It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Jenni L. Walsh, the author of
BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES
Sybil Ludington believes in the legend of fireflies—they appear when you need them most. But it’s not until her family is thrust into the dangers of the Revolutionary War, and into George Washington’s spy ring, that Sybil experiences firefly magic for herself—guiding her through the darkness, empowering her to figure out who she’s supposed to be and how strong she really is—as she delivers her imperative message and warns against a British attack.
BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES is the captivating tale of a young girl’s journey as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a spy, and eventually a war hero, completing a midnight ride that cements her place in history as the “female Paul Revere.”
Let’s talk to this lovely author about her excellent book!
This is Jenni. Everyone say, “Hi, Jenni!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Jenni! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!
Thank you for having me! I’m coming to you from outside of Philadelphia, where we’ve just gotten our first bit of frost and my kids are already multiple pages into their lists for Santa. When I’m not wrangling said kids, I’m usually found at my desk. By the Light of Fireflies is my eighth book and I’m thankful for my job every single day.
What was the inspiration behind BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES?
It was truly an honor to write this novel about Sybil Ludington, a little known Revolutionary War heroine. She’s often known as the “female Paul Revere” but she rode twice as far, was half Paul Revere’s age, and completed her own midnight ride all by herself. *Mic drop*
This feat was so spectacular and unbelievable that some people believe her ride was nothing more than a story. But I believe that Sybil accomplished something magical, just like the Sybil in my story believes in the magic of fireflies, and that on April 26, 1777 she truly made a daring ride to warn of an attack by the British.
I also had the opportunity to expand on Sybil’s story. She was more than the “female Paul Revere.” Sybil was a spy (yes, for George Washington!), a sister (sooo many siblings), a daughter, a friend, and someone who broke the mold for young girls of her time. I hope you enjoy Sybil’s story as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Wow! It sounds like she was an incredible person!
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES?
As mentioned, Sybil was involved in George Washignton’s spy ring and learning more about the spying techniques, such as how to make invisible ink and their system of sending/receiving codes was quite interesting. Something else interesting I unearthed is that fireflies (I know many of us also call them lightning bugs) are neither a bug or a fly. They’re actually beetles. Talk about being mis-characteristized!
Beetles?! Who knew?
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
I present Sybil as a young woman who pushes the gender boundaries of her time. I think she’d enjoy being in a contemporary novel where she’s more free to be who she wants to be. In a historical setting, I could see Sybil enjoying playing the part of Pinkerton agent Kate Warne’s niece in The Detective’s Assistant.
Let’s talk book research! You’ve written quite a bit of historical fiction. What are your best tips for keeping your research organized? And how do you know when it’s time to stop researching and start writing?
I’ve recently begun writing in Scrivener and it’s been life changing. I used to have multiple word documents–novel timeline, era timeline, notes, deleted content, chapter summaries–that I’d jump between. Now it’s all in one place and it’s a beautiful thing. I usually research until I have a general sense of the who, what, where, when, how of my story. By this point, I’ve usually found my voice and I’m eager to use it. I do quite a bit of research as I’m writing, too.
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
I write for both adults and children. Adult books are sometimes twice as long as middle grade books. But what I love about middle grade novels is that you aren’t getting any less of a story. It’s just that middle grade novels pack a punch in fewer pages.
Any hints about your next book project?
I’ll give a huge hint! My next book is called Over and Out and it will be released in March of 2022 🙂 It’s the story of a young girl named Sophie who was born, raised, and who feels trapped on the east side of the Berlin Wall. Sophie has always dreamed of more for herself than East Berlin can give her. She wants to be an inventor. So, naturally, Sophie and her best friend try to invent a way over and out.
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
Well, I never had aspirations to be a novelist. As a child, I enjoyed reading and I enjoyed writing, but that was the extent of it. But then my life winded me to a time and place where the thought of writing a novel was put in my head. It’s been about ten years and I’ve never looked back.
What are you reading right now?
I’ve just begun an audiobook of The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (an adult book). The story’s still building, but so far I can say the narrator is excellent!
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
Keep going. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep doing. My journey hasn’t always been easy, but if I would’ve given up (and boy did I have that thought once or twice), then By the Light of Fireflies never would’ve come to be, and I really love this book!
I hope everyone takes that advice to heart!
Thank you for joining us, Jenni!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out BY THE LIGHT OF FIREFLIES!
It’s on shelves now!
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Contest closes Wednesday, November 10th at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading!