With me on the blog today is the amazing and gracious Louise Hawes, author extraordinaire and member of the faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts! She’s here to discuss her recently released middle grade novel, Big, Rig, published by Peachtree. I love this book, so I’m thrilled to have Louise here! Louise is represented by Ginger Knowlton.
El Space: Louise, what inspired this story? This might sound weird, but as I read your book, I thought of Route 66—the iconic route discussed in the first Cars movie, though that route is not a focal point of this book. Cars made me nostalgic. I had a strong sense of nostalgia as I read Big Rig, the trucking industry being so iconic. Back in the day, when my family traveled, we stopped at truck stops.
Louise: Honestly? What inspired Big Rig is the same thing that inspires all my books—a character. I never start with a story, you see, or even a premise or idea. It’s always a beating heart, a voice, that grabs me. Of course, Hazel, my 11-year old protagonist grabbed me harder than most and held on longer, too. She insisted on having her way as we hit the road together. She made it clear that she’s highly allergic to those two words, THE END. And even though my inner writing teacher tried to tell her about turning points and resolution, she just wasn’t buying it; she didn’t ever want to our story to end. She got her way, as folks will see when they read the book!
At Louise’s book launch—McIntyre’s Fine Books in Fearrington Village, Pittsboro, NC.
And that’s funny about Route 66. I wanted the book’s flyleaves to feature the major U.S. truck routes in a double spread. I never won that battle, but we did get road signs as chapter titles! Oh, and I wore a route 66 tie to the book launch!
Photo by Karen Pullen
El Space: How did you research this book?
Louise: Very unwillingly! At first, when Hazel popped into my mind and told me she and her dad had been traveling across the country for seven years in an eighteen-wheeler, I said to myself, and to her, “NO WAY! I know nothing about trucks, and I don’t want to know even the slightest thing about them.” But of course, after she popped into my mind, Hazel burrowed into my heart. And three years later? I know a LOT about trucks. I’ve researched trucks and the trucking industry. I’ve interviewed dozens of drivers, put plenty of miles in on big rigs. As a passenger. No, I’ve never driven one; at 100 pounds and 5 feet, I wouldn’t trust myself in the driver’s seat. I reached out to organizations like Trucker Buddy, who pair up individual drivers with classrooms; and Women in Trucking, who work with organizations like the Girl Scouts to publicize the fact that there are lots of women active in, and crucial to, the industry.
El Space: Hazel/Hazmat is a great character. She felt like an old soul—a marvelous blend of the past and the present. So confident and engaging. What was your process for finding her voice?
Louise: As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t find Hazel, she found me. But as with any character that inspires one of my books, I needed to trust her before I could begin an actual draft. I have a notebook of free writes (in the form of first-person letters from her to me); that notebook was full of her voice, cover to cover, before I ever wrote a single page of the novel.
Canine book reviewers: (Left) Jenn Bailey’s pooch, Ollie. Jenn is a VCFA grad and author. Photo by Jenn Bailey (Right) Bella, the canine co-author of “BEAGLES AND BOOKS,” a blog by Laura Mossa, an Elementary School Reading Specialist. Photo by Laura Mossa.
El Space: You have such wonderful characters. Even Hazel’s mother’s ashes (not much of a spoiler, since you learn that on the first page) is a character with weight in the book. What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
Louise: What a great question! I think the toughest moments to write were the ones where I needed to stay inside Hazel, and not give myself up to feeling sorry for her, which she never does for herself. The moments when she’s talking to her mom, or afraid of growing up, or angry at her dad—during all those times, she’s just right there in the moment, never feeling “poor me,” or “life sucks.” She’s just bringing her whole self to every experience, knowing better than most of us, that it will give way to a new one before we can truly catch hold.
The feline reviewer is an assistant to a Twitter follower and middle school teacher, Kate McCue-Day. Photo by Kate McCue-Day
El Space: What do you hope your readers will take away after reading Big Rig?
Louise: Besides the fact that a good story doesn’t need a beginning, middle, and end? I guess I’d like readers to undergo the same change-of-mind I did about truckers and trucking. Drivers and their rigs are crucial to all of us—to the economy, to the culture, to our whole way of life. And yet we pretty much forget about them, once we grow past the age of 6 or 7 and stop asking them to pump their air brakes when we drive by. We forget about automation and the driverless trucks that may well be destroying and brutalizing a whole way of life. That’s a thread that winds through the entire book, and I’d hope folks pay attention.
El Space: What inspires you these days?
Louise: Being outside, plain and simple. I need fresh air, and water in the form of the sea, or a lake, or a rainstorm. I need the bull frog in my pond with whom I engage in daily ten-minute dialogues. I need to see how relentlessly beautiful the world is, how it keeps going with or without us. I need something bigger than myself or my day. And nature gives me that.
El Space: What writing advice do you always share with your students and anyone else who’s asking?
Louise: The same advice I’ve been giving ever since I set myself free from slaving over every word via free writes. My first drafts are still like other folks’ second or third passes, and that’s because I can’t leave a word or a sentence alone until I hear it ring true. But with free writing, the loose, free times I spend with my characters, I can relax into them, get out of me. Which is why, behind every chapter I write, painstakingly, laboriously, there is a poem or a free write that came first. So, whenever myself or one of my students has a writing problem that’s stumping us, I advise taking it to our characters. To let it go, turn it over. That doesn’t mean I won’t edit or revise those free writes, or advise my students to do the same. But it does mean that what’s at the start, the heart of our work is something unhampered and flowing, something free.
El Space: What will you work on next?
Louise: I’m working on two things right now—one is a project I started a long time ago and am only finishing this year. It’s YA historical fiction, and the protagonist is Salomé, the biblical character who supposedly performed the dance of the seven veils and won the head of John the Baptist. The other project is a new novel for adults. The character who won me over there is a failed playwright who’s fallen in love with a dead poet. See? There’s just no telling with me, who’ll come out of nowhere and sweep me up and away!
Thank you, Louise, for being my guest!
Looking for Louise? Look here: Website, Twitter, VCFA, Facebook, Instagram
Looking for Big Rig? Look no further than Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, Amazon.
Comment below to be entered into a drawing from which one of you will receive a copy of Big Rig! Winner to hopefully be announced next week!
Other books by Louise:
Book launch and author photos courtesy of Louise Hawes. Tree photo by L. Marie. Other book covers from Goodreads and Louise Hawes.
This is such a great conversation! I love reading the two of you together like this.
Thank you, Sandra! And I will get questions to you to discuss your next book! 😃
Thanks, Sandra! Can’t wait to hear about your next Book Baby!
What a great interview! I enjoyed it. Wishing Louise all the best with her release. The book sounds wonderful!
Thanks, Jill! It truly is a lovely book. Such a pleasure to read!
Thanks, Jill. When your interviewer asks such great questions, it makes everything easy…and fun!
Awww. 😊 It was easy to come up with queetions. I couldn’t help fangirling!
Louise has a lot of energy, a trait that comes through in this interview. I’m not a fan of big rigs and try to weave around them on the highway, but the cover and content sound irresistible. I like the mention that “Hazel burrowed into my heart.” The feline review is a good “draw” too. Thanks for featuring this great author today, L. Marie. 😀
Marian, this book is delightful. After resding it, I can see that this character did indeed do what Louise, and now you, pointed out. It is a new book, but feels classic. I love books like that!
Marian, you’re not alone in feeling lukewarm about big rigs and trucking…I felt the same way until I “met” Hazel. But we both agree on cats, right? And thanks for writing!
Thanks for the thumbs up, Louise. I’ll have to look into this. Your cover surely looks tempting! 😀
Wonderful interview. And the book sounds fabulous. What a great idea for a subject, although I realize the character came first hah!
Thanks, Luanne. I never would have thought of it as a subject. But it is a good one!
It’s difficult and also topical, really.
Sad but true.
Thanks, Luanne! You’re right–I had NO IDEA what Hazel was getting me into! 🙃
Very interesting topic about truck and drivers life, Linda. . This makes me think of the books or movies about life of the drivers of steam locomotives in the past.
I know a WP reader who always was at the side of her husband, truck driver until recently.
Wow. I hope her husband still has a job.
Hope you are well, Michel! So sorry about the drought. You and your family are in my prayers. Love to you and Janine. ❤️
yes, Linda, they have both a new job.<3
Hope for the best!
I’m glad both wife and husband have found new work!
Truck stops – yay! (yet another childhood thing we have in common, L.Marie). When we made our latest move in 2012, we rented the largest Penske truck that was the diesel truck in the fleet – hauling our Toyota Camry behind it on a trailer. Our trek cross country was filled with such comradery, colorful characters and plentiful stories shared – we were accepted as ‘one of them’ – because we were classified as the smallest of the types of trucks that qualify for using trucker facilities (ie- parked sleeping spaces was a biggie) and easily entered into their realm of life. The lady truckers we met at that time were mostly former teachers who couldn’t make it on a teachers salary and turned to trucking – interesting, eh?
I love the premise of exposure of ‘girls’ to trucking in your book, Louise. Did the Native American Women owned “Tribe Transportation” Fleet inspire you also? Just wondering.
Best of luck to you both as we enter into the glorious days of (cooler) Fall.
Laura, for some reason, I’m seeing two of the same comment from you. Is it okay if I delete one? And yes, here is one more thing to prove we are sisters separated at birth! I used to love truck stops because we were given the best pancakes! And we loved to shop at the souvenir shops. I generally picked up a backscratcher there.
So hard to believe that tomorrow is September 1! This year is racing by!
Sure, delete one! Crazy WP stuff, eh?
Have a great Labor Day weekend, sis!
Done! Happy Labor Day, Laura!🤩
No, Laura, I didn’t know about Tribe Transportation. I’d love to learn more! (You can send information to email@example.com.) It sounds as though your move in 2012 was a wondrous, exciting “road trip.” Maybe you should write a book?! 😛
Will do! Info sent.
Terrific! Thanks so much!
Great!Thanks so much!
I love Louisa’s answer as to what inspires her in her writing. Such a wonderful response and one I deeply believe in. 🙂
Louise is wonderful!
Awww, shucks, you two. Thanks! Linda, do you ever write outside?
This is such a good interview, Linda. It must be like being in one of Louise’s classes. I’m going to save it for inspiration. I like this quote from her: “My first drafts are still like other folks’ second or third passes, and that’s because I can’t leave a word or a sentence alone until I hear it ring true.” I liked it because I feel the same way, and I scold myself for not hurrying through to write what many people recommend: a shitty first draft. Even better, though, is her advice about talking to your characters during free writes. Thank you, Louise.
Like you, I still tend to regret that I can’t get that “shitty first draft” down on paper. But it was this very impatience with my own process that led me to free writing. My free writes are, indeed, free from that interference from my editorial left brain. They always include a meditation with my characters before I ask them to answer my questions, which can be as broad as, “Why do you want me to tell this story?” or as specific as, “I’m stuck half way through this scene. What exactly are you feeling and thinking here?”
I’m also a graduate of VCFA, but that was any years ago. Reading your interview, reminded me how much I enjoyed being there.
Nicki, I graduated from the same program at Vermont that you did. I wonder if we ever crossed paths there? I am planning on moving to the Puget Sound area in a few months, so we may have the chance to discuss “old times’ in person!
Louise, I don’t know if we crossed paths at Vermont College, but I finished my MFA there in the summer of 1993. Welcome to Western Washington. Once you get settled here, I’d enjoy getting together to discuss “old times.”
Nicki, it was! I remember the first lecture I heard from Louise. She mentioned ma space–a concept I’d never heard of before that. I felt my thoughts expand in that moment. So this interview brought back happy memories of those VCFA days.
Thank you for this interview, Linda and Louise. BIG RIG sounds like a fun book and one I’d really like because I’m a fan of the road trip novel. I look forward to reading it!
I’m glad you enjoyed Linda’s and my back-and-forth, Lyn. Looks like you and I are going to be reading each other’s new books–congratulations on TORCH!
Yes, yes! And Sandra’s book!
Lyn, it is delightful!!!
I have you down on the giveaway list and the list to send interview questions.
This is such a great interview! What an interesting and really fascinating topic for a mg book! Love first-person letters from story characters. And I love your writing, Louise!
Sharon, I’m glad you get letters from your fictional folk, too! 😛
Lou, I’m pretty sure I first heard of this idea from you, in my first semester workshop at VCFA!
First semester! Was that a traditional workshop format? Or one of the small, generative ones?
It was a night lecture. I think it was the first one our class heard from you.
Great Q&A. Character driven stories are the best. So glad that Hazel found her voice via Louise. Keep on Trucking!
Thanks, Nancy. It truly made me nostalgic for a simpler time, though the book is set in the present.
You want to go on a road trip and encourage truckers in their Big Rigs to blow the air horn? Or pick up a Pecan Log at Stuckey’s? Or stop at HoJo’s for some Fried Clams? Or play “I see something . . .” or the License Plate Game with other passengers? Aah . . . now I’m feeling nostalgic!
Thanks for always being so encouraging to fellow writers and generous to your readers, LM!
Nancy! i’m so glad you mentioned Stuckey’s and the pecan log! Loved both back in the day! 😀 😃 😄 😁 And the license plate game! And fried clams! Good times. I remember riding in the back of a station wagon and waving to passengers in other cars. Sooooo nostalgic!
We had a back seat in our station wagon that faced out the rear window. So much (unsupervised) fun as we smiled, waved, and made faces! 😯
My family didn’t have one, but other family members did. The car was usually very full of people!
For sure, Nancy! When the plot comes from the characters’ choices, not the author’s, it all feels much more organic, inevitable, right?
Definitely more authentic than following a formulaic approach to write a book. Best of luck to you with Big Rig’s reception with readers, Louise.
Love the idea of the lead character being in control of the creation of this story!
As for the comments about rigs and truckers, my country (UK) is so small. We can cover it in a day. Not much of a road trip, eh?
Hi, Andy, glad you’re intrigued by the way Hazmat took control! Does that happen in your writing? Oh, and I’d double check the trucking industry in your country…maybe the public, just as they have in the US, have simply forgotten an essential part of your marketplace and population–I’m no expert, but it looks to me as if trucking is a pretty hefty sector of your economy and population. Still plenty of opportunity to watch the world from the driver’s seat of a big rig! (https://postvines.com/is-trucking-business-profitable-in-uk/)
Yes there’s still trucking here, I just mean we don’t have the vast distances that you have on the US, less time spent ‘on the road.’
I’ve only done a small amount of fiction so far, but in poetry sometimes the poem takes over. I don’t sit to write but react when lines and comb8 actions of words begin to impress themselves upon me, wherever I am at the time.
Oh my goodness, Andy, the news just hit here about the Queen. 😥
Even though she was 96 and there were signs of frailty and a reduction in what she was doing, it still came out of the blue today. No matter the controversies of other family members, the Queen I think was universally loved and respected.
She definitely was! She was a constant for most of my life! What a shock!
😄 I guess not, Andy! I’m now imaginging how even Big Rig–the Manchester Version–would change. Oh the possibilities!
Yes! I love this idea, Linda! Closer ties as you travel, a chance to see your “road family” more often! 🪢
Endless ! 😂
L. Marie, you are such a great interviewer! I really enjoy the interview and learning about Louise’s new book. It does sound fascinating, and I’m intrigued that it sounds like Louise covers some of the changes in the trucking industry. When I was a lot younger, living in a small town, big rigs were a welcomed sight. Then when I was a teenager, the place we’d always go after a night of dancing would be the truck stop where we’d get breakfast. Good times 🙂
Hi, Marie, thanks for sharing those truck stop memories. And I love the mask in your photo! (I have a smiling shark mask, but I much prefer that friendly feline!)
Thank you, Louise! Best of success with your book and your future projects. You know, I don’t wear that mask anymore since it’s not as protective as an N95, but I still love using the photo 🙂
Yay, Marie! Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it! Big Rig is a wonderful book!
What a wonderful review and discussion about character driven writing. It’s so good to hear from Louise and you, both part of the VCFA community!
Janice!!! How are you doing????
Thanks so much, Janice! And I echo Linda’s question: what are YOU up to? I read a lovely poem of yours in The Raven’s Perch. Is there more where that came from?
Louise, what a wonderful book. I’d love to interview you on my SiriusXM radio show if you’re interested. Please send us contact information and if possible, a copy of your book.
Thanks, Ellen. I’d love to! Could you please send this wonderful invite and the address to which a book should be sent, to my publisher’s promotion rep, Sara DiSalvo at:
Hope we can do this, sounds like fun!