Thursday, February 16, 2017

JASPER AND THE RIDDLE OF RILEY'S MINE : An Interview with Caroline Starr Rose

Today I'm pleased to welcome Caroline Starr Rose to the blog for an interview on her newest historical fiction, Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Mine. Among Caroline's works are her award-winning middle grade historical fictions May B. and Blue Birds.

"Jasper and the Riddle of Riley's Mine is a rollicking adventure, warm and funny, chockablock with bad guys and good guys, mysteries and deceptions, dangers and disasters. it's a rip-roaring tale and a romping good read." --Newbery Award-Winning Author, Karen Cushman

Desperate to get away from their drunkard of a father, eleven-year-old Jasper and his older brother Melvin often talk of running away, of heading north to Alaska to chase riches beyond their wildest dreams. The Klondike Gold Rush is calling, and Melvin has finally decided the time to go is now—even if that means leaving Jasper behind. But Jasper has other plans, and follows his brother aboard a steamer as a stowaway.

Onboard the ship, Jasper overhears a rumor about One-Eyed Riley, an old coot who's long since gone, but is said to have left clues to the location of his stake, which still has plenty of gold left. The first person to unravel the clues and find the mine can stake the claim and become filthy rich. Jasper is quick to catch gold fever and knows he and Melvin can find the mine—all they have to do is survive the rough Alaskan terrain, along with the steep competition from the unscrupulous and dangerous people they encounter along the way. [Amazon Book Summary]

Caroline, thank you for joining us on Mad About Middle Grade History today. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea for Jasper?

Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine is a blend of a couple different ideas that had been floating around in my head for a while. When I was first researching the American frontier for the novel that became May B., I happened to read a book called Women of the Klondike. It was a fascinating glimpse into a moment in history I hardly knew anything about. A few years later, my sons asked if I’d ever write a book about a boy. Around the same time, as I was thinking about their question, I read an article in the Albuquerque Journal about an eccentric millionaire named Forrest Fenn who had hidden treasure somewhere in New Mexico and written a cryptic poem about its location. The first person to figure it out could keep the treasure. Lots of treasure hunters have searched, but so far no one has found Fenn’s fortune. I took that Klondike setting, added my first boy protagonist, Jasper Johnson, and threw in a mysterious mine worth millions available to the first person who could solve five riddles leading to its location.

Just writing about it now makes me think, “I’d like to read that book!”

In the words of Jasper, "It was better than fine!" What sort of research did you do for this book?

Map of the Klondike
A few weeks ago I looked over my notes and realized I’d read four novels (middle grade mysteries, gold rush fiction, and a third round with Huckleberry Finn) and around 14 non-fiction books in preparation for writing Jasper. I also watched a couple documentaries, visited countless websites, and for the first time ever, traveled to a place in one of my stories. (My husband and I took an Alaskan cruise in 2015).

I know Jasper was modeled after Huckleberry Finn. Can you tell us more about this?

When my sons asked me to write a story with a boy protagonist, I immediately thought of Huck Finn. I mean, has there ever been a more memorable boy in the history of American literature? I couldn’t go wrong in using Huck as a starting place, I figured. The more I thought of it, the more I realized he would make a great model for a Klondike gold rush character. Huck’s colloquial speech, sharp observations, sweet gullibility, resourcefulness, and tendency to speak his mind all fit perfectly with the gold rush setting, where misinformation abounded and quick wits were necessary to survive.

What is the main thing you want readers to take away from your book?

I hope readers close the book feeling like they’ve been to the Klondike gold rush, that they experienced everything right alongside my characters and really have a sense of what the world was like over a hundred years ago. I’d love it if it took some time for them to readjust to regular life! I also hope readers might reflect on wealth and riches and what really matters in this world.

Miners climbing the Chilkoot Pass

Who are some middle-grade historical fiction authors that inspire you?

Karen Cushman is the master. I also enjoy Christopher Paul Curtis, Augusta Scattergood, Kirby Larsen, Jennifer Holm, and Laurie Halse Anderson.

A great list of authors! This is your third work of historical fiction. Why is historical fiction important?

It is so easy to be inwardly focused, to think that our lives and our current moment in history are the ultimate. Historical fiction invites us to look beyond our experiences, our perceptions, and the way the world functions in this time period. Ideally, it leaves us with a better sense of others—even if we don’t always agree with them—a better sense of ourselves, and the ability to appreciate both the differences and similarities between the past and present.

What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as an author?

Knowing characters I’ve created live apart from me in the hearts and minds of readers is pretty much everything.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Thank you for the opportunity to visit Mad About Middle-Grade History today! 

Caroline Starr Rose is an award-winning middle grade and picture book author whose books have been ALA-ALSC Notable,* Junior Library Guild, ABA New Voices,** Kids’ Indie Next, Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for Kids, and Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. In addition, her books have been nominated for almost two dozen state awards lists. In 2012 Caroline was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B. She spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico and taught social studies and English in four different states. Caroline now lives with her husband and two sons in New Mexico. You can find Caroline here .

Michele Hathaway is a writer and freelance editor. She has an M. A. in Social Anthropology and has worked in libraries in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She writes stories set in culturally diverse, historical and contemporary periods.

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