Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Holly Moulder

Posted on: December 10, 2013

Holly_About_PageHolly Moulder is a former elementary teacher of twenty-one years who left her classroom to write historical fiction for young people. So far, she has combined her love of literature and history to create three novels. She grew up in New Jersey, home of main character, Dottie Zorn, but now resides in Georgia with her husband. She took time this past weekend to answer a few questions for me about her life and her newest novel, Crystal City Lights, which I’ll review here tomorrow. It has been named a finalist in the USA Best Book Awards, along with being awarded a gold medal in historical fiction by the Mom’s Choice Awards.

ALLISON: What is a life-changing moment for you as a child?

HOLLY: When I was 12, my family moved from NJ to Allentown, PA. We moved again the summer before my senior year in high school. These were definitely life-changing events for me. Packing up my things, saying goodbye to my friends, and starting over in new schools were very hard for me. I think this is why my books have characters that leave comfortable surroundings in order to face difficult challenges. I really understand how Dottie feels when she leaves her familiar hometown of Audubon to begin a new life in Crystal City.

ALLISON: What were you like as a student? What memories of your school life helped (or hindered) you as an elementary-school teacher?

HOLLY: I was one of those kids who just loved everything about school. I loved my teachers, and they usually loved me, too. I’m afraid I was one of those “teacher’s pet” type of kids. Yuk. So, I guess it was sometimes hard for me to understand why my students weren’t excited about school. That became a challenge for me: to make learning as exciting and fun as I possibly could. One day we’d dissect owl pellets, the next day we’d make fried worms (yum). I wanted my students to look forward to coming to school every day.

I approach my writing the same way. I want my readers to be entertained by what they’re reading, but I also want them to learn something about themselves or the world around them. I want them to laugh, but also to be challenged. Mostly, I want to hear them sigh with satisfaction at the last page, but crave just a little more of my story, too!

ALLISON: What are your pet peeves about others?

HOLLY: Pet peeves? I go nuts when writers use homonyms incorrectly. Words like ‘to, too, and two’ can be tricky to use, but those of us who write for kids need to be sure we have them right in our stories. My favorite sweatshirt says, “There and their…they’re not the same!” And don’t even get me started on comma splices!

ALLISON: Besides writing, what are your interests?

HOLLY: I love to read. Some of my favorite books are novels for children. For example, I really enjoyed reading Theodore Taylor’s The Cay with my fifth grade students when we studied World War II. I’m also a fan of Mary Downing Hahn, Scott O’Dell, and Lois Lowry. One of my all time favorite books is Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

ALLISON: You grew up in New Jersey, the setting of your story, but wrote about a German-American in 1943 being accused of helping the Nazi. Where did you first read about this idea? How much research was involved in writing your story about the past?

HOLLY: When I started to write Crystal City Lights, I used England as the setting. As I got deeper into my research, I realized that many, many books had already been written about England in World War II, and I wanted to write something from a different point of view. My research led me to a website about the internment camp at Crystal City, Texas. It was through the internet that I met Arthur Jacobs, author of the book’s foreword, and he provided lots of details about life in the camp. Once I met Mr. Jacobs, I was hooked on the topic of the internment camp, and Dottie sprang to life!

ALLISON: What is the easiest thing about writing? What is the most difficult?

HOLLY: I’m not sure there’s anything easy about writing for me. It’s much harder than I ever expected. I love to do research, though, because I’m always excited to learn things about the past. While researching Crystal City Lights, I even learned a little about my family’s past. My mother was born in NJ and her parents were from Germany. Her name before she married my dad was ‘Barndt’. When I told Mom about Dottie’s story, it sparked a memory she had never shared with me. It seems that during the early 1940’s when WWII had just started, the FBI came to her house to interview my grandfather who was a traveling salesman. Because he was originally from Germany, they thought he might be spying for the Nazis! Mom said my grandfather was furious. He was a very loyal American, and he would never have considered doing anything that might hurt the country he had come to love. This little bit of family history helped me better understand Dottie’s father, Burkhart Zorn.

The most difficult thing for me is rewriting. After I work so hard to get a book finished, it’s tough to go back and change things. The first time I wrote Crystal City Lights, I wrote it in third person, as if someone were standing outside my story and looking in, telling it from their point of view. My publisher suggested that I re-write the story, letting Dottie be the narrator. So, I wrote the entire book all over again, changing it to Dottie’s point of view. It took a while to do it, but it made the story much better! My publisher was absolutely right!

ALLISON: Why historical fiction?

HOLLY: I write historical fiction because I love learning weird facts about the past. I drive my family crazy by telling them all the peculiar things I discover in my research. For example, I was surprised to find out that the Slinky was originally designed to protect delicate instruments aboard US Navy battleships during WWII. The inventor, Richard James, had no idea it would become such a popular toy! I also learned that M&M candies were created for soldiers fighting overseas in 1943. Corndogs were invented at the 1943 Texas State Fair, and Crystal City, TX is known a the “Spinach Capital of the World”!

ALLISON: What’s next?

HOLLY:  My next book is already taking shape. I discovered that the Wright Brothers had a school for pilots in Montgomery, Alabama during the spring of 1910. My main character, Mabel Cecelia (Macie) and her best friend, Theo, become friends with Orville Wright and have some pretty exciting adventures!

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