Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Blog Tour: Tillmon County Fire

Today I have the distinct pleasure of hosting Pamela Ehrenberg on the next blog tour stop for her YA novel, Tillmon County Fire.  Before I bring you my review, I'd like to introduce you to Ms. Ehrenberg through her bio and a Q&A I had the opportunity to do with her.
About the Author:  I grew up as an only child--and my fantasies about having a brother or sister shaped my first novel, “Cheeseburgers and Other Hazards of Sixth Grade.”  In 2000, I married a wonderful man named Eric, and our daughter Talia was born in 2005.  Sadly, Eric died in 2008 at age 37, shortly before the birth of our son Nathan.  Eric gave me the confidence to be a writer and a mother, and to face whatever else life brings.

Write For A Reader (WFAR):  Please tell us a little about yourself.

Pamela Ehrenberg (PE):  I'm just under 5'3".  I'm chronically losing my keys, cell phone, and glasses.  I'm an introvert who is on, at last count, five "social networking" sites.  I learned storytelling from my dad, who wrongly claims he's not much of a writer. 

WFAR:  When did you start writing?

PE:  I started writing in kindergarten, before I knew how to actually write--we would draw pictures on this big newsprint paper that had lines underneath where the teacher or a parent volunteer would write down the story we told them.  I remember working hard on a story about a witch, and a house full of people, and after I shared it with the class, a boy named Michael shouted out, "Because the witch ate everyone!"  Which wasn't at all what I had intended--and 30 years later, I still find it disconcerting that he misinterpreted my story so drastically.  I learned that day that a story is at best half-finished when I'm done writing it down--what matters is what happens when there's a reader, how that person interprets it.

WFAR:  Do you have writing “mentors?” If so, who are they?

PE:  So many people have been so kind and helpful that I'm afraid to mention too many names for fear of leaving someone out.  But I'd like to mention Barbara Bietz (, who I "met" on a listserv and who was instrumental in setting up this blog tour--thank you, Barbara!  And for the past few years, the one person I've routinely referred to as my mentor is Mary Quattlebaum (, a Washington, D.C. neighbor who has also published with Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (and other publishers).  Her unwavering support, both personally and professionally, and her enthusiasm in making introductions and connections for others has so many of us in the children's book community singing her praises.  Perhaps the best part is that her 10-year-old daughter Christy has become something of a mentor to my four-year-old daughter Talia, passing along beloved toys as well as words of wisdom about this next stage of childhood.  We're both very grateful.
WFAR:  Can you give us the back story on Tillmon County Fire?

PE:  It's hard to know where stories come from--but the setting for this one was inspired by the western Maryland community where I was an AmeriCorps member in the mid-1990s.  Beautiful mountains, tensions between locals and vacationers, kids who loved their community but also, at times, felt trapped by it--all that was inspired by what I saw there, though the characters, events, and the place itself are purely imagined.  The format of the novel was inspired by the Ernest Gaines book A Gathering of Old Men, which also told about a single event from multiple perspectives--and in doing so conveyed the idea that the event belonged to the whole community, not to any individual. 
WFAR:  What’s next for you as an author? Do you have anything in the works?

PE:  For two years I've been working on a young adult novel set in 1950s Baltimore--I hammered out the first draft while my daughter was at day camp in 2007, but the project was on hold during two personal upheavals in 2008: my husband's death in August and the birth of our son in November.  I'm slowly getting back to it: recently I traveled to Baltimore to research what the local mental hospital was like during that time, and I've begun posting my daily word count (or not-quite-so-daily during blog tour week) on Twitter (

WFAR:  What is your favorite piece or book that you have written?

PE:  Gosh, this feels a bit like asking me to choose between my children.  : )  So far, my favorite age for my children has been whatever age they're just entering--it gets better and better as they get older.  And my favorite piece of writing is most often whichever one I'm enmeshed in.  Though after the challenge is behind me and I'm on to something else, it's fun now and then to notice a word or phrase in something I've written that can surprise me and make me laugh.  That happened to me recently with Rob's line, "It was probably the shoes."
WFAR:  What do you like to do when you are not writing?

PE:  Get wet (from bubble soap, lawn sprinkler, or wading pool) with my kids.  Fantasize about taking a nap.  Daydream about the adventures we'll have when the kids are older and drier. 

WFAR:  Describe your writing atmosphere…where do write, when, etc?

PE:  I wrote most of Tillmon County Fire during Talia's naps between 2005 and 2007.  When she was a newborn, I'd push her in the stroller 'til she fell asleep, then pull out the laptop from the stroller basket and sit down on the next available bench.  When she was a toddler, we also had a wonderful writing-time/childcare exchange with our friend Ms. Elizabeth, whose Mommytown blog I'm visiting later in the tour.  Now that Talia's brother Nathan has joined our family, I'm working on carving out a new writing routine--but I'll need to be a bit more confident that I won't be setting the laptop down in pureed cauliflower before anything about writing can be fairly labeled "routine."

WFAR:  What are some of your writing “must haves?” What can you not write without?

PE:  Since 2005, my writing "must-haves" have been whittled down to just one: child care.  I'm grateful for the loving family members, wonderful friends, and amazing babysitter who are among my "must-have" people.
WFAR:  How do you feel about book bloggers reviewing your books?

PE:  I love when book bloggers and any other bloggers review or otherwise blog about my books!  I'm honored that so many have opted to participate in the blog tour and look forward to other blogging interactions even after the "official" tour has ended.  You guys do an amazing job at making sure people have heard about new books--thank you!
WFAR:  What are some of your favorites? Author, food, color, book, any others…

PE:  Favorite author: Bobbie Ann Mason, who writes about a different set of mountains, in western Kentucky
Favorite food: sushi
Favorite color: purple

WFAR:  Is there anything else that you would like readers to know?

PE:  Anything else I'd like readers to know: How much I appreciate your hosting me today, and their reading along!  Thanks to you all.

Thank you, Pamela, for agreeing to this interview!

Title:  Tillmon County Fire
Author:  Pamela Ehrenberg
Review Copy Provided by:  Eerdmans

About the Book:  In tiny Tillmon County, where it seems like nothing ever happens and the most serious crimes are vandalism and bar brawls, a mysterious fire rocks the lives of the teenagers who live there.

As the story unfolds, the lines between truth and fiction, motive and happenstance, guilt and innocence blur.  This novel-in-stories is told in the voices of disparate cast of characters, including a frustrated adoptee, a gay teenager, a big-city kid who is new in town and wishes he were back in Manhattan, a pregnant store clerk, and a boy with autism, who is more at the center of events than he imagines.  

My Review:  This book is written, about one incident, from different perspectives, using the multiple narrative approach.  This is the first book I've read with so many different characters telling the story.  I wasn't sure at first if I would be able to follow it as well as a regular narrative novel, but it surprisingly wasn't that difficult.  In fact, as each narrator changed, I found myself more drawn into the story and wanting to know more about each narrator.  

The author begins with a prologue and ends with a postscript, which I enjoy in books as I am one who likes a little back story and longs to know more when the book is over.  Both add to this book by giving the reader that little more about the story that many of us desire when reading.

The premise of the book, bullying and harrassment of a gay student in school, is not brought out until you get into the book, which I think was what made me keep reading.  I wanted to know what was so significant about "the fire" that the book was titled for.  It's not really mentioned until about halfway through, and when it is, you're not sure what impact it really has on the story.  Ehrenberg spends the first part of the book allowing the reader to get to know all the characters/narrators of the story, how they all fit together, and what part they all play in the story.  I really enjoyed the way that she did that.

It is a book about a very serious issue in schools today and what can happen when one person takes things too far.  It also touches on friendship, sticking up for each other, and protecting those we love.  There are some scenes that may not be appropriate for tweens, young teens, but nothing is real explicit, so if they are mature enough, they can handle it.  

4 out of 5 stars for Tillmon County Fire.


bermudaonion said...

Great review, Shelly. The author sounds like an amazingly strong woman.

Pamela Ehrenberg said...

Thanks so much, Shelly--it's an honor to be a guest here! (And Bermuda Onion, you're very kind--I don't always feel so strong when I'm dodging pureed cauliflower.) : )

Barbara Bietz said...

Fantastic interview! Pamela is a wonderful writer. I am honored she mentioned me - and so thrilled that I was able to help introduce readers to Tillmon County Fire.

Barbara Bietz

Liyana said...

You have an award over at my blog. (:

Katy said...

I just finished reading Tillmon County Fire, and I loved the book. I like books written in different voices--and this one honors young readers. Young readers are smart enough to understand the message in this book even though it is much more subtle than typical young adult fare. I hope this book will find many readers.

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