Thursday, April 21, 2011

ten miles past normal

When a CAF reader posted a comment a few days ago about how her favorite podcasting quilter wrote a novel inspired by the antics at Cold Antler Farm, I had to contact the author and see if it was true. Turns out that author Frances Dowell is a CAF reader herself, and felt it was time to write a story with chickens and goats in it, thanks to a little inspiration from this mess. Shucks.

Frances, welcome to the farm and thanks for taking the time to talk with us!
Thanks, Jenna. I'm really excited to be here!

You're a quilter, a blogger, and also an author. Could you tell everyone here about yourself?
For starters, I live in Durham, NC, with my husband and two sons, and when I'm not writing, I make quilts and play the fiddle. Making quilts has become somewhat of an obsession with me lately, and with the good spring weather we're getting here, I've been deeply into my garden. I also do a weekly podcast about quilting, called The Off-Kilter Quilt, which has been a great way to connect with a fabulous online community of quilters.

I started out my writing life as a poet, but after grad school I figured out that no one was going to give me a paycheck for poetry, so I started writing novels for middle grade readers (think 4th grade through seventh) about fifteen years ago. I'm eternally eleven in my heart and still a passionate reader of middle grade and young adult fiction (I've read Bridge to Terabithia about twenty times and I still cry every single time), so writing for young people has been a great fit for me.

I've invited you over for an interview because of your new novel, Ten Miles Past Normal. Tell us all about it!
Ten Miles Past Normal is my first foray into young adult literature. It's the story of 14-year-old Janie, who is a high school freshman and having a rough time. She's overwhelmed by the size of her school and the fact that hardly ever sees anyone she knows. She eats lunch in the library. It's a bad scene. It doesn't help that Janie lives on a farm and keeps dragging bits and pieces of it with her to school. Her family has five acres where they're raising goats and chickens, and up until high school, Janie loved farm life.
But lately she's found that being known as Farm Girl isn't exactly a social advantage.

It's really a story about figuring out where you fit in and what's important to you, which is a hard job when you're fourteen. At the beginning of the book, what's important to Janie is being seen as a totally normal teenager, but by the end, she's reassessing. Maybe normal's not all it's cracked up to be.

Rumor has it that CAF had a role in inspiring parts of the story?
Yep! What happened is that I stumbled across your book Made from Scratch and just fell in love with it. It really spoke to my own dreams of living a more homemade life. Through the book, I found my way to your blog, which I have been keeping up with ever since. Like a lot of your readers who've been following CAF for a awhile, I feel that I'm on this journey with you, though of course you're doing all the hard work and I'm just cheering from the sidelines. I was so excited when you bought the farm, I could hardly stand it. And I was pretty worried about you this winter!

But to back up, after I read Made From Scratch, I was really in the mood to write a book set on a farm with characters who were trying to live a DIY lifestyle. I should say I'm also a huge Wendell Berry fan, and a farmer wannabe from way back. The beauty of being a writer is that even if you can't live out your dreams in real life, you can live them out through your books.

By the way, it was after I read Made from Scratch that I ordered a fiddle from the Internet, and started learning how to play. I pretty quickly upgraded to a better fiddle and started taking lessons, and fiddle playing has been a joyful part of my life ever since. It's so funny to think that if I hadn't picked up your book, I might not be having all this fun!

What draws you into the handmade life?
I've always loved making stuff. It's just so deeply satisfying to wear a pair of socks you've knit, fall asleep under a quilt you've made, or bite into a tomato you've grown yourself. We've been putting in our spring garden, and some nights my husband and I just stand on the back porch and look at the peas and tomatoes we started from seeds. You feel like this is what we--and by we, I mean everyone--should be doing. If nothing else, it's therapeutic! But it's more than that. We just get so disconnected from our own lives. It's not good for the soul.

So who do you relate with more, Janie or her mother?
That's a great question! I relate with Janie's desire to fit in, since I always feel like a bit of an odd bird in social situations, but I'm more her mother's age, and like her mother, I'm trying to live more of a homemade life. I find as I get older, and as my boys gets older, I'm growing more and more sympathetic to the parents in my stories!

Any plans for more from this fictional farm family? a sequel or series?
I don't have plans for a sequel right now, though I've been playing around with the idea of a sort of post-peak oil book, where people find themselves having to acquire the kind of homesteading skills that very few of us have anymore. For one thing, writing this sort of story would allow me to buy a butter churn and write it off on my taxes as a research expense!

Besides quilting, do you do any other homesteading hobbies?
As I've mentioned, I knit and garden, and this summer I'm going to finally learn how to can. We have a deep freeze and have preserved food that way, but I need to learn how to put stuff in jars. I'm also collecting supplies for cheesemaking, which is going to be my next big project. Essentially, it's my hope to become as self-sufficient as possible. We've got three-quarters of an acre, and you can do a lot with that amount of land.

I've even got a little plot of wheat growing. I'm trying to convince my husband that our front yard should be a wheat field. It's incredibly beautiful, for one thing, and for another, you only have to mow it once.

Thank you so much, I can't wait to read your book!
Thanks, Jenna! Don't forget to check out the acknowledgments page, because you're there in a big way.


Blogger Kate said...

Wow, I love books written for young people. I'll have to read this one as soon as it comes out. Seems like I just keep finding treasures on your blog, Jenna. Thanks!

April 21, 2011 at 4:11 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

This is fantastic, you are such an inspiration to so many people Jenna and now this book is one of the fruits.

Enjoy it!!!!

April 21, 2011 at 4:49 PM  
Blogger Jill said...


April 21, 2011 at 4:49 PM  
Blogger judy said...

i have been trying to be a part home-made since forever-if i can't totally be home made --i can at least love reading about it-i love reading my country blogs all are so inspiring keep it up and thank you

April 21, 2011 at 5:05 PM  
Blogger KellyV (Kelly the Fifth) said...

See Miss Jenna! I told you. What a cool thing!!

April 21, 2011 at 6:27 PM  
Blogger Stargazer 2 said...


April 21, 2011 at 6:58 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

I hate buzzwords, but...what synergy! I'll bet a lot of CAF readers are gonna be buying a book called Ten Miles Past Normal. :) Can't wait to read the acknowledgements.

(Jenna, you do realize that you're already successful, right??)

April 21, 2011 at 8:08 PM  
Blogger Mimi's Tapawingo said...

That is so very special! Good things happen to good people.

April 21, 2011 at 8:57 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

Your inspiration has far reaching consequences. That is such fun news!

April 21, 2011 at 9:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

As a middle school teacher (taking my nightly break from grading and reading CAF), it was a thrill to read this interview! My students (and me too!) are huge fans of Frances O'Roark Dowell . "The Secret Language of Girls" has been a favorite since it first came out. Somehow "Ten Miles" missed my radar - so thanks to Amazon, I should have it by Monday! Thanks to both Jenna & Frances!

I should also add that I recently picked up a $1 coffee percolator that caught my eye after reading Made From Scratch!

April 21, 2011 at 10:19 PM  
Blogger Kimberlie Ott said...

dream big, start small, your inspiration brings others small steps to big that!

April 21, 2011 at 11:33 PM  
Blogger Carol G said...

Very cool, both of you.

April 22, 2011 at 12:18 AM  
Blogger Sarah Rachelle said...

Wow, that is stinkin' cool. Bravo to both of you!

April 22, 2011 at 8:48 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I buy teen books for a library system and read the advanced reader of this one, it's great very fun and real and clever. Bought several copies for the library.

April 22, 2011 at 4:59 PM  
Blogger Donna said...

Bet you really didn't realize how many lives you were touching, did you. Talk about good karma.

April 23, 2011 at 12:18 AM  
Blogger KimT said...

I love your blog and I love Frances' blog and podcast so this post was a win-win all around for me! So cool to see how you inspired Frances' book! I too dream of living on a farm and writing to both of you ladies inspire me!

April 23, 2011 at 8:08 PM  
Blogger Sense of Home Kitchen said...

Awesome interview! I am a Children's Librarian/Young Adult Librarian at our public library and I have her book on order. Can't wait to read it, I really enjoyed her books "Chicken Boy" and "Shooting the Moon"


April 25, 2011 at 3:03 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home