What inspired you to be an author?
I was a Type A writer who needed a Plan B.
I’d been working as a news reporter when a medical condition forced me to give up this sleep-deprived lifestyle. I enjoyed my new job as a desk-bound editor, yet that special magic was missing—the reaching out to others with words that can inspire new ways of thinking and feeling.
Then, a few months later, I had a serendipitous encounter that changed my life.
My husband and I were house hunting when our Realtor, in an apparent non sequitur, turned around and asked, “Did you know coded quilts might have played a role in the Underground Railroad?”
The idea sounded so intriguing, I began researching the subject. I was instantly hooked and soon had pages of notes. When my husband suggested I take what I’d learned and use it as the inspiration for my first book, I knew I’d found the right way for me to still be a writer—even though at first I was intimidated about writing something 80,000 words long!
Why did you write this book?
When I was in sixth grade, a teacher came up to me and grabbed the book I was reading out of my hands. It was Bette Greene’s 1975 Newberry winner Philip Hall Likes Me. I Reckon Maybe, and the cover featured a smiling black girl.
“Hmph!” the teacher snorted, as she let go of my dog-eared paperback. “I hope the boy she likes is black too.”
My jaw dropped. Even though my family and I had moved from Chicago to the mid-South two years earlier, I still hadn’t gotten used to comments like this. The school I attended was segregated, and you knew which families were loyal to the Ku Klux Klan.
Writing this book was my way of trying to make sense of hate crimes and racial prejudice—crimes that are still occurring today both in our country and throughout the world. It’s also about victims having the strength and courage—both individually and collectively—to rise above oppression.
How did you come up with the title?
The Underground Gift started off as my working title. I still love it, because it alludes to the gift that is within all of us, that strength to overcome troubling times.
How did you choose your genre?
Historical fiction and mysteries fill my bookshelves, so I combined the two to write edgy historical novels. I also decided to write books that would appeal to young adults as well as older readers, because teens have the passion and energy to make a difference. They’re also at a crossroad in their lives when it comes to deciding whether to be part of the solution regarding hate crimes and racial prejudice.
What were you doing before going into writing?
In addition to being a news reporter and editor, I’ve also spent several years as a public relations specialist, which has been an enormous help as I prepare and start working a marketing plan for The Underground Gift.
Thank you very much, Nas, for inviting me to be here today. It’s an honor to be on such a highly respected blog.
MORE ABOUT THE BOOK AND MICHELLE
In one of the most notorious pro-slavery towns on the Kansas–Missouri border, sadistic Bushwhacker Benjamin Michaelson becomes fixated with destroying two teens who come under his control—Josepha, a slave acquired as payment for a gambling debt whom he despises for her beauty, and Reeca Fitzgerald, the daughter of a New England abolitionist who refuses to marry him and who he suspects is following in her father’s footsteps.
When Reeca encourages Josepha to help conceal coded messages in quilts for those riding the Underground Railroad, both of their lives will be caught up in a web of fear and revenge when Josepha attempts to solve a mystery only hinted at by her former mistress.