Jeanette Minniti is a writer living in Colorado. She received an MA in Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations from the University of Colorado Boulder. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and Lighthouse Writers in Denver.
SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
Jeanette Minniti: “The Only Way Home” originated in a novel writing class. Although the story is completely fiction, the theme came from my brother mentioning that my father had told him he rode the rails for a short time. I needed a story line and the novel came to life.
The story takes place in 1933 during the Great Depression. Fifteen-year-old Robert leaves home to ride the rails to find work to help support his widowed mother and five siblings. The book is a historical novel, action adventure and coming of age story.
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SunLit: Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?
Minniti: I chose this excerpt to give readers a sense of the young boys’ journey and a sense of the environment and the dangers of kids “riding the rails” during the Great Depression.
SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write?
Minniti: A great deal of research influenced the book, based on the experiences and tragedies of young kids and families traveling across the country to find work during the Great Depression. Teens, both boys and girls, also took to joyriding on the trains because they could jump on them so easily.
SunLit: Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?
Minniti: As a writer, I am a panster versus a plotter so the question above speaks to the fun I experienced in writing the novel. Characters would show up on the page and I had to decide who they would be in the novel as a minor or major character.
SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
“The Only Way Home”
Where to find it
- Prospector: Search the combined catalogs of 23 Colorado libraries
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Minniti: I researched a great deal prior to writing the novel and plotted as I wrote each chapter. The novel takes place in 1933, during the worst year of the Great Depression, as the main character, Robert, traveled to different states and towns looking for seasonal harvesting work.
I found 1933 to be the most substantial time to write about in regard to what the government was doing to help families. Roosevelt started the Civil Conservation Camps to encourage kids to stay off the rails. This and other nuggets of research about new government programs created very rich chapters.
SunLit: Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers?
Yes, my reviews show the story provoked strong feelings and opinions among my readers from sadness and happiness to appreciation for how people touched harshly by the Great Depression survived and stayed resilient.
Most readers appreciated the opportunity to experience the insight into what it was like to live during the Great Depression and also appreciated seeing the goodness of people doing what they could to help out, even if it was a small gesture of kindness.
SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
Minniti: It took awhile to figure out what worked best for my time to write and be productive. I found the afternoons after I got everything related to my daily life checked off provided the most uninterrupted and focused time to be the most creative.
SunLit: Tell us about your next project.
Minniti: I am in the research phase of developing my next historical novel, focused on college women recruited for espionage — but through the lens of the creation of the Office of Strategic Services, which became the current CIA after World War II.