I loved The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate when I read it some time back, and haven’t stopped recommending it since. It was a lovely read, and made me want a sequel eagerly so that I could know what did happen to the protagonist, the spunky Calpurnia Tate aka Callie Vee. I read up a bit about the author of the book, Jacqueline Kelly, and was surprised to know that this was her debut novel! The writing is beautiful, and quite mature actually.
I wrote to Jacqueline and asked her if she would be interested in answering a few questions for my blog. She was sweet enough to say yes, and sweeter still to send in her responses within just a few days, even though she is busy writing a sequel to The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate. Thank you so much for this, Jacqueline! And, yes, I am all excited to get my hands on the sequel!!
Without further ado, here we go:
How did you come up with the idea of The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate?
I came up with the idea for the book while lying on the couch, in the middle of summer, in my big old Victorian farm house. The air conditioning wasn’t working well, and as I lay there in the terrible heat, I thought, “How did people stand it in this house a hundred years ago?” And just like that, a little voice started up in my head, telling me what life had been like in my house in 1900. I got up and found a piece of paper and a pencil, and started writing down exactly what the voice said, and this ended up being the first page and a half of the book.
By the way, the first chapter was only intended to be a short story. It was my writing group that encouraged me to turn it into a novel.
Are any of the characters in the book inspired by people you know in real life?
Calpurnia is about 60% me, about 30% my mother, and about 10% various friends of mine. Granddaddy is about 1/3 my own father, 1/3 my friend Houston White, and 1/3 my friend Phil Tate.
Why did you base the story of Calpurnia Tate in Texas?
I based the story in Fentress, Texas, because that’s where my house was located. The house in the book was my house. I say “was” because it was struck by lightning and burned to the ground a couple of years ago. I have nothing left except the front door key.
The end of your book didn’t reveal whether Calpurnia succeeded in breaking away from the shackles of her life, and became a naturalist or not. Did you intend to leave the ending vague? Is there a sequel in the offing?
Yes, there is a sequel in the offing! I can’t say much except that I am working on the sequel right now. I don’t yet know when I’ll finish.
Also, my second book, Return to the Willows, just came out a few months ago.
How has the response to The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate been?
The response has been overwhelming. Calpurnia has been translated into 17 languages, which I find astonishing. It turns out that young girls in Finland and Korea and India respond to her the same way Texas girls do.
What is the best compliment you have so far received for The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate?
I’ve had several young readers tell me they think it’s the best book they’ve ever read. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Please tell us the names of some of your all-time favourite books.
My all-time favorite childhood book was The Wind in the Willows. I loved it so much that fifty years later, I wrote my version of a sequel to it. My favorite books for adults are Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Moo by Jane Smiley, everything written by Alice Munro, John LeCarre, Lee K. Abbott, and T. C. Boyle. And I absolutely adore P. G. Wodehouse. Who doesn’t?
A word of advice for newbie writers?
The best advice I can give new writers is to find or form a writing group of people you trust, to critique your work. This does not mean your family, or best friends, or someone who is going to gush about the work and tell you it’s great when it’s not. It’s not easy to find the right group. I went through three groups before finding the one that works for me, and we have all been together for about 12 years now.