Carolyn Meyer is the author of a new novel for older kids, Girl with a Camera: Margaret Bourke-White, Photographer. Her many other books for children and young adults include Diary of a Waitress and Anastasia and her Sisters. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Q: Why did you decide to write a novel based on the life of photographer Margaret Bourke-White?
A: I’d been noodling around with a list of American women who were pioneers in their fields. I always focus on the early lives of the characters I write about: who they were before they became Somebody, what their formative years were like. Margaret Bourke-White was high on the list, and she was unique.
Q: What did you see as the right blend between the historical facts of her life and your own imagination?
A: I try to find the best and most interesting facts to form the narrative’s framework; then I invent dialogue and add likely details that suit the personality and are accurate for the time period but for which I have no actually proof.
Q: How did you research the book, and what did you find that especially fascinated you?
A: I read biographies and various books about MBW. Then I backed that up with online research on other characters, like the Mungers, who financed her education.
I used to have a neighbor who collected old cameras; I asked him to show me how they worked. I called the historical society in the town where she grew up and asked if they had copies of the yearbook from her era. Etc., etc., etc. That, of course, is the fun of it!
Q: Why did you decide to write the novel in the first person?
A: First person is the best way I know to get the emotional closeness to the character. I’ve tried third person, and it never works as well for me.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Georgia O’Keeffe! She was on my list of pioneers.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb