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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Beyond The Orphan Train

I'm really glad to welcome Donna N. Aviles back for another visit.  Her books, FLY LITTLE BIRD, FLY, BEYOND THE ORPHAN TRAIN and PEANUT BUTTER FOR CUPCAKES tell the true story of Oliver, an Orphan Train Rider.  If you haven't yet read these books, you really are missing out.  Be sure to go to Donna's website and her blog to read more. 

Hi, Donna.  We're awfully glad to have you back to share more of Oliver's story with us.  We're looking forward to hearing more about the many adventures Oliver had and the lessons he learned as a result.  Please get comfortable in my big comfy chair and have some cookies and hot cocoa while we visit.  I also took the liberty of bringing in a bowl of some of the candies your grandad always kept available. Please, have some and enjoy yourself.  The bowl is never empty.

Donna, I seem to recall that the candies your grampa' kept on hand were small mints, but I'm not certain that I remember correctly.  Could you help me out, here?  Thanks.

Donna:  I can’t remember the name of them but they are about the size of a nickel but taller and they are pink…they come in white too but Oliver always had pink :-)  Anyone know the name of that mint????

Yaya:  When you started writing Oliver's story, you only planned on writing one book.  You mentioned that reader's reactions actually helped you to realize there was still more that needed to be written.  Would you mind expounding on that subject for us, a little bit?

Donna:  Mostly what readers were concerned with was Edward’s welfare and whether or not Oliver is able to find him.  The story left them wanting more.

Yaya:  My feelings about Edward were that, in prison of all places, he was finally able to meet people who treated him with the respect that every person deserves.  Did you ever get to meet Edward?  If so, what was your impression of him?

Donna:  I’d have to say you’re right about that, unfortunately.  Other than Oliver of course.  I never met Edward.  He died in July of 1958 – I was born in May of that same year.  Sadly we do not even have a picture of him.  My father and uncle described him as a quiet man who found enjoyment in books.  He undoubtedly carried a lot of scars.

Yaya:  Have you ever thought about expanding your stories or adding to the set by writing about Edward or some of the other family relationships?  I can just imagine how colorful and informative such a story would be.  You do have a remarkable story-voice.  Your approach has been incredibly fun to read.

Donna:  Yes. I have considered re-writing the first 2 books on an adult reading level with an expanded story for Edward.  That portion of the book would be mostly fiction, however, and that is what’s holding me back.  These books are narrative non-fiction and I’m pretty sure they are going to stay that way.

Yaya:  In your second book, BEYOND THE ORPHAN TRAIN, we see how Oliver met Estella, who would eventually become his bride.  Considering Estella's age when she met Oliver and Oliver's apparent shyness, do you suppose this was the only romantic involvement either of them ever had?

Donna:  Yes, that is the presumption.  Oliver never talked about any girls or interest in girls prior to meeting and talking with Estella on the train to Elmira.  He really didn’t even know HOW to talk to her.  Since Estella was just 15, she probably did not have any boyfriends prior to Oliver.  Estella actually traveled as a young girl with her mother to the pacific northwest where her mother worked as a cook in a logging camp.  We have her diary from the trip.

Yaya:  After Estella passed away, did Oliver ever come close to remarrying?

Donna:  No, never.  He did have an occasional girlfriend here and there that the boys remember but he never considered marriage again.

Yaya:  Donna, there are so many angles from which you could approach your writing.  The whole Orphan Train era carries with it an air of mystery and intrigue.  How would you feel about writing fiction? Personally, I would love to see your imagination take wing and fly.  It seems that you have researched and know so much about the Orphan Trains that you could write almost anything and present it in an interesting way.  So, whaddya' think?  Will we ever get to see the stories of Edward and some of the others, from a creative aspect?

Donna:  Probably not. There are many very good fiction books that take place during the Orphan Train  Movement. I wrote these stories to honor Oliver, his involvement in this piece of American history, and the type of life he ended up living, having come from such difficult beginnings.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t write a different book that was a work of fiction though.

Yaya:  In your travels, have you come across many people who were the adopting parents of Orphan Train Riders?  What kinds of reactions, if any, have you heard to the actual adopting?  I know there were some who truly wanted to love and help one or more children.  Will you share what you have learned?

Donna:  Given the time period of the orphan train movement, it would be nearly impossible to find someone who took in a child from the trains.  The last train ran in 1929 which would make the youngest rider – if he/she was an infant when they rode – 81 years old.  A foster parent of that child would be near 100.  A large majority of the children who rode the trains through the Children’s Aid Society were not, in fact, adopted by the people who took them in.  It was more of a foster care arrangement with the parents signing indenture papers.  The children who rode the Baby Trains sent out from the NY Foundling Home were much more likely to be adopted.  Thoughts on this vary, but one main reason is that they were actually REQUESTED by the family prior to leaving NYC.  Add to that that they were always young…under the age of five, and that explains a lot.

Yaya:  Donna, do you have a work in progress, now?

Donna:  Only in my head I’m afraid.  I really loved writing from a social history viewpoint in these three books and am always on the lookout for other individuals who lived through extraordinary times.  I also have considered writing a book about raising a child with severe disabilities.  It would be of a humorous nature but also strive to let those who have no exposure to people with disabilities realize that our lives are not so different from yours – we just have a different definition of “normal” that we live every day.  We have a secret that I would like to share with everyone who looks the other way when they see us in the mall, or makes the comment, “oh that’s so sad, or oh that must be so hard.”  But it’s a secret – if I write the book you’ll learn what it is-lol!  Sorry, I got off track.  This is about the orphan trains.  :-)

Yaya:  No problem.  I hope you'll write that book.  And now, Donna, I've saved my most curious and exciting question for last.  I see on your blog post that you have begun doing Author Visits to classes by way of Skype.  How did you come up with this idea?

Donna:  Quite by accident! I received an email request from a teacher in Ramsey NJ (which is in the northern most, very congested part of NJ) that I didn’t actually want to travel to.  BUT….I promised myself years ago that I would let this story take me wherever it wanted to go, so I replied that I would come (but quoted a very high price, and said I would need overnight lodging, hoping that he would turn me down).  Having just observed my daughter having a “SKYPE chat” with members of her mock trial team during a snowstorm which kept them out of school, I foolishly ended my conversation with this teacher saying, “Or we could do it via SKYPE for $100.00.”  (I didn’t really know what SKYPE was, I was just trying not to have to travel to Northern NJ!)

The teacher, however, knew all about SKYPE and replied, “Oh that would be great! I could write that check myself!  Let’s go with that!  The students could view you on the white board with your PowerPoint projected next to you, it will be great!”  Mind you….I had NO IDEA that this included video in anyway.  BUT, I answered, “Oh yeah, it will be great! Let me get something to you in writing and we’ll go from there.”

THEN….I proceeded to stall him until I could find out just what I had gotten myself into!  I learned that SKYPE is a way to call people over the internet and that it is free…that was lucky.  AND I learned that to see one another I would need a webcam.  Further research told me what webcam to buy for the quality I would need, I bought it on Amazon and proceeded to learn how to use it before I emailed the teacher back.

In the process of researching SKYPE I found a website called that was an actual clearing house if you will, of authors who do webcam/SKYPE presentations.  So…NOTHING VENTURED, NOTHING GAINED….I signed up, put together a page, and already have a SECOND webcam presentation lined up for May 17th with a class in Illinois!

Yaya:  Please tell us what needs to be done from our end so that we can have you visit a classroom in our area.

Donna:  The school would need the equipment to project the video onto a large screen or whiteboard, microphones of course, and the computer equipment necessary.  What I am finding out is that even schools in low budget districts often have what’s needed.  It may well be the future of Author Visits to schools since it is so cost efficient compared to actually having the author come to the school….especially if the author has travel expenses to get there.

Yaya:  Being a writer, myself, I am well-aware of how involved family members can be in writing projects.  With that in mind, how involved is your family with your writing?

Donna:  Not so much involved with the writing but they are certainly helpful with their opinions and input with regards to marketing.  I just had a company develop a Book Trailer for the first 2 books and family members are giving their input and ideas to improve it before I send back the draft.

Yaya:  Thank you so much, Donna, for the wonderful answers you have given and for sharing so much of yourself with us, today.  I must say, I continue to learn more about this curious era in American History.  Of course, we're looking forward to our next visit with you when you return to talk about the third book in your series, PEANUT BUTTER FOR CUPCAKES.  You've truly been a wonderful guest.

Thank YOU Yaya!  I am looking forward to our next chat – all about Oliver’s children and the Great Depression!  See you then.  :-)

     I can't say enough about these books.  And Donna is such a fun and inspiring person.  You will want to experience this piece of American history, told in her words.  Its remarkable what a human being can live through and still have such a positive attitude.  Donna N. Aviles, an author whose books you will not want to put down.

     Until the next time, keep a hug on.



My name is PJ. said...

Excellent interview, Joany! I love the use of Skype for author visits! That's awesome!

Lynette said...

Guess what? Your an award winner. Yeah, You!
No not the one in the back...but you, right here in front! Go and pick it up at:

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