Please join me in welcoming Michelle Shocklee to the blog today to talk about her new novel Under the Tulip Tree, which released this week from Tyndale House!
Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at michelleshocklee.com.
UNDER THE TULIP TREE
GENRE: Inspirational Historical Fiction / Dual Timeline
PUBLISHER: Tyndale House
RELEASE DATE: September 8, 2020
Sixteen-year-old Lorena Leland’s dreams of a rich and fulfilling life as a writer are dashed when the stock market crashes in 1929. Seven years into the Great Depression, Rena’s banker father has retreated into the bottle, her sister is married to a lazy charlatan and gambler, and Rena is an unemployed newspaper reporter. Eager for any writing job, Rena accepts a position interviewing former slaves for the Federal Writers’ Project. There, she meets Frankie Washington, a 101-year-old woman whose honest yet tragic past captivates Rena.
As Frankie recounts her life as a slave, Rena is horrified to learn of all the older woman has endured—especially because Rena’s ancestors owned slaves. While Frankie’s story challenges Rena’s preconceptions about slavery, it also connects the two women whose lives are otherwise separated by age, race, and circumstances. But will this bond of respect, admiration, and friendship be broken by a revelation neither woman sees coming?
Hi Michelle! Welcome to the blog!
Michelle: Winter! I was born and raised in Santa Fe, NM, with glorious mountains, fluffy snow, and all four fabulous seasons. I married a Texan in 1987 and spent the next thirty years in Texas before we moved to Tennessee. While both of these states are beautiful in their own way, I really miss my Rocky Mountain winters.
Carrie: yes! We are kindred spirits when it comes to winter!
Michelle: Can I choose chocolate milk? 😊 I do enjoy peach iced tea, but I’m not a coffee drinker.
Carrie: Yes you can absolutely choose chocolate milk… because now I want some too lol
Michelle: Over. Unfortunately, hubby is an under. After thirty-three years of marriage, we’ve called a truce and are just thankful we have toilet paper, especially after the COVID-induced shortage.
Carrie: hahaha that’s a great perspective 🙂
Michelle: My husband teases me because I love a room-temperature bologna sandwich. It takes me back to my school days when Daddy would pack a bologna sandwich in my Snoopy lunchbox (which I still have in my office) along with a baggie of potato chips and half of a Little Debbie brownie. Mmm!
Carrie: awww what a sweet memory! (And I used to love fried bologna sandwiches as a kid)
Q: Around here I like to say that reading is my superpower. If YOU had a superpower, what would it be?
Michelle: Since napping doesn’t sound like much of a superpower, I’ll say Researching. Research breathes life into my historical novels. In Under the Tulip Tree, the character of Frankie is based on the true stories of former enslaved people who were interviewed by employees of the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s. Many of the events that form her story are events that were taken from the slave narratives. These narratives were recorded seventy years after the Civil War ended, so the storytellers were in their eighties, nineties, and one hundreds. Without the narratives, I wouldn’t have had the chance to “sit” at their feet and “hear” them tell me their life’s story, which is exactly how I felt reading through the firsthand accounts of life in slavery.
I also enjoy research trips. Thankfully, my husband is a willing field-trip buddy and chauffeur, so we’ve visited many of the sites in and around Nashville that are mentioned in the book. Fort Negley is probably my favorite, mainly because I can envision the contraband camp, the soldier camp, and the Union warships that lined the banks of the Cumberland River in December 1864.
Carrie: Hey, I think napping is a perfectly respectable superpower lol – but so is research 🙂
Q: Other than the Bible, what are five of your most cherished books?
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. One of my most treasured memories is of my mom reading it aloud to my sister and me. I still have that book on my shelf.
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Although this book was published in 1852, reading it in the 1990s changed me forever.
- Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Such a powerful story and beautiful testimony, written by one of my favorite people.
- I Was Born in Slavery: Personal Accounts of Slavery in Texas. This little research book is always on my desk or nightstand. It even goes on vacation with me. It opened my eyes and my heart, and I will never be the same.
- My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers is a timeless and utterly transforming devotional book that was given to me many years ago by my parents.
Carrie: I have had books open my eyes and heart in the same way – and there’s no turning back, is there? Even if we don’t act on the change it prompts, we can’t ever go back to ‘not knowing’
Q: Writing spaces are as diverse as authors and books. Where is your favorite space to write?
Michelle: My home office. It’s filled with so many of my favorite things. There are pictures of my husband and our two sons, and some of my parents and sister. Posters of my book covers, as well as some of my own artwork, grace the walls. Lots of treasured mementos from life are scattered here and there. A bookcase holds my many research books, favorite novels, and various Bible translations, as well as my lighted globe and an antique typewriter that reminds me how blessed I am to write my books on a laptop computer (even if said computer often gives me fits!). When I write, I mainly sit at my desk, but I also have a rocking chair by the window. A CD of soft instrumental music plays in the background while lavender incense fills the room with deliciousness. We recently moved into a 1920s farmhouse, and my upstairs “writing window” looks out over acres of pastureland, a little river, and hills in the distance. If I can’t get inspired here, I’m in trouble.
Carrie: oh i love that!!
Q: Which character in Under the Tulip Tree was the most difficult to write?
Michelle: As a woman of mixed heritage—my father’s family is Hispanic and my mother’s roots go back to Germany—I’m well acquainted with diversity, yet writing Frankie’s story, the story of an older black woman, in first person was incredibly challenging. That’s where the slave narratives came in. I wanted Frankie to tell me her story in the same way real former enslaved people told their stories to FWP writers in the 1930s. They didn’t wallow in the horrors they’d endured, but simply told their life’s story—both good and bad—and that was what I tried to let Frankie do.
One of the most important pieces of Frankie’s story—her hand—developed after I found a black-and-white picture of an elderly woman archived with the slave narratives. This unnamed woman is sitting on the porch of a cabin in Mississippi. She’s looking out, away from the photographer, with one hand resting in her lap while her other is pressed against her lips. I’d looked at that picture dozens of times before I saw something that took my breath away. The hand resting in her lap is quite deformed, with large knuckles and a missing digit. “What happened to her hand?” I gasped. That heartfelt question, brought on by a seventy-year old picture, changed the book.
Carrie: That reminds me of the saying ‘A picture is worth a thousand words…’ Her story sounds powerful
Q: What do you most want readers to take away from Under The Tulip Tree?
Michelle: I hope readers of Under the Tulip Tree come away with a deeper appreciation for the stories of others, especially people with a background unlike their own. We’re all created in God’s image, and because of that truth, we truly are more alike than we are different. Frankie entrusted her story to Rena in the same way former slaves entrusted their stories to FWP writers. My hope, as well as my personal goal, is that we’ll all become better listeners, because everyone has a story to tell. I’d love to hear yours!
Carrie: so very true & so well said!
Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me! 🙂 Before we say goodbye for today, tell us what‘s coming up next for you.
Michelle: I’m currently working on a new time-slip novel, also set in Nashville. However, like a lot of authors, I’ve found it difficult to focus during the crazy months of COVID quarantine, and I’m not as far into the story as I’d like. We also moved recently, which gets harder and harder the older I get. I’m pretty sure there is still an unpacked box somewhere with most of my brain cells in it. But I’m hoping to have this new book to my publisher soon, so stay tuned!
Carrie: oh I feel your pain about moving – we are in the process of moving to a different state and I think I packed my brain cells somewhere in one of the first boxes lol
Tyndale House is offering a print copy of Under the Tulip Tree to one of my readers! (continental US only. Void where prohibited by law or logistics.) This giveaway is subject to Reading Is My SuperPower’s giveaway policies which can be found here. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below.
What about you? What makes you want to read Under the Tulip Tree by Michelle Shocklee?