I stated reading Karen Bessay Pease’s Grumble Bluff on Slush Pile Reader and
Authonomy, two on-line sites, and finished reading it after it was published.
Karen was generous enough to let me ask her a few questions.
KJ Kron: You really pulled me into your story when the bullies of the school
target Katherine, who is overweight. How did your idea?
Karen Bessey Pease: I think every writer pulls stories from their observations and experiences. When I sat down to write Grumble Bluff, all I had in mind to write was a simple story which might entertain-- and provide ‘life lessons’ for--my daughter, who was eleven years old at the time. In all honesty, I didn’t know where it would take me, and I didn’t have a plan. Each evening over the course of two weeks, I added a bit more to the story. As I wrote, I recalled my own upbringing in the beautiful forested mountains of Maine. I called upon the memories of the years I spent roaming the hills and valleys with my friend Patty, to whom Grumble is dedicated. I thought a lot about friendship, and family, and about the trials of growing up. Grumble Bluff is the story which emerged as I wrote for a young girl who was the same age I was when I first met my best friend thirty-nine years ago.
KJK: How serious of a problem do you think bullying is today?
KBP: I don’t believe the inherent nature of human beings changes. Nowadays, folks are better educated about issues such as discrimination and tolerance, sure. But bullying has been a part of our lives for as long as we have had a societal existence. Chickens aren’t the only creatures who feel the need to establish a pecking order when they are sharing the same space. :o)
However, contrary to what many people believe, it is often the bully who suffers from the least amount of self-confidence, or who deserves the most sympathy. Aggression is sometimes the symptom of serious problems in a bully’s private life. All is not black and white, and learning how to deal with other personalities can be very challenging for developing children. As the tag line for Grumble Bluff says, “Growing up is tough.” But I came to realize something else as I wrote this novel, and it’s summarized in the rest of that tag line. “Growing up is tough. Katherine Anne and Greta are tougher. Discover the awesome power of friendship in Grumble Bluff.” When two people click, magic happens. I’m lucky enough to know that, first-hand.
KJK: Greta is another target for the bullies. How would you contrast her
personality / situation with Katherine?
KBP: Greta was the ‘new kid in town’. In the best of circumstances, it is challenging for a child to have to make new friends. In Greta’s case, she had an additional obstacle. She had to overcome the ignorance and fear of a community which hadn’t had to confront the illness of HIV/AIDS before her family’s arrival in rural Maine.
KJK: Is Grumble Bluff close to where you live?
KBP: The fictitious ‘place’ of Grumble Bluff was inspired by a quiet and tranquil spot here on The F.A.R.M., my 70 acre homestead in Lexington Township. Originally, my husband and I purchased 50 acres when we bought this abandoned and ramshackle farmhouse. A few years later, we were able to purchase an abutting parcel on the back side of our acreage. Pease Brook (named after an ancestor of my husband’s, we later discovered) winds through a ravine which is surrounded by mature and verdant forest. Since the piece of ground was ‘land-locked’ (meaning no deeded ‘right of way’ existed connecting it to a public access point) the trees had not been harvested for generations. It’s as close to an ancient, pristine forest as we can get, nowadays.
KJK: What do you feel is more important to Katherine, Grumble Bluff or Greta?
KBP: Wow. What a question! Grumble Bluff is a place of solace for Katherine Anne, and has always been a sanctuary where she could go to think, and feel, and heal. The Bluff is an intricate part of her life. However, Katherine Anne’s life changed—dramatically and for the better—once she befriended Greta. I hope she’ll never have to choose between the two, but I’m pretty sure Greta would win in any contest!
KJK: I read on your blog a post about windmills. Are windmills threatening to
go up in / near Grumble Bluff?
KBP: May I say “Wow” twice in the same interview? Heh… Around these parts, folks know enough not to mention the topic of mountaintop industrial wind to me unless they have a day or two to sit and ‘jaw’. Yes, grid-scale wind facilities are threatening the wilderness and mountains all around my home, here near the Bigelow Preserve and the Appalachian Trail. When I first began to study this issue, I had no idea the scope and scale of Maine’s Wind Energy Plan, nor did I know that the arguments used to promote it were based on misinformation. I thought, like many people, that ‘wind’ must be ‘green’ and good, and that it would counter the effects of global warming and reduce our dependence on fossils fuels. After doing some independent investigation, I knew that wasn’t the case. And when I decided to oppose the Highland project (proposed for five mountains in a neighboring Plantation) this issue wasn’t quite so ‘personal’. I was being an ‘active citizen’ because after all my research, I believed it was the right thing to do. But now… this rural area has been targeted by no less than four wind developers, and the closest proposed project will be directly behind my home. Even more challenging-- the corporation proposing it is the biggest ‘wind’ developer in the world. It’s a daunting task, but I’ve been amazed at the groundswell of citizens who are getting educated and stepping forward to protect Maine’s renowned “Quality of Place’. (Aren’t you glad you asked THAT question? Sorry, pal. I can’t help myself!)
KJK: Maybe that can be another plot in a future book. Any way, how long have you been working on Grumble Bluff and the series?
KBP: As I said, Grumble was written during the evenings over the course of two weeks. I’ve completed two sequels, and each took a similar amount of time. However, with the second and third, I had an editor-- who made my life quite… interesting. Heh… he’s now my best friend; and he taught me a lot about how to graciously take criticism. He’s also made me (I believe) a better writer.
KJK: I first read your book on authonomy when you got an agent or was it a
publisher? Did that lead to your publication?
KBP: Grumble Bluff was actually published by a small, new publisher a month before I put it up on Authonomy. My marketing coach suggested the site, because she believed the novel had the potential to attract a larger, more established publisher. And within days, I was offered a representation contract by Bonomi Associates in London. However, after presenting Grumble to 13 publishing houses in Britain, they weren’t able to get a more lucrative offer for the novel. Nonetheless, I was very flattered and grateful to have a reputable agent ‘pick me up’. Such things give a gal a little confidence!
KJK: I read a little more of your book on Slush Pile reader. How would you
contrast SPR with authonomy?
KBP: The two sites are worlds apart. I stayed with Authonomy for awhile, even after my agent asked me to make Grumble ‘private’. I thought maybe I could help other writers by offering suggestions about their manuscripts. But—and this is just my opinion—I didn’t like the environment very much. Manuscripts were being ‘backed’ as favors, or as swaps. Books were advancing to the top which didn’t seem to be nearly as well written as others authored by people who refused to ‘play the game’. So, while I made some great friend on the site, I decided that it was not a good expenditure of my time and effort to offer honest comments when all that really seemed to be desired was a ‘spot on the shelf’.
Slush Pile Reader is different. The owners of the site have worked hard to avoid the mistakes made on Authonomy. There is less pressure for writers on the site, and not so much personal drama. The people there genuinely seem to want to improve their writing styles and techniques. Over the course of the last year, I know I’ve learned a lot from the other authors at SPR. And by the way… I’d like to congratulate you again for making it to the top of the Slush Pile! St. Peter Killed God is a worthy manuscript, and I’m very happy for you.
KJK: Is your book available as an e-book? If not, any plans to make it
KBP: No, it isn’t. And yes, it’s an option- but one I haven’t taken advantage of. Not yet. To be honest, I’m in a bit of a quandary. My lifelong dream has been to be a published (and successful) author. And finally, I’ve been granted a chance to fulfill that dream. But my writing (and marketing) has taken a back seat for the last few months as I’ve thrown myself into this citizens’ movement. This is not the direction I ever expected my life to take, but I made a choice to fight for something I believe in and I feel obligated to stay involved until it’s over, one way or another. I believe that Grumble Bluff and its sequels have an enduring quality, and that they will ‘speak’ to people tomorrow as well as today. Life is full of surprises and unexpected turns, and I know that this effort I’ve dedicated myself to will prove to be a blessing. I only hope I’m not too exhausted at the end of it to pick up a pen (or tap at a keyboard) again! Thank you, Karl, for the honor of participating in this interview, and for opportunity to talk about my story of friendship.
KJK: I completely enjoyed Grumble Bluff. You have a knack for pulling the
reader in and getting me to root for the underdog. It was a roller coaster of
emotions. Well done. If you have a chance you should read this book.