I feel somewhat like a mosquito at a beach about expressing all that I loved about this book. I know what to do, but I don’t know where to start to persuade you to read A Hobo’s Wish by Minnesota author Connie Lounsbury.
I guess I’ll start with its premise: A description of the book on Amazon states,
After a tragic mistake during The Great Depression, Dr. Pete Walters becomes penniless, forced to ride the rails along with thousands of other unemployed men and women, surviving by trading labor for food, or asking for handouts. Will he find the trust and the love he doesn’t believe he deserves when he hops off the train at Kathleen Creek, Minnesota, or must he leave again when someone exposes his past?
I think there are a number of reasons this story affected me the way it did. One of which is empathy for the main character but also because of a story my mom told me.
My mother was born in 1935, the same time, give or take, that A Hobo’s Wish takes place. Mom’s father, Alfred Otto, had many siblings, one of whom, Herman, left town and never was heard from again. When she was a little girl, a “bum” knocked on their back door during the supper hour, asking if he could have a meal. My grandparents, Alfred and Alma, invited them in and the four of them ate in silence.
An hour after the man left their home, my grandpa arose from the table. “Alma, I think that man was my brother, Herman!” He ran out the door to try to find him, but he never did.
Even though Pete in A Hobo’s Wish is about 35 in the story, as I read Connie’s story, I thought of my great uncle Herman, throughout the story and how his life was probably very much like that of the main character, Pete.
I loved loved loved Pete. His countenance reminded me of my soft-spoken father. And even though a terrible incident happened – whether it was coincidental or as a result of Pete’s actions – and it almost was the end of him, Pete fought through every emotion and self-chastising thought to survive and change. I loved too, how tenderly he cared for animals.
This book made me laugh, cry and want to shout to Pete to defend himself. But, like my father, Pete lived with the personality that his author created him to have. I loved that. Loved that Connie did not change his personality but kept him in character straight through to The End. From the Dust Bowl days and riding the rails, from Montana to California to eventually Minnesota, I rode the rails with Pete and I have to say, I kind of want to try out jumping on a train now too. I learned so much about how hard it was to eek out a living in the 1930s and how people survived when they truly did not have two pennies to rub together.
Connie Lounsbury is giving A Hobo’s Wish to a special someone who leaves a comment on my blog today. Please leave a comment about your thoughts about anything to do with hobos, The Great Depression, Dust Bowl days, the railroad or anything that you’d like that relates to this blog post. Connie will choose a winner at random and I will make contact with you so that we can send you this beautiful story!
I wondered how Connie wrote an unputdownable-book about a hobo of few words. Below is my interview with Connie Lounsbury.
First of all, you know I loved the story. Where did you come up with the idea for this story?
I wanted to write a book about the goodness in people. We are fed so much ugliness in the world through the media with stories of crime, nasty politics and cutthroat competitions in reality television (which I don’t watch).
Did you always know you wanted to write about a hobo?
No, but I recalled a woman who told me she couldn’t afford to buy her grandchildren Christmas gifts that year. I suggested that since she loved to crochet, and did so beautifully, she might consider crocheting a small star or snowflake Christmas tree ornament for each child – an heirloom they would treasure forever – and it would only take one skein of crochet thread.
She did not take my suggestion, and she passed away before the following Christmas. I think she just couldn’t see that she did have something to give, even though she didn’t have money. I think too many of us are like that. So, I decided to use a hobo – a penniless, homeless person – as my protagonist, and show how he blesses others repeatedly.
Of course, there’s a lot more to the story. We always have the antagonist, the conflicts, the character flaws, and the love interest. It is a story of forgiveness, change, hope, and goodness.
How long did it take you, from coming with the idea to it being a finished story, ready to submit to a publisher?
Sixteen months, much of it doing research. I watched documentaries about the Great Depression, hobos, and the Civilian Conservation Corp Camps and the CCC boys, interviewed elderly people, read more than a two-foot stack of books on those subjects, and then traveled 3,500 miles by car, following the train tracks from Palm Springs, California back to Minnesota (my character’s route) to experience what he would have seen, smelled, heard, and felt on that trip.
Do you have an agent? How did the process of getting A Hobo’s Wish come to fruition from a publishing sense?
Yes, I have an agent (thank you, Lord). They are worth the 15% they get. Just knowing I had an agent who would find a publisher for me gave me such comfort as I wrote. It took very little time before I was signing a contract with Mantle Rock Publishing.
Are there things that happen in this book that are based on a true situation? Or, is there a character you thought of when you wrote this book?
Not really. Having grown up in poverty gave me the empathy for my characters, and knowing how to creatively make ends meet helped, I’m sure. But, nothing I wrote came from my personal experience except knowing how to garden and can fruits and vegetables and bake bread. And being in awe of our beautiful countryside traveling the path Dr. Pete took in the book. I also wasn’t thinking of anyone I know as I created my characters.
What kind of feedback are you hearing about this book?
I am so pleased with the feedback I am hearing. One of my friends read the book as she was going through chemotherapy, tired and sick. She said the book was so comforting – the perfect book to read when one is sick. She said people in nursing homes and hospitals should read it.
Someone else said she liked the fact that the book talks about forgiveness and change because most of us have something in our past that we don’t want others to know about, and would experience Dr. Pete’s fears when threatened with exposure.
People are asking for a sequel – more about Dr. Pete and Cookie.
Did you struggle at all, creatively-speaking in the writing of this book? If so, how?
No. I am happy to say that this was the easiest to write of all nine books I have written. I had a loose idea what I wanted to say and went from there. Every morning when I sat at my computer I said, “Lord, here I am. Tell me what to say that will glorify you.”
Of course, I didn’t hear whispering in my ear, but I know that God guided me through every stage of this book, from conception on. I never had writer’s block. I never struggled with what to write next. I never had to go back and add something, or re-arrange chapters. It was smooth all the way. The right characters came into being; the right events happened.
My two sisters traveled by car with me from California back to Minnesota, and of course I talked about Hobo Pete along the way as I wrote notes about what we saw and smelled and tasted. One day one of my sisters asked, “Connie, you do know that Pete isn’t real, don’t you?”
I had to laugh, but it made me realize just how real he felt to me. But, as an author, you must feel your character is real or you can’t write about him or her realistically. You must know how they would feel and what they would be thinking and how they would act in every situation.
For other writers out there, what are some words of encouragement you have for them to work on their writing projects?
I believe that if you want to write it is because God has given you the talent to write. He wouldn’t give you the desire to do so, if He hadn’t. Of course, you must learn the craft of writing. And, believe me, that is a lot to learn. I am still learning how to be a better writer.
But, don’t let all the rules of writing paralyze you into not writing for fear you aren’t doing it right. Just write! Keep learning, but keep writing while you learn. Join a critique group for feedback. Send out your work for feedback.
For many years, I submitted a writing sample for a writer’s grant competition, believing the I might possibly win. After all, what I wrote was such good stuff! The following year, after not winning, I checked to see what I had sent the year before so I didn’t send the same thing. Each year, as I read my work from the year before, I cringed. No wonder I hadn’t won. My writing was terrible!
That showed me how much I had learned since then. I was now a much better writer than I had been the year before. It was always a good feeling to realize that I was evolving into a better writer. It takes time, and it takes practice, and it takes training.
I have taken classes from many professors and authors, but the best writing instructor I ever studied under is Susan May Warren of The Novel Academy. She knows how to teach writing! Thank you, Susie, for all you have taught me. I love you!
Do you ever get discouraged when you write? If so, what are some ways you work yourself out of this situation?
I don’t get discouraged when I write, but I do when I try to promote my books, especially because I find navigating all the social media is so difficult. I always considered myself reasonably intelligent, but the internet makes me feel quite the opposite.
I am trying to connect with the right people for training and assistance, but it is a constant battle for me.
I do a lot of public speaking, but I can only reach so many people that way. I know social media is the answer.
I have prepared a new presentation that I offer to libraries and historical centers called, Hobos of the Great Depression. I have learned so much about that topic that I can provide education along with entertainment, reminding people about an important era in our history that too few people remember.
Ask your librarian to contact me if you would like me to bring this presentation to your library.
What other works of fiction have you written that readers, if they love A Hobo’s Wish, you might suggest for them to read?
Kathleen Creek was my first historical fiction, based on a true story that took place at Annandale, Minnesota. My character in A Hobo’s Wish finds himself in the town of Kathleen Creek, meeting many of the same characters in my earlier book of that name. Different story completely, but tied in to my earlier book through the town and some of the people.
Tell us how you found your publisher?
My agent found my publisher, but I found my agent at the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference. After trying for so many years to find an agent to represent my work, I attended a writer’s conference and met agents and editors face-to-face. I had heard that it was the best way to get an agent, and it is true. When you speak to an agent in person and show them your work, they look at it. You make a connection with them.
In today’s publishing world, it is so hard to get published, especially if it is your first work. And conferences are so expensive that many writers can’t afford the time and money to attend. That is why I have established a scholarship for Minnesota Christian writers to attend writer’s conferences.
Applications will be available on my website, www.connielounsbury.com as soon as the fund reaches $20,000. Until then, I am contributing what I can, and asking for the help of others to donate to the fund at Initiative Foundation of Little Falls, Minnesota. Go to www.Ifound.org and make sure you state that your donation is for the “Minnesota Christian Writer’s Scholarship.” Maybe you can be a recipient in the future. It is the best way to find an agent and editors for your work.
What other works of fiction do you like to read? Any favorite authors? What’s your all-time favorite novel and why?
I read mostly inspiration material in many genres. Debbie Macomber is one of my favorite Christian authors. Erica Vetsch and Gabrielle Meyer are two of my new favorite Christian historical fiction authors. I also love Rachel Hauck’s work. I’ve loved Gilbert Morris’ many series.
I like Mary Higgins Clark mysteries and everything Nicolas Sparks has written. Anna Quindlen is another favorite. I liked
Kristen Hannah until all her characters took on the same personality. I read a lot of different authors and I read a lot!
My favorite novel of all time is the 1955 book, My Love Affair with the State of Maine by Gertrude Mackenzie with Ruth Goode. That book has stayed with me since I read it as a young teen and I’ve wanted to visit Maine since that time.
(My daughter Lani and I are going on a New England bus tour this fall!!)
A couple years ago, I re-read the book and wondered what I had so loved about it. Then I realized that it was the close-knit community with people helping each other through hard times that so endeared me to it. It was because my own life was so opposite, and I so wanted that in my own life.
Now that I write this, it makes me realize that A Hobo’s Wish is not so very different in that it is an era when people helped each other during a hard time in history. Maybe, subconsciously, that is what inspired me to write that book!?
How do you write? In other words, do you write everyday? Do you write by outline or are you a “pantser” as they say, and just sit down and and write?
I am presently in the “promotion” phase and not working on another book, but I still show up in my office every morning and “work.” This is the third year that I have been vowing to only work until noon and take the rest of the day for myself. I’m still working at making that work.
When I am writing a book, sometimes my days at the computer are very long. Sometimes I get up in the middle of the night and write when thoughts keep coming to me and won’t let me sleep.
I was always an “outliner” until this last book. Yet, I seemed to be outlining in my head to some degree even when I wasn’t in my office. It is hard for me to find balance in my life when I am writing a book. The book consumes me. I try to not write on Saturdays and I never write on Sundays.
Thanks so much, Connie, for this interview and giving us insights as to how you came up with the idea for this story as well as your writing process. Best to you as you continue to tell your wonderful stories.
Thank you, Julie, for reading my book as well as for interviewing me.
Julie Saffrin is the author of numerous published articles and essays. Her latest book, BlessBack: Thank Those Who Shaped Your Life, explores the power of gratitude and offers 120 creative ways to journey toward positive, lasting change.