John Clark sharing an interview with fellow Hartland author (and member of the library book discussion group), Bette Stevens.
1-Tell me about growing up–where, what authors influenced you, what are some of your strongest/most vivid memories from childhood?
I grew up in California (the early years) and later New York State. Our home was filled with books, magazines, pencils, crayons and water color paint and Mama had me reading, writing and drawing before I entered kindergarten. Fairy tales and Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes were among my early favorites. As the eldest of five children, I had a great deal of responsibility at home once babies started arriving (I was five). I was fortunate to spend several weeks each summer with my grandmother who taught me how to sew, knit, crochet, tat lace, make jewelry and create wood fiber flowers. Grandma regaled me with her stories of growing up in ‘the good old days’ when horse and carriage was the transportation norm and blizzards left snow drifts taller than two story houses. By middle school, I discovered Thyra Ferra Bjorn’s books at the local library, where I whiled away treasured quiet time with new friends (characters from Bjorn’s novels are a Swedish immigrant couple and their family). Papa’s Daughter was my first read from the series. I was hooked on historical fiction that helped me learn more about my family roots.
2-Coming to Maine, how did that happen?
The year was 1973—the year of the great oil crisis, when New Yorkers sat among the millions of Americans who were literally ‘sitting in line’ behind steering wheels on odd or even days, waiting to fill up their gas guzzlers. That was enough to make Dan and I put our home in Upstate New York on the market and head up to the land of “The Way Life Should Be,” where we’d been vacationing (tenting) for nearly a decade.
We already owned a parcel of land in Southern Maine. My husband’s maternal ancestors had been Mainers before Maine was a legitimate entity. Here’s the lineage link via Wikipedia: Simon Bradstreet, (baptized March 18, 1603/4 – March 27, 1697) was a colonial magistrate, businessman, diplomat, and the last governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Arriving in Massachusetts on the Winthrop Fleet in 1630, Bradstreet was almost constantly involved in the politics of the colony but became its governor only in 1679. He served on diplomatic missions and as agent to the crown in London, and also served as a commissioner to the New England Confederation. He was politically comparatively moderate, arguing minority positions in favor of freedom of speech and for accommodation of the demands of King Charles II following his restoration to the throne.
The Bradstreet family farmstead burnt over in the 1947 fire—a forty-acre plot where we built a home without a mortgage (that took nearly ten years to complete) when we set out as part of the ‘back-to-the-landers’ movement. We raised sheep, chickens, turkeys, pigs and a variety of other critters and plowed ten acres for pick-your-own fruits and vegetables. The girls were six and three when we ‘landed’ and we’re proud to say that we’ve been Maine land owners ever since.
3-What did you take away from your teaching career that influenced you as a writer?
Actually, teaching was a second career. The first was in business where writing, editing and desktop publishing kept me on my writer’s toes until 1994 when I left to earn a B.S. in Education from University of Maine Orono. I volunteered in local schools for several years and saw a need that I wanted to fill. Teaching for eight years (1997-2005) was a dream job. I believe that teachers have the privilege and the opportunity to read and write on a daily basis and also to inspire kids to enjoy reading and writing. Those are among the things I want my children and young adult books to accomplish. I also hope that they’ll inspire readers to be the best they can be and to help others to do the same.
4-How did you become a writer?
Writing began during our ‘back-to-the land’ farm days in the 1970s and ’80s.
Inspired by nature and human nature, I enjoyed writing nugget poems and short stories for the family back then. In the business world of the 1980s and ’90s, I interviewed fellow employees and wrote human interest articles for the company’s twelve-page company newsletter. I was also editor and desktop publisher for the publication that reached more than 1,500 families. By the mid-1990s, I was an undergrad at UMO, where I mentored peers at the Writing Center and had two of my articles published in ECHOES Magazine.
By 1996, the first edition of THE TANGRAM ZOO AND WORD PUZZLES TOO! was published by Windswept House Publishing in Mt. Desert, Maine. In 1997, I wrote the first draft of AMAZING MATILDA, A Monarch’s Tale and used it as a teaching tool for my students. By the time I retired from teaching in 2005, I decided it was time to publish AMAZING MATILDA and publish a second edition of THE TANGRAM ZOO. Of course, I had to learn how to draw on the computer for THE ZOO and complete the pen and water color artwork for AMAZING MATILDA which took about six months.
I invite you to visit my website/blog at http://www.4writersandreaders.com to find out more about my books and my blog, read some of my poetry and download some free stuff too. You can sign up for my (approximate/bimonthly) email updates (right hand column) to get pre-released stories/news, photos and find out when my eBooks are free/discounted on Amazon.
5-What have you written and what were the things that influenced them?
THE TANGRAM ZOO AND WORD PUZZLES TOO! is a hands-on activity book and a great resource for home or school that teaches and reinforces math, reading and writing skills.
AMAZING MATILDA—an award-winning picture book for children ages 5-10—follows the life cycle of a monarch butterfly and teaches kids, not only science, but life lessons about bullying, friendship, patience and persistence. As a writer, I advocate for monarch butterflies, a threatened species and for children and families, both on my blog and through my books.
PURE TRASH is a 1950s short story prequel to my soon-to-be-released debut novel—DOG BONE SOUP, A Boomer’s Journey. I wrote PURE TRASH as a short story for the YA/Adult audience to highlight the plight of a poor boy growing up rural New England. I believe the story is as relevant today as it would have been back then.
6-How have your books been received?
I’ve received a great deal of positive feedback from readers around the globe. Some of it is the form of book reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and Writer blogs. Kids love AMAZING MATILDA and I thoroughly enjoy visiting local classrooms, libraries, businesses and homes to read and discuss MATILDA’S story. There’s nothing that compares to watching and listening to my wide-eyed young friends!
7-What are you working on now?
My first novel:
DOG BONE SOUP, A Boomer’s Journey by Bette A. Stevens
Onion sandwiches and dog bone soup…
Shawn Daniels is leaving it all behind!
Boomers call them ‘The Good Old Days’—the 1950s and ’60s, when America was flying high. An era when the ‘All American Family’ lived a life filled with hopes and dreams come true.
Shawn Daniels isn’t your typical American boomer boy. No, Shawn is a poor boy. His father is the town drunk. Shawn’s family has no indoor plumbing or running water, but they do have a TV. After all, Dad (an alcoholic) deserves the rewards of his labor; while Shawn and his brother Willie keep the firewood cut and stacked, haul in water for cooking and cleaning, weed the gardens and shovel the snow. But when chores are done, these two resourceful boys discover boundless pursuits that are downright entertaining—and they don’t cost a dime.
On a bitter New England day in 1964, Shawn is on his way to boot camp to soak up the southern sun and strike out on a new adventure—one where it’s possible to make his hopes and dreams come true. Find out where this Boomer has been and where he’s going in DOGBONE SOUP: A Boomer’s Journey.
8-Has living in Hartland had any effect on you as a writer?
Being a writer inspired by nature and human nature, I’ve written several poems about nature since moving to Hartland and, yes, I’ve met lots of people. So, no matter where I go, there will always be poems to pen and stories that need to be told.
9-Best/worst experience as a writer?
Best? There is nothing that compares to getting that first copy of any book (proof or final). To this writer, holding it in my hands is worth a million bucks!
Worst? Reading a review by someone who doesn’t like my book, but even that has it’s upside—learning how to improve my writing.
Hi, John. Thanks so much for sharing some of my writing and other adventures on Crime Writers of Maine. Have a great week! 🙂 Bette
Welcome, Bette! Thanks so much for visiting Maine Crime Writers.
Thanks for the warm welcome, Barb! 🙂
What an interesting history 🙂 And I thought I knew all about it already. There’s always more to know. Thanks for a look behind the curtain.
Hi, Marilyn. Thanks for taking a peek! 🙂
I love Bette and I thought I knew her well this interview gave me such a well rounded picture of a storybook wonderful childhood and I remember the gas lines in 1973.
Hi, M.C.V. Thanks for stopping by and for sharing my story! 🙂
Bette, you are phenomenal. Loved reading the interview. Best wishes on DOG BONE SOUP.
Hi, Lea. Your thoughtful comments made my day! 🙂