Friday, February 15, 2008

Win Maureen Lang's On Sparrow Hill!

Today I'm very excited to have author Maureen Lang stop by for another visit. I've been blessed to get to know Maureen personally as we both live in the Chicago area, and I'm double-blessed to have been able to read her latest book On Sparrow Hill.

"Sparrow" is the second in Maureen's series that focuses on Fragile X Syndrome, a chromosomal genetic disorder. In On Sparrow Hill we meet new characters and reacquaint ourselves with some of the characters from the first book in the series, The Oak Leaves." Like the first book, the story toggles between contemporary times and historical times, the the contemporary set in in modern-day England and the historical in Ireland.

The reader is quickly drawn into the life of Rebecca Seabrooke, commercial manager of the estate that once belonged to Cosima Escott Hamilton, ancestor of the family featured in The Oak Leaves. The storyline also reaches back to the struggles that Berrie Hamilton, Cosima's sister-in-law, faces as she strives to open a school for children with special needs. A daunting task today in spite of all we know, but a very huge challenge in the 1800s.

Maureen has kindly answered the myriad of questions that bubbled to the surface as I read this book. And, the best news of all is that she will send a signed copy of On Sparrow Hill to a lucky winner who leaves a comment with this message! Details about the drawing follow the interview.

Maureen, welcome to A Writer's Journey. I didn't realize when I started reading On Sparrow Hill that the setting would be completely in England. How much research did you have to do about this? Did you travel to England? If not, how does one research a setting without having gone there?

I was in England a number of years ago, so I had some (rather vague!) visual recollections. But, like with writing historicals where the author really can’t visit the exact setting, I think by reading enough books, getting some visuals through photographs and depending on first-hand accounts can give a well-rounded picture for a book’s backdrop. Of course, BEING in England and Ireland while I was writing this would have been wonderful, but not very practical for my family demands.

For the contemporary portion of On Sparrow Hill, I depended on English friends to make sure I had some of the details right, like phrasing and some of the societal differences between here and there. I also contacted the estate manager at one of the historic homes listed on-line for tours and wedding receptions, to see what his job entailed. He was happy to help, and we corresponded for months as more questions came up.

Another question comes to mind, if you haven't traveled to England, did you have resources to double-check your information so you wouldn't have a reader who knows the area writing to say you got it all wrong?

One of my first readers was born in Manchester, and between her and her husband (also born in England) they checked my details. So I was fairly confident there aren’t too many errors.

I worked for many years in special ed in an elementary school district, and I'm well aware of how much of a struggle it is for many parents to have their special needs child labeled. In the story you focus on a school that Berrie starts for children such as Cosima's brother Royboy. Was it difficult having to write about the labels people of that era placed on such children, given your own son has Fragile X Syndrome?

At first it really was difficult, because the terms they used in Victorian times have evolved into such hurtful terms today (lunatic, imbecile, idiot). But it made me realize that language is still evolving today. Even though everyone knows what “mentally retarded” means so it’s the easiest term to describe my son, there have been several phrases to take its place because the word “retarded” or “retard” has joined the ranks of an insult. So we say “mentally challenged” or “cognitively impaired,” when all of the terms, both historic and contemporary mean the same thing. Many words can be misused to hurt someone, which is always painful. But within the context of history, terms like idiot and imbecile took on a different, less painful connotation. One of my contemporary characters mentions the harsh words, so it’s not ignored in the book, just pointed out.

I was amazed at how you write dialogue so well to fit your characters. This book must have been quite a challenge. From the English way of speaking and their particular names for things that we Americans don't use, to Katy's manner of speaking as a lower functioning person, to Quentin's haughty mother, to the precocious American child, Peyton. Whew, it makes my head spin. What special techniques, if any, did you employ to get into the head of everyone and make them sound so authentic?

I’ve always liked accents, and like some people have an ear for music, I have an ear for dialects. I actually never knew this until I heard someone struggle trying emulate others — something I thought everyone could do. So I surrounded myself with the accent, either with real live people like my English first-reader, or movies with English actors, making it easy to fill my head with the proper rhythm. If I can hear it, I can usually get it onto the paper.

I'm always amazed at the detail in your stories. I guess this goes back to research, but how did you come to gather so many details of that historical period. Where does one begin?

Being in the disability community myself, because of my handicapped child, I was interested in seeing how services have changed through the years. I think that’s the first ingredient we need when we research something: passion. If the author is excited about the subject, it’s easier to search harder to find more details and have more to pick and choose from that’ll best fit our stories.

This is the second book in your series that focuses on Fragile-X syndrome. Have you had a large response from people who deal with Fragile-X in their lives after "The Oak Leaves" came out?

I’ve had a number of notes (mostly emails) from other moms who are dealing every day with Fragile X Syndrome, who’ve faced the same diagnosis I faced and is described in The Oak Leaves. I have to admit those are my favorite notes, because we share the connection of one or more family members who struggle in many of the same ways. I’m an author, but I’m a reader first and foremost, and one of the reasons I love books so much is sharing some measure of the human experience. When someone contacts me to thank me for putting into words all the emotions they went through themselves…well, there’s nothing like it.

Can we look forward to another book about this most interesting of families?

At this point, these two books are the whole series. But I never say never, at least as far as potential books in the future! If I do revisit these characters, though, it’ll be a while before I can get back to them. Next winter I have another contemporary with Tyndale coming out, tentatively titled “My Sister Dilly.” It’s about a woman who leaves her small Midwestern town behind for the faster paced, trendier lifestyle of LA. But when her sister makes a horrible mistake and ends up in prison, she returns home to take care of her. She learns she can’t really go back, all she can do is accept forgiveness. This book revisits the disability community, too, but it’s not related to Oak Leaves or On Sparrow Hill — although, like those two, it DOES have a romance!

After that I’ll be revisiting the First World War for another romantic historical series (also with Tyndale), so I’m excited to say I have my next few books lined up.

Thanks for having me, Pam! Your questions were a pleasure.

To win a copy of On Sparrow Hill, please leave a comment with this posting. The drawing will take place next Friday, February 22nd.



Nora St. Laurent said...

I apprecaite learning about new authors. This interview was really good and informative. Please put me in for the drawing.

Anonymous said...

great interview, please enter me, thanks!

Janna said...

I wanted to add that I was also honored to read On Sparrow Hill already and can say that you guys definitely want to win this book - it is absolutely wonderful and mesmerizing. I couldn't put in down and finished it the first day! And just so you know, I have not read the first book, and didn't feel like I missed anything, but would like to read the first book now that I have read this one (does that make sense?) So don't feel like you can't read this one without reading the other first, just know that eventually you will want to read both!

Great interview Pam and Maureen! And I hope to have Maureen visiting my blog soon to share more insight into this amazing book!


Patty said...

Thanks for sharing about this book. It sounds like a book that I would want to read. Put me in.

pleblanc_1 at charter dot net

ForstRose said...

Sounds like a good read. I love historicals and romances and Britain is one of my favorite European settings for historicals. Please enter me.


Lucie said...

Please enter me for the book, "On Sparrow Hill" Thank you for the interview very interesting.


LucieInCA (at) aol (dot) com

Pam Meyers said...

Thanks for the added input Janna! Great to know from someone who read Sparrow without reading Oak Leaves how she was able to enjoy the story so much.

Hannah said...

great interview! i'd love to win a copy of this book! hsmuda[at]gmail[dot]com thanks!

Julie Lessman said...

Great interview, Pam and Maureen, and I would LOVE to win this one!


gsus [at] charter [dot] net

tetewa said...

Include me in the draw!

Susan Stitch said...

Please include me in the drawing for this book. It's sad to see that so little has changed in the perspectives of some people since Victorian times, but great to see that there is much more knowledge and treatment available today. In 200 years I wonder what things we do today will be seen as archaic and insensitive?


Doreen said...

I love reading the Author's interviews and learning about their books. Would love to win a copy!

Anonymous said...

I had no idea that this book was out yet. I'm so excited to read it :)

Donna Moore said...

I too have taught special education in the public school and have seen first hand the struggles of the families involved. This sounds like a wonderful book and I got goosebumps just reading this interview. Please enter me in the drawing. runninmama at sbcglobal dot net

Donna Moore said...

I would love to read this book. I have taught special education in Texas and I have seen first hand the stress and joy that can come from these wonderfully unique children.

Kathy said...

Can't wait to get a copy of this book! Will Maureen be doing any public book signings? Autographed copies would make great gifts for anyone in the Fx family.
Thanks for the great interview
Kathy Moore

Anonymous said...

What a great interview! I'm really looking forward to On Sparrow Hill. I loved The Oak Leaves. Once I began the story, I could not put it down!

Mary Beth Langan

Amanda Australia said...

I have read both the books and enjoyed them although On Sparrow Hill is my favourite. I have three children with Fragile X and it is great to read a story that shows them warm lovable personality as much as the struggles. I just passed it on to my mother in law in the hope it will give her a little more insight. Maureen is a blessing to all of us in the FX community around the world. Amanda Australia.

Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to reading both books. I enjoyed the interview, and am passing this link on to my sister who has a blogspot.

Please enter me in the drawing!
Lynlee Forehand said...

Maureen, your book covers are gorgeous, and the stories sound wonderful. And Pam, your blog is very nicely done, with lots of helpful links. I'm glad I took a few minutes to come on over!

For more historical romance, take a peek at my site! Spirited Regency Romance for the Jane Austen Soul

Kathleen Rouser said...

Pam and Maureen, your interview was enjoyable and informative. What a wonderful ministry to have written
those books, Maureen. I look forward to reading them. And your covers are so pretty.

Daisy said...

Loved the comments on the book. Please enter me in the contest.

allenwxxx [at]

Maureen Lang said...

I just wanted to thank all those who've already stopped in to read the interview and leave a comment! I totally agree that I've been blessed with incredible covers, and I'm very grateful for that.

Kathy asked about a booksigning event, and I wanted to mention that I'll be at the Arlington Heights, IL Barnes and Noble this Saturday afternoon (the 23rd) from noon until three. I'll be joining a group of other romance writers from my local RWA group, so if you live in the area, stop in and say hi!

But if you want to personalize a copy of any of my books, I'd be happy to send a signed book plate you can affix inside. There's no charge for a signed book plate, just contact me at to let me know to whom you'd like it signed, and where to send it.

Thanks again for all of the positive comments and excitement about On Sparrow Hill. Since it, like The Oak Leaves, has a Fragile X element, it's a book very close to my heart.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading the interview and look forward to purchasing On Sparrow Hill or winning it (please enter me in the drawing)! I purchased The Oak Leaves awhile ago and just started reading it. Thanks for bringing the much needed attention to Fragile X.
Lisa H.

Kristi said...

Wonderful interview. I look forward to reading the book. Please include me in the drawing. kristialabama(at)charter(dot)net

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great interview - I am so looking forward to reading this one. I recently read the Oak Leaves and it was wonderful!


Carolynn W. said...

I would love to read this book, I love when a story involves two time periods:)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interview. I'd love to read BOTH books. Please enter me in the drawing for "On Sparrow Hill". kayscmalbums[at]tx[dot]rr[dot]com

Anonymous said...

Little by little, authors like Maureen are helping increase awareness of fraile x throughout the world. Thank you so much!

Pam Meyers said...

To Anonymous, who just left the most recent comment, if you wanted to be included in the drawing, you'll need to come back and leave contact info!! Being anonymous can be nice sometimes, but I can't contact you if you remain so LOL. Thanks for your encouraging words for Maureen!

Miralee Ferrell said...

I'd love to read more about some of the characters from Oak Leaves! Yippee! This new book sounds great. You have my email, or you can contact me through my blog, either way. Miralee