Author Cheryl Schuermann drops by the blog today to talk about her debut middle grade novel, A Boy Called Preacher, which comes out in just a few days!
Shaping Fiction with Memories
by Cheryl Schuermann
What do a cellar door, jackrabbits, and a water jug have in common?
As a child, I sometimes sat on the cellar door at the side of my grandmother’s Kansas farmhouse. Occasionally, my father joined me. Once, in a rare moment of talking about his childhood, he told me about how many times he sat on that cellar door. From this spot, he would survey the farmyard, the barn, and the wheat fields beyond and wonder how he was going to manage it all. His sense of responsibility formed at an early age. He was only eight when his father abandoned the family on the farm.
My dad told me how he shot jackrabbits for the war effort during World War II. For him, this was a way to make extra money as each jackrabbit turned in to the general store netted him fifty cents and a shell to go get another one. “Only one shell?” I had asked him. I recall him grinning, “Yeah, I had to be a really good shot.” The jackrabbits were invaluable to the war effort by providing fur for soldiers’ gloves and glycerin for the production of nitroglycerin.
My dad’s water jug is now one of my treasures. If this crock jug could talk, it would speak of countless hours on the tractor after school and during the summers. It would tell tales of plowing at night under the glow of the moon and stars. It would tell of hearing the night sounds–the owls, the coyotes, and the small critters scurrying to escape them.
I had often thought my first novel would be middle grade, inspired by my father’s childhood. I only had bits and pieces of his memories as he did not speak much about his childhood. But I had the image and experience of the cellar door, the jackrabbit stories, and the crock jug now living at my own farmhouse.
No matter how limited the memories or how brief the experiences, they can form the base for creating story—inspired fiction. Even without many details, the emotion, the yearnings, the sense of helplessness, the confidence and drive to keep going in the face of adversity can be easy to see.
About the story …
Johnny “Preacher” Wilcox never expected to be in charge of a wheat farm at the age of twelve. When his father mysteriously leaves the family during the height of World War II, Preacher is left with unanswered questions, a broken tractor, wheat land to plow, and the threat of losing the farm’s water supply. And, to top it off, Preacher needs the help of the meanest tractor mechanic in all of Kansas.
The opportunity arises for Preacher and his best friend, Earl Floyd, to shoot jackrabbits for the War Effort. They jump on the chance to earn extra money. Earl Floyd usually spends his money at the soda fountain. Preacher must save his for more tractor repairs he knows will come.
A stranger working his way to Nebraska stops in town for a few days. Preacher meets him and discovers Hank Brown knew his father. Preacher hopes Hank will stay and sees him as a possible farm hand and tractor mechanic but receives something more important–information about his father’s past.
Preacher discovers the reason the farm pond is drying up and believes Earl Floyd has betrayed him. Their friendship ends. Preacher feels hopeless, convinced adversity will only bring defeat. Determined to solve his own problems, Preacher not only becomes a fair tractor mechanic, but starts digging out an old well by himself. By persevering and working hard, he discovers adversity can also bring bravery and strength.
Readers will walk this journey with Preacher as he discovers the lessons of perseverance and hard work, friendship, faithfulness, and forgiveness. They will root for Preacher and Earl Floyd as they navigate their relationship. And, they will see Preacher grow up before their eyes.
When students read A Boy Called Preacher, I especially want them to feel they have found new friends in Preacher, Earl Floyd, and Deke, the best dog in Kansas.
After immersing themselves in Preacher’s adventures, I hope to hear readers ask their teacher or librarian, “Do you have another Preacher book?”
To that, I say, “Coming!”
Cheryl Schuermann, a career educator and Literacy Consultant, now writes full-time for children. Cheryl will have two debut releases in 2020. In addition to A Boy Called Preacher, her picture book Gwyneth Came to Dance will be available Fall 2020. Cheryl’s current work-in-progress is All Roads Home, the sequel to A Boy Called Preacher. Cheryl lives in Oklahoma with her illustrator husband, Stan.