Hello, this is L.M. David. Today, I am interviewing Willett Thomas, author of Raised by Hand, Lifted by the Tides. Thank you for stopping by. And before we get started, I wanted to ask what happened to the small wooden case you had when you first arrived.
Willett: You mean the wine case? Oh, I gave that to Preston.
L.M.: You bought him wine?
Willett: Yes, it’s a special kind that comes out at Halloween. It’s called Vampire, only I mixed it with blood. I told him if he left me alone, he could have it. He took it and said he was going to party.
L.M.: And all this time I’ve tried stakes, silver and a baseball bat to get him out of here …
Okay, let’s start the interview:
Q. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
A. I’m originally from Washington, D.C., recently relocated to Baltimore, Maryland. I’ve been doing freelance writing since getting my MA in creative writing from Johns Hopkins.
Q. Your story, Raised by Hand, Lifted by the Tides takes place in 1954. Why did you choose that era to place your characters in?
A. So much change was happening in the South at that time. It was a time of segregation, but even so many lines were crossed when it came to race and class. Sure, Whites and “coloreds” didn’t go to the same churches and schools, but in small towns all over the South, folks still passed the day on benches in front of local stores, sharing the day’s news, gossip, and their hopes and concerns for their communities.
Q. What inspired you to write Raised by Hand?
A. I had just started the JHU creative writing program, when we were assigned to read/review To Kill a Mockingbird. Reading it, I loved the way Harper Lee was able to write a young protagonist who had such a strong voice, and I wondered if I could do the same with my protagonist Lilly “Lil Bit” Dalton.
Q. Lily “Lil Bit” Dalton. Tell me about this character.
A. She’s terribly perceptive, almost to her detriment. Of course, she’s whip smart, but she’s also very vulnerable, having been pretty much abandoned by her mother Violet. As the story opens, “Lil Bit” has been left in the care of the woman she calls “Bubbah” and this woman’s alcoholic son, Bobby.
Q. This is a story that is about surviving a hard knock life. As an abandoned child, why does “Lil Bit” want to reunite with a woman who left her?
A. I’d say because children, especially young ones, are very forgiving. Also, I believe it’s human nature to be clannish. We all want to know our roots. The who, what, where and why of what makes us the way we are.
Q. Without giving too much information away, tell me why Violet decided to abandon her daughter, “Lil Bit” in this river town?
A. Like many women who found themselves pregnant and unmarried in the 50s, she thought by leaving her child she was actually providing “Lil Bit” a better life. Violet was uneducated, unskilled, and had no family of her own to help her raise a child. To her way of thinking, allowing Lilly to be raised by another woman was the best thing she could do for her child, and, ultimately, for herself.
Q. Sheriff Marin saves “Lil Bit” from drowning but in the process, “Lil Bit” learns something about the secret within a river. Does this revelation reshape “Lil Bit” in anyway?
A. Yes, definitely. It plays into how she sees adults, especially Sheriff Marin, who she considers to be “a good white man.” All kinds of trust issues are examined in Raised by Hand. Children trusting adults. Adults trusting each other. Residents of Arcadia trusting their town’s leaders.
Q. What is “Ditch Thursday”?
A. Ditch Thursday is basically a rite of passage for the older kids in Arcadia, with them feeling free to cut school and go down to the town swimming hole to spend that last day of school before summer. “Lil Bit’s” decision to cut school with the big kids is the reason she nearly drowns.
Q. What, in your opinion, does it take to be a family?
A. Lots of patience. Also, being able to accept people exactly for who they are. I continue to struggle with this, the same way my characters do in Raised by Hand. We’re all constantly evolving and trying (hopefully) to do better. It’s just that some of us take a little longer to evolve than others.
Q. What was the hardest part of Raised by the Hand for you to write?
A. Parts having to do with Uncle Bobby’s alcoholism were difficult to write. I have an Uncle Bobby. I’m sure lots of people do. And we know what havoc this type of personality can inflict on a family.
Q. What is a typical day for you?
A. I get up, do my morning routine: blah, blah, blah, then coffee at one of three WIFI cafes. If I run into someone, usually an artist (I live in an arts district in Baltimore’s Station North), doing something particularly interesting, I might ask to interview them for my website: writeofpassage.org. Then back home to my rowhouse to work on the novelized blog I’m doing for the BaltimorePostExaminer.com. After that, I’m writing and/or revising pieces to submit to online journals. My short story, No Fault of His Own, was recently published online at The Loch Raven Review. Most days, I’m also doing something involved with Write of Passage, Inc., the nonprofit I formed to support artists and writers. I also run WOPI’s Young Scribes initiative which provides tutoring and writing workshops to Baltimore City kids. That’s my day.
Q. Do you have another book in the progress?
A. Yes, Un-Wired, the novelized blog, I mention on the BPE site. It also runs on Goodreads. The novel chronicles my protagonist Estella Tindale’s arrival in Baltimore, and all she endures to realize her dream of running a literary bed and breakfast. I suppose you could categorize as either chick lit, or as a fictionalized memoir.
Q. If there were one thing you could change in your life, what would that be and why?
A. I love my neighborhood, but I’d rethink the block. Lots of characters and activity, but sometimes not the quietest place to write.
Q. What advice would you give a writer who is looking to have their work published?
A. 1. Read everything. 2. Find your own unique style/voice and celebrate it by writing, writing, and then writing some more. 3. Never let an editor’s “it’s not right for us” keep you from realizing your dream.
L.M.: Thanks Willet for stopping by, and for the blood wine you gave Preston – I must get a supply in here, keep the guy occupied.
Willett Thomas is the President of Write of Passage, Inc. She earned her MA in writing from Johns Hopkins. She has received artist fellowships from Blue Mountain Center and the Millay Colony. She was selected as a Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation fellow for the District of Columbia. She is the recipient of the 2008 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange award for fiction.