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America’s Untold Story

TFK talks with author Laurie Halse Anderson about the final novel in her Seeds of America Trilogy, Ashes

October 18, 2016

Ashes is the final novel in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America Trilogy.

Laurie Halse Anderson brings her acclaimed Seeds of America Trilogy to a conclusion in her latest book, Ashes. Following Chains and Forge, Ashes takes readers back to colonial-era America. Runaway slaves Isabel and Curzon are desperately seeking for Isabel’s little sister, Ruth, who was stolen and taken to the South. The Revolutionary War is raging all around and bounty hunters are hot on their trail. The stirring tale confronts readers with a question: Would you risk everything to be free?

Laurie Halse Anderson has won many awards for her books, including the Scott O’Dell award for historical fiction. Chains was a finalist for the National Book Award. Anderson talked to TFK about her new book and her experiences as a writer.


What inspired you to write about the colonial era?


I found out that Benjamin Franklin had been a slave owner, which nobody told me when I was a kid. And I found out the extent of slavery in the north as well as the south. I realized that our American leadership was fighting for the colonies’ freedom, but they weren’t talking about freedom for all Americans. To be honest, that broke my heart. I started reading about this topic, and then I decided that it was time to write about it.

Author Laurie Halse Anderson poses with Kid Reporter Robert Gardner.
Author Laurie Halse Anderson poses with Kid Reporter Robert Gardner.


Why is it important to understand the untold history explored in your books?


I think that slavery is the American original sin. White people and good-hearted people don’t want to talk about it because it makes them feel awkward. Part of that is because we don’t talk about it in school. We tend to look at slavery through the lens of the Civil War, which comes eighty years after the American Revolution. That allows people to say, “Oh, slavery was bad. But we fought that war!” That gives such a skewed picture.

There still is racial injustice that can be traced all the way back to the American Revolution. The interesting thing is that black men and boys fought in the Revolution for the Patriots, right alongside their white brothers. About ten percent of the American army was black men when it left Valley Forge. By the end of the war, about twenty percent of the army was men of color. Seeing those men make those sacrifices is what led to the abolition of slavery. Those were heroes!

We should be lifting these people up and celebrating them! If we did that, we’d have a better understanding of how we got to where we are today.


Why are novels effective in teaching about history?


Novels get into your heart. Now, I do think that it’s really important when you’re writing about history that you get your facts right. That’s why I have historians check all of my books. But if you read a dry history book, it can be pretty uninteresting. When you’re looking through the eyes of a character that you identify with, then you’re seeing what they’re feeling.

Kid Reporter
Robert Gardner

I love writing for kids, because they have young brains and wide open eyes. You guys are like sponges, giant, nice sponges. If I do my job properly, then I can give you a story that you can take into your heart.


You won the Scott O’Dell award for Historical Fiction for Chains. How did that affect you?


It made me feel really proud. It was a real honor. I got the phone call and thought, “Have you called the right number?” Those kinds of awards can’t be expected, because that’s not why you write. You write because you want to make the world a little bit better. So when the awards come, it’s an extreme honor. It’s delightful.


What advice would you give to a young, aspiring writer?


Read a lot. You don’t have to finish everything you start. If you come across a book that you don’t like, stick with it for a couple of chapters. Try to figure out why you don’t like this book. You can learn a lot about your own writing style by doing this. The other thing I would say, as you grow up, is to travel out of the United States. When I was a senior in high school, I was an exchange student. I lived on a farm in Denmark for a whole year. I learned to speak Danish, and I learned a lot about myself and I learned how big the world is. When I came home, I saw my world through a new perspective. That’s my biggest piece of advice: Go out and see the world.


When you write, do you know exactly where your story is going?


Oh, heck no! My first drafts are such a mess! I do an outline of the historical events I want my characters to interact with. But then the challenge is how they are going to interact with those events. In Ashes, Curzon strongly believes in the mission of the Patriots. But Isabel believes that the Patriots aren’t offering freedom to slaves. I rewrote these scenes several times. My first drafts can be terrible! That’s another piece of advice I’d give an aspiring author: Not everything you write is good. Sometimes you have to write something terrible to write something good.


What’s next for you, now that you’ve finished the Seeds of America trilogy?


I think I’m going to write a nonfiction companion book to the series. I think that is a great opportunity to help expand people’s minds a bit. Like I said, I love fantasy and science fiction—spaceships and trolls and dragons. I’m ready to try something new. Stay tuned!

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