A Boy Called Preacher by Cheryl Schuermann is a middle-grade historical fiction novel that celebrates resilience, the childhood call to uncover mysteries, and the power of dog-child friendship. It is an enthralling read that will satisfy readers looking for a “friendship, nature, small town” story of a boy who does everything he can to help his family during hard times.
Lexi Donahue: Thank you so much for your willingness to be interviewed for Writers’ Rumpus! I read that you were inspired by your dad’s childhood when writing A Boy Called Preacher. What challenges did you face writing a work of fiction that was inspired by real events?
Cheryl Schuermann: Well, let me back up. My first book was When the Water Runs: Growing Up With Alaska, a memoir about my mother’s childhood in an Eskimo village. I had many primary documents such as letters my grandparents wrote. We talked about Alaska often. Unlike my mother, my dad did not talk about his childhood as much because it was very hard. So I thought, Okay, his story will be mostly fiction, but I wanted to capture his resilience and his heart.
A few things in the book are true, though. He told me the story of hunting jackrabbits for the war effort during World War II and selling them for 50 cents each. My dad had a younger brother so Billy became a supporting character. My dad told me, “Every kid wants their dad to be there for them, but if not, to have something to hold on to.” This comes to light to an extent in A Boy Called Preacher and more so in the sequel, All Roads Home.
There’s such richness for all of us in our ancestry. I feel this book is honoring to my dad even though it is mostly fiction. We can all take bits and pieces of our family history and build story around them.
LD: That makes me wonder, we’re there any details from your dad’s childhood you wanted to include that were cut from the novel?
CS: In real life, some adults were trying to scam Preacher’s mother. As I revised, I realized the book needed to be all about the kids. Preacher solved the problems. I took out the plot that did not support that goal.
LD: I love Preacher as a character and Earl Floyd! Both these characters in your book make up stories about mysteries in their town. Did you do this as a kid?
CS: (Chuckle) I did that. I probably had a little Earl Floyd in me. I’d think, “I wonder where she came from, what her life was like…” You know, before he passed away, I said to my dad, “I have this book I am working on based on your childhood. Would you like to read it?” He was in the living room and I heard him chuckling. He said I nailed it. He had a friend whose family had money and could always go fishing. I had already named Preacher’s best friend Sam. But my dad’s best friend, his name, was Earl Floyd so I changed it. I was so thankful to have that opportunity to talk to him.
LD: What a special moment! Can you tell us a little more about your writing process? How long did it take you to write A Boy Called Preacher?
CS: Young readers need to visualize. I taught children with learning disabilities for many years. That connection is very difficult. There’s a different way of writing for kids that allows them to see and experience. I attended a lot of conferences, listened to many speakers, learning about the craft of writing. I also took part in critique groups and took to heart what people thought about my writing, what they loved, and what they felt wasn’t natural. Although I loved writing the dialogue, occasionally I read a scene to Stan, my husband, and he’d say “A 12-year-old boy would never say it like that.” As a grown woman, writing a boy-centered book about adventures and snakes and dogs and all, I had to work hard at that. (Even though I raised four sons!)
LD: So when did you start writing? When did you consider yourself “A Writer”?
CS: I dreamed about being a writer when I was a teenager. I loved to write poetry. It wasn’t good and I don’t have a piece of it now. I lived with three active younger brothers so I would go upstairs to my room, crank up the Beatles, and write. I read historical fiction constantly. I love picking up history in a really good novel. For me, it was a natural thing to write A Boy Called Preacher. I bring in more about the war in the second book.
I just got back to writing in 2007 and it was because I knew I had to write my mom’s story of Early Alaska. It was like “Little House on the Tundra.” That book launched me into wanting to write more and more and more. Everything I’ve written has my heart in it in some way.
LD: Can you tell us a little bit about your currently unpublished body of writing? Do you have books that are only partly finished? What about a current WIP?
CS: Well, the one I feel I need to get finished is All Roads Home. I’m maybe three fourths through it. Everything’s outlined. That is my number one mission.
I have another middle grade work-in-progress titled Scoop, Too. It’s about a girl in a very small town who wants to be a journalist. I have two picture books and a chapter book written and ready to go. But it’s all a time thing. I’m more random than I should be. If I think of something I should add to Scoop,Too, then I pull it up and work on it. Oh! My husband and I are working on a parenting book too!
LD: Is it different to co-author a book than to work on your own?
CS: Well, we have a blog that we write together. A lot of the content is coming from that.
LD: It sounds like you’ve already had experience writing with your husband, then! A Boy Called Preacher reminded me of other books I read as a child. What are your favorite childhood books? Which books have inspired you as a writer?
CS: My favorite genre was historical fiction. I read every book I could get my hands on about wartime nurses. Books about families going west in a covered wagon and their adventures and interactions with one another.
Now, as an adult, I keep going back to my more recent favorites. Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, and Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. This is one of my favorite books: The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had by Kristin Levine. I also love Anna Myers, who wrote the endorsement for my book. She wrote Tulsa Burning, Assassin, and several other middle grade historical novels.
LD: Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers?
CS: I would definitely ask, “When have you had a time that you’ve had to persist in something? You saw failure in the future but you kept at it and got it done?” I want readers to think back and be proud of their accomplishments. How do we believe in ourselves to pursue a tough path? How did Preacher do that? Did Earl Floyd encourage him? Discourage him? Sometimes Earl Floyd was a deterrent. We could talk about what it means to be a good friend and encourage our friends. Forgiveness wins and friendship wins. It’s the friendship we’re fighting for. Adversity can bring strength and courage if we persevere.
LD: And what about the sequel, All Roads Home?
CS: There’s no publication date yet, but I am close to submission!
LD: Thank you Cheryl!
Cheryl Schuermann loved her many years in the classroom as a Special Educator and Reading Specialist. She spent many more years as a Literacy Consultant, training teachers across the United States. Cheryl lives in Oklahoma with her illustrator husband, Stan. They raised four sons and have thirteen grandchildren. Recently, they built a 1920s style farmhouse in the country and can be found fishing and nature hiking with their family. The farmhouse is Cheryl’s favorite place to write and where she wishes she had a dog just like Deke.
You can connect with Cheryl here:
Cheryl is generously raffling a copy of A Boy Called Preacher to one lucky reader. Be sure to comment to be entered for the raffle! Connect on twitter and facebook for additional raffle entries! Raffle ends on September 1st.
A BOY CALLED PREACHER
By Cheryl Schuermann