Julie Chibbaro is the author of “Deadly”, a YA historical fiction novel about Typhoid Mary. She will be appearing at the Empire State Book Festival on April 2, 2011. For more information about Chibbaro, you can visit her website, friend her on facebook, and follow her on twitter.
Chibbaro graciously agreed to answer a few questions for us before her trip to the Capital District.
Why write historical fiction?
For a million reasons! My jaw drops when I read about what really happened in the past. Often, these stories are hidden in dry history books, and as a storyteller, I get to pull out the facts, and turn them into something people will (hopefully) want to read. The double pleasure of historical fiction is this: you get more than the experience of a story, you also walk away knowing a little bit more about the past than when you started.
What first interested you in the Typhoid Mary case?
Two things: One, the fact that the typhoid fever is caused by a salmonella bacteria, which sounded very familiar to me. I felt that this story would still be very relevant to today’s readers, since we still suffer so much with salmonella contamination. And two, that Typhoid Mary was the first known “healthy carrier” of the fever, which means she could carry the disease without getting sick herself. That sounded like the problems we have with HIV, or tuberculosis, or Hep B, people often don’t know they’re spreading disease, because they have no symptoms. I wanted to explore what that might be like.
How long did it take you to research the story? Did you have help? Did you visit your local library? J What role does the Internet play in helping you research?
I spent a very intense amount of time at the library on 42nd St. (the one with the lions). They have microfiche of old newspapers, which I devoured for every kind of information, not just about the Typhoid Mary case. For example, an ad for a job can tell you what salaries were, or an ad for bread can tell you the cost of food. I also read books, lots of books – about Typhoid Mary, about the history of the Department of Health, and medicine, and women in medicine, and factory workers, and so on. I studied Byron and Jacob Riis photos. I got most of my books from various libraries (I’m not picky, I love them all). I had no help with my research, though if I ever get rich, I would certainly hire help.
The Internet, for me, is not my main source for deep research. It helps enormously when I am in the process of writing, and need to know relatively small things, like what kind of pencils would a girl use in 1906, or facts about diseases. But I worry about false leads, and incorrect facts, which is an epidemic on the net, so I try to stick to original sources when I can.
Has having a child changed your writing process?
Massively. Having a girl child has helped me to see what girls are surrounded by, the influences that form them. Part of that caused me to shape Prudence the way I did – as vulnerable, but also reactive to what her society told her was proper for a girl.
My process in general has changed, as well. I used to wake up and start writing. Now I wake up and I’m mommy until school time. Then, I’m mommy after school, and on weekends. But those hours in between, I get to write. So my writing time has become more precious.
Are you available for author visits in the Albany area?
Absolutely. Along with my husband, the artist for Deadly, we’ve created a multimedia experience for talking about Deadly. Since it took place a hundred years ago, we put together a slideshow of pictures from that time, which accompanies a fun podcast, an excerpt of the book performed by actors. I also spend some time talking about my process of writing the book, and Jean-Marc gives a short powerpoint presentation of how he did the drawings. We’re not too far from Albany, and we love to visit.