By G. Robert Frazier
Nashville author Alana White’s first novel, Come Next Spring, is making a comeback after 25 years. First published in 1990 by Clarion, the book has been re-released with a 25th anniversary printing by Open Road Distribution, making it available to a whole new generation of readers as well as those who missed it the first time. Nominated for the Volunteer State Children’s Book Award and the Mark Twain Award by the Missouri Association of Librarians, the novel is set in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee in 1949 and encompasses a universal theme of growth and the inevitability of change.
The book follows 12-year-old Salina Harris after a care-free summer on her family’s farm. She enters eighth grade only to discover that she and her best friend have drifted apart, her brother is preoccupied with his own concerns, her sister is about to get married and leave home, and a new student presents her with new challenges. At the same time, the quaint, rural lifestyle she and her family have grown to love is threatened by the government’s plans to construct an interstate highway through the community. Salina initially believes that “things are fine the way they are,” but ultimately comes to accept that change is inevitable and, in some ways, can be beneficial.
I spoke with White about the novel, where she drew her inspiration, and other works.
What prompted you to write Come Next Spring?
White: It’s amazing what you remember or realize after the fact of something. I just wanted to write about a little girl going through changes and learning that change is inevitable. You just have to participate in life and see what comes to you next. The more research I did into the Smoky Mountains, I realized that was when the government was first talking about an interstate system across the U.S. The reason for that was the war. They were thinking ahead about transporting troops and weapons, so they went through and started buying up the farms, such as those sorts of places in the Smoky Mountains. They didn’t make people move right away. I thought, what would a little girl think about surveyors coming out to the farm with their equipment and stuff? And maybe her brother goes out with a shotgun and says get off our land, which is what he does. My family was originally from Kentucky. I’m not sure of the year, but the government was buying up farmland in the area because they wanted to flood these towns and build this tourist attraction that would become the Land Between the Lakes. I remember my mom crying because they tore down her high school. They sold the bricks to people for a dollar apiece. They bought my uncle’s farm, but he was able to buy a better piece of land and build a nicer house. I’d forgotten all of that and when I wrote Come Next Spring, I realized I had transferred those emotions of what happened to this story. So, I was parroting exactly what I had been thinking about the Land Between the Lakes with this story without really realizing it. The mind is amazing that way.
You just have to participate in life and see what comes to you next.
What inspired you to become a writer?
White: I’m from an Air Force family. We traveled every two years. I didn’t go to the same school two years in a row until my junior and senior years of classes. I was always the new kid in school. I might walk in in January or February or April and stand there to be introduced. It was excruciating. I didn’t know anybody and it was hard to make friends. So, I would end up in the library. I’ve always said the library was my friend and refuge, because I could hide in there until the next class. So, I started reading very early. I don’t remember the first book I read, but I always liked the classics like The Man in the Iron Mask, Ivanhoe, and Robin Hood. So it doesn’t surprise me that what I write is historical fiction. I started writing my first novel when I was about 12. I didn’t get very far because it was hard! I thought, wow, this is really hard!
You followed Come Next Spring with Sacagawea: Westward with Lewis and Clark…
White: Sacagawea was written for a publisher for a school market and there were probably five other books in the series. I really enjoyed doing that book. I didn’t know much about Lewis and Clark and I had to do a lot of research. Fortunately, my husband graduated from Vanderbilt so I could look at all of Lewis’s journals. It’s a fascinating story. Sacagawea was 16 years old and had a baby on her back, trekking 2,000 miles on the expedition.
Your most recent novel, The Sign of the Weeping Virgin, is an adult fiction novel set in Renaissance Italy. How did that book come about?
White: I read about the Pazzi family plot to kill Lorenzo de’ Medici and Giuliano so that they could take over Florence. I thought, this is so interesting, I want to read a book about that and went to the library and there wasn’t one. I thought, well, I’m going to do that. So that was the seed for that. I pitched the manuscript to Deni Dietz with Five Star (at the Killer Nashville writers conference) and she was interested in it. They made it their lead book and it did well. I’m now writing the sequel, which is actually a prequel. It will go back seven years. Historical fiction is wonderful because it has a forever shelf life.
What is your advice for new writers trying to break in?
White: Work hard and apply your bottom to the chair and do it, even if it’s just for five minutes a day. Learn your limitations. I get so frustrated because I want to write faster. I wish I could churn out a book every one or two years, but I have to accept I’m not like that. I’m a slow writer and with each book it’s been like starting the process completely over. A lot of it depends on what you bring to something. If you take yourself seriously, other people will too.
White will appear along with Kristin O’Donnell, author of John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy, for a celebration of children’s fiction at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22, at Parnassus Books, 3900 Hillsboro Pike, Suite 14, Nashville.