Today Marcia Maynard Fowler interviewed Elizabeth Ferguson Brow, author of Coal Country Christmas.
Marcia: What prompted you to write Coal Country Christmas?
Elizabeth: I was actually driven to write it by my second graders. My class was doing a writing project about grandparents. As they shared their wonderful stories, I realized that I had a story of my own to tell. My grandmother died the summer I was married, so none of my four children or my twelve grandchildren knew anything about my grandparents who had lived in the coal mining area of Pennsylvania. So I began to write….
Marcia: How long did it take from the first draft to final product? Could you tell a little about the process.
Elizabeth: From the time I began writing until I had a finished manuscript to submit to a publishing house was probably about three years — squeezed into summer and school vacations. My manuscript was accepted rather quickly by a large New York publishing house but I worked with an editor there for over a year until I had the manuscript ready for publication. Next came their search for an illustrator, the wait for the illustrations, making of the film, scheduling into their publication calendar, etc. At this point, a new Vice President came on board who decided they had too many books on their agenda, and my book was among those she cancelled. (Gasp!) However, after a year of negotiations the book was picked up by Boyds Mills Press in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. It was a perfect match since their offices were probably a half hour away from where my story took place. I actually signed my contract in 1995 but my book wasn’t published until 2003. Quite a wait but worth it as I held in my hands a precious family story.
Marcia: What do you hope children and families will take from sharing your book?
Elizabeth: First I hope readers would enjoy learning about what life is like in a coal mining town. It wasn’t an easy life but it brought family close together. I hope they might recognize some of the same traditions that they share with their own families around the holidays.
And, most of all, that my story might encourage them to write their own family’s story and share it with family members. I tell them that I can write about my grandmother, but only they can write about their grandmothers. And that they should!!
Marcia: What part of this story do students react to when you visit classrooms?
Elizabeth: They love seeing my slides of my grandmother, her dog, myself as a child with my mother and grandmother, etc. We laugh about the dog in the book since obviously it’s NOT my grandmother’s little mutt that I showed a slide of. Of course, it’s Harvey Stevenson’s dog…since he is the illustrator! But I tell funny stories about my grandmother’s dog.
Depending on the age of the group, I talk about what it was like to be a miner and go down into the mines. I show them a miners lamp, and talk about the canaries they used to carry down into the mines to test the air quality.
As I move to the writing process, I show them a pile of my revisions — with the editors marks on them. They are surprised how many times I had to “cut down the words ,” (starting with 1600 words, ending up with just over 500), and rewrite the ending, again and again. They are also fascinated when I show them the huge sheets that are fed through the press to produce the actual book.
Marcia: Thank you for your interview.