Hilary grew up in Columbus, Georgia and went to the same high school as Carson McCullers (author of THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER).
Hilary Hyland lives in northern Virginia near Washington, DC. She’s author of the historical fiction middle grade book, The Wreck of the Ethie. It’s inspired by the 1919 true event of a Newfoundland dog saving ninety-two people on a sinking ship. An eighteen month old baby was even saved in the ship’s mailbag.
Her book has won many awards including the Maxwell Medal “Best Children’s Book” sponsored by the Dog Writers Association of America. It was a finalist for the Georgia Children’s Book Award, Tennessee Children’s Book Award and selected by the Library of Virginia for their recommended reading list.
A popular speaker, she has given presentations at more than 300 schools. Her gentle, 160 pound Newfoundland dog (Miss Mouse) usually accompanies her. Her presentation was a finalist for the Telly Award which honors state, regional and local programs.
Before becoming a children’s author/presenter, she was a hotel industry sales/marketing executive. She also owned a mail-order gourmet cookie/gift business. She loves animals, especially dogs and horses.
Kathy: Hilary, Can you tell us how this book came to be published?
Hilary: I was fortunate. I sent it (unagented) to three publishing houses. Fred Bowen, an author I met was kind enough to forward my manuscript to his editor at Peachtree Publishers. They bought it immediately. Soon after, one of the large NY publishing houses expressed interest, but I had already verbally accepted the offer from Peachtree.
Kathy: Why should I buy this book?
Hilary: I hope I did the story justice —but, it IS an incredible story. It shows the soul and bravery of a Newfoundland dog and how ordinary people strive to overcome extraordinary circumstances. Think The Perfect Storm for children… a book the whole family can enjoy together. Don’t get me started (but you have!) the story has many heroes including the Captain, crew, passengers and resilient Newfoundlanders along the shore.
Kathy: That’s enough for me! And, yes, you DID do this story justice. Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?
Hilary: People and animals, not necessarily in that order. I especially love dogs and horses (oh, & people, too!)
Kathy: :o) Why did you choose this topic?
Hilary: I am a history buff and voracious reader. My daughter actually brought this story to my attention when she was in elementary school. She read a paragraph in a Newfoundland dog training book about the breed’s true rescue stories. The Ethie shipwreck was mentioned. She kept asking me about it and I became intrigued. I began researching the facts and the more I learned the more fascinated I became. The process took a giant leap forward when I contacted the librarian at the Memorial University in St. John’s, NL. She faxed me forty pages of information and told me that there were still remnants of the ship wrecked on NL’s remote west coast. I traveled to NL saw the shipwreck, visited the Maritime History Archives and interviewed people including the baby who was saved in the ship’s mailbag. To say I was passionate is an understatement. I couldn’t wait to write the story! When I returned, I threw out everything I had written and began with a fresh perspective. The muse had landed!
Kathy: Excellent example of how a story can morph, huh? Why do you write for young people?
Hilary: I call children “sponge-people”. Their hearts and minds are open. My wish is to instill that reading books and history is not boring. The world is full of amazing stories and mysteries. It’s like a puzzle, letting a good book lead you down a path of wonder. I love fantasy and fiction, but some of the best stories are true stories. What is it Mark Twain said? “The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to be credible.”
Kathy: So true! When do you write?
Hilary: Mornings. The earlier the better.
Kathy: Where do you write?
Hilary: My library is my office. I’m surrounded by books, pictures and other things that make me happy like my two snoring Newfies at my feet. When I’m on a roll, I have to close the shades because I’m a terrible daydreamer.
Kathy: What helps you write?
Hilary: Caffeine. A deadline. More caffeine.
Kathy: How do ideas come to you?
Hilary: Observing life. Newspapers, magazines, television. I have a file chocked-full of interesting stories.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite quote or bumper sticker?
Hilary: Uh oh. I’m a quotemeister. For years, I’ve kept a small book and jot down quotes, observations, sayings. I have many, many favorites, but two come to mind:
“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” Dorothy Parker
“The first rule of holes: once you’re in one, stop digging.” Molly Ivins
Kathy: Ha! Love those. What’s an embarrassing story about yourself that you don’t mind telling?
Hilary: Hmmm. Let me think a moment if I want to fess up. Okay. I will. I was at a school (which will remain nameless to protect the innocent) to give an author presentation with Miss Mouse, my Newfie. She’s a big baby (a wuss) and never lets me out of her sight when we’re in a school (aka, strange place). Before my program started, I darted across the hall to the ladies room, leaving the Mouse with the hapless librarian. All of a sudden I hear “loud” voices as the Mouse had escaped & barged in the restroom looking for me. Unfortunately she went to the wrong bathroom stall door and tried to squish her 160 pound self underneath. You should have heard the Principal scream. Oh, yes. The Principal. We had a good laugh later. Whew, she had a sense of humor. New procedures implemented: Miss Mouse never leaves my side at a school visit.
Kathy: Thank you for sharing that one — hysterical! Do you enjoy school visits?
Hilary: Oh, yes. And, yes! Love them! I have a PowerPoint presentation that’s visually exciting. There’s much more I can show the students about my book, historical fiction and the shipwreck. I bring many hands-on items from my two years of research: 1919 newspaper articles, 1919 weather maps, crew manifest, Captain’s log, life ring, photographs of the ship before and after she wrecked. I have pictures of the mailbag the baby was saved in and the silver engraved dog collar awarded to the heroic NL dog. It’s educational and fun, too.
Most schools like me to bring my own Newfie, Miss Mouse. She’s a BIG hit with the children. Most schools allow the kids to pet her, but some don’t. Either way, she thinks it’s all about her and hams it up.
I’ve never had a bad school visit. Some run more smoothly than others — but when I look into the sea of young, eager faces, I am reminded of the importance of reading and how it can inspire lives. Just think…the whole world is open to them, both make-believe and real. What could be better?
Kathy: Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration, Hilary. I think you’re the school visit meister as well as the quote meister! What are you working on now?
Hilary: I discovered a fascinating story that takes place in the 1960s with the Cuban missile crisis as the backdrop. This book will definitely be for teenagers. I’ve put it up and down for a few years & recently completed the research. I’m excited because a character I wasn’t anticipating emerged, demanding to be heard.
Kathy: Ohhh, another example of the wonder of morphing stories. Cuban missile crisis? Can’t wait to read this one, Hilary. I’m going to let you go so you can get to work! Hilary’s website is: www.hilaryhyland.com Please stop by and visit, and thank you, Hilary, for being here!