Today, I will be interviewing a good friend and fellow author at Ambassador International, Mary E. Sandford about her debut middle-grade historical novel, Unwanted! She was my Word Weavers critique group leader a couple of years back, but moved to Texas recently, so we don't see each other often unless we connect at a conference.
Last September, Mary graciously hosted me in her beautiful new home where I took a self-proclaimed writer's retreat. I had so much to do trying to prepare for my book's release this past Spring. Now, Mary is in the same spot in her author's career, so I wanted to give her a bit of a jumpstart.
Let's begin with a short synopsis:
Unwanted is historical fiction that takes place during December of 1958 in Chicago where 12-year-old Debbie lives in an orphanage, even though she’s not an orphan. She yearns for a new family, but puts her goals aside to comfort her friends, stand up for what she believes is right, and even to befriend a bully.
So, Mary, why did you choose to write this book?
When I was young, almost every time my mother pushed open a door on a public building she would tell me “this door opens out because that school fire” which is true. Safety codes across the country were changed after the Our Lady of Angels school fire took the lives of almost 100 children. I even repeated the information to my children when I was pushing a door open at a public place. So, when Debbie invaded my thinking with her story of longing for the perfect family, I knew I could write one story that tied the two stories together.
That's and interesting fact to ponder, Mary. When I was a young child, I remember noticing a tall, thin boy walking in our neighborhood - maybe junior high age - who wore a white cotton covering on his head, almost like a surgeon's cap. One day, I passed him on the sidewalk and glanced quickly at his face. It was disfigured. At that age, I didn't know what it meant. I asked my mom, who told me about the fire. I remember the sadness I felt when I found out. He seemed so lonely, as though he didn't have a friend.
What do you hope readers to take away from your novel?
The word hope in used many times in Unwanted because Debbie depended on hope whenever situations in her life were difficult. Hope and trust in God are like peanut butter and jelly - they fit together perfectly. When everything seemed to be hopeless Debbie said, “. . . hope was for anyone. No matter where they lived.”
So true, Mary! We all can use hope in these difficult times.
What themes are found in Unwanted?
If you could spend time with a character from your book, whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
I’d love to spend some time with Debbie. I’d like to take her out for a nice meal, or go for a long walk, or just sit in a park and talk.
How did you choose the title?
Of course, Debbie feels unwanted.
I love the chapter headings in your book. Each begins with a word beginning with the prefix "Un" - Unsettled, Uneasy, Undaunted, etc. Did you choose them randomly, or choose them specifically for each chapter?
I chose them specifically for each chapter, rearranging them more than once!
Your novel is written for middle grade readers. Why is this story important for this audience?
Sometimes I meet kids who are so entitled I wonder if they think everyone has all they have. At an SCBWI conference once said, “Reading is the only way we can truly understand the life of others” which is a valuable people skill.
Hmmmm. I'm sure we have no idea what it's like to be poor or homeless. That's why I think Unwanted is such a great book to open eyes and hearts to kids less fortunate.
What do you hope young readers take away after reading this book?
I hope readers will realize “There’s always hope.” And that they will understand trusting God is the best way to hope.
Yes, very true. I've heard it said (and I'm rephrasing it): You can live 6 weeks without food, a few days without water, less than a minute without oxygen, but not even a second without hope.
Lots of research goes into writing a book. Did you unearth a particularly interesting tidbit you just knew had to be included in the story?
I spent way too much time researching details about places and things in my book like The Palmer House Hotel, Marshall Fields, men’s hats and 1958 clothing because it was fascinating.
Ha! I would do the same. And living in the Chicago suburbs, I can visit both those sites - even the small museum on the top floor of Macy's, the company who purchased Marshall Fields. But that's another story!
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I read about 2-8 books every week, but that’s really work since while I’m enjoying the story I’m also noticing well written sentences and descriptions, and how well-rounded the characters are, and so much more.
Wow! I'm impressed. But isn't that the way all authors should read? It's a good reminder.
Please tell us three random things we might not know about you:
What encouragement can you give to those of us who are still plodding along, looking for that perfect agent or editor who will fall in love with our manuscript?
Hey! That's my word of the year - for that very reason.
What one thing about writing do you wish non-writers would understand?
It’d not as easy as they think. And it’s more about rewriting, rearranging, and revising, that it is about writing.
Who is your favorite author and why?
I love so many authors it’s impossible but here are three of my favorites:
Frances O'Roark Dowell
Jennifer L Holm
Pam Muñoz Ryan
Thanks so much, Mary, for answering a few questions for us. I look forward to your next novel!
I'm curious, Readers. Do you know of any other middle-grade or Young Adult novels set in Chicago? If so, let me know in the comments below!
Back cover blurb:
Debbie is a lot like most 12-year-olds in the 50s. She puts others first, she loves to laugh and she’s not afraid to pray. Convinced her family is destroyed beyond repair, Debbie longs for a new one. She got dumped at an orphanage, even though she’s not an orphan. And she’s determined do something about it. But when her friends need her, she steps up putting her own goals aside. Debbie protects her friends, stands up for what she believes is right, knows that forgiveness is always the best choice and even figures out how to befriend a bully. Unwanted proves that while things aren’t always what they seem, and you can always hope.
Mary E. Sandford has authored more than 60 stories in numerous publications, including two CHICKEN SOUP books earning numerous awards for her work. Mary’s debut book, Unwanted, is middle grade historical fiction that takes place in Chicago during 1958. Unwanted was released by Ambassador International on October 1, 2019. You can connect with her at http://marysandford.com/
My MG Biblical fiction "The Heart Changer" debuted in 2019 with Ambassador International.