Connecting Texas books and writers with those who most want to discover them
Each week Lone Star Literary profiles a newsmaker in Texas books and letters, including authors, booksellers, publishers.
Kay Ellington has worked in management for a variety of media companies, including Gannett, Cox Communications, Knight-Ridder, and the New York Times Regional Group, from Texas to New York to California to the Southeast and back again to Texas. She is the coauthor, with Barbara Brannon, of the Texas novels The Paragraph Ranch and A Wedding at the Paragraph Ranch.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sofia Grant has written dozens of novels for adults and teens under the name Sophie Littlefield. She has won Anthony and RT Book Awards and been shortlisted for Edgar, Barry, Crimespree, Macavity, and Goodreads Choice Awards.
Sofia Grant, a.k.a. Sophie Littlefield, had written more than two dozen books in many genres including YA, apocalyptic fiction, thriller, domestic suspense and women’s fiction. But when she became interested in writing historical fiction, she decided a name change made sense since she would be writing for a new audience who might not be interested in her other books. Her latest book The Daisy Children is based on the 1937 New London, Texas, school explosion. She talked with Lone Star Lit via email about the novel and what brought her to this story.
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: Where were you born and raised, Sofia, and how would you describe your early life?
SOFIA GRANT: I was born in a small town in New Hampshire, but soon after my dad took a job teaching history at the University of Missouri, and the whole family moved to the Midwest. We were a household of readers; on any given day most of us could be found with our noses in books. My brother and sister and I were also roamers, and we were lucky to live at the edge of town with access to a forest and country lanes and abandoned houses — all great fodder for a developing story-maker.
When did you first think about becoming a writer?
I was around five years old and on our weekly trip to the library, I had been allowed to check out a children’s book with chapters. This was an amazing revelation — that one might be allowed to tell a story as long as one could imagine it.
So tell us about your novel The Daisy Children.
The Daisy Children follows four generations of women in a single family from an unthinkable tragedy through the present, and traces how decisions made decades ago affect those who come after. In 1937 an explosion at an East Texas school killed hundreds of children, and Caroline loses her only child. A new daughter soon arrives; she grows up and has a daughter of her own, then a grandchild, but the shadow of the disaster never leaves her.
What attracted you to this uniquely Texan story?
I’d read a nonfiction account of the disaster and was touched and intrigued by the story of those who survived it, and I started wondering how the community might have changed and adapted in the years that followed. I had never been to East Texas, but I decided to visit after a conference I attended in Dallas. I rented a car and drove down; I visited the small museum commemorating the disaster, the school that replaced the one that was destroyed, and the cemetery where the dead were buried.
East Texas was nothing like the other Texas towns I’d visited — I found it has much in common with the rural Missouri of my childhood, including the friendliness of the people who live there and the scrappy creativity of people getting by instead of getting rich. But unlike where I grew up, East Texas experienced an oil boom in the twentieth century that, for a while anyway, transformed the economy and introduced new class dynamics that intrigued me.
You’ve had an unusual path to publishing, and you write under two names. Would you tell us about your path and why the dual identities?
I wrote many books — and received many, many rejections — before finally finding my beloved agent Barbara Poelle a decade ago. She and I were both new to publishing at the time, and I think that allowed us to think very broadly about what a writing career might look like. Early on we discovered we both love the challenge of exploring new territory, and after selling my first mystery series, together we came up with ideas for all kinds of other books. I’ve been so lucky to be able to write in many genres, including YA, apocalyptic fiction, thriller, domestic suspense, women’s fiction — and when I became interested in writing historical fiction, we decided a name change made sense since we would be writing for a new audience who might not be interested in my other books.
Once someone reads The Daisy Children, which of your books should they read next and why?
Oh my gracious ☺ If they enjoy historical fiction, a good next read would be The Dress in the Window (also under my Sofia Grant pen name), which explores the fashion industry in America post–World War II and particularly how it affects a household of women who lost their men in the war. It touches on the same themes of family and changes in the social and economic landscape in America. Under the name Sophie Littlefield, I recommend Garden of Stones, which explores women’s experience of Japanese internment in WWII.
What is your creative process like?
I love imagining the rough outline of a story, figuring out a few character names, and then plunging in like a cannonball at the deep end of the pool. Occasionally a project requires more detailed planning, but in general my editors know that the book I turn in may have wandered away from the original synopsis, since new ideas come constantly during the writing.
What surprised you most about Texas when you were researching your book?
As I mentioned above, I was astonished at the difference in the Eastern part of the state from the areas I’d visited before. And it also didn’t resemble my preconceived notion of what “oil country” would look like. A few years earlier I’d visited North Dakota oil fiends to research a book set there, and I was expecting the same barren sort of environment, but instead I found a place that felt like home — with gentle hills and lakes and fields of cut hay and a climate that supports flower gardens. Also — I ate barbecue at just about every meal. Not really a surprise, but a great indulgence!
Are you working on a new project? And what’s it about?
Yes! I’m writing about the Reno divorce culture in the 1950s. Because it was the only place to go for a “quickie” (six weeks, at the time, with the requirement that one resided in town for the duration) divorce, it attracted women from all over, and for a brief period of time they formed a fascinating community.
What’s in your to be read pile on your nightstand?
Oh lordy. Everything? Right now I’m eyeing Limelight by Amy Poeppel, Less by Andrew Sean Greer, The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis, and a pile of magazines that my sister gives me after she’s read them.
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“In this evocative novel… is a multilayered story of heartache, hope, and healing.” —Publishers Weekly
“... the research into the past and the illustration of fashion and other trends through the decades make the book relevant to fans of 20th-century historical mysteries.” —Historical Novel Society
“An unspeakable tragedy taints the lives of four generations of women in this poignant story of loss, tumultuous relationships and rupture. [...] Relevant and timely, this novel will compel you to turn the pages until the secret at the heart of this family is finally revealed.” —Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street
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