Monday, May 25, 2009

Author Fran Slayton and When the Whistle Blows

Today I am featuring Fran Slayton, whom I met a couple years ago at the Book 'Em Festival in Waynesboro, VA. She is about to embark on the full author journey with the release of her very first book...

Tell us about When the Whistle Blows!

American Library Association board member and
School Library Journal blogger Diane Chen has called WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS “a growing up novel that includes scenes reminiscent of Richard Peck's Long Way from Chicago and has a classical mannerism that will steam its way on to state award lists all over the country. . . This novel is fresh, smart, witty, warm, well-written, funny. . . an amazing novel.”

“An unassuming masterpiece.” – Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Nostalgia done right . . . “ – School Library Journal, starred review

WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS (Philomel Books/Penguin, June 11, 2009) is about a boy – Jimmy Cannon – growing up in a 1940’s Appalachian railroad town, and his yearly Halloween adventures as he uncovers more about his crotchety father, who belongs to a secret society. There is lots of action: midnight rituals. Secret initiations. Hiding in wait at the cemetery. The championship football game. But there is also a lot of heart. At its core, the book is about the meaning of home and family, and the transition from boyhood to manhood. It is also relevant to our country’s current economic crisis, because in the book the local economy is changing because of the switch from steam engines to diesel. Jobs are being lost. The town is changing. This creates difficulties for Jimmy, who has always dreamed of working on the trains like his father and brothers.

What research was involved?

In some ways, I have been researching this book for my entire life. The idea for When the Whistle Blows was inspired by the stories my father told me when I was a child, about his childhood adventures growing up in Rowlesburg, West Virginia, which is the setting for the book. I spent a lot of time visiting relatives in Rowlesburg when I was a child myself, so I know the town well. And I actually spent a fair amount of time writing the book in Rowlesburg, during family visits.

One of my fondest memories of researching the book was a road trip I took with my father and my cousin Roger to visit my Uncle Dick, who still lives in Rowlesburg. Uncle Dick took us on a guided tour of the old M&K Junction, where he used to work with my grandfather, W.P. Cannon, who was the inspiration for Jimmy’s father in WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS, and was in real life the foreman of the B&O Railroad in Rowlesburg in the 1940’s. Uncle Dick showed me my grandfather’s office, the tower, the old coal tipple, and the addition to the M&K that was built when the diesels came. He even dug out some old records that were written in my grandfather’s handwriting. It was a fantastic trip. On the drive back home my father told me a story about a football game that inspired the “Championship Football Game” chapter of the book!

I also read a book about the town that was published by the Rowlesburg Revitalization Committee, went through high school yearbooks from the old Rowlesburg School, and browsed many books, blogs and listserves on the old B&O steam engines. My uncle Dick gave me some great pictures of the old trains as well. I was also fortunate enough to have my parents and my Uncle Mike, who are all from Rowlesburg, volunteer to proofread the book, and I made the acquaintance of John Hankey, a renowned B&O historian, who vetted the book as well. I did some research on World War II, and I also talked to Walter Burke, former owner of the funeral home in Rowlesburg, who was kind enough to talk about corpses with me!

Best of all, though, was calling my dad constantly with questions I had as I was writing the book. He was great at answering all my questions based on his firsthand experience.

I remember meeting you a few years ago and you were concerned by the potential travel – and now you’re all over the map! How are you handling it?

Well, great so far because I haven’t actually had to get in the car yet! I have bookstore and library appearances scheduled from here to Chicago beginning in June. So far stops include:

· 6/13 Old Dominion Bookstore - Charlottesville, VA
· 6/19 National Railway Historical Society Meeting, Silver Spring, MD
· 6/20 Hooray for Books - Alexandria, VA
· 6/27 Givens Books - Lynchburg, VA
· 6/29 Kanawha County Library - Charleston, WV
· 6/30 Cover to Cover Bookstore - Columbus, OH
· 7/1 The Blue Marble Bookstore – Fort Thomas, KY/Cincinnati, OH
· 7/2 Kids Ink - Indianapolis, IN
· 7/7 The Book Stall – Winnetka, IL
· 7/8 The Magic Tree Bookstore - Chicago, IL
· 7/10 Anderson’s Bookstore, Naperville, IL (Class of 2k9 Panel)
· 7/17-18 MD/WV/DE SCBWI Conference – Westminster, MD
· 7/19 Constellation Bookstore Signing Reisterstown, MD

So far, I have gone from excited to apprehensive back to excited again! It is a little overwhelming as a debut author to be experiencing for the first time all of the activities that go along with launching a book into the world. It’s a lot! The people at all of the bookstores have been wonderful, though, and I know I’m going to have a great time once I get over the fact that I’ll be away from my family for short stretches of time this summer.

You are the Class Secretary of Class of 2k9 – how did you become involved?

I’d followed the Class of 2k7 and the Class of 2k8 and knew I wanted to be part of the 2k9 group. There were advertisements for interested authors on the Verla Kay discussion boards, so when the contract for my book came through I jumped at the chance to join.

Your website is very interactive – who set it up?

Thank you – I did! It’s funny because I am not a particularly tech-savvy person, but when I switched from PC to Mac after I sold my book I saw that it was possible for me to learn the iMac program relatively easily. I have a fairly decent eye for design and I’d done a lot of research into what I wanted in my author website, so I just poured myself into it and 40-80 hours later – viola! “Instant” website!

Your site says you’ve ridden a mechanical bull…?!

Yes! I had always, always, always wanted to ride a mechanical bull, but never had the chance until my friend, Suzanne Morgan Williams, wrote a book called Bull Rider, which is a terrific novel that was released earlier this year by Simon and Schuster’s Margaret K. McElderry imprint. A group of us went out to Johnny Utah’s in New York City and rode a mechanical bull to celebrate! I had the time of my life, and I turned out to be a fairly decent bull rider, if I do say so myself!!

And you were in a rock band, too?

Yes, for around six years I sang and played trumpet in a local cover band. We covered songs from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. We played tunes originally done by Aretha Franklin, Wild Cherry, Mike and the Mechanics, 10,000 Maniacs, Stevie Wonder, The Doobie Brothers . . . it was a blast!

What’s the next project for Fran?

Right now I’m working on a fantasy middle grade novel tentatively titled Ship’s Boy, which is about a girl who wants to be a pirate. I’ve also got a couple of picture book ideas floating around in my head.

And the last word…

Thanks for hosting me on your blog, Diane! I appreciate your hospitality and hope our paths will cross again soon.

Fran's Website - Fran Cannon Slayton
Fran's Blog - Fran Slayton


  1. AnonymousMay 25, 2009

    Wow that's quite an impressive agenda for a first time author tour. Best wishes for a successful one, and may the gods of abundant book sales smile upon you!

    The Old Silly from Free Spirit Blog

  2. Enjoyed the interview. Sounds like an interesting book and a busy schedule. I'm going to out Fran's sites now.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  3. This sounds like a terrific book. My kids are grown, but I'm going to check it out for my sister's grandson.

    Straight From Hel

  4. I've heard about his one-sounds pretty good!

  5. You thought you were busy before, but now you'll really be busy!
    Good luck with your first release. Sounds like a great subject and I love the title.

    Morgan Mandel

  6. Hey - great interview. I agree - When the Whistle Blows is terrific and Fran is a great mechanical bull rider. The guy cranked that machine up full force to try to buck her off - and she vaulted on, trick rider style. We had a great time celebrating Bull Rider and When the Whistle Blows. Here's to good friends and good interviews!

  7. What an exciting time! The release of a new book. Good luck!

  8. Thanks, everyone, for your comments - I appreciate them. It is all very exciting and June 11th is just around the corner!! Take care. All Best, Fran