Lindsay Eagar is the author of Hour of the Bees (Candlewick), a Winter/Spring 2016 Indies Introduce debut title for middle-grade readers.
A multigenerational story of finding one’s roots, Hour of the Bees is “a beautifully written, magical book,” said Drew Sieplinga of Wild Rumpus Books in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Carolina is not happy about spending the summer before junior high with a grandfather she has never met, helping her parents move him into a home for people with dementia. But as the summer drags on, Grandpa Serge’s fanciful stories of the past grab hold of Carolina and she finds herself questioning what is real and what is true, and how those two things are not always the same.”
Eagar is a classically trained pianist who also has a bachelor’s in English from Utah Valley University. She lives in the mountains of Utah with her young daughter.
What inspired you to write Hour of the Bees, and what influenced you to incorporate aspects of magical realism?
Lindsay Eagar: I started writing Hour of the Bees the day after I had trunked a failed manuscript. I was devastated to put away a project that I had worked so hard on, and was anxious to get started on something new. I began with a title, “Hour of the Bees,” though I had no idea what it would allude to in the story. I started with three ingredients: a girl trapped in the middle (of her family, of the desert, of reality and fantasy), a rambling old grandfather with dementia, and the hostile yet beautiful desert landscape of New Mexico. Within the first paragraph, I knew how the entire story would progress and end. Ten days later, I had a finished draft.
The magical realism elements were very organically part of the plot — I knew this would be a book about stories. Stories we tell each other, stories we tell ourselves, stories that may or may not be true. Serge tells Carol a story about bees stealing a lake. A dual plotline in the book is a story about a tree that gifts an entire village with immortality. Carol’s father has his own version of the story of his mother’s death. Magical realism, to me, is intrinsically about storytelling and how every day can be full of stories to explain both the mundane and the fantastical.
Hour of the Bees took only 10 days to write? That’s quick! What was the writing process like?
LE: It was a dream! Honestly, it was the best writing experience I’ve ever had. To begin with a blank notebook and only a title, and to end up with a full manuscript 10 days later…it felt like magic. It felt like some other person in the universe was whispering the story to me, and all I had to do was capture it word for word. It is, however, NOT reflective of how I revise, or how I have written anything since then! I describe the process for writing Hour of the Bees as catching lightning in a bottle — but lightning only strikes once. I think it came out so quickly and painlessly because I had been struggling with my writing craft for years through other failed projects. When I finally put those books away and let myself be open to the possibility of something new and different, Hour of the Bees poured out of me.
Hour of the Bees’ main character, Carol (née Carolina), is a 12-year-old Mexican-American girl. What was the research process like for developing a character whose heritage is different from your own?
LE: I wrote the book first, knowing I would be spending a lot of time researching Carol’s culture after the initial draft. I wanted to stay out of my own way while I captured her voice, her emotional arc, and the ending. Then I took to research. I re-read The House on Mango Street as a touchstone for Carol’s multi-culturalism. I sought out blogs written by Mexican-Americans who could help me inform Carol’s heritage. I researched using primary sources to explore New Mexican sheep ranchers. I relied on my own upbringing as a Mormon in Utah, a state with predominantly Mormon families — I used my own experiences with feeling simultaneously proud and weary of my ancestry to round out Carol’s own feelings.
Since I was writing about a culture that is not my own, I carried out research as if it were any other facet of book-writing. I researched the landscape, researched the neighborhoods of New Mexico, researched the language, researched the ins and outs of sheep ranching, and researched, basically, what it is like to live this life I was portraying. And then I sent my book out into the world, knowing that I had been as sensitive and thorough as I could possibly be as a white woman from Utah. I would suggest any other writers delving into cultures or legacies that are different from their own do the same — research, be sensitive, connect the dots to your own personal experiences when necessary/appropriate, and then sit back and listen if criticism arrives.
Suffering from dementia, Carol’s grandfather, Serge, is cold and distant, but their bond is solidified by the stories he shares about their family’s legacy. Why is the connection between elderly family members and young people important?
LE: My maternal grandfather and I were very close. He died unexpectedly when I was 13, and it devastated me. It also made me keenly aware of how fragile life is, and how swiftly and surely death comes for everyone
I believe Serge when he tells Carol not to spit on her roots. I believe him when he tells her that you may wander far away, but you are always tied to your roots, where you are planted, where you bloomed. I’d say this is why it is important that we respect and interact with our elderly — because they have already walked where we walk, and because to know and understand our heritage is to know and understand a part of ourselves. I personally would love to see more elderly fictional characters portrayed in books and movies, and not just as the wise old Gandalf trope (which I admit I totally used). I want to see old men and women in different roles than grandparents, in varying states of physical health, in varying states of mental health, but I want to see them being active characters with their own storylines. This is an entire segment of the population that is stereotyped in popular culture and I don’t know how we can expect our children to make connections with them unless we portray them as actual people.
Without giving too much away, can you tell us what you are working on now?
LE: I am finishing up edits on my second middle-grade book, which was actually the manuscript I trunked the night before starting Hour of the Bees. It’s about the daughter of marine biologists, who is kidnapped by a pirate and made to retrieve his sunken treasure. It is also about death (surprise!), and regret, and secrets, and what it means to grieve.
Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar (Candlewick, Hardcover, 9780763679224) Publication Date: March 8, 2016.
Learn more about the author by following her on Twitter.
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