Tamara Bundy is a former columnist for Hilliard, This Week and the Cincinnati Post (her regular column on being a mom also appeared on EWTN global Catholic radio). She taught high school English for 17 years and currently teaches English at Miami University. Tamara is the author or co-author of seven non-fiction books. Her middle grade novel, Walking with Miss Millie debuted last summer from Nancy Paulsen Books, a division of Penguin. Her second middle grade novel will also be published by Nancy Paulsen in 2019.
Before the interview begins, I have to say I adore this cover! It makes me think of Ginger Pye.
At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?
That changes from novel to novel. Sometimes I must get a plot point written down since it is in my head –and I will then write it first and try to find the research I need after. Admittedly, it is easier to find the research first and then write it, but my muse appears when she feels like it.
What is your favorite thing about research?
First, it would be just being submerged in another time –completely soaking in it. Sometimes I get so lost, I forget everything else. But my next favorite thing about research would be those perfect discoveries, finding that one fact that will not only fit into my narrative –but will also frame it and direct it.
What’s your least favorite thing about research?
I am a very optimistic person, but some research can be so heartbreaking. When I was researching Walking with Miss Millie and looking up pre-civil rights facts, it broke my heart. But it also made me more determined to write the novel to show goodness in the face of evil.
What’s your favorite thing about writing historical fiction?
I love nostalgia—basking in the feel of a time long ago. When I write in an earlier time period, I sometimes get so lost in the time that when my cell phone goes off, it can be jarring.
What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?
I think the details become harder. For instance, in my next historical fiction, due out Summer 2019, I needed to know how many people had indoor plumbing in the 1940’s. Were there one-room school houses or were those dying out by then? It’s easy to get the large historical data that you need for a time-period, but for the details that make your story seem real, I prefer first-hand experience.
What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?
My mom and dad grew up on a farm in the 40’s. This is the setting of my latest novel, so I interviewed them. I had known various things about their upbringings all my life, but researching the time with them gave me new insight and appreciation into them. My dad passed away two months ago. That time I spent talking to him about his childhood is more than precious to me now.
Why is historical fiction important?
I was not into history in school. I thought it was all about boring data that I struggled to remember. It wasn’t until I had the “ah-ha” moment of realizing that history is the STORY of what happened before. That seems so simple, but it was a really big shift for me. Suddenly I looked at it as learning people’s stories and I couldn’t get enough of history. I love to think that just maybe, one of my novels might give that “ah-ha” moment to another reluctant learner.
One piece of advice I give to all students on my school visits, is to interview their grandparents, or great-grandparents and ask them questions about what life was like for them growing up –where they went to school, played, or even what they ate. Our elderly generations are precious walking history lessons, and we are in danger of losing these lessons before we get a chance to write them down. In the very least, they will make a memory that both will cherish.