Sunday, June 13, 2010
Shar MacLaren & Robin Shope Interview
Two Different Authors with Two Different Viewpoints write about the 75 Year Social Experiment Known As The Orphan Train.
Maggie Rose by Sharlene MacLaren
Ruby Red by Robin Jansen Shope
Few people realize that 30,000 homeless children roamed the streets of New York City from the mid-1800s through the 1930s. Death and disease were heaped upon poverty and overcrowding, causing thousands of children to be abandoned and left to fend for themselves. Adding to the malaise, boatloads of European immigrants flooded our shores and soon succumbed to the same adversities, leaving thousands of their children parentless. Accounts have been written of the Orphan Train that carried white-skinned children into the heartland of America to find new families. For some it was a gift; for others it ended with tragedy. Many children were loved and cherished while others suffered at the hands of cruel caretakers and were little more than slaves or servants.
Sharlene: Here is a snapshot of my early life, which influences me to this day. I grew up in the small town of Twin Lake, Michigan. When I say small I mean we had one gas station, a post office, a tavern/restaurant, a lumberyard, and two grocery stores whose owners were ALWAYS at odds (enemies perhaps?) because of the competition. Townsfolk were either loyal Oslunds’ grocery shoppers or Powells. (You couldn’t be both. Ha!) My family went to Powells’ because my mom swore they had a better meat selection!
My parents were devout Christians. When those Wesleyan Methodist Church doors opened, our family of five (I have two older brothers) walked through them, Sunday mornings, evenings, midweek prayer meetings, and annual revivals. Sundays were kept holy, as in, um, no swimming—unless I took a bar of soap with me in which case I was going down to the lake to “take a bath”. (grins) That was acceptable. However, no jumping off the end of the dock or acting rowdy!
My parents did have some rigid rules when it came to their belief system, I suppose, but they ruled with tremendous grace and mercy. In fact, they loved us kids with amazing tenderness and care. There was always a good deal of joking, teasing, and laughter in our home, lots of it. (I acquired my sense of humor from my dad.)
We had very little in the way of material possessions. After all, I grew up in the 50s and 60s, and the country was still suffering through a long, grueling recovery from the Great Depression. But I don’t recall feeling especially deprived, forget that we had an outhouse till I was at least 10—just loved and free and secure. When I was a little kid, Dad worked in a factory then switched to head custodian at a Muskegon elementary school when I was a young teen. While I was in second grade, my mom took a job in the Twin Lake Post Office. I remember feeling so PROUD that MY mom had a “real job” while my friends’ moms didn’t. No insecurity on my part! She was such a loving, generous, fun person; a very strong influence in my life.
I grew up in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of a former bootlegger who, by the time of my birth, owned a respectable nightclub, The Ivanhoe Restaurant. My Christian mother was twenty years his junior. Dad had disguised himself as a Christian man, covering up his swearing, drinking, and womanizing ways for two months while he wooed my mother by taking her to church. As soon as that ring was placed on her finger, and vows were spoken, Dad became Dad again and picked up his former ways. I am the middle child of that union.
I loved to hear his stories about running away from home at the age of eleven. He worked his way to Texas where he learned to break horses and pick cotton. Traveling further south, he ran into Poncho Villa (honest) and rode with him for a while. He didn’t like what the bandit did, so Dad returned to Texas and joined the Texas Rangers until WWII broke out and he joined the army. When the war ended, Dad lived with his brother in Chicago and started a tavern at the same time prohibition hit. Not to be deterred from their new adventure, they turned the tavern into a speakeasy and ran bootleg whiskey. After prohibition was repealed, they expanded their business by buying out the stores around them. Soon the small tavern grew into a castle structure fashioned after the one In Robin Hood.
Shar: my early life impacts the person I am today.
I grew up in a very musical family, my mom a gifted piano player and alto singer and my dad having a beautiful tenor voice. Thus, my brothers and I all inherited musical tendencies as well, but along with that creative, artsy bent, God also gifted me with a most vivid imagination. As a kid, I had no notion of EVER writing novels, but I knew I loved to read and jump into the characters’ skin of whatever book I happened to be reading, pretending to be that very person stranded on an island or riding like the wind on a horse, or saving a drowning dog. In bed, I would talk to myself and make up stories. I still recall my brother walking past my bedroom one night, saying, “Who are you talking to?” and I very proudly answering, “MYSELF!” He huffed and marched off.
I made my first attempt at writing stories as an 11th grader. I could fill up an entire spiral notebook with a silly teenage romance. Those stories passed from one girlfriend to another in civics and government classes, and always with the teacher’s back to us. But then college came, and my teaching career, then marriage and kids, and my wild passion for music. That writing thing I’d once done in high school slipped into Neverland, almost a forgotten memory, and would you believe I never gave it another thought until the ripe age of 52 in the summer of 2000? Yep, that’s when God revived my passion, and in the year 2006, I signed my first contract.
My idea for writing Maggie Rose came about because of having read about the Orphan Train, which ran from the mid-1800s to 1929 (more than 75 years!) while doing some research for another book project. It immediately intrigued me, and suddenly, I couldn’t read enough about that era, and in many ways, it utterly enraptured me, as in SWALLOWED ME UP. Whenever I become this wrapped up in a subject I sense God’s percolator working overtime in my brain. Not only that, every time I turned around it seemed I was running into the words Orphan Train—either at the library, or by accidentally coming across something online or on TV—and even in the newspaper. At that point, I said to the Lord, “Okay, God, I get it. You want me to write about the Orphan Train era.” Here’s a brief synopsis of my story, Maggie Rose, which by the way is the second in my series called The Daughters of Jacob Kane:
The year is 1904, and Maggie Rose, the spunky, friendly, twenty-year-old middle daughter of Michigan resident Jacob Kane, feels compelled to leave her beloved hometown of Sandy Shores to pursue what she feels in her heart are God's plans for her life-in New York City. Maggie Rose adjusts to her new life at Sheltering Arms Refuge, an orphanage that also transports homeless children to towns across the United States to match them with compatible families. Most of the children have painful pasts that make Maggie aghast, but she marvels at their resiliency. As she gets to know each child, her heart blossoms with new depths of love and compassion. When a newspaper reporter comes to stay at the orphanage in order to gather research for an article, Maggie is struck by his handsome face…and concerned by his lack of faith. She can't deny their mutual affections, though. Will she win the struggle to maintain her focus on God and remain attuned to His guidance?
Robin: my early life impacts the person I am today.
Although I knew my dad loved me, there was some kind of a disconnect. I needed to find a connection and as a teen found it in Christ. He is my constant anchor. And now I write about people who search for their faith, reach for hope, learn to forgive, and find the most important place in the world—home—a place to belong.
When I was in middle school, I read a book The Family Nobody Wanted. It was about children who were considered unadoptable yet they found a place where they belonged with a wonderful couple. I somehow knew I would never have biological children. God had a different plan for me and that was adoption. Years later, my five-week-old daughter was placed into my empty arms by a social worker. Kimberly was a beautiful, racially mixed baby. A few years later, Matthew followed with very fair skin. Perfect children. Perfect bookends holding up my life.
As a teacher, I read to my class stories of the Orphan Train riders. It pained me to think about the thousands of children who didn’t have parents to tuck them in at night and listen to their bedtime prayers. Had my children been born then, Matthew would have been sent out west to find a home. Would he have been taken in by kind parents? What about Kimberly? What would have become of her? The seed of Ruby Red was born at that moment.
Ruby Red is a fictionalized tale of a true event. Homeless children roamed the streets of New York City from the late 1800s through the 1930s. Death and disease were heaped upon poverty and overcrowding, causing thousands of children to be abandoned and left to fend for themselves. Eleven-year-old Ruby is taken in as a maid. Believing life holds more for her than washing someone s clothes, she makes a risky move by faking insanity. After being expelled from the household, Ruby sneaks onto the Orphan Train. With her best friend, a cockroach named Red, housed in a canning jar, Ruby searches for a place to call home and runs into adventure and heartbreak. Both an enigma and a young teen, she is the perfect reflection of how life once was in America. Ruby embodies goodness, and simplicity of truth; a rare gem which bespeaks her name. Softened a bit through suffering she refuses to be hardened and keeps believing that the world holds a special place for her. Written beautifully by author Robin Jansen Shope for young teens and adults, the indomitable spirit of Ruby Red triumphs and will live in your heart far beyond the pages of the book.
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