Hey, guys! I'm finally back with another Behind the Pages feature, and I'm pleased that it is a debut author this time around, which also happens to be the first interview on the blog since the start of 2017. Tamara Bundy has recently debuted her middle-grade novel, Walking with Miss Millie (a book that I liked by the way), and I'm happy that I had the opportunity to discuss the book and more with her. Not only that, Penguin Random House is contributing a copy of the book to one lucky winner from the U.S. So continue below for the interview and giveaway.
Thanks for taking the time, Tamara. Where are you from and at what point in your life did you realize you wanted to become an author.
I grew up in Hilliard, Ohio (a suburb of Columbus-the same place my main character, Alice, wants to return to). I fell in love with the play of words from Dr. Seuss by the age of seven. I loved rhythm and rhyme and began to write poetry. The first time someone said I was a good writer, I was hooked and wanted to write ever since.
Who are some of your biggest influences in literature?
Of course, I loved Dr. Seuss, who taught me words can be both fun and meaningful. As I grew, I enjoyed Judy Blume who could tell a story like she was your best friend, Madeleine L’ Engle whose imagination both scared and entertained me and Shel Silverstein whose poetry made me laugh and cry. But I also won’t underestimate the impact my Archie comic books had on my desire to tell a story.
How has being an English teacher and former columnist for the Cincinnati Post affected your writing?
Writing a weekly column was great discipline for just writing. It didn’t matter if you felt inspired or not –if your column was due on Monday, you’d better have it written by Sunday. It was great practice for not choking under deadlines. As a teacher, I get to see the impact good books have on students. I see the light bulb of understanding go off, I hear the big football playing tough guy sniffling at the end of Of Mice and Men. It never gets old. And when I think of students getting my own books in a classroom, it makes me so happy. But I also know how diverse students are, how complicated their lives are. I always want to honor that –to really make it worth their time to read my books.
Congratulations on your debut, ‘Walking with Miss Millie’. What inspired the story and why set it in the 1960’s?
When my own daughter was in middle school, and feeling like she had no friends, she began walking the elderly neighbor’s dog. However, the dog refused to walk with just my daughter, so the neighbor lady went along too. It stayed that way and became a unique and lovely friendship. I knew I wanted to tell that story, but seeing what was going on in the world with matters of race, I wanted to write something that might help students understand each other. I wanted people to see how far we’ve come –and how far we need to go. That’s when I decided it would be a richer story if it took place in the 60’s and the two characters were different races.
Were there moments where the story felt challenging for you to write or you felt nervous about creating these characters?
Maybe I should have been nervous, since I eventually found out that it is tricky to write outside your race, but I felt my character, Miss Millie, whispering in my ear the whole time. The story unfolded so naturally, the only challenge was wanting so hard to do her justice –I needed the world to love her as much as I did.
What are you hoping readers will take from the friendship between Alice and Miss Millie, a young white girl and an elderly black woman?
For one thing, I hope they realize that friendships come in many shapes, sizes and appearances. For another, I want them to understand that you can’t know what someone is going through until you walk in their shoes (or at least with them for a while).
Once you finished the story, how did you celebrate your debut?
This novel was a part of my writing life for so many years, I don’t think I fully understood what “finished” was. But I celebrated every step of it –getting an agent (the amazing Steven Chudney), getting a book deal (the legendary Nancy Paulsen), seeing the first ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), the first hardcover --I celebrated it all!
What’s next now that ‘Walking with Miss Millie’ is out in the world?
I love the loving feedback I am getting. I swear it never ceases to touch me to read someone’s review who cried and laughed and felt the same love I felt for my characters. And while I am enjoying and celebrating that, I am also working on my second Middle Grade novel that Nancy Paulsen bought for a 2019 release.
Will you stick to Middle Grade or do you have plans on writing Coming of Age or Adult Fiction in the future?
I loved teaching high school students and I might write YA someday, but I am crazy about the possibilities of Middle Grade historical fiction right now-there’s so many stories to tell. But remember how much I loved Dr. Seuss? You might just see some picture books from me one day…
Thanks again for the interview, Tamara. Any tips for aspiring writers?
The best advice I have is to write because you love it. If you only write to get a book deal, you will spend so much time frustrated and feeling like a failure. But if you write because you have a story to tell, you will always be a success as long as you tell the story you are meant to tell. Make writer friends, follow writers you admire on social media and read their stories. Follow agents you are interested in. Read, read, read and write, write write. And never, never, never give up.
More About the AuthorTamara Bundy is a high school English teacher with a Master’s degree in writing, and is a former columnist for the Cincinnati Post (her regular column on being a mom also appeared on EWTN global Catholic radio). Walking Miss Millie is her debut novel. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.