Today we have a special treat. I am interviewing Rebecca Wenrich Wheeler, author of Whispering through Water. Let’s get to it so you can enjoy learning about her writing and inspiration.
SueBE: Let’s start at the very beginning. What was your inspiration for Whispering through Water?
Rebecca: I have always been interested in the concept of the “Generation Gap”. If you are a reader of history, historical fiction, or even just talked with your grandmother, there are qualities that transcend generational divide: the distinctly human drive for autonomy and agency to determine one’s own future. The lengths we will go to in order to maintain agency, and the despair we feel when we cannot. The ability to achieve autonomy is impacted by cultural norms and sometimes puts us at odds with those we love.
This is from the “Author’s Note” and it does contain spoilers:
I first became interested in the stories of women who were forced to surrender babies for adoption when I heard an NPR interview of Ann Fessler discussing her book The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade (2006). I immediately bought a copy of the book. It was an emotional read. One that I had to read in small chunks, but then couldn’t put it down. Delia’s story evolved from reading Fessler’s book. I thought it would be interesting to have her niece discover the truth, which allowed me to explore the generation gap further.
SueBE: Wow! That’s powerful inspiration. Once you had the idea for your story, you still had to write a whole novel. Are you a plotter or a pantser? If you are a plotter, how do you keep your story fresh as you write it? If you are a pantser, how do you stay on track as you write something as long as a novel?
Rebecca: Interesting question. I would say I am a blend of both. I outline the major plot points on a timeline, but not each chapter. That allows the characters to have the space to make decisions in a way I didn’t expect. To help me stay on track, I have the climax written first, and then get myself there.
SueBE: That makes sense. With your climax in place you have a destination in sight. You set your story in 1998. Why did you choose that time period vs the present? What advice do you have for other writers in making the past accessible to the reader?
Rebecca: Ultimately Delia’s timeline guided the story. The majority of the maternity homes in the US closed after 1973, which required Delia to be a teen in a previous decade. I wanted Gwyn to discover the truth about her aunt, and the 1990s was a perfect decade. Set in 1998, a time on the cusp of a technology explosion, when youth, especially young women, were experiencing the benefits of the women’s movement fought for by their mothers and grandmothers. Women from Gen X forward experienced a different life of opportunity than previous generations, and those differences are interesting to explore. Plus I was a teen in the late 90s, and it was fun to pull in elements that I experienced first-hand.
It did help that I was a teen in the mid-late 1990s, and I could easily place myself there. I find listening to music of the era helpful to immerse my brain in the historical context. I have Pandora set to 90s alternative rock! Also I tried to use markers of the 90s that readers might have some frame of reference for or were easy to look up (for instance, I reference to Friends, clothing brands, and several well-known bands of the 90s.) Especially for a YA audience, I didn’t want to include references that were too obscure. Also, everyday objects from the era might need to be described. For instance, in Whispering Through Water, Gwyn receives a stereo for a birthday gift (you know, with a CD and a cassette player). My 12 year old daughter had no clue what a CD disc-changer was, so I described it in a way she could visualize.
SueBE: So you built a bridge from the world of contemporary readers to the last 1990s. So much of writing is revising. How did Whispering through Water change during the revision process? Can you describe this process for my readers?
Rebecca: I finished revising a draft in 2013 then put it away for years. I picked it up again in 2021. The reason I shelved it— I received the following response from an editor: “No one wants to read about the 90s.” Well, I thought, not yet anyway! So much happened in those 8 years that gave the book concept new life, including the interest in home genetics testing, and well, all things 90s fashion!
When I re-read my draft in 2021, Delia did not read as the sympathetic character I intended her to be. I wanted the reader to empathize with Delia at the end of the story. I rewrote the relationships in her backstory, so she could become who I envisioned in my mind. I thoroughly believe in letting a book “rest” between revisions. Put it out of your mind for weeks, months (or in my case years!), and work on other projects. You will return to the work as a more experienced writer and will be better able to view it with fresh eyes.
Once the book was accepted by the publisher, the entire book went through a round of proofreading, developmental edits, and line edits. Once the Advanced Reader Copy was created, we went through the document for anything we missed.
SueBE: You’ve written both a picture book, When Daddy Shows Me the Sky, and this young adult novel. What advice do you have for other writers who want to write for two or more different audiences?
Rebecca: I do have the added benefit of working in schools for 20+ years, from elementary to high school. The experience of being around children and youth has definitely informed my writing.
Beyond that, reading everything from picture books to YA, and researching current best sellers. I also enjoy reading contemporary books on developmental psychology. Currently I’m reading To Raise a Boy by Emma Brown. These non-fiction books help me to pull in social concerns that I enjoy infusing in my books.
Also, I am a member of SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). My Carolinas chapter is very active. I would encourage anyone who is interested in writing for youth to join their regional chapter of SCBWI. You then have contact with a group of very supportive like-minded individuals to help you on your journey.
SueBE: Thank you so much for mentioning SCBWI. It is definitely a valuable resource. Now, to wrap things up — what question do you wish I had asked? How would you answer that question?
Rebecca: Who are 5 people dead or alive you would like to meet?
- My grandfather Archie Wenrich. I was born on his birthday, and he passed away when I was 6 months old. I have a lot of questions I would like to ask!
- Rachel Carson. My grandma took a class under Rachel Carson and told me about her. I have my grandmother’s 1st edition of Silent Spring.
- Lynda Carter, not just because she’s Wonder Woman, but because she’s had an amazing life.
- The cast of Call the Midwife, because I have watched that show from the beginning. (Okay so that’s more than 5 people).
- Dolly Parton, because she’s Dolly.
SueBE: What a way to wrap things up! Thank you for sharing so much with my readers and a special note to those readers. Check out these links to order your own copy of Whispering through the Water. And below you’ll find the other stops on the blog tour. Come back on February 6 for a guest post by Rebecca.
Barnes and Noble:https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/whispering-through-water-rebecca-wenrich-wheeler/1142099580?ean=9781957656052