Author Josephine Rascoe Keenan joins us today to share about her YA book series. We met last year at the Ohioana Book Festival and became fast friends, so I asked her if she wanted to share a table at this year's festival. Check out her interview below. I know you'll love her books!
How did the idea for your series come about?
The Days of Elvis series, YA historical fiction, began as a stand-alone book entitled, IN THOSE FIRST BRIGHT DAYS OF ELVIS. After submitting to the “big five” and some not so big, I read a blog that suggested trying a small press. Pen-L Publishing was the first small press to receive the manuscript. To my great joy, it was accepted, but on the condition that I write two more books within the next two years and turn the original into a series. A three-book contract! How lucky can you get? My publisher asked if I could do it, and I said, “Piece of cake.” The truth was I didn’t have a clue how to write a series. However, I got busy and studied everything I could lay my hands on about series writing, and soon book two, IN THOSE DAZZLING DAYS OF ELVIS was underway. It just so happened that book one lent itself nicely to the idea that came to me for the two follow-up books. I did extensive research and found the story falling into place as if it had been intended all along.
Tell us about how the cover came to be.
The covers for all three of my books are my own art work. The medium was oil on canvas. I chose the cover scenes to reflect aspects of the story line. I typically paint only for relaxation, but I was passionately inspired to paint the cover for IN THOSE FIRST BRIGHT DAYS OF ELVIS before I knew it was going to be part of a series. One of the key scenes in the book takes place in the oil fields outside the town where the book is set. I wanted to depict that scene and the leading male character’s car. It was not easy for me to paint a car, but I searched the Internet for the make and model I wanted for the character and followed the picture of it to create the painting. The covers for IN THOSE DAZZLING DAYS OF ELVIS and IN THOSE GLORY DAYS OF ELVIS (coming soon) are a Dairyette and a Drive-In, respectively, symbolic hangouts for kids all over the country in the mid-fifties. The leading man’s car is featured in both of those paintings as well, and the pink and white Cadillac Elvis Presley was driving at that time is on the cover of book two.
Talk about the character, Julie. Was she based on your own experiences or completely fictional?
I don’t know how anyone can write and not rely on their life experiences. Although the character of Julie is a creation of my imagination, and my life story is not her story, I did call on feelings I’d had growing up with regard to acceptance or rejection by other kids, interaction with parental figures and teachers, and those first stirrings of love we all feel as we stand on the brink of adulthood. To create the character of Julie, I began with a biography of her life—when she was born, her hair and eye color, and most important, major conflicts I needed to make the book(s) compelling. When I set out to write IN THOSE FIRST BRIGHT DAYS OF ELVIS, I wanted to bring to life for kids today a story of historical importance set in the time when the world seemed brighter and more innocent than it does today. I wanted to bring kids of today into a world of fun and good times such as existed when Rock ‘n’ Roll came on the scene. I soon discovered, however, that no one would be interested in just the good times. To create a powerful plot, I had to conjure up trouble and more trouble for the leading character. The biography of Julie expanded into biographies of her fictional mother and father, and many of her relatives and friends. Since kids from small towns in those days cruised around in glitzy American cars, Julie and each of her friends had to have access to a car that would suit the characters. Very few kids in small southern towns owned their own cars, so parents and their economic situation had to be also considered when choosing an automobile for each kid to drive. Selecting the car models was one of the most fun things about writing the series. The character of Bubba John Younger stepped into Book two completely unplanned for and demanded a red and white convertible. Needless to say, I accommodated him. This may be the place to add that almost everyone I know thinks they are in my books, and the ironic thing is, Elvis Presley is the only actual person I allowed into this imaginary world.
How did Elvis influence your writing?
Elvis Presley came on the scene when rock ‘n’ roll was in its infancy and he went on to become known as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I love his music and decided to use him as an iconic figure that would help illustrate to kids today how their music got its start. Although all concerts, recordings, movies and television appearances have been researched for accuracy as to when they occurred, the dialogue of the Elvis character in the books is completely fictional.
If you could be any fictional character, who would you pick?
This is a difficult question for me to answer, having spent most of my adult life playing other characters in theatre and film. I came to value being myself more than being someone else and acting various roles during those years, and when the time came for me to retire and write, (which I had always intended to do), I had fulfilled the need for recognition through creating a character in performance. However, fictional characters I admire fall primarily under the heading of historical fiction. I got interested in writing historical fiction by reading it. If you haven’t read Anya Seton’s Katherine, set in 14th century England, you have a treat coming, for this was a real person who went from obscurity to become the Duchess of Lancaster, and whose offspring became British royalty. Another of my favorite historical characters is Bernadine Eugenie Desiree Clary, who was the first love of Napoleon Bonaparte and who became Queen of Sweden. I might add that her progeny still sits on the Swedish throne. The book is called Desiree, by Annemarie Selinko. Classroom history books were typically dry and served as a sleep aid more often than not, but by reading novels about historical characters, I developed an interest in history and followed up the fictional accounts in novels with accurate historical information about the individuals’ lives.
What is your favorite book?
I love so many books it is hard to narrow it down to one favorite. I find Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books to be a great comfort in my life, and whenever I am sick or feeling out of sorts, or looking for comfort, reading one of hers can soothe my spirits and restore me to a happy state. Of course, Gone with the Wind is an all-time favorite of mine, and believe it or not, I read that book over fifty times hoping each read would unveil some miniscule detail I’d missed that would reveal to me whether Scarlett got Rhett back. In fact, I became a writer because of Gone with the Wind.
The same is true of singers. I adore so many that it is hard to pick just one. Included in my list are: the Bee Gees, the Beatles, Arlo Guthrie, the Moody Blues, Procol Harum, the Carpenters, Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald, among many, but of course Elvis Presley is at the top of the list.
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Author of the Landry's True Colors Series, the Cecily Taylor Series, the Star Series, and Dating the It Guy.
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