Deanna Klingel lives in the mountains of western North Carolina with her husband and golden retriever. Their seven adult children and their families are scattered around the southeast. Deanna travels with her books and tries to visit family on her trips.
Deanna is currently celebrating the release of her latest middle grades novel, The Mysterious Life of Jim Limber. Welcome, Deanna!
There’s a story behind every book, but the one behind Jim Limber is especially interesting. Please start us off by telling us a bit about where the book originated.
I was attending a Civil War reenactment with my Avery & Gunner series and met a woman who was enacting Varina Davis. She told me about Jim Limber. It was such a startling story, and one I’d never heard. I couldn’t wait to start Googling. And when I discovered he was a real boy and the story was true, I just had to know the whole story.
And as history lovers, we understand that! You traveled to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond for some firsthand research before writing Jim Limber. What were some of the most interesting things you learned there?
I learned Varina Davis was a wonderful writer. In her later life as an older widow she supported herself in New York writing for magazines. But at the time of Jim Limber and her children she wrote diaries, journals, letters to her family and friends in the north, and she wrote every day to her husband. These weren’t the letters of a spy, as many southerners believed, these were intimate family letters telling what the children said, did, ate, how they played. And they all still exist in the Museum in Richmond. It was an in-depth look at the Davis family and how they survived those last fourteen months as the Confederacy began to unravel. It isn’t a part of Jefferson Davis that’s in the history books.
That’s fascinating! Every historical writer weaves fiction and nonfiction together in her stories. But a specific part of Jim Limber is nonfiction storytelling based around documents you studied, and another part is fictionalized. How did it feel as a writer to distinctly cross from nonfiction information to fiction?
In this case, it was the natural progression. No one knows what became of Jim Limber after he was separated from the Davis’s at Port Royal. So the first third of my book is actually biographical, it’s fourteen months in the life of this child who lived in the Davis household. The middle third is historical fiction. It’s what this author thinks might have happened through his adolescence. The final third is complete fiction, it’s a “choose your own ending.”
Why you chose to write the end of the book that way?
I’ve written three endings to choose from, but suggest readers write their own ending based on what they now know about Jim Limber. It’s a way to get my young readers thinking, and interacting with the boy on the page in such a way that he becomes real to them. Writers always feel that way about their characters, don’t they? If they send me their ending I will post it on my website for them so they will be published authors. Just because it’s fun.
You’ve written other middle grade/YA books focusing on a young man during the Civil War. Tell our readers a little about those, in case they aren’t familiar with them.
Avery’s Battlefield covers 1861-62, Avery’s Crossroad is 1863-65. These are historical fiction. It’s the story of Avery Junior Bennett and his hound dog Gunner. They left home in 1861 when Avery was 14 years old. He didn’t leave to join the war, he left on a family errand. But the war caught up to Avery. For the next five years he and his dog worked as doctors in the field hospitals of Richmond and Alexandria. Under the yellow hospital flag he served men on both sides of the war.
What draws you to writing about the Civil War, and specifically about young people during that time?
Visitors, come back tomorrow to learn Deanna’s answer to this and other questions. In the meantime, be sure to enter our drawing to win your own copy of The Mysterious Life of Jim Limber!
You have two ways to enter – here in our blog comments section or through Rafflecopter. Leave your answer to this question from Deanna in the comments:
Do you think historical fiction has relevance for history lovers? Why or why not?
Or, click here to enter with Rafflecopter:
The winner will be announced on Friday. See you tomorrow!