|Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge|
When my husband and I were considering relocating to Richmond back in 1991, two things about the place really stood out. The first was Morrisson-Reeves Library. It was organized, friendly, obviously well-run. I could see myself spending lots of time there and, as a writer, that was important to me. The second was the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. I was stunned and delighted to learn that the community had supported the Symphony for decades. On that initial visit, knowing nothing about Richmond, both Morrisson-Reeves and the Symphony spoke volumes. They told me what the people of this area value and what they are capable of coming together to create and sustain. I knew this was a place I could love being a part of and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m just finishing a two-year term as president of the Richmond Symphony Board and the folks at Morrisson-Reeves know me. They know me well!
You primarily write historical non-fiction and children's books. What drew you to these particular genres?
Early on I dabbled in fiction when I wrote for Highlights for Children and Cricket Magazine. But my first non-fiction magazine article about the friendship of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams was just such a joy to write I knew it was my thing. I loved not having to worry about the plot: in both non-fiction and the retelling of folktales (which I also love) the plot is a given. That frees me up to focus on teasing out the best narrative flow and telling the story in the most engaging way I can. I also love the research part of writing non-fiction. Visiting archives where old letters and diaries are stored and actually holding them in my hands (often wearing special gloves!) is thrilling. I write for children and young adults because they are a demanding audience and I respect the demands they make of me: honesty, clarity, brevity, and most of all fun!
Do you have a favorite out of your books?
That’s a question I’m asked a lot and it’s a hard one. I suppose I will always have a tender spot in my heart for my very first picture book Wicked Jack, which came out in 1995. We had a prickly relationship, Jack and I, and at one point I was determined to just file the manuscript in a drawer. But Jack wore me down, I sent his story off and it’s become something of a Halloween classic. I can still hear him saying “I told you so!”
One of your books has an almost local slant “Just Fine the Way They Are” is a story about the formation of our nation's highway system with a slight focus on Old National Road, Highway 40. How did you decide to write a book about this particular subject?
I discovered the National Road right about the same time my family moved to Richmond. It was the subject of an issue of Cobblestone, a great U. S. history magazine for kids I subscribe to. I remember thinking “A road. How boring is that???” After I finished that magazine, I knew the National Road was anything but boring. I started reading and researching but, for several years, couldn’t find a story in the middle of all the interesting facts and anecdotes. Then I came upon a reference to Mr. John Slack, who thought The Road shouldn’t be built because things were just fine the way they were. Bam! I had a title and a storyline and I was off to the races!
Another subject of your writing is Edith Wharton, a person and subject you have studied passionately. When did you discover Edith for yourself and what about Edith made you decide to write her biography?
Back in 1995 and 1996, I took some English courses at Earlham College and Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth was one of the books I was assigned to read. A new Wharton biography (No Gifts From Chance by Sheri Benstock) had just been published, and I devoured it because I liked House of Mirth so much I wanted to know more about the woman who wrote it. When I finished that biography, I knew Wharton was a woman young people would be interested in. She was part of Old New York Society, which frowned on novelists in general (let alone female novelists!) but she managed to make her escape from a life of pampered leisure because she simply had to write…stories poured out of her from a very young age. Her charitable work during World War I (when she was living in Paris and decided to stay rather than relocate to a safer place) also intrigued me. She had silk sleeves but she was capable of rolling them up and getting to work when action was called for.
Is there another book in the works?
I’m currently at work on a second biography for junior high/high school readers of Emily Post, author of the most well-known etiquette book ever written. Emily is ten years younger than Edith Wharton and, since they were both upper class New Yorkers, this new book seems almost a historical sequel to The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton. I also have the bare beginnings of a non-fiction picture book set in the early days of the Roman Republic and a piece of middle-grades fiction sitting off to the side of my desk in case I hit a rough patch with Emily and need a break.
Indeed, Richmond is rich in cultural resources: our excellent public library, orchestras and community arts enrich us all. We are blessed by the contributions made by our local authors, musicians and artists. Thank you so much Connie! I am glad you live here. I am glad you make history come alive for your young readers.
The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton, a biography of Edith Wharton is a wonderful read, and I can't wait to read and share more of your stories with loved ones in the future!