Kristiana Gregory: As a kid I so wanted a story to read about the gold rush, but at that time [the 1950s], there were no books written for our age level; the same was true for my sons studying California history in school thirty years later. So when my editor said the Dear America series needed a gold rush story I jumped at the chance. Researching and writing transported me back in time, to an adventure I had dreamed of as a child: being a "49er". It was a blast...I hope kids have as much fun reading Seeds of Hope as I did writing it.
RFA & EST: Several of your Dear America books, including Seeds of Hope, tell the story of people moving away from homes, families, and friends they loved to settle in untamed, frontier parts of America and start anew. What is it that attracts you to this theme?
KG: It was a happy coincidence that Scholastic asked me to write about the Oregon Trail, the transcontinental railroad, and the gold rush. All three deal with themes familiar to me: being uprooted and leaving behind friends. When I was in the eighth grade my family moved from Manhattan Beach to Lancaster, California, which was a desert town near Edward's Air Force Base. Then when I was a junior in high school my dad was transferred to White Sands Missile Range in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Both places felt like the middle of nowhere and were definitely part of the western frontier. It was hard as a teenager to start over with friends. I was lonely and shy. Then as an adult my husband and I moved four times with our own family to different areas of the western United States, just as many of the pioneers had done. Sometimes it took these pioneers several journeys to find the place in which they wanted to settle and put down roots. On that note, my family and I are happy to call Boise, Idaho our final destination.
RFA & EST: Captain Clinkingbeard is a unique character remembered long after Susanna's diary is complete. Was he based on someone you discovered in your research? How did this colorful character come to be?
KG: I have an acquaintance with the last name of Clinkingbeard. The name inspired such pictures in my imagination! Having researched pirates for The Stowaway, I remembered stories about some of the really bad guys who put glass in their beards to scare people, even lighting little fuses so the smoke would make them appear more intimidating. I loved the idea of an honorable sailor being descended from pirates. The story of the loss of his family to smallpox in the Sandwich Islands fit in with the historical sweep of the gold rush.
RFA & EST: Seeds of Hope is the third Dear America book you've written about the westward migration. How are all three of these young women (Hattie Campbell, Libby West, and Susanna Fairchild) alike?
KG: Hattie, Libby, and Susanna are alike because they trusted their parents' dream. Despite feeling lonely at times and fearful of the future they drew strength from family and grew closer to their siblings. They each had romantic yearnings for a love relationship that would lead to marriage.
RFA & EST: Readers of Susanna's diary are exposed to the tragic death of a parent, broken friendships, greed, and murder as well as family unity, love, strong bonds of friendship, and self-sacrifice for others. Do you see The Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild as a tragic tale or one of optimism?
KG: Optimism! All my stories have the theme, "there is always hope." Tragedies happen in real life along with all the wonderful stuff. Through my characters I try to show there is always a new friend to be made, a new person to love, a new hope for the future.
RFA & EST: If you could ask readers of Susanna's diary one question after they finish the book, what would that question be?
KG: If a trusted friend betrayed your family or hurt you in some way, would you be able to forgive that person, even if he or she never apologized?
RFA & EST: What is the one thing you hope young readers will take with them from The Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild?
KG: Anyone who has lost a loved one through separation or death can still experience a full life from the affections of an extended family.
Interview conducted by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.