Six Questions with Pamela Ehrenberg and Tracy Lopez
Pamela Ehrenberg (left) and Tracy Lopez are co-authors of the middle-grade novel Detour Ahead (PJ Publishing, 2022). Pamela is the author of two previous novels for young readers (Ethan, Suspended and Tillmon County Fire) as well as two picture books: Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas and Planting Parsley. A proud AmeriCorps alum, Pamela works at the National Association for the Education of Young Children and lives with her daughter and son near the National Zoo in Washington, DC. She is happy to connect with readers via her website at www.pamelaehrenberg.com. Tracey is a novelist and poet born and raised in Maryland just outside Washington, D.C. She now lives in the beautiful mountain state of West Virginia with her husband, sons, and a silly hound dog. Detour Ahead is her first children’s book. You can find her online at tracylopezbooks.com.
Six Questions with Tracy
1. Do you ever get stuck creatively? If so, how do you get unstuck?
I have three techniques that usually work. Take a shower, take a walk, or switch to pen and paper. Something about those three things gets my brain thinking creatively again.
2. What three things bring you joy?
A rainy day with a pile of library books, dogs, and good food.
3. What kind of student were you? What were your favorite subjects?
I was a good student in the classes I liked, and a struggling student in the classes that didn't interest me. My favorite subjects were English, Creative Writing, Spanish, Art, and sometimes History.
4. What was the most challenging thing you faced while writing and researching Detour Ahead?
I love researching, so that's never a challenge. But the most difficult part of writing this particular story I think was the timeline -- making sure Gilah and Guillermo didn't contradict each other as to what day it was and taking into account the real bus routes and landmarks.
5. If you could tell readers one secret about this book, what would it be?
The poem "I Don't Go Home" on page 219 came to me while I was falling asleep one night. I jumped up and wrote it down. That's the only poem in this book that came to me like that.
6. What’s a particularly striking or memorable reaction someone has had to this book?
The children's librarian at my local library was so sincerely overjoyed for me. She watched my children grow up. Who knows how many times she greeted me over nearly two decades as I brought my boys in to pick out more books than they could carry, and now my boys are taller than me and my book is on those same shelves. That felt really special.
Six Questions with Pamela
1. Was this always the title for this project? If not, what other titles did you consider and how did you land on this one?
Originally it was called Riding the H4–after the bus line where the two main characters meet. But there was a feeling that “H4” wouldn’t mean much to readers outside DC–and might even sound like a sci-fi spaceship or something! Someone at PJ Our Way came up with the much better “Detour Ahead,” which works on so many levels, for so many different kinds of detours!
2. When did you first realize you wanted to write for young readers?
It was more like realizing I could (like, would be allowed to!) write for young readers: in college, when I was trying anxiously to write New Yorker-style short fiction, one piece came back to me with the encouraging comment, “This sounds like the first chapter of a young people’s novel.” I’d been writing for young readers for my entire life ‘til that point; it just hadn’t dawned on me that I could actually choose that as my goal!
3. What was your favorite book when you were a child? Why?
The first books I ever loved enough to buy for myself–after reading them dozens of times first from the library–were the Little House on the Prairie series. My memory of those books was so ingrained with my memories of growing up that it was devastating to try to revisit those books with my daughter about 10 years ago and realize both that some of the characters I’d loved were horribly racist and also that I’d been completely unaware. I still have my boxed set of paperbacks, bought with birthday money ~1981, but I don’t anticipate that anyone will read those particular copies again; now they are a reminder to look but then look again, to avoid assumptions, and to always, always be open to expanding my thinking.
4. How do you know your idea will make a good book?
A good book … gosh…I know an idea will make a book if it’s one I don’t mind spending a lot of time with it –- it has to live in my head for a long time to turn into a book! But in terms of whether it will make a good book, I guess it has to live in the world for a bit and say something that needs to be said. That might take years after publication to see if that turns out to be the case–we have to hold onto hope and belief that our words will matter, while knowing we can never really be sure.
5. Did you have a favorite teacher when you were a child? What made them so special?
I had a few different favorites over the years, but one I’d like to mention now is Dennis Gray: his students all remember how he pushed us forward in self-expression by banning the verb “to show” in favor of having us select a more accurate synonym–and I will always appreciate his patience as I tried, week after week, to answer the weekly journal assignments in poetry. Mr. Gray was also the first of my teachers to die, in 1993, just a few years after I was in his class. He died of AIDS, but at the time that was only speculated about in whispers. I’ve thought about him a lot during these past few years of the covid pandemic–how many lessons learned from the AIDS crisis we might be able to learn from today, if only we’d listen–and how all of us, but maybe teachers of young people most especially, need absolute freedom to be their fullest and truest selves.
6. What one piece of advice would you like to give to aspiring kidlit authors?
To be open, always, to whatever new experiences are available. For young readers, so much of their everyday world is a new experience; the more we can keep experiencing the world as something new to be discovered, the more we’ll be able to stay connected to the young reader’s perspective.