#NewRelease, #AuthorInterview & #Giveaway: Meet Eileen Sanchez and learn more about “Freedom Lessons: A Novel”

1CFD5BB2-3D9E-4704-BC53-B87AABEAD12EQ: What first sparked your interest in writing “Freedom Lessons”? 


Ten years ago, I was at a professional educational conference in New Orleans, LA. After a long day of presentations, we went out to Pat O’Brien’s, a great bar in the French Quarter. If you ever visit NOLA be sure to go there to have a
Hurricane and request your favorite song to be played by the dueling pianos. In between the drinks and entertainment, I surprised the people I was with when I told them I had taught in a small rural town in Louisiana. It was during the mandated integration that followed the October 29, 1969 Alexander v Holmes Supreme Court decision which ordered schools across the county to desegregate. I had rarely shared that experience. I explained how a 22-year-old young woman from NJ wound up in the middle of the poorly planned mandated integration of the public schools. My husband was in the Army and we lived there for the last year of his service.

I always knew the impact it had on my personal history, but that revelation made me realize how significant the event was in the history of our country. I was a witness and felt a responsibility to share it. At the time, my first grandchild was two years old and a friend challenged me to write about my life during that year so that my granddaughter would learn about it.

When I started to write, I realized that I only knew my story. I had returned to NJ at the end of that school year when my husband was discharged. What happened to my second grade students after that traumatic year? I uncovered numerous personal stories through reading and research.


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Q: Is there any truth to your story that is personal to you?


The story is told from three points of view. Colleen represents my own experience and I created two characters, Evelyn and Frank, to tell the point of view of a black teacher and a black high school student. My November 12, 2019 publishing date commemorates the 50th anniversary of southern states meeting the mandate of the Brown v BOE decision, followed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and finally on October 29, 1969 the US Supreme Court ordered schools across the country to desegregate in the little-known but milestone case,
Alexander v. Holmes. It was 15 years after Brown v Board and most black students in the South still attended segregated black schools.  If they had not integrated public schools, they would have forfeited federal funds on Dec. 31, 1969. Stubborn resistance to move beyond “Freedom of Choice” plans created numerous last minute decisions to meet the mandate.

My book is based on my personal experience that I more fully understood by studying the impact on the black families and teachers forty years later through research and interviews about that school year of 1969-1970.

I fictionalized my experience to create the characters of Frank and Evelyn after reading first hand accounts of the impact of the mandated integration on families of the children I taught and the black teachers and administrators who were moved from respected positions to secondary support staff. Having two POV characters who are black and one white misplaced “Yankee” I have tried to give a more accurate expression of the small stories and the wide impact of this event.


Q: Do you have a favorite character? Why?

That’s easy, it’s Frank. Five years ago, I was able to visit the town and the school I taught in. The visit filled some of the history of the people and the community. One of the opportunities allowed me to meet the current principal of the school. The school had been reopened and now serves as a middle school. She had been away in college the year of the mandated integration, but she told me some of her own family’s experiences. The stories about her brother who was a high school senior in 1969 helped me to personalize and build a deeper background for Frank. He became the character to tell the story from a student’s point of view.  I created a family for Rachel, one of Colleen’s second graders. Frank became Rachel’s brother, the eldest son who was deeply impacted by his father’s death in a suspicious fire. Frank and his parents had been counting on a football scholarship for him to be able to attend college. But when the schools were integrated the football team spots were already filled by the white students.  He wasn’t able to play and lost his chance for the scholarship. He struggled with the unfairness but maintained the core values from his parents.


Q: How long did it take you to write “Freedom Lessons”?

Five years. Slow and steady. I tend to write in chunks of time. The discipline of writing every day for an hour doesn’t work for me. I get immersed in the research and the “telling”. Some writers can turn out books very quickly but that’s not how mine happened. Once a week for four years I met with my writing group as we wrote our novels under the tutelage of my mentor, Michelle Cameron (The Fruit of Her Hands: the Story of Shira of Ashkenaz, & Beyond the Ghetto Gates). There are other methods to writing a novel, but I wrote 10-20 pages a week for three years. We each read our pages aloud to the group and then received feedback. I had to learn to show not tell. After decades of writing educational reports of all kinds which required concise specific explanations, I had to learn how to let the story roll out through the characters. Creating characters and learning who they were was a huge challenge because two of my main point of view characters are African American. It took a great deal of research to understand Frank and Evelyn. I began a personal black history study and wove what I learned into their background and their lives.

Q:  When did you realize you were a novelist?

“Who me?” It’s still sinking in.

Annie: Today is the day! Congratulations!

Q:  As you geared up for your Book being released, what was the most exciting part(s) for you?

The initial critical reviews from people who I’m not related to! I’m most pleased with my Library Journal (LJ) review and being included in a LJ article titled Fall/Winter Best Debut Novels.


Q:  With this being your first novel, do you think you will always explore historical fiction? Maybe still more to tell about this particular era?

There’s always more to tell about an era. I enjoy writing and the history research that supports the story.


Q: I love the Music that comes with the book. Where can people order this?

I created the playlist mainly for book club swag. It’s from my personal music burned to a CD. So, I can’t sell it, but some lucky readers can win it!

Name

Artist

My Girl

The Temptations

All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)

Charley Pride

A Beautiful Morning

The Rascals

Okie from Muskogee (Rerecorded)

Merle Haggard

Yellow Submarine

The Beatles

Honky Tonk Women

The Rolling Stones

Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The…

The 5th Dimension

Ball of Confusion (That’s What the…

The Temptations

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Simon & Garfunkel

ABC

Jackson 5

Both Sides Now

Judy Collins

Get Together

The Youngbloods

Annie: Thank you for including this CD in your Giveaway!

Q:  Is there an author that you feel resonates with you and your writing style?

There are two authors that have influenced my interest in storytelling.

Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings follows thirty-five years of a complex relationship between Sarah and her ownership of Handful, as both women strive for lives of their own. I would never compare myself to Sue Monk Kidd, but I love her books and wish that her readers might like mine. She is a prolific writer and develops the rich interior lives of her characters with prose that keeps you turning the page. Her books build from real historic figures to tell the small stories of everyday people that make up our history. My book tells the small stories directly from the everyday people. I can hope for some of her readers, can’t I?

 Amy Hill Hearth’s endorsement, featured on the cover of Freedom Lessons, validated my writing and the telling of the story. She has been generous with her support of a second career debut author. Amy, a New York Times best selling author, has written several books, two fiction and several non-fiction, the most recent is Streetcar to Justice. Her most successful book became the Broadway play “The Delany Sisters – Having Our Say”. I loved these two: Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society: A Novel and Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County: A Novel. The Stories take place in a rural area of Florida that became Disney World and the setting rises to a level of the characters. A transplanted “Yankee” from Boston shakes up the community by starting a literary salon, aka a book club. Both books “will touch the heart of anyone who ever felt like an outsider longing to fit in.”


Q: When do you typically write?  Where do you write?  Set this up for us…

When I started Freedom Lessons I wrote in an upstairs bedroom dedicated to be “A Room of my Own”. It was sacred and when I returned to write more the next day the thoughts and ideas returned as I started to write. Mornings are the most creative times for me to write but I can return to ideas any time of day. I need to be alone to write; I can get distracted easily. I’ve witnessed an author friend writing pages by hand in a notebook in the middle of activity around us as we waited for a conference to begin. I write on my laptop. I type fast and the ease of quick edits releases my worry about getting it right the first time. I’ve learned that I just need to write it and then fix it later. A handwritten manuscript would slow me down. I can type almost as fast as I’m thinking the ideas.

Q:  May I ask who your favorite authors are?

I’ve already mentioned Amy Hill Hearth and Sue Monk Kidd. I would add Camille Di Maio, and Tara Conklin. Kwame Alexander inspires me with his poetry and books for “children of all ages”.  Books? Any book by Sue Kidd Monk but The Secret Life of Bees came to mind first.  I love poetry and have just discovered Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover because of my grandson. Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic is an old favorite to pull out. Judith Viorst keeps me laughing as I age with her poems from How Did I Get to Be Forty, Forever Fifty, Suddenly Sixty and I’m Too Young to Be Seventy. (Yup, 72! How else could I have been there in 1969?)

Annie: I love Sue Monk Kidd!  Must read Kwame Alexander, as I love poetry.


Q:  What books are in your nightstand right now?

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is my most recent finished book. Starting in 18th century Ghana to Jazz Age Harlem, the novel illuminates’ slavery’s troubled legacy. I am often reading several books at a time. I’m reading a lovely lyrical memoir by new author Marlena Maduro Baraf’s, At the Narrow Waist of the World, which tells the coming of age story of a young Jewish woman in Panama who is torn by love and worry for her mentally ill mother.  And I’m listening to Camille Di Maio’s The Beautiful Strangers, it’s historical fiction and a cozy mystery. To further support my book talks and events that are coming up I’m reading non-fiction The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.


Q:  What is your favorite part of being a published author?

Holding the book, meeting people who are interested in the story and hearing the connections they have to the themes in Freedom Lessons.


Q:  Any hobbies you’d like to share with us?

Is traveling a hobby? I love to travel and if I had unlimited funds I would do more, I like to explore the history of the places we travel to.

Annie: Traveling, learning the history! Amazing hobby..especially for authors! Often makes for great novels. (Hint, Hint)


Lastly, Do you prefer Print Book or eBook?? Audible?

Each of these have their place for me. I prefer holding a print book and I have stacks of books on shelves and tables to prove it. But eBooks are great, especially for traveling. I used to listen to books only when I would be driving but now I find myself listening when I’m cooking dinner. How else could I be reading three books at the same time?!

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Intro: Colleen and Miguel were married for five days when they moved into the home Miguel had found for them.
Trailer pic: “Oh my God.” Colleen clapped her hand to her mouth. “You’ve got to be kidding. It’s turquoise! It has porthole windows! Does it float too?”

 

 

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Intro: Colleen taught in a segregated black school. Each Saturday she took four of her students to the library to get library cards. She had just dropped the children off at their homes and was stopped by a police officer.
Road pic: “Officer, did I do something wrong?”
“Well now, that depends. Why would a white woman be out driving in these parts?”

 

Annie: Congratulations Eileen on your New Release today! I know “Freedom Lessons” is going to be an amazing story for so many to read. Thank you for telling it! I appreciate you taking the time for this interview today. Learning more about you and  your story has been amazing!

GIVEAWAY:  PRINT COPY OF BOOK AND BOOK CLUB SWAG PACK WHICH INCLUDES CD OF MUSIC, BOOKMARKS, AND RECIPES THAT CONNECT TO THE BOOK.

TO ENTER PLEASE LEAVE COMMENT BY 9PM FRIDAY.  THANK YOU.

36 thoughts on “#NewRelease, #AuthorInterview & #Giveaway: Meet Eileen Sanchez and learn more about “Freedom Lessons: A Novel”

  1. McHorsky. Your review is very informative. It takes us from when Eileen first entertained the idea of writing a novel through how she worked, and her commitment to getting the word out. I know Eileen and her family and we’re all very proud.

  2. Congratulations! This is a wonderful interview. I have read Freedom Lessons and found it a compelling, intimate history of an important moment with memorable characters. But I enjoyed learning more about the author in this interview!

    • Hi Elena! Thank you for taking the time to leave this comment. I thought getting to know a Eileen was so neat, too! Congratulations on your New Release Today Too, “Waking in Havana”!

  3. I’m excited to read Freedom Lessons. Can’t wait to get my own copy and of course have Eileen autograph for me. We met at church that we both belong to and I’m excited to say I personally know an author. .

  4. I would love to read this. I moved to NC from Michigan in 1970. The separate drinking fountains and separate entrances were gone but there was still a lot of overt racism that really shocked me. Things have improved tremendously but there is still a long way to go.

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