat on the ALA Best Books for Young Adults selection committee, shared that a librarian from New York City made the comment that east coast readers wouldn’t touch a book that was set in Nebraska (Holding Up the Earth made the list
anyway). So yes, I believe my books are filling a gap in the literary landscape. Young people, parents, teachers, and librarians in Nebraska are so grateful to have books their young people can identify with–positive portrayals for both the landscape and the people who live there. My third novel, Tomorrow, the River, is set on the Upper Mississippi River–did I bend under the pressure? Perhaps, but it was story I “needed” to
tell. There is another literary gap that I believe my books fill (and maybe even more important than setting)–mothers and daughters,  grandmothers and granddaughters, share my books one with the other, or sit down and read them together. I’ve had emails from grateful moms and grandmoms, telling me that my books are the first they’ve shared in this way.

Q: What inspired you to write Tomorrow, the River?

A: I have lived in the Mississippi River town of Winona, MN since 1995. One cannot live so close to this great river and not be enthralled and intrigued and awe-struck by its ever-changing beauty. And its illustrious history! A novel set on the river was inevitable.

Q: Aspiring writers who care deeply about the problems they see in society and want to affect meaningful change in the world often whether literature can really make a difference in the world. If they want to change people’s lives for the better, wouldn’t they be better off going into the social services, politics, fields that would have a more direct and obvious benefit to society? How would you answer this question?

A: If I were in the social service,s my reach would be limited to the number of clients I could meet with in a day, a week, a month, a year. My books extend that reach manyfold. My books are in more than 800 library systems in the US alone. I’ve had letters from international readers living in places I’ve never been or ever hope to be.

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