I am thrilled to share a recent interview with author Jody Hedlund today. And....I am giving away one copy of Together Forever to one lucky reader. In order to win, you must live in the United States.
1. What is the inspiration behind your orphan train series?
Orphan Trains and the heart-wrenching stories of the homeless and helpless young orphans that were taken from the streets of New York City and other eastern cities and shipped west by the dozens. I was familiar with stories of those scared orphans who were placed out in what was thought to be a more wholesome, healthy environment of the newly settled Mid-Western states. Some of the orphans found happy endings and were adopted into loving families. Others experienced great abuse and heartache in their new homes.
While stories of the orphans who rode the trains have been told—and rightly so—the stories of the women who were involved in the movement are not as well known. One of the things I particularly like to do when telling my stories, is focus on women who have been overlooked by the pages of history. I consider it a great privilege to be able to bring forgotten women to life for our modern generation. Thus, throughout this series, I’ll be focusing each book on a different aspect of the Orphan Train movement, particularly from the perspective of women who experienced riding the trains in one form or another.
2. How did you come up with the idea for the second book in the series, Together Forever?
Since the first book in the series centers around the jobless and homeless adult women who rode the orphan trains, I decided for this second book to show the orphan train experience through the eyes of placing agents who worked for the Children’s Aid Society.
The Children’s Aid Society (CAS), started by Charles Loring Brace, was the major placing organization of orphans in New York City from its inception in 1853 well into the twentieth century. CAS hired numerous ministers, single men and women, as well as married couples, to escort orphans from the east to their new homes in the west. The agents spent weeks and months on the road caring for the children, all the while trying to place them in loving homes.
Thus the main characters for Together Forever take on the role of the placing agents, giving readers a glimpse into the lives of these dedicated men and women who wanted to make a difference to the many homeless children living on the streets of NYC.
3. What special research did you do in writing Together Forever?
In researching the roles of CAS placing agents, I came across one of the most well known placing agents, Clara B. Comstock, who traveled west with children from 1911 to 1928. During her years as a placing agent, she made seventy-four trips and wrote about her experiences.
I drew from her notes about what it was like before the trip, the clothes the orphans were given, to the detailed lists of supplies and food she packed. She also spoke of what it was like during the journey west along with what happened once they arrived at their destinations, including an incident where she was quarantined with a young five year old boy who contracted diphtheria.
At the end of her life, Clara Comstock said this about her experiences: “The work was a great adventure in Faith. We were always helped and grew to expect kindness, deep interest and assistance everywhere. A sense of responsibility was keenly felt by all the workers. My life has been greatly enriched by the varied experiences found in everything the Children’s Aid Society and the contacts made. It is an honor to have followed from afar, the founder of this work.”
4. Usually readers are more sympathetic to the orphans and less forgiving of the charity organizations who placed the orphans in the west. How do you elicit reader empathy for the placing agents?
In Together Forever, I hoped to portray the struggles that placing agents felt right along with the struggles of the orphans. I have no doubt what the orphans experienced was far more emotional and painful; nevertheless, the job of the placing agent was not an easy one. It consisted of weeks of demanding traveling, difficulty in placing children, as well as the logistical challenges in revisiting each child before returning to New York City.
The agents not only faced the ups and downs of handling such a wide variety of children, but they also faced the challenges of the job itself. Since nothing had ever before been done like the placing out, the agents basically had to learn on the job and make up the rules as they went.
In the early years, record-keeping was inconsistent, placements irregular, and the screening process non-existent. While many of the agents meant well and truly cared about providing better lives for the children in their care, the lack of consistent practices provided further hardships to many orphans. Overall, I hope readers are able to gain a better appreciation for the well-meaning efforts, even if things didn’t always turn out the way everyone wanted.
5. You make the conditions of New York City and the orphans sound so bleak. Was it really as bad as you portray in your books?
It’s hard to believe, but an estimated 30,000 homeless children really did roam the dirty city streets and alleys of New York City in the 1850’s.
30,000. Children. Let that sink in for a minute. That’s the size of a town.
Historians look back on that time and try to make sense what led to such horrific conditions for children. The influx of immigrants was at an all time high. The financial disaster of 1857 caused even more problems. Jobs and housing were scarce. Diseases were rampant. Hunger and poverty became a norm.
6. What do you hope readers take away from Together Forever?
I pray that in reading this story, not only will readers gain greater insights and a different perspective of the orphan train movement, but that they will also be encouraged to know God is present in their weakest moments.
He doesn’t necessarily promise to give us the courage of a lion or to make everything perfect. But He does promise that His strength is available and that His power will rest upon us. Perhaps that strength will be just enough to get out of bed for another difficult day. Or perhaps it will be just enough to face the illness or hurt or heartache we bear.
We can rest assured it will always be just enough. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
Personal Q & A
7. How do you decide on names for all your characters?
The process of coming up with names is quite complicated, and I generally take a lot of elements into consideration. I keep a running list of all the heroes and heroines of my books and try not to duplicate anything too closely to a name I've already used. I also take into consideration names used doing the time period and the ethnicity of my characters. For example, in the orphan train series, I chose German names that were commonly used during the 1800's for my heroines since they’re from Germany. Sometimes I consider symbolism for names. Other times, particularly in my inspired-by-stories, I try to pick a name that is similar to the character from history that I'm portraying.
8. What is your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite?
As a writer, I love telling stories. I especially like the feeling that comes as I near the end of the book when everything looks hopeless, the characters are in big trouble, and somehow I’m able to wrap up the book in a satisfying way. I call it the first-draft love affair! I fall absolutely and madly in love with the story and think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.
I struggle the most during the editing phase of each of my books. The love affair that started during the first draft comes to an end. I fall out of love with my books. By the last edit—called the Galley Review—I finally reach a point where I loathe the book, think it’s the worst thing I’ve ever written, and wish I could just throw it away.
9. Do you have any writing quirks?
I don't have too many quirks, other than needing a cup of coffee on hand while I'm writing (especially in the morning!).
One of the things I like to do to help me keep on track with my writing is give myself half hour word count challenges–a specific goal of how many words I can get written in a thirty minute time span. Doing these mini-challenges keeps me from getting too distracted by other things while I'm in a writing mode.
10. Is there a Scripture verse that has inspired you in your writing?Among many, here’s one I aspire to live by: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might. (Ecc. 9:10) I believe in working responsibly and hard with the gifts we’ve been given.
11. What advice do you have for anyone interested in writing and pursuing publication?
Write a couple of books first and unleash your creativity. Then start reading books that explain how to write. Study techniques, practice them, and keep writing. When you begin reaching a level in your writing where you think you’re ready for publication, get a critique partner or two to read your work and give you feedback, vamp up your online presence, and immerse yourself in the writing industry by learning all you can about traditional and self-publication. Don’t rush into either! Make sure your writing craft and story-telling skills are ready first.
12. Together Forever is the second book you’ve released in 2018. How many other books are slated for publication this year?
This year, I’ll have a total of four books releasing. The first book, A Loyal Heart, released in March. It’s part of my young adult medieval romance series that started several years ago. I’ll be finishing this particular series with a final book in the fall.
Then in addition to Together Forever, the next book in the orphan train series, Searching For You, releases in December. The original plan for publication was next June, but when my publisher asked if I could turn it in for an earlier release, I decided why not? Then readers won’t have to wait quite as long to find out what happens next!
13. What are you working on next?
I’m in the editing phase of the third and final book in the orphan train series, Searching For You, which releases in December. It wraps up the story of the Neumann sisters by finally giving long-lost Sophie her happily-ever-after. I don’t want to give too much away, but I can tell you that Reinhold Weiss also has a major role in helping Sophie as she struggles to make a new life for herself.
14. Do you have any parting words?I love hearing from readers! Make sure you stop by one of these places and say hello!
I hang out on Facebook here: Author Jody Hedlund
I also love to chat on Twitter: @JodyHedlund
My home base is at my website: jodyhedlund.com
Find me on Instagram: instagram.com/jodyhedlund/
Come pin with me on Pinterest: pinterest.com/jodyhedlund/pins/
To be entered to win your own copy of Better Together, leave a comment about why you want to read Jody's book.