A month ago, I received a blind inquiry from an author asking if I was willing to read her book and perhaps feature her on my blog. She’d seen an interview I’d done with a fellow Namelos publishing author and reached out. Perhaps she thought I was doing her a favor. But in receiving and reading Nancy Bo Flood’s heartfelt and tender novel, NO-NAME BABY, I was the one who was granted the favor. It’s a rare book that actually causes me to shed real, wet tears, but NO-NAME BABY did just that.
Then I received her answer to my interview questions and I was blown away even further. Nancy said use chunks or quotes, whatever I thought would work. I’m choosing to use it all. And to extend the gift again, you can sign up on the Rafflecopter form below to win a signed copy of NO-NAME BABY.
The Great War, like all wars, left wounds that rippled through communities and families, sometimes in unexpected ways. To survive World War I, Sophie’s family did the best they knew, the best they could, even if it meant burying family secrets. And then, life changed. No-Name Baby is an intimate portrait of an adolescent girl as she discovers the truth about herself and her family.
First - I have to know - is there a personal connection to this story?
As far as I know, in our family there are no secret "no-name babies," but sometimes secrets stay secrets. My first and strongest connection is my grandmother's story about how her first child was born two months early. He was not much bigger than a scrawny bony half-grown chicken - plucked. Her Italian mother-in-law kept that premature baby alive, massaging him regularly with warm olive oil, swaddling him in soft cotton, and keeping him warm in the oven of their wood stove. The box in which he slept was a cigar box!
Something I wrote which I believe: " One writes a story, and then rewrites to get it the best the story can be, because of the people who have touched our lives. Through story we hope to extend this connection of human hearts."
I wrote No-Name Baby for reasons I never knew until the discovery of story unfolded.
When I was reluctantly pregnant unexpectedly with our second child – and our first child was not yet a year old – I visited with my new neighbor. She was seventy-six. I was twenty-six. Her old rambling house was pristine clean, the outside painted white, the porch scrubbed clean, the lilacs blooming, the rhubarb picked and being simmered into sauces and pies. How lucky she was to have uninterrupted time!
She looked at my blooming middle and her eyes watered up. She had had six pregnancies. And six still-born babies. Her home had never held a living child. It was many years later that medical science could explain to her that it was not her sins of commission or omission that had killed her babies. Rather, her Rh negative incompatibility had taken them.
At that time I was also a newly graduated PhD psychologist keen to do something significant in my areas of interest. Two areas of human development were my favorites – little kids and old people. I felt so lucky to get a part-time consulting job at the local State Psych Hospital, touted as being one of the best in the country. I walked through the dark dismal halls of the women’s geriatric unit then sat down with a stack of patient files, each nearly a foot thick. I glanced down the hall way. Old women sat hunched over on chairs that lined the barren halls. Mostly all I could see was stringy gray hair and rounded boney backs. The fragrance of old pee permeated the wooden floors.
I looked through file after file and was horrified. Most of the women had been committed (incarcerated) as young adults or young gangly teens, back in the 1920’s. Most of their diagnosis was not what I expected – not schizophrenia or depression, no bipolar or character disorders. Their diagnosis was their sin, premarital sex. Unwed mothers. Victims of rape. Accused and cursed, girls of loose morals who had tasted sex or vomited on it. The finger had been pointed at them.
After commitment most of the women in the half-century of “treatment,” had experienced over 500 electric shock treatments, sometimes insulin shock treatments, or for a while, the treatment of choice was being wrapped and dunked in freezing water. Other experimental courses of treatment included a variety of psychiatric drugs. I wondered if any woman ever again tasted freedom.
Their insanity was sex. Even my own mother during WWII had to choose between marriage and college. Married women were meant to stay home. Pregnant women were not to be seen and certainly not appropriate teachers for our children. Yes, World War II did change women’s employment status and ability to work outside the home. And then the sexual revolution. But women’s freedom to have reproductive control over her body is so very new, and so very fragile. Currently an issue being fought about in state and federal houses of legislation. Women’s rights. Women’s choices. Dear daughters, please do not take your freedom to choose, to work, to be educated, for granted. Women’s rights are new and fragile. And still deeply controversial.
There are secrets in every family. It takes courage to seek them out, to face them.
How important was knowing your character's back stories to the process of writing this novel?
Knowing my character's back stories was essential to developing them as real people. To write No-Name Baby I had to know my characters as real people (aren't they real people?). Funny, in thinking about this question, I realize that Sophie and Aunt Rae, and everyone in the book are still "real people" talking to me from time to time. There is even one character, Aunt Sarah, who I needed to take out of the book after many revisions. She stands with her hands on her hips still a little cross with me. When am I going to write HER story, she frowns?
Understanding the character's motivations, showing their reactions to events, creating their conversations with each other - all of this really, is coming to feel what is in their hearts. As an author I can feel what is in their hearts once I know their personal histories. Just like real life! We begin to understand another person as we begin to learn about their life.
Though I don't think the setting is ever named, I'm assuming it's midwest based on Aunt Rae's move to Chicago. You did such a skillful job with the farm setting, I'm guessing this is a life you have lived?
Yes, I grew up in an Italian - Czech family in the small town of Braidwood, just south of Joliet, Illinois. Train tracks divided the Italian side from the Czech side. My grandparents were farmers and I spent summers on the farm chasing cats from the milk house, picking eggs with my grandmother and playing wild horses with cousins.
Tell us about this book's journey to publication. My writing mentor, Joy Neaves, works for Namelos as a free-lance editor and I keep hearing wonderful things about your editor, Stephen Roxburgh, and about Namelos as a whole. How did this book come to be?
I brought the manuscript to a Whole Novel Workshop offered by Highlights Foundation. Stephen Roxburgh led the workshop. After he had read the manuscript we met to discuss its strengths and problems. I was shaking as I sat down across from him. Why did I ever think I could write, I kept asking myself. I knew this novel was very different from my previous work. We both agreed that one challenge in this story is that at one level, nothing really happens. No big action scenes. No chase scenes. I shall always remember his first comment, something like this - this story made me cry. It has heart.
I cried. And then he began to ask the questions to deepen character development while eliminating anything extra, including a few characters (sorry, Sarah). Stephen Roxburgh is an amazing editor. He asks the hard questions that are needed to see one's manuscript with fresh eyes, to see the problems. He somehow gives one the confidence that "yes, I can. I can write this story."
Namelos uses a new publishing structure. Books are available in traditional hard-cover format or in ebook format. A manuscript goes through the same traditional editing, copy-editing and design process but publication is then print-on-demand
So, an unrelated question. You live in Arizona on the Navajo Nation Reservation near Flagstaff. Tell me about that! I lived in Arizona for a year after college and am still in awe of that incredible landscape.
Yes, I live in the southwest and yes, the landscape is incredible, poetic, sparse. I teach as an adjunct instructor of Northern Arizona University (Flagstaff) on the Reservation. I used to teach for the Navajo Community College, Dine' College. My husband is a pediatrician, working at the hospital at Chinle - Canyon deChelly. We both work with local organizations to increase the awareness of the importance of early literacy. More books, more libraries, more programs are needed to continue to connect books with families. I love the local rodeos, the skill of the riders - young women and men - is amazing. Cowboy Up, Ride the Navajo Rodeo is my attempt to give tribute to these riders and their horses. This book of verse, poetry and photographs is being published by BoydsMills Press and will be out early next year.
And finally, a few trivia questions.
Your favorite book (or books) from childhood?
Your favorite dessert?
vanilla ice cream (I can't allow it in the house, it disappears.....)
Describe your writing routine
Usually my writing routine is to do a little yoga, do my household daily "chore stuff," take a long walk up the mesa with my dogs, come home and write for about four hours or more.
If you received a large sum of money - with the directions to regift it - who would you give it to?
Large sum of money? hmmm - I would give it to UNICEF for the kids in Haiti...or Amnesty International. Or I would work to develop local public libraries across the Reservation.
Thank you for such an amazing interview,
Where to find Nancy:
Nancy Bo Flood
Chinle, Navajo Nation, AZ 86503 (USA)
No Name Baby new YA, 2012
Warriors in the Crossfire 2010
ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults
Booklist Editor's Choice: Top Ten Historical Novels
Notable Books for a Global Society
Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo, photographs by Jan Sonnenmair, BoydsMills, 2013