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Child Out of Place


The first edition of this children’s novel sold out. A second self-published edition is now in print. To honor that occassion we asked author Pat Wall to tell us what she has learned about writing, lecturing, publishing and marketing. Also included is out original interview on the release of her book about an enslaved girl growing up in an 18th century New Hampshire seaport.



READL Slaves in the Warner House
READ: Our original interview with Pat Wall

Child Out of Place: A Story for New England is Pat Wall’s first book. As a former tour guide at Strawbery Banke and at the Warner House where the story takes place, Pat came to know Portsmouth history. But there were stories still untold, she says. Then a voice began to whisper to her from the past, sending the author on a journey to places she had never imagined. Combining fact with fiction, Pat Wall created Matty, an enslaved girl living in a New Hampshire seaport at the turn of the 19th century. The resulting novel for children is illustrated by Debby Ronnquist who created some of the first imagined images of colonial African-American life in Portsmouth, NH. We asked Pat Wall about her experiences as an historian and first time author.

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By Pat Wall on self publishing

Child out of placeTo write a book is to stick one’s neck out. To self-publish a book is to stick it way out. But, so far, I haven’t heard the whisper of an ax. On the contrary, my novel, CHILD OUT OF PLACE: A Story for New England, has been finding a warm welcome in this seacoast region and, increasingly at locations around the country.

No, it doesn’t qualify as a best seller, but the first printing of 2,200 copies is gone and I’ve done a small reprint run. And I finally got sensible and signed up with Now, if I could just find a commercial publisher to buy rights in the book, I could devote all my time to getting a sequel down on paper. It seems my character, Matty, is eager to tell more stories about her family.

Though CHILD is a work of historical fiction, it apparently is achieving its goal of opening people’s eyes to a long neglected chapter in the history of enslaved Africans – the New England chapter. The most frequent response I hear from readers (especially adults and teachers) is -- "I had no idea there were slaves in New England."

Since November 2003 when Portsmouth’s Seacoast African American Cultural Center kindly debuted the book, I’ve done a number of store signings, talked with various groups, taken part in a teachers’ seminar and visited with over 1700 students (3rd – 6th graders) in New Hampshire and southern Maine. At each classroom visit, before we talked about the book, I asked kids to tell me what they knew about the era of slavery. Always, they told me about the Civil War and slavery in the South. Then they talked about the "neat" stories they’d read about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Invariably, some youngster would pipe up that he was certain his house was part of that because "there’s this funny closet in the attic" (or cellar). I can only hope that my book might serve to alter the schools’ outmoded curricula, one that still leaves children with the impression that New Englanders were the "good guys" and that slavery only happened down South.

In some schools where I visited, students were already familiar with my book so discussion flowed delightfully. In other schools I had to lay a bit of groundwork and read a chapter or so, but soon discussion became just as lively. Often we ended up talking about prejudice and ways to overcome it. Such discussions and hearing student feedback about CHILD was wonderful. My day was often "made" when a youngster said he "could feel what Matty felt" or felt as if she were "with Matty in that old house in Portsmouth."

Whenever I agree to visit a school, I do not go with the intent of selling books because it isn’t fair to pressure the kids. However, if any are sold, I always donate 40% of any sales to the school library or PTA fund. I have the same give-back policy for lectures to non-profit organizations and, unless I have to travel more than 40 miles from home, I don’t ask for a small expense fee.

From Child Out of Place (c) Pat Wall



Marketing a self-published book, getting reviewers, book dealers and such beyond this seacoast region to give it any consideration was (and still is) the toughest part of all. And I do understand why, what with the constant flow of new books seeking attention. Floodgates and gatekeepers are in place everywhere. However, I did manage to place my book in quite a few New England stores and museum shops beyond Portsmouth. Occasionally, it seemed that prejudice factored into a rejection. A few store owners said they didn’t think the people who came to their store would buy this book. One came right out and said there weren’t many black people who came to his store.

But, as my Mother often said, "You got to learn to take the bad with the good." Most rebuffs haven’t bothered me that much, though there was one that still stings. It involved the children’s division of the New York Public Library. My book had been forwarded to them by an African American organization in the City. When I called NYPL to inquire if they’d received it, the person in charge told me, "Oh yes, we got it, but we just threw it out because we only consider books which come from well known publishers."

And so it goes. And yes, I plan to keep on keeping on. For those who might care to read them, I’ve still got stories that need telling.

ALSO: Black Portsmouth by Cunningham and Sammons

CONTINUE to read our INTERVEW with author PAT WALL

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