24 May 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Jennifer Bort Yacovissi on UP THE HILL TO HOME

This week, we're pleased to welcome author JENNIFER BORT YACOVISSI with her latest release, UP THE HILL TO HOME. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Up The Hill To Home. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

History conspires to make us who we are.

Every town, every city, is built by everyday people, and Washington, D.C. is no exception. Anonymous, hard-working women and men form the backbone of the place their families call home: strong women like Mary Miller, who held her family together during the Civil War; Emma Beck, an inventor, career woman, and devoted mother; and Lillie Voith, whose dream of a large family was fulfilled by a tribe of nine children. They are matched by equally strong men, like Charley Beck, whose humor and wisdom served equally as glue and lubricant.

These are my ancestors, and Up the Hill to Home tells their story over most of a century, as their faith and love, home and family, and strength of character contributed to building the nation’s capital, their hometown.

Praise for Up The Hill To Home

"The author creates believable characters . . . yet history itself is the novel's best feature. The author has done her homework, infusing her work with convincing details of 19th- and early-20th-century city life . . . a good book." --Kirkus Reviews

"Beautifully and lovingly written, this sweet story is well researched . . . a Perfect 10” --Romance Reviews Today

"Yacovissi has planned her book carefully, and the result is nothing short of remarkable." --Curled up with a Good Book

" . . . a strong, serene, uplifting debut novel . . . satisfies the heart but also pleases the mind." -- Bryan Crockett, Ph.D., author of Love's Alchemy: A John Donne Mystery

" . . . quietly compelling . . . This is the book you will carry around with you . . . " -- Rafael Alvarez, author of Tales from the Holy Land

**Q&A with Jennifer Bort Yacovissi**

How did you get the idea to write Up the Hill to Home?

I first read my grandmother Lillie’s diary when I was about 12 or 13 years old, and was smitten with its lovely, natural story arc. It took me more than 30 years to get serious about writing the whole story, at which point I found that I had far more source material than I ever imagined.

Up the Hill to Home is a novel, but it’s based on your mother’s family. How much of the book is true?

I’ve joked with my mother that I need to write a “Fact or Fiction?” primer for the family to clarify what’s true, what’s essentially true, and what’s complete fabrication. It’s probably easier to highlight the complete fabrication, which I’d say is about 20% of the book. Much of the rest of the book is based on a kernel of truth, or at least of family legend.

What was the biggest surprise that you uncovered about your family as you did the research?

I found a treasure trove of information in a very thick file in the National Archives that held all the records of my great-great-grandmother Mary Miller’s application for a pension. One of many surprises it held was that my great-grandmother Emma held a patent for a small roller press that she invented because of her job at the General Post Office. The other was the answer to an enduring mystery: In a few of my great-great-grandfather Christian’s war-time letters, one or two sentences had been carefully cut out, and we always wondered why that was. I found those excised sentences pasted into Mary’s pension application, because she had to prove that Christian had died from a disease or chronic condition he had picked up during his military service, and she used his own words to make her case.

What is your writing process like? Do you outline heavily, write in order, or take a more free-form approach?

If I were writing a story that I was less familiar with, I think I would want to lay it out more in advance. In the case of Up the Hill to Home, I had a very good idea of the story I wanted to tell, though not necessarily the order in which I might tell it. I knew the beginning and the end, and I knew that I wanted to use one week in time as the framing device for the story. The book itself is episodic, which allowed me to write individual sections in no particular order. If I was stuck on one section, I could always move to another. In many cases, I felt as though the story revealed itself to me and I just put it on paper. It wasn’t until I had the full story written down that I decided out how to organize and present it. I finally read it from beginning to end at almost the same time my beta readers did.

What about editing? Do you edit as you go, leave that until the end, or a mixture? How do you approach editing your own work?

When I’m writing, I’m trying to capture exactly the right word, and sometimes I’ll work on a sentence until I finally hear what that word is. Most often, though, my philosophy is, “Let the ideas percolate, let the writing marinate.” I usually let the ideas about a chapter or scene bounce around in the back of my head for a while—days, maybe weeks—before writing them down for the first time. That’s most often when I feel that the story is writing itself. But then I try to leave the writing alone for at least a few days, and preferably quite a bit longer before going back to read it again. I almost need to forget what I’ve written in order to hear what it actually sounds like when I go back to it. I’m a good editor of my own writing, but I absolutely needed my editor and beta readers to give me unapologetic feedback on what didn’t work. Finally, reading aloud is not only the best way to find bad writing, it’s also a great way to find mistakes.

Which authors do you hope to be compared to?

Stylistically, I’d love to be compared to E. Annie Proulx or Ann Patchett. Their facility with language is practically magical. For this particular story, I’d love for it to remind readers of Alice McDermott’s novels, with their deceptively simple plots and quiet stories that convey beauty and heartbreak in the simplest things.

What’s the next project that you’re undertaking?

I’m beginning to research the 1867 Sully/Parker expedition to negotiate treaties with various Native American tribes, which is mentioned briefly in Up the Hill to Home, to see where that might lead me. It will be challenging because it’s not a story I know yet, but I’m looking forward to discovering it.

About the Author

Learn more about Jennifer Bort Yacovissi

Twitter: @jbyacovissi