Author Interview: Jacqueline Levering Sullivan

Jacqueline Levering Sullivan is a retired professor of writing who founded and directed the Writing Center at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. Annie's War, her first published novel, is based on events from her childhood. Visit Jackie Levering Sullivan's personal website:

Books by Jacqueline Levering Sullivan
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What prompted you to start writing for children?
Jacqueline Levering Sullivan: After learning that my neighbor's children had so many questions about World War II, I started a story, intended just for them, about a girl whose best friend is sent away to an internment camp for the Japanese. (One of my own strongest memories of the beginning of WWII was the disappearance of our Japanese friends) I found I liked writing for children and began to talk to family members and explore ideas for stories.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Jacqueline Levering Sullivan: I began to write "novels" in junior high. I also wrote one act plays. A very patient home economics teacher used to let me put on those plays and perform dramatic monologues for afternoon teas. School writing assignments were always fun to do, and I worked on the yearbook staff both in high school and college. Years later I went back to college for a degree in art, and except for graduate school, I stopped writing and worked as an artist for several years. I began to write for children about 1994.
Why did you decide to write historical fiction?
Jacqueline Levering Sullivan: World War II defined my childhood and produced some vivid memories. It seemed a natural source for stories. The main reason I write historical fiction, however, is to provide stories about the past for young readers. I want young people to learn about how their lives connect with the past and to understand the nature of shared experience.
The story, Annie's War, is based true events in your own life. Was it eventful to relive some of those memories?
Jacqueline Levering Sullivan: Most of Annie's War is fiction, but the affection Annie feels for both her grandmother and Gloria reflects my own feelings as a child. I wanted to write a tribute to my grandmother, but I only had bits and pieces of memory. Writing the book was a bit like working a puzzle. I wove imagined events together with real ones. In the end writing the book was a very emotional experience for me.
Are most of the characters based on people that you actually knew?
Jacqueline Levering Sullivan: Only Grandma Hattie, Gloria, and Billy are based on real people. The rest are pure invention.
When writing this book, did you have to do any special research?
Jacqueline Levering Sullivan: Much of the background for the book came from conversations with family members. I asked a lot of questions, particularly of my Aunt Madeleine, my mother's youngest sister. She was also able to find articles about the segregated army bases that were located in the Walla Walla area. For my portrayal of Truman I consulted the Truman Library website and David McCullough's biography of Truman. It was especially helpful in getting the chronology of actual events accurate.
Are you planning on writing a sequel — or do you have any books on the horizon?
Jacqueline Levering Sullivan: So far I haven't planned a sequel. I recently finished a YA novel (also set in Washington state) that takes place in 1953 and am currently revising a novel that takes place in Southern California in 1984.
Do you have any advice for would-be writers?
Jacqueline Levering Sullivan: My advice for would-be writers is to write every day and to join an existing critique group or create one. Writers should also read as much as they can. Writers need to belong to professional organizations, like SCBWI, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Professional organizations have conferences and workshops and other resources that are extremely helpful. I have found the SCBWI retreats offer a great opportunity for meeting and interacting with other writers as well a with guest editors.
What are your hopes for 2008?
Jacqueline Levering Sullivan: I want Annie's War to continue to sell well, of course. I also wish for more time to write, and, of course, I hope to sell another novel. My experience working with Eerdmans has been so energizing creatively, and I have grown so much as a writer in the process of bringing Annie to print. I hope we can work together again.