We are pleased to host Molly Best Tinsley on our website today discussing her novel, Behind the Waterfall. Welcome, Molly. With your background – teaching creative writing to cadets in the U.S. Naval Academy – and your authorship of several adult novels, short stories, a memoir and a textbook, we look forward to learning why you decided to write a children’s middle-grade fantasy thriller and what that writing process entailed. With so much to cover, let’s get right to the questions and answers.
HMC: The title of your novel, Behind the Waterfall, certainly arouses curiosity. Can you give us a hint as to how it figures in the story?
Molly: Behind the waterfall that cascades down one side of Table Rock Mountain lies the threshold to the invisible realm of Thrae. Governed by Wedron (the Lord of Wonder), Thrae is Earth turned inside out. As a young woman, Agnes Eagleman inadvertently visited this realm before the novel begins, and as a consequence, she and her children, the twins Chetan and Nashota and their half-sister Shyla, have been on the move for over a decade. The story opens on the day the family has returned to the area, and as it unfolds, the kids learn what they have been running from. With the discovery comes a mission that drastically changes their lives.
HMC: You’ve published a number of works of fiction, but this is your first middle grade novel. Why did you decide to switch genres, and how was the writing experience different from all the others?
Molly: Behind the Waterfall began with a question/complaint from my eleven-year-old twin grandsons: Why aren’t there more books about twins? “I don’t know,” I told them, “but maybe we should write one.” Despite their reservations–they had soccer practice and trombone lessons and tons of homework–we began brainstorming right away and soon we had a rough idea of a story featuring twin brothers. But since we live on opposite sides of the country, progress was slow. There were big bursts of activity before, during, and after a visit, and then the manuscript simmered on a back burner until the next get-together.
Once we had maybe a third of the first draft, I took it along on a visit to their seven-year-old cousin, a girl, and read it to her. She had only one improvement to suggest: “These guys need a younger sister.” So I went back to the beginning and wrote Shyla into the narrative.
HMC: Behind the Waterfall is also your first departure from realism, conjuring a realm parallel to the earth of the five senses, or perhaps contained within it. What necessity gave birth to this realm of Thrae?
Molly: All the books my real-life twin collaborators mentioned as favorites had fantasy components. The departure from realism began with their idea: when each fictional twin turns fifteen, he discovers he has a special power. Soon after, the fictional twins learn of their mission, which will require them to use these powers.
I was soon an enthusiastic participant in the fantasy, seasoning it with comic elements wherever I could. As is so often the case with fantasy and science fiction, the building of an alternate world becomes an opportunity to comment on the real one.
HMC: How long did it take to write Behind the Waterfall? What was your favorite part of writing this book? What was the most difficult part?
Molly: Working cross-country, we spent four years of off-and-on writing to complete Behind the Waterfall. The real-life twins are now older than the fictional twins at the beginning of the story! The best part of writing the book was working on the project together, particularly having my grandkids offer tweaks and critiques and then see them implemented–a great lesson for them in the untidiness of the writing process.
The most difficult part was settling on the point of view. An anonymous third-person narrator reporting the action wasn’t working, and I finally decided to give the story-telling duties to the twins’ precocious kid sister Shyla. Her I-as-witness point of view meant again going back to the beginning for a rewrite, but I think the benefits of her fresh perspective, from the sibling at the bottom of the family pecking order, have been huge.
HMC: Is there a particular message or realization you’d like young readers to take away from this book?
Molly: How important it is to keep wonder alive! Without a nurtured imagination, our material lives become dreary and meaningless. No amount of money or gadgets or toys can replace a free-ranging, playful mind.
HMC: How did your grandchildren respond to the book when it was finished?
Molly: Chris (a k a Chetan): I can’t believe it’s a real book. Awesome. I can’t wait to read it again.
Nick (a k a Nashota): Hey, you put our names at the front! That’s cool.
Risa (a k a Shyla): When can we write the sequel? I already know how it’s going to go.
HMC: Well those sound like the best reviews you can get! Thank you, Molly, for joining us here today. Now, readers, it’s your turn to weigh in with your own questions or comments through the “Leave a Reply” area below. And to get your own copy of Behind the Waterfall for your children, grandchildren, nephews or nieces, head over to the Fuze Publishing website.