News

Darling Deza

TFK chats with author Christopher Paul Curtis about his new book, The Mighty Miss Malone

January 09, 2012

Christopher Paul Curtis's new book, "The Mighty Miss Malone," arrives in stores on January 10.

Newbery Medal winner Christopher Paul Curtis's new book, The Mighty Miss Malone (available January 10), tells the story of Deza Malone, who first made an appearance in Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy. Deza is a smart, confident 12-year-old at the top of her class. The Malones are an African-American family living in poverty in Gary, Indiana, in the late 1930s. Their motto is, “We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful.” But it’s the Great Depression, and there are few jobs. After Deza’s father leaves Gary to find work, Deza, her brother Jimmie and their mother set off after him. (Click here to read a review of The Might Miss Malone by TFK Kid Reporter Claire Duncan).

Last month, TFK chatted with Curtis about his inspiration for the book, writing historical fiction and what’s on his reading list.

TFK:

What inspired you to bring Deza Malone, from Bud, Not Buddy, back for her own story? How did you decide what her story would be?

CHRISTOPHER PAUL CURTIS:

The main inspiration was that little girls constantly ask me when I visit their schools why I don’t write a book about girls. I finally got my courage up and decided to do it. I already had the character of Deza. I knew who she was, and it was just a matter of holding a conversation with her. I imagine I’m talking to her, and she’s telling me what is going on. Before long, I don’t even have to think about it. As soon as I sit down, Deza’s there, and she says, “Hello, Mr. Curtis.” I say, “Hey, Deza, how are you?” Then I write the story down as Deza tells me.

TFK:

What did you find rewarding about writing Deza’s story?

CURTIS:

It felt really good to expand Deza’s story. From the little bit we get of her in Bud, Not Buddy, she seems like a really interesting character. I thought it [would be] fun to find out what happened to her. What I tell young people all the time about writing is that “one story leads to another.” That’s the fun part, just discovering what happens next.

TFK:

How would you describe Deza, and what do you most admire about her?

CURTIS:

Deza is very secure in who she is and full of love for her family. I admire that she is very dogged and determined in what she wants to do. Once she makes up her mind to do something, she works at it until it’s done.

TFK:

Was she or any part of her based on anyone you know?

CURTIS:

When you are writing, you don’t consciously think, “OK, I’m going to base this on so-and-so” or “this part is this person.” But I think in the process of writing, you have to put something of your life, something that you know, [into the story]. My sister, who is a 9th grade teacher in Maryland, asked me if I was writing about her. That’s always a good sign, when someone thinks the story is about him or her. I wasn’t consciously doing it. But once I went back and looked at it, I said, “Oh yeah, this is sort of like what [my sister was like].”

TFK:

Deza loves to write. Did you have her passion for writing as a kid?

CURTIS:

I did have a passion for writing when I was a kid. The only reason I remember that is because I remember telling my brothers and sisters—and I must have been 7 or 8 years old—I told them, “One day, I’m going to write a book.” I can remember because they laughed at me. I was so humiliated that they laughed like that. So I did have the desire, but I didn’t really act on it. I would write short stories, but I didn’t really find a love of writing, and I didn’t realize how writing could heal you until I was working at a factory [as an adult], in Flint, Michigan.

TFK:

What was your research process like for the book?

CURTIS:

The Internet has made it so much easier to do research. You can type in anything and find it. When [Deza’s] father takes the fishing trip in Gary, Indiana, I needed to know the temperature in Lake Erie in Gary, in 1936. You type it in and it comes right up, so any kind of research is made really easy on the Internet.

TFK:

What do you enjoy most about writing historical fiction?

CURTIS:

Using my imagination, and imagining historical events and how they impacted a child. In all the stories that I write that are historical fiction, the young person isn’t really that much aware of what is going on around them. Deza’s family is in a lot of trouble, but she doesn’t see that. I enjoy telling stories from that point of view because it gets away from the gloom and drama of what is going on around us. As people, we are hopeful beings. We are always hoping for something better, and I enjoy imagining something better is right around the corner.

TFK:

You do a lot of writing in the library. Was that the case for this book?

CURTIS:

I rather stupidly convinced myself that libraries are the only places I can write, so I go to different libraries. This time, I was in the Wade County Community College Library, in Detroit, Michigan. I wrote most of this book from there. I’m comfortable writing in libraries. I think there’s a good vibration in the library for writing because there are people wanting to learn, and the librarians are always very helpful.

TFK:

What do you want readers to take away from Deza’s story?

CURTIS:

As I said in the afterword, I want them to enjoy the story, but I also want young people to say to themselves, “Wow, this kind of thing really happened? There are people [like Deza] who couldn’t get anything done with their teeth—they had to walk around with a mouthful of rotten teeth? There were people who lived in cardboard shacks?” I want those questions to be asked, and I want them to understand the answer is, “Yes, there were people like that,” and “Yes, even today there are people like that.” The only way we can change that is if young people and older people—but I don’t have a lot of faith in older people doing it—if young people say, “This is enough of this nonsense. We have to do something.”

TFK:

What is on your reading list right now?

CURTIS:

I’m writing now. I’m writing another book about Buxton—it’s a spinoff of my story [Elijah of Buxton]—so when I am writing I don’t read very much. But I am reading the autobiography of Mark Twain. I’m reading a book by Manning Marable about Malcolm X. I’m reading a book called Warmth of Other Sons [by Isabel Wilkerson], about the migration of African-Americans from the South to the North in the 1920s and the 1930s. I don’t read fiction when I’m writing. I read a lot of factual books, nonfiction.


Current subscribers log in/register for timeforkids.com 

Registered Users Log In

 
 
Forgot Password?
Register Now for FREE
Subscriber Benefits
Do it now to get all this:
  • Access to Interactive Digital Editions
  • Online Archives of Past Lessons & Teachers' Guides
  • Interactive Teacher Community
Website Login Page