When I was approached by Boyds Mills Press to be a part of this blog tour, I knew a certain 14 year old who would love to interview Gail. So, today I welcome author Gail Jarrow to Kid Lit Frenzy and thank you Jax for handling the interview.
Jax had previously red Gail's Red Madness and found it extremely fascinating. She had a chance to read an Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) of Fatal Fever. As with Red Madness, Jax felt that Fatal Fever keeps readers engaged and interested and on the edge of their seats. Jax loved how Gail clearly articulates thoughts and concepts and felt that she learned a lot about Typhoid Mary and looks forward to reading more from Gail.
Thank you Jax for the interview questions and thank you Gail for your fabulous responses.
What got you interested in writing about epidemics?
When I was in 8th grade, I won a prize in my school science fair. It was a book called “Giants of Medicine” about the scientists who discovered cures for various diseases. I’ve been fascinated by epidemics ever since. I decided to write a trilogy about the doctors and public health experts who fought disease in the early 1900s. Those years were a turning point in medicine. [The final book in the trilogy is about bubonic plague.]
....and about Typhoid Mary?
As I was doing research for RED MADNESS, about pellagra, I read that typhoid fever sickened many Americans during the same period. Typhoid Mary became a symbol of the disease, and I wanted to find out more about her. I heard from a friend that my hometown of Ithaca, New York, had experienced a typhoid epidemic in 1903. When I looked into it, I discovered that the same man who tracked down Typhoid Mary had helped Ithaca end its outbreak. I knew I had the subject of my next book!
How long does it take to gather all of the information/research?
For about a year, I read about Typhoid Mary and typhoid fever epidemics in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I interviewed scientists and read their research papers so that I could understand the disease. I went to the New York City area where much of the book’s action takes place.
...and how do you decide on what goes into the book?
In the beginning chapters, I wanted to show that typhoid outbreaks were common in 1900. Chances are good that one of your ancestors had the disease or personally knew someone who did. I included the chapters about the Ithaca epidemic to give readers a close-up look at typhoid fever’s devastating effect on individuals, families, and communities. Those tragedies explain why people like George Soper and Josephine Baker worked so hard to stop the outbreaks.
...and what is left out?
I found two problems in writing a nonfiction book about Typhoid Mary. One, we don’t have too much solid information about her. Two, everyone involved in her story died long ago. Over the years, many myths about her have circulated. I only included what I could confirm with reliable sources such as her writings or those of people who actually knew her.
I also left out the more complicated scientific facts about typhoid fever. I learned as much as possible so that I could explain the disease to readers. But some of the information is only interesting and understandable to medical experts. Any reader who wants to learn more will check out my bibliography.
Where do you get all of the photographs?
I looked through collections of medical photographs, past and present; century-old books, magazines, and newspapers; history museums and archives; and the Library of Congress.
What grossed you out the most in writing about Typhoid Mary?
Because I studied zoology in college, I don’t often get grossed out by gruesome medical details. For instance, I didn’t mind reading about how typhoid bacteria attack the body. What bothered me was thinking about how the disease spreads. As one scientist wrote in the early 1900s: “Dirt, diarrhea and dinner too often get sadly confused.” You can bet I wash my hands before eating and cooking! And in a restaurant, I hope the chef does, too.
What is your research routine?
That depends on the topic. In general, I start by looking for primary sources, such as autobiographies, accounts of events written by witnesses, and government records. I read well-researched books and articles about the subject, written by professional historians and scientists. By checking out their bibliographies, I find other sources. While I’m doing my research, I keep a running list of questions I need answered. I save those for the experts I interview.
What is the most asked question from your readers?
“Why did you become a writer?”
Answer: Because ever since I was 7 or 8, I’ve enjoyed using the written word to communicate my thoughts and ideas. I write nonfiction because I love learning about new subjects and sharing my knowledge with others, particularly young people.
What is most interesting about writing for this age group (Middle School/High School)?
I used to teach science to this age group. I like that these readers understand more complex subjects and think about ideas more deeply than much younger students do. That opens many exciting and intriguing possibilities for my writing projects. Since I want readers to be as excited and intrigued by a subject as I am, I challenge myself to write the best book I can.
About the author:
Gail Jarrow is the award-winning author of nonfiction books for upper elementary through high school ages. A former science teacher, she likes to choose subjects for her books that combine history and science.
She lives in Ithaca, New York. Visit her at Website | Facebook
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