Who Gets to Welcome Cabby Potts into Their Home?

Today I am happy to announce the winner of the recent book giveaway.

Cabby Potts cover (no wrap)

A Signed ARC copy of CABBY POTTS, DUCHESS OF DIRT by Kathleen Wilford goes to:Danielle Hammelef. Congratulations Danielle!

Please send me you address so I can forward it to Kathleen. I know you will enjoy this delightful story. I hope you will consider posting a review on Amazon once you finish the book. It’s the best way to show authors how much you love their writing.

Thanks to all who entered.

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Kathleen Wilford Presents Her Debut Novel: Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt + A Chance to Win a Copy.

It’s been my pleasure to recently read an ARC for a new MG historical. Kathleen Wilford’s debut CABBY POTTS, DUCHESS OF DIRT (Little Press) is a delightful story set in the 1870’s during the migration of Americans to the prairies of the Midwest for homesteading. Here is my review:

This historical fiction story set in the 1870’s, is a fast-paced trip to the days of homesteading on the Kansas prairies. When her parents force her to work at grand Ashford Manor, 12-year-old Cabby Potts will do anything to escape, including playing matchmaker between her sister and the rich young lord of the manor. If it succeeds, her scheme will save her family’s struggling homestead. If it fails? Cabby can’t even think about that.

Can Cabby find the courage to stand up for her family, a Native American friend, and an entire community threatened by land-grabbers?

The author does a wonderful job grounding the reader in time and place with period details and appropriate phrasing and language of the era. “My brain buzzed like it was full of gnats” is one of many similes that feels fresh and original. The characters are well-rounded and engaging, making for a quick read. Readers will enjoy Cabby’s antics and feisty demeanor as she navigates the unfamiliar world of the wealthy. A highly recommended debut.

I interviewed Kathleen to learn more about how she came up with her story.

Cabby Potts cover (no wrap)

What was your inspiration for Cabby Potts?

I ran across a book called Prairie Fever, by Peter Pagnamenta, and I was intrigued to learn about the British aristocracy’s fascination with the American West. Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt is based on the true story of Victoria, Kansas, an enclave of British aristocrats in the 1870’s. Victoria was designed as a “community of culture and refinement” where “the arts and graces of life” could be imported straight from London.

I couldn’t imagine a bigger culture clash than between the English nobility and hardscrabble American homesteaders. I pictured an outdoorsy 12-year-old girl forced to work as a housemaid at a grand English manor, and the character of Cabby was born. Trying to save her family’s struggling homestead, Cabby plays matchmaker between her pretty, romantic sister Emmeline and the rich young lord of Ashford Manor. What could go wrong with that scheme?

As an author of historical fiction myself, I was immediately drawn into the setting and era of the story. What drew you to writing historical fiction?

I love the way historical fiction immerses readers into a different world. All good fiction is immersive, but with historical fiction, the past comes alive in a fresh way. And there’s a serious side too: I believe that to understand where we ARE, we need to understand where we’ve BEEN. Non-fiction helps readers do that too, but fiction adds an important layer of empathy.

As for this particular era, 1870’s Kansas, I’ve always been fascinated by pioneer literature, from Willa Cather to Laura Ingalls Wilder. My life is so easy compared to women who endured life on lonely prairies, living in sod houses and struggling to keep themselves and their families alive.

Tell us a bit about your research process.

I like to begin with books that situate the time period I’m studying in a larger historical context. I follow that up with more specific books and then with primary sources. For Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt, I consulted homesteader journals, 1870’s editions of the Dodge City Times, an 1841 book by Dr. Samuel Sheldon Fitch called Diseases of the Chest (fascinating, trust me), Mrs. Beeton’s book on the duties of a housemaid . . . etc.! Since I work for Rutgers, I’m lucky enough to have access to the rich depth of primary materials owned by the university. I think primary sources are key not only to authentic details but to the language of the times.

Several experts also helped me with questions, and of course, Google is great for filling in details!

What amazing thing did you discover while writing?

How much time do we have?? I learned so many fascinating tidbits of information, many of which I couldn’t include in the book but would be happy to tell you about sometime. Some facts that DID make it into the book: people used to believe that walking on the prairie could cure consumption (tuberculosis)—housemaids were not allowed to whistle in the house—dried up buffalo dung was burned for fuel.

One fact that informed my book: fully half of all homesteaders didn’t make it and never “proved up” on their claims. We tend to romanticize homesteading on the prairies, but it was brutally difficult.

What message do you want young readers to take away from this story?

I hope kids will enjoy a funny, fast-paced story with lots of drama! Beyond that, I hoped to give readers a clearer picture of the homesteading life. Along with showing how difficult the life was, I wanted readers to see how race and class prejudices infiltrated even supposedly egalitarian rural America. Cabby wakes up to this prejudice as she forms a friendship with Eli, a half-Kiowa boy. She finally learns to use her “intemperate tongue” to stand up for him, her family, and her whole community. In Cabby Potts, I tried to portray a funny, feisty girl growing into more awareness of her world, with all its imperfections. She learns to use her voice to make that world a better place, something I hope we all can do.

What’s next for you?

I have some irons in the fire, but they’re pretty unformed at this point!

Kathleen has agreed to give away a signed ARC of the book to one lucky reader drawn at random. To enter, leave a comment. If you share this post on social media, I will give you a second entry. Winner will be announced at the end of the month.

Kathleen Wilford head and shoulders

Kathleen Wilford was born in Panama and has lived in four different countries and three different states—but never in Kansas. She studied literature at Cornell University and at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she now teaches writing. When she’s not teaching or writing, Kathleen can be found outdoors, chasing her disobedient dog.

Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt is Kathleen’s debut novel for kids. Connect with Kathleen at https://www.kathleenwilford.com/ On Twitter: https://twitter.com/kathwilford

Ordering info is on my website or:

Pre-order Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Cabby-Potts-Duchess-Kathleen-Wilford/dp/1956378049/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2297827D9DKDE&keywords=cabby+potts%2C+duchess+of+dirt+by+kathleen+wilford&qid=1658255877&sprefix=%2Caps%2C542&sr=8-1

Or at my local bookstore for a signed copy: https://bookwormbernardsville.indielite.org/now-available-pre-order-cabby-potts-duchess-dirt

Cover Reveal: Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt by Kathleen Wilford

Today it is my pleasure to be among the first to see the fabulous cover reveal for a debut MG historical. Those who follow me know my love of historical fiction, so I was  excited when debut author KATHLEEN WILFORD contacted me about a blog post cover reveal.

So…without further ado, here is the gorgeous cover of CABBY POTTS, DUCHESS OF DIRT  and a short interview with Kathleen about her book.

Cabby Potts cover (no wrap)

Describe your book in 10 words or less.

Thanks so much, Darlene! How about this:

A sod house, a grand manor. A mystery, a match-making scheme. (That’s 11 . . .)

Tell us about your debut historical MG novel, Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt. When is it coming out?

Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt will be released September 1, 2022 with Little Press/Blue Bronco Books.

The book is set in Kansas in 1875, the year after the grasshoppers devastated the state. My main character, Cabby Potts, is inspired by some of my own favorite literary heroines, Laura Ingalls and the pioneer women in the novels of Willa Cather. Like them, Cabby is “outdoor kind of girl,” more interested in farming than fashion. Cabby’s struggling homestead is her first real home, and she’s desperate not to lose it, even if that means accepting a housemaiding job at stuffy, high-class Ashford manor. She’s also a bit naïve and has what her mother calls an intemperate tongue, qualities that get her in trouble after she hatches an improbable matchmaking scheme between her romantic older sister and the young lord of Ashford Manor. When her rash plot backfires, Cabby must use her voice to stand up for herself, a Native American friend, and her entire community.

How did you get the idea for this story?

I ran across a book called Prairie Fever, by Peter Pagnamenta, and I was intrigued to learn about the British aristocracy’s fascination with the American West. Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt is based on the true story of Victoria, Kansas, an enclave of British aristocrats in the 1870’s. Victoria was designed as a “community of culture and refinement” where “the arts and graces of life” could be imported straight from London. I couldn’t imagine a bigger culture clash than between the English nobility and the hardscrabble American homesteaders who might have worked for them.

At the same time, I didn’t want to portray Americans as somehow free from the race and class prejudices of the wealthy English. One of the things Cabby wakes up to as she befriends a Kiowa boy is the pigheadedness, as she puts it, of her own community, beloved as it is.

The cover for this book is beautiful. Tell us about it.

 Thanks, I love it! The cover was created by Katie Kear of the Bright Agency. I think she captured Cabby’s character: curious, determined, a bit headstrong, and not very girly! That’s Ashford Manor at the bottom, a grand English manor plunked down on the windswept plains of Kansas. You’ll also notice a brooch and a mysterious document on the cover—there’s a mystery in this book that readers will enjoy helping Cabby puzzle out.

Here is the artist’s website to see more of her amazing work. Her name is Katie Kear, and the website is:

 Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?

 I would describe my speed along the road to publication as . . . glacial. My first novel manuscript, which I still hope to revise one day, suffered from rookie mistakes like not considering marketability! I gained from experience, and I think that Cabby is a stronger book. Still, after a few close calls with editors and agents, I stopped submitting for over a year. I was still in that stage where a rejection seemed like a verdict. You know, “lousy book.”  

I will be forever grateful to Michele McAvoy of The Little Press for seeing the potential of the book based on a #PitMad tweet in the summer of 2021. After acquiring Cabby, Michele and her team have guided me through an editing process that has made the story as polished and strong as possible.

What are some of your favorite classic MGs? How about recent ones?

 I grew up with immersive fantasies like the Narnia books and The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. Anything English seemed magical to me, but I also loved Beverly Cleary and The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. 

There are so many recent MG’s I admire, so I’ll just name some historical ones I think are amazing: Moon Over Manifest, The War that Saved my Life, Esperanza Rising, Front Desk, and anything by Linda Sue Park.

war

 What projects are you working on now?

I’m having a great time reading some super-recent MG’s like Cuba in my Pocket, A Place to Hang the Moon (more English magic) and Frankie and Bug. manifestAnd my fellow #22Debuts authors have some great things coming out!   

What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same as you’d give to aspiring authors?

 My biggest advice to my younger self would be to start writing earlier, ha ha!

For aspiring authors, my first piece of advice would be to join a critique group. For a thousand reasons.

Also, read, read, read! Study the market and read in your genre. When you come across a book you love, study its structure, themes, characters, etc.

And be willing to learn. Don’t fall in love with your first draft. When agents or editors are “critical” of your work, try to understand why. Writing for publication is a skill not learned overnight!

Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.

 No surprise, I was a READER as a kid. In fact, my memories of childhood are often pegged to books. Snuggling with my mother as she read out loud: Heidi (I cried.) Summer camp rest time: Rascal. Favorite Christmas present: my now worn-out boxed set of the Narnia books. There was never any question what I’d study in college and grad school: English literature. I taught middle-school and high school English, and I now teach writing at Rutgers University.

Several years ago, I started pursuing what had always been a background dream: writing my own books. I’m grateful to a friend who encouraged me to get started, to SCBWI for opportunities to learn from industry insiders, and most of all to my dedicated, professional critique group who help me conquer my self-doubt. It’s been quite a journey, and we’ve been on it together.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?  Kathleen Wilford head and shoulders

I was born in a place that no longer exists: The Panama Canal Zone, Panama. (The Canal Zone was once a U.S. territory but was formally returned to Panama in 1999.) I also lived in Costa Rica and Colombia. I can speak some Spanish, but I’m rusty.

Where can people find you online?

People can find me on Twitter by following @kathwilford. I also have a website at kathleenwilford.com.  

Congratulations on your first book Kathleen. Can’t wait to see it out in the world!