Joyce Moyer Hostetter
Joyce Moyer Hostetter is the author of historical novels, including Blue, winner of the International Reading Association Children's Book Award. She lives with her husband in Hickory, North Carolina, close to her two adult children and nine grandchildren.
An Interview with Joyce Moyer Hostetter
Q. How were the books in the Bakers Mountain Stories series conceived?
A. I wrote Blue first, after discovering a 1944 polio epidemic in my hometown’s history. I knew immediately that I wanted to write this piece of human drama. Although Ann Fay Honeycutt was fictional, her experiences were things that happened to real people in the real epidemic. Like so many young people at the time, she sent her father off to war and then polio struck. Like them, Ann Fay persevered to overcome enormous challenges.
After finishing Blue I wanted to know more about Ann Fay’s life—particularly how war would change her father and threaten their close relationship. Comfort deals with the after-effects of war and polio. It is about the power of community and shared experiences to bring emotional healing.
When my publisher suggested a prequel, Ann Fay’s neighbor, Junior Bledsoe, was the logical protagonist. I liked him a lot. And readers did, too. I decided to set Aim during 1941, the year America was drawn into the war. I wanted to explore the dynamics that shaped Junior into the steady neighbor Ann Fay had relied on in Blue and Comfort.
Drive, the story of Ann Fay’s twin sisters and their struggles for personal success, is also a commemoration of local NASCAR history and a tribute to Ned Jarrett, a driver from the Bakers Mountain community. I’m now working on Equality, which will share their younger brother Jackie Honeycutt’s view of the world during the Civil Rights struggles of 1960.
Q. Why did you decide to write a book about family dysfunction?
A. A few years ago, I attended the funeral of a particularly despicable man and was startled that his eulogy made him sound like a saint. At that point, I began to dream of writing a book that opens with such a funeral and then unfolding the story to reveal the true nature of the dead man. When I began writing Aim, I imagined this was how I would tell Junior’s story. The first scene I wrote was Pop’s funeral.
However, the format and the vision changed some. In reality, Pop didn’t turn out to be entirely wicked. People are complicated, and I’m convinced that every difficult adult has a wounded child hiding inside. I knew that hardship had shaped Junior’s pop and also his granddaddy and his great-grandfather. Each had been battered by life. My task was to uncover enough of their lives to share their stories and to shape Junior’s.
I also wanted to explore Junior’s extended family and to contrast this with the steady Honeycutts. In Blue, the Honeycutts need Junior. But in Aim, he needs them. For me, this is community—giving to others when they’re struggling, but also accepting help from others when we need it.
Q. How did you decide on the setting for these stories?
A. With Blue, I accepted a challenge to write a story from my own backyard. I grew up in the same community Ann Fay and Junior lived in. I traveled the roads they did, and I also attended Mountain View School. In my community, Bakers Mountain is an ever-present landmark.
But my family was actually from Pennsylvania. My parents moved us to North Carolina when I was one. Growing up in the south, I always felt that I lived in two worlds. My southern friends ate pimento cheese, okra, black-eyed peas, and liver mush. My family ate pickled beets, shoofly pie, and scrapple. But we learned to eat southern foods, too. We loved the south and the people who lived here. Except for annual visits to relatives in Pennsylvania, life in the rural south was what I knew—a landscape dotted with small farms and simple homes. Furniture factories and cotton mills were prevalent in our area. During the fifties, cotton was still grown and picked here.
I hope my readers feel my attachment to this warm and friendly place—to the rolling hills, to the rivers and creeks I played in as a child, and to the neighborliness of the families who populate my stories. I want those stories to provide a community of safety and hope for my readers.
Q. What would you like readers to know about you as an author and as a person?
A. My parents raised us on a farmstead with a creek and a pond and plenty of outbuildings for playing in. That farmstead was a shelter for me—a retreat from the larger world.
School brought me in contact with people who were sometimes cruel and with children and teachers who were different from me and my Mennonite family. I compared myself to other children, certain that I was missing out on all sorts of worldly pleasures. In my mind, other families had more money than we did, their kids had more fun, and they definitely wore more fashionable clothing. In hindsight, we were much more equal than I realized. I doubt that any of my classmates were wealthy. My life was rich with the things I now value most—a simple lifestyle, faith, and a large extended family that was amazingly functional.
I think I write to figure out why the world outside my sheltered life is filled with tragedy. I’ll always wonder, Why me? Why was I born into humble but safe and happy circumstances? Why is my life flooded with goodness? I hope I never stop asking, because these questions help me to live gratefully. And perhaps they’ll keep me writing, also.