Here’s a blurb about THE COLORED CAR from Goodreads:
After boarding the first-class train car at Michigan Central Station in Detroit and riding comfortably to Cincinnati, Patsy is shocked when her family is led from their seats to change cars. In the dirty, cramped "colored car," Patsy finds that the life she has known in Detroit is very different from life down south, and she can hardly get the experience out of her mind when she returns home-like the soot stain on her finely made dress or the smear on the quilt squares her grandmother taught her to sew. As summer wears on, Patsy must find a way to understand her experience in the colored car and also deal with the more subtle injustices that her family faces in Detroit. By the end of the story, Patsy will never see the world in the same way that she did before.
Elster's engaging narrative illustrates the personal impact of segregation and discrimination and reveals powerful glimpses of everyday life in 1930s Detroit. For young readers interested in American history, The Colored Car is engrossing and informative reading.(
Hi Jean. Thanks so much for joining us.
1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.
I have a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Michigan and a Juris Doctor (I’m licensed to practice law in the state of Michigan) from the University of Detroit. I no longer practice law but, rather, am a full-time professional writer. In my “day job,” I am a grant writer for a nonprofit organization that serves homeless teens and young adults. In addition to The Colored Car and Who’s Jim Hines? (a 2009 Michigan Notable Book), both published by Wayne State University Press, I am also the author of the children’s book series Joe Joe in the City, which includes the books Just Call Me Joe Joe (2001), I Have A Dream, Too! (2002), I’ll Fly My Own Plane (2002), and I’ll Do the Right Thing (2003). I was awarded the 2002 Governors’ Emerging Artist Award by ArtServe Michigan in recognition of the series. I was awarded residencies at the internationally acclaimed Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois, in 2001, 2003, and 2005. In 2012, I was selected as the inaugural visiting author for The Lori Lutz Visiting Artist Series at The Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
My interest in writing started when I was a youngster, watching my Grandmother Ford— who was a prodigious letter writer—writing long letters using an ink pen which she dipped in an inkwell. The process fascinated me. I’ve been writing stories since I was 6 years old, old enough to know how to write and construct a sentence.
2. I’m an attorney too. And I’m hoping for a job change like you’ve done. Share how you came up with the idea for your story.
In the acknowledgement page of The Colored Car, I thank my mother and her oldest sister “for their willingness to share more tales from their youth” because listening to them and gathering their oral histories about their family life in 1930s Detroit gave me the crux of the story that became this book. In particular, I was singularly struck by the intensity of emotion my aunt still felt as she shared with me that fateful train ride to Clarksville, Tennessee and her first experience on the colored car.
3. That’s awesome how your aunt’s experiences inspired this story. THE COLORED CAR is set in 1937 during the Depression. And the setting moves from Detroit to a journey to Tennessee, which were very different places during that time period. What historical research did you do for this book? Do you have any tips for authors considering writing historical fiction?
In addition to the oral histories from my mother and my aunt, I also visited the Burton Historical
My advice for any author wanting to write historical fiction is to research both the big picture as well as the mundane details of the story. One incorrect fact can taint the entire book and cause the reader to question the basic premise of the story.
4. That’s great advice to focus on researching the big picture and the small details. Voice is so important in any story and especially in middle grade stories. You had the extra challenge of getting the voice right of a girl in 1937. What are your tips on getting the voice of your characters right?
The primary way for a writer to maintain a consistent, authentic voice for each character is to know each of those characters inside and out. I particularly made a note of verbal tics or favorite expressions. Consistency in expression is so important! In addition, I was fortunate to have found, in my parents’ personal library, a dictionary that was published in the 1930s. I consulted that dictionary regularly to see if certain words had the same meaning or even existed in that decade.
5. That’s a great idea to make lists of character physical traits. Tell us three things you love about Patsy.
Though her innate sense of fairness has been shaken, Patsy still wants desperately to believe that there is justice in this world.
Patsy embodies the core of adolescence: a child testing the waters of an adult world.
Patsy loves her sisters and enjoys being around them, even though she has the heavy responsibility of being the “big sister.”
6. Patsy sounds awesome. And she has no many challenges to overcome. What has your road to publication been like?
I have been very fortunate in the fact that for much of my writing career, publishers have been the ones to approach me about creating various books or embarking upon different writing projects. When I have made “cold calls,” publishers have been very open to my ideas. This was especially true in the beginning of my career as a freelance writer when I was submitting memoir/essays to various national publications.
I have also been blessed to have, for each of my book projects, very excellent editors. I think most writers will agree that an editor can make the tasks of writing and creating either a positive experience or a hellish pursuit!
7. That must have felt so good to have the publishers contacting you. Your books have been published by smaller publishers. What has your experience been working with them? What should authors look for in considering signing with a smaller publishing company?
I am always quick to encourage writers to consider a small to mid-size publisher or a university press for this reason: My publishers have been willing to give my books time to develop a following and find a niche readership. They have also been very generous, to a fault, in marketing and promoting my books. I would advise anyone considering a smaller publishing house to look at their current list of authors and titles, as well as the backlist, as a good indication of the stature of that publisher within the broader publishing community.
8. Share your advice on marketing a middle grade book both online and reaching readers in other ways.
One of the first questions my webmaster asked me in our initial discussions was, “Who are you trying to reach with this website?” I decided early on that my marketing efforts would be focused on the gatekeepers—those who purchase books for or, at least, make recommendations on behalf of the middle grade audience. I also maintain a full calendar of visits to libraries and schools and those gatekeepers are the very ones who reach out to me to schedule presentations and appearances.
9. That’s great advice to consider who you’re trying to reach. What are you working on now?
I’m working on the first book of a three-volume teen series. However, all of the action in this series takes place in the 21st century!
Thanks for sharing your advice, Jean. You can find Jean at http://www.jeanaliciaelster.com and http://thecoloredcar.com
Jean’s publisher, Wayne State University Press, has generously offered a copy of THE COLORED CAR for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through November 30th. I’ll announce the winner on December 2nd. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. This is for US/Canada residents only.
Here’s what’s coming up:
On Monday I’ll have a guest post by Martina Boone, a blogger friends who blogs at Adventures in YA Publishing, a fantastic blog. She’ll be talking about a new Tumblr blog being started by her and other YA authors. Her debut gothic YA story BEHOLDEN will be released Fall, 2014. And I can't wait to interview her about it!
Next Monday, I’m interviewing Lydia Kang and giving away a copy of CONTROL, her fantastic YA dystopian story about kids with powers because of gene mutations. Lydia is also a doctor and it adds a whole fantastic element to her story.
The following Monday I’ll be off. I’m going to Florida to see my mom for a few days.
The Monday after that I’m interviewing our follower and debut author Lexa Cain and giving away a copy of SOUL CUTTER, her YA romantic horror story set in Egypt.
And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday agent spotlights.
Hope to see you on Monday!