Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Interview with FINEST KIND Author, Lea Wait

KN: You did a tremendous amount of research to create a historically accurate novel. Did you know Jake's story before you began researching, or did the concept for FINEST KIND develop as a result of 19th century research?

LW: Writing a book is like putting together a large puzzle. The challenge is to invent all the pieces (time, place, personalities, weather, events) -- and then fit them together. A lot of my research ends up on the floor! In writing Finest Kind I started with an historical event: in 1838 the Wiscasset Jail burned, and students saved the prisoners. I added a theme: a family with a secret. Many of the characters in the book (everyone at the jail, Dr. Theobold, etc) are actual people, so their stories are factual. The stories of the fictional characters I wove into the world of Wiscasset, Maine in 1838. I do 95% of my research, and perhaps 85% of my planning, before I start writing.

KN: Describe how you created genuine 19th century voices for your characters.

LW: Because my research is based in primary sources, I'm comfortable with reading and reflecting the voices of my 19th century characters. I also check every noun and verb I use in a dictionary published in the region and time of the book I'm writing to make sure I'm using words accurately for the period. For example, in Maine in 1838 people would have used a "privy" -- not an "outhouse" (that word would be used later in the 19th century) or a "necessary" (a word used in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.)

KN: What is a primary source and which ones did you use to write FINEST KIND?

LW: Primary sources (research sources that were written at the time you're studying) I used in writing Finest Kind included diaries, newspapers from 1837 and 1838, prisoner records kept by the Lincoln County jailer, letters, court records, genealogical notes, and then local church and town histories written later in the 19th century. I've now developed my own library of materials (I have whole shelves of books on farm implements, clothing, names, laws, educational practices, etc.) I also work in local town archives, and at the Maine Historical Society. By the way, when I do school visits -- whether in Maine or in, say, Missouri, where Finest Kind was on their Mark Twain Award list last year and I visited 12 schools -- I take some of those materials with me, including text books from the period for the students to look at, and I talk about how Noah Webster changed the American language, and what it was like to go to school in the 19th century. A lot of children today have never seen, much less touched, a book from 1820, so that gives them a very special experience.

KN: How long did it take you to write the first draft of FINEST KIND?

LW: Because of a tough juxtaposition of personal issues and publishing deadlines, I wrote Finest Kind faster than any other book I've written -- before or since! I'd finished the research, but went from writing the synopsis Thankgiving week (we ate dinner out!) to submitting the manuscript the first week in February. I don't even remember Christmas that year! Of course, there was more editing after that!

KN: Describe your revision process.

LW: I revise as I write; every day I revise what I've written the day before and then write whatever number of new pages I've assigned myself -- usually about 10. If I write something that changes an earlier event, I go back and fix that immediately. So my final editing is more tweaking than anything else: eliminating unnecessary words or scenes; using stronger words; ensuring transitions work. I edit the manuscript at least once in hard copy and read it out loud at least once. I'm always trying to improve the language and flow.

KN: Tell us about other books you have written that FINEST KIND readers might enjoy.

LW: I've had three other historicals published also set in Wiscasset. STOPPING TO HOME, set in 1806, stars 11-year-old Abbie and her 4-year-old brother Seth, orphaned by smallpox and the sea, who go to work for 18-year-old Widow Chase. Together, they must find a way to support themselves in the small seaport village.

SEAWARD BORN begins in Charleston, South Carolina, where 12-year-old Michael Lautrec is a slave who works in Charleston Harbor. But after his mistress dies, his world changes, and he makes the dangerous decision to try to reach freedom in the north via sea. Eventually he does -- and meets Abbie and Seth in Wiscasset. SEAWARD BORN takes place in 1804-1807.

And Dr. Theobold, who is in FINEST KIND, is also in WINTERING WELL, set in 1819-1820. Perhaps my most popular book so far, WINTERING WELL is told from the perspectives of both a brother who loses his leg in a farm accident and the sister who vows to take care of him. Of course, brothers and sisters don't see the world in the same way! In the year Maine became a state, both Will and Cassie also gain new perspectives on their lives, and new goals for their futures.

KN: Is there anything else you would like to share?

LW: I also write contemporary mysteries for adults, starring Maggie Summer, an antique print dealer and community college professor who solves crimes. The Shadows Antique Print Mystery series has been fun to write as a break from my historicals for children! Anyone interested in more information about my books, or in teachers' guides for my books for children, should check out my website, I'm also newly on Facebook, where I post about books, writing, and living in Maine, and would be happy to have anyone interested join me there!


  1. I am a boy from wiscasset and I liked wintering well alot it was interesting same with finest kind they were good books

  2. What is your inspiration to write these books?