November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month, and one of the Epilepsy Foundation’s goals for this month is to get more people talking about epilepsy. So, with that goal in mind, I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to talk with award-winning author McCall Hoyle about her upcoming book STELLA and her writing process.
Please tell us a little bit about STELLA.
STELLA is a hopeful story about a retired working beagle who must find the courage to overcome her fears and use her special nose to save a girl’s life.
The story is told from the beagle, Stella’s, point of view. I love stories like A DOG’S PURPOSE and THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN that are told from an animal’s point of view.
I can’t wait for readers to experience life through a Stella’s eyes, ears, and, especially, her nose.
You started your career as an author writing Young Adult (THE THING WITH FEATHERS and MEET THE SKY). What got you interested in writing Middle Grade? How does writing it differ from writing YA?
Mostly, I just want to write the story that is calling to me at the moment. Someday, I might write an adult novel. Thankfully, I have an agent who nurtures my creativity and encourages me to write whatever is calling to me at the moment.
Plus, I really wanted to write something that my son and sixth-grade students could enjoy. And of course, I just love middle grade fiction.
I feel like writing for middle grade is a lot about discovering where you belong in your family and in a smaller “world”. To me YA feels more like an exploration of where you belong in the world at large.
Many of the themes I come back to in everything I write involve family and those relationships, so middle grade feels like a good fit.
What inspired you to write this story and/or these characters?
I was suffering a serious case of writer’s block after the release of my second YA novel and couldn’t motivate myself to write anything. My YA novels weren’t appealing to my fifth-grade son, so I decided to write something specifically for him with zero intention of pursuing publication.
We both love dogs, and I’m an amateur dog trainer. Plus, our little beagle Sophie was getting on up in years. She was mostly deaf and blind, but she made up for these weaknesses with her super sniffer. Up until her final days, she was playing scent games and loving them.
So I wrote Stella one chapter at a time for my son and as a tribute to Sophie. I read the story aloud to my son and husband one chapter at a time. Anyone who’s taught elementary or middle school knows that kids are super honest. They don’t pretend that they like something just because you’re their mom or their teacher. My son loved Stella!
So I got my nerve up to tell my agent that I had this middle grade manuscript narrated from a dog’s point of view that I wanted her to read. I expected some pushback, but she never missed a bit and read it quickly. She told me she cried, which coming from her is a huge compliment.
Then one thing lead to another, and Stella is going to be a real book. And I couldn’t be more excited to share the book of my heart with the world.
November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month. Both THE THING WITH FEATHERS and STELLA deal directly with epilepsy. What would you like our readers to know about epilepsy?
It’s not so much about what I want readers to know about epilepsy as it is that I want to remind readers that we cannot tell what is going on inside of a person just by the way they look on the outside. Epilepsy is a frequently invisible and misunderstood neurological disorder.
Both the THE THING WITH FEATHERS and STELLA include girls that deal with epilepsy in their own ways. Emilie in THE THING WITH FEATHERS has a golden retriever who is her best friend and a trained seizure response dog. Stella is not a trained seizure response dog, but because of her close connection to her girl, Cloe, she learns to pick up on the chemical changes taking place in Cloe’s body.
As a dog lover, I am fascinated by this special connection between humans and dogs and will never tire of writing about it.
You refer to one of my all time favorite quotes in STELLA: Eleanor Roosevelt’s “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Can you tell us why you included this particular quote in STELLA and what it means to you?
I wrote a biographical report about Eleanor Roosevelt when I was in middle school, which was several decades ago. I’ve always been attracted to real life stories of intelligent female leaders. The First Lady’s words have sort of been a mantra for me most of my life.
You don’t think you can finish a marathon. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. You can’t quit your job in finance, go back to school and become a teacher. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. You don’t think you can write and publish a book. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
I taught high school for several years and was frequently surprised by what teenagers thought they could not do. Often, a well-meaning adult had unintentionally spoken words that lead to these doubts. If just one young person reads STELLA and internalizes Eleanor Roosevelt’s words, all the hard work that went into writing the book will be worth it.
We at Mixed Up Files love teachers and librarians, and I know you do too. Could you tell our readers about a teacher or a librarian who had an effect on your reading or writing life?
My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Turner, sat on the floor and read aloud to us even though we were perfectly capable of reading to ourselves, and she was probably too old to sit comfortably on the floor. She made reading seem fun and made us feel like a community of readers.
Stories brought us all together–no matter how different our home lives were. It was a good feeling that stuck with me.
I know you are a dog lover (like me). Would you tell our readers about your favorite dog(s).
Oh my goodness! That might truly be the toughest author interview question ever and the first question I’m not sure I can answer. I really like smart, eager-to-please dogs, whether they’re purebred golden retrievers or the rescued mixed-breed that adopted my family when I was eight. These are the dogs that make you feel like a good dog trainer and good about yourself.
But then sometimes, I’m drawn to the challenge of a dog that seems too fearful or too aggressive to learn. The same philosophy that applies to my classroom teaching applies to my dog training. All kids can learn. All dogs can learn. And it’s our job as teachers and dog trainers to facilitate the learning.
Can I say, “I like all dogs?”
McCall Hoyle lives in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains with her husband, children, and an odd assortment of pets. She is a middle school teacher and librarian. When she’s not reading, writing, or teaching, she’s probably playing with or training one of her many dogs. You can learn more about her at mccallhoyle.com
STELLA will be available in bookstores everywhere on March 2, 2021. In the meantime,
Head over to Goodreads for a chance to win a copy of STELLA.
And, be sure to pre-order a copy of STELLA from your favorite independent bookstore.