Fiction Fest: Q&A with ‘Whisper Island’ author, Anola Pickett

Anola PickettSet on a fictional island in North Carolina, “Whisper Island” tells the story of spunky 12-year-old Primmy Hopkins, who dreams of joining the U.S. Life-Saving Service when she grows up. She wants to rescue shipwreck victims from the treacherous Atlantic waters, just like Pa and her brother. As friends and family remind her, there’s one problem: in 1913, no females are allowed into the Service.

The book’s author, Anola Pickett, recently took the time to field a few questions in our Fiction Fest hot seat.

Before we get started with that, you should be aware of the fact that you can purchase “Whisper Island” right now in bookstores and online on,, and

And now back to the interview.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I discovered the joy of writing down stories when I was in the third grade and finished my “seat work” early. I learned that bending over my desk and creating words on paper was an effective defense against getting more work.

How did “Whisper Island” come to literary life?Whisper Island 2x3

The first time I visited the Outer Banks several years ago I went to a park ranger program about the shipwrecks along the coast there and about the work of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. Those men (and they were all men!) went out in every imaginable kind of weather and peril to rescue crew and passengers from sinking ships. One story in particular got me started on the journey that ended in “Whisper Island.”

What’s the most joy writing has brought you?

It would have to be the joy of bringing readers a story from the past about an important issue or event. I enjoy visiting with readers about a part of American history that they knew little about.

What is your writing routine like?

I try to write every day, but it’s usually in snatches. An hour or so before I go to the Y to swim or to my critique group or a volunteer job at my church. Then an hour or two after lunch. I try to write a chapter draft each week. On Fridays I print it out and go over the hard copy at a neighborhood coffee shop. I find it easier to revise with a printed page, at least for the first few drafts.

What is your current work in progress?

I’m currently working on a middle-grade novel set in Kansas City during World War I. The main character this time is a boy and he has many things to figure out about the war both overseas and in his own neighborhood. The working title is “The Private Wars of G.P. Callahan.”

What is the hardest aspect of being a published author?

The most difficult aspect for me is marketing. It’s been very hard for me to learn how to use social media to my advantage. I’m getting better, but I have a long way to go. I’d like to just retreat to my writing corner and write, but I know that’s not a very realistic approach if I want anyone to read my work!

Which author has had the biggest influence on your writing style?

I admire many writers for different things. I think Robert B. Parker was a master at using dialogue for revealing character, providing information and advancing the plot—all the things dialogue is supposed to do. James Lee Burke is so skilled at describing place that I feel as if I’m in the setting. Anne Tyler draws on the quirkiness of human nature to weave her stories. My hero of juvenile historical fiction is, without a doubt, Richard Peck. He draws young readers into another time and place and helps them examine some serious issues and somehow balances it all with a wonderful sense of humor.

What about you would readers find most surprising?

I can wiggle my ears!

Who inspires you most?

Many people in my life have inspired me, but I have always looked to my maternal grandmother as a model to follow. She had a very hard life but was never bitter or resentful. She was open to life and people–a woman of great faith and determination and I try to hold her spirit within me.

What advice would you like to offer aspiring novelists?

Keep writing, no matter what. Remember that you have stories to tell that no one else can tell. Believe in yourself, your talent and the value of what you have to say to the world.