Thursday, June 18, 2009

Author Fran Cannon Slayton

Growing up in Virginia, Fran Cannon Slayton was active in sports and band. In college, she kept up with the sports, in addition to majoring in Psychology and Religious Studies. She took a break from school to work on Capitol Hill and get married, then went back to the University of Virginia to get her law degree. After law school Fran became a prosecutor, specializing in child sex abuse cases, and then went on to become a legal publisher and mild-mannered title insurance agency owner. Then she became a mom and settled down - NOT. In addition to writing, she’s a part-time singer/trumpet player in a rock and roll cover band.

Just as she excelled in high school and college, she’s blowing the critics away with her young adult book, When the Whistle Blows. Kirkus not only gave it a starred review, they called it, “An unassuming masterpiece.” Well, you can’t get much better than that, unless you also get a starred review from School Library Journal, which she did. To top it off, this month’s School Library Journal did an article about her and When the Whistle Blows.

I’m so happy to have Fran here today and she’s agreed to answer a few questions of mine - and yours, so post them in the Comments section.

Welcome Fran Cannon Slayton

Helen: How did you go from pogo stick hopper to the Junior Olympics in fencing to working on Capitol Hill to law school to mom/author/singer/trumpet player in a rock and roll band?

Fran: Actually, the answer to this is relatively easy: I followed my heart. I’ve always felt it’s important to do what you are interested in, what you enjoy, and what tugs at your soul. As a second grader, pogo stick hopping tugged at my soul. I wanted to hop 1,000 times without falling, so I kept at it and finally made it!

The same is true with my writing. I try to follow what tugs at my soul - what truly interests me. I don’t look at the market very much. I try to look inside myself instead. I’m happier that way. And I think my work product is better as a result.

Helen: With all that you do, when and how do you find time to write?

Fran: Well, this summer with my five-year-old home I will have very little time for writing. But that’s okay because I’ll be doing a lot of traveling to promote my book. During the school year, I generally try to write for a couple of hours a day. I do better when I have a schedule, but honestly, my schedule varies. Sometimes I’ll write in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes in the evening. It’s not a very scientific process for me.

But even when my writing time is truncated, I am always thinking about writing. Stories brew inside me for a long time before they come out. Writing is more than just putting words on paper. It’s also about thinking things through, dreaming, wondering. I have to say, it’s pretty awesome to have job requirements like that!

Helen: You have a beautiful and extensive site with information for readers, teachers, librarians, media and more. How long did it take you to gather all this material together?

Fran: Thank you! I’m proud of my website because I made it myself on my Mac. It took me a long time to put it together. Probably a good 80 hours at least. But it’s a work in progress. I update and rearrange periodically. I have to admit I find web design to be fun, but it takes a lot of time that I don’t always have these days.

Helen: It looks like you have a lot of events planned for When the Whistle Blows. How are you fitting marketing into your already full schedule?

Fran: I planned my book tour very early, which I would recommend as a good strategy to anyone with a book coming out. It allowed me to get events set on my calendar a good number of months ahead of time, and then my schedule just had to adjust around what is already set. It think that made it easier than trying to squeeze things in at the last minute.

The support of my family has also been extremely important. They have been flexible and mobile and willing to do whatever is necessary (within reason) to help me to get my book out there into the world. You only have a first book once in your life. We are all very excited about it and are trying to give it our best shot! And we realize that the scheduling issues won’t last forever, at least with the same amount of intensity. Some people plan their vacations around professional baseball stadiums; this summer we are planning our vacation around independent bookstores!

Helen: Tell us a bit about When the Whistle Blows.

Fran: When the Whistle Blows is a coming of age novel about Jimmy Cannon, a boy who is growing up in the 1940’s as the son of a B&O Railroad foreman. He loves trains and has many adventures as he tries to better understand his cantankerous old man, whom Jimmy discovers is a member of a secret society.

The novel is structured as a series of short stories, each taking place exactly one year apart on All Hallows’ Eve, which is Jimmy’s father’s birthday. It is about father-son relationships, loss, economic change, and the meaning of home. But mostly, it is about a boy’s adventures as he goes from the ages of 12 to 18 in his journey to manhood.

I was inspired to write the book by my father, who has always told me stories about his childhood growing up in Rowlesburg, West Virginia in the 1940s. He really was the son of a B&O Railroad foreman, and many of the adventures that Jimmy has in the book are based on my dad’s true stories.

Thank you so much, Fran.

If you didn’t catch her YouTube video when I posted it earlier this week, drop by YouTube and watch. But before you run off to do that, ask a question or leave a comment for Fran.
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  1. Enjoyed the interview. I'm amazed at all of Fran's accomplishments -my question is does she ever sleep?


  2. What a fascinating author and person, with a wealth of life experience.

    "pogo stick hopper to the Junior Olympics in fencing to working on Capitol Hill to law school to mom/author/singer/trumpet player in a rock and roll band?"

    Any woman trumpet player in a rock and roll band is all right in my book. :)

    the Old Silly From Free Spirit Blog

  3. And on top of all that, she's written a book that the critics love!

  4. Good interview. I've already added this to my reading list.

  5. Hi, Fran Trains, especially old timey trains is a pretty esoteric area. How did you do research for that?? What I know about a train and how they operate is, well, not very extensive. Thanks for sharing.

    Best Regards, Galen

  6. From one trumpet playing writer to another - Hello Fran!!!

    Your book sounds fascinating and the interview was great- thnaks Helen.

  7. Wonderful interview and impressive accomplishments, Fran. I've ordered your book because I'm trying to break into the children's market, and it sounds like a great example.

  8. Terrific interview of a very interesting lady. Family are great people to draw inspiration from. My grandparents lived through two Word Wars (one fought in WWI in France) and The Great Depression.

    This was a time when they experienced major change such as indoor plumbing, electricity, cars replacing horse and buggies, a telephone, radio, TV, etc. I have lots of material from my grandparents I will use for a future book. It's actually an honor to use their experiences and perspectives to form a plot, setting, character development, and such.

    - Steve Tremp
    Breakthrough Blogs

  9. Terrific interview - thanks so much for sharing. Definitely want to add this to my reading list!

    Nancy, from Just a Thought…

  10. I think it's a good idea to study successful books. Not to copy, but to see the structure and "feel" the words used.

  11. forgive me for chiming in late today - I had to put my compter in the shop! I apologize for being late ... But regarding the sleep question - this week week with my book release I have to confess - I'm not getting much!

  12. I am actually still at the Apple store now, having technical difficulties.

  13. But Galen, to answer your question, I mainly did my research by oral history. My father's life was the inspiration for my book, and he grew up when the engines were switching from steam to diesel in the 1940s. He saw the changes that came first hand.

    Actually, my dad and I took a roadtrip to Rowlesburg, WV (the setting for my book) when I was writing it. We met my cousin Roger and my Uncle Dick, who had worked with my grandfather on the steam engines. He gave us a tour around the old M&K Junction and they all told me more great stories, some of which wound up in the book. It was an experience I'll never forget!

  14. Thanks for ordering my book, Jean, and congratulations to you for working to break into the children's market. Have you heard of SCBWI? (The Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). It's a great organization that really helped me learn a LOT about writing for children and the entire children's publishing industry. Check out, if you haven't already. I also recommend Verla Kay's discussion board - called "the blueboards." It's a great group of writers and a safe and encouraging place to ask questions. Just google Verla Kay and her website will pop up. Click on "message board" and sign up - it's free and it's a great resource. Good luck!

  15. Hi Steve - it sounds like you've got a lot of great material! It's a great era, made rich by actual memories of loved ones. You're right, it is an honor to use these memories in my book.

  16. I am at the genius bar at the Apple Store while I am writing . . . (my genius is helping other customers along with me). Looks like the computer problem is being fixed, though . . . fingers crossed! I am lost without my computer! Again, I apologize for being late today.

  17. Hi Fran. I hate computer problems!

    So glad you were able to come by. Thanks so much for stopping by Straight From Hel!


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