by Rose-Marie Lyttle
My nine-year-old, Katie Rose, and I recently read The Time of the Fireflies by award-winning author Kimberley Griffiths Little. It’s a lush, rich story set in the Louisiana bayou about a girl who shifts through time with the help of a swarm fireflies to uncover the mystery behind a family curse. We liked the book so well we connected with the author to ask her a few questions about it.
Katie Rose: What genre is The Time of the Fireflies? Mystery? Literary Fiction? Fantasy?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: Actually, this book is sort of a mash-up of time-slipping, mystery, family drama, and magical realism. I tend to stay away from calling it a true fantasy because the story is set in the contemporary real world with real people (not witches or ghosts or “creatures”) and a few real-life problems the characters are dealing with. When we think of fantasy we usually think of an entirely new world the author has created with a set of magic rules.
But I think everybody loves a bit of magical realism and time-slipping! 🙂
Rose-Marie Lyttle: The setting is such an integral part of the book. Do you draw your knowledge of Bayou Teche from personal experience?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: Yes, I’ve been to the Bayou Teche and dozens of small towns along the bayous and swamps of Louisiana many, many times. It’s a spectacular, mystical place with herons, egrets, owls, and raccoons and Spanish Moss dripping from gorgeous cypress trees. Louisiana has practically become a second home to me. I’ve also taken MANY boat rides in the swamps and seen dozens of alligators, even baby alligators on the banks. Here’s a picture:
Katie Rose: Is the Island of Dolls a real place?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: Yes, there is an Island of the Dolls south of Mexico City. It’s a
VERY CREEPY place, much creepier than The Time of the Fireflies. People who visit the Island say the dolls are possessed and sometimes blink their eyes and whisper to each other at night. Eeek!
Rose-Marie Lyttle: I was a little nervous when Katie Rose and I started reading that the book might be too scary for her. There is something inherently terrifying about possessed dolls. Did you have to tone it down to make it readable for middle-grade?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: I worried that it might be too terrifying, but I had my audience in mind as I wrote it (speaking as a childhood doll lover) and knew where to draw the line. My editor didn’t have me tone anything down, but I worked on those scenes with the doll *coming alive* many times to get the tone right. I also wanted the story to include redemption and love so as not to leave those scenes with only negative connotations. Love and forgiveness and redemption are much more powerful than greed and selfishness.
Katie Rose: Do you have other books that I might like?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: Of course! 🙂 I’ve written three other MG novels set in Bayou Bridge with other characters from the town. All 4 books have fun little connections between the characters and past events so readers love meeting the four different girls and going more deeply into their stories and mysteries and families.
Rose-Marie Lyttle: I loved the part with the Cajun traiteur. Have you ever seen a traiteur yourself?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: Yes, I’ve met several traiteurs, actually. On one of my research trips I did a 2-week road trip with a very good friend of mine who grew up in the South and we met lots of wonderful people who knew traiteurs and helped set up times for us to meet them personally in their homes. Everyone we met was very friendly and generous. I loved it.
There is a wonderful DVD about the Cajun traiteurs called Good for What Ails You, a documentary filmed by some New Orleans filmmakers. There are several traiteurs in the video who talk about their healing abilities and knowledge. It’s fascinating.
Rose-Marie Lyttle: The Time of the Fireflies incorporates elements of magic (time slipping, possessed doll, etc). I assume you were drawing on Louisiana Voodoo, but I also know you live in New Mexico and I thought I recognized the flavor of the “magic realism” of Spanish-American fiction. Where did the inspiration for incorporating magic into this book come from?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: In New Mexico there are herbal folk healers called curanderos who are very similar to Cajun traiteurs, and their history goes back several hundred years as well. Traiteurs and Curanderos use a mix of herbal medicine and faith, with a bit of folklore and mysticism, or “old wives’ tales” mixed in.
When I first learned about traituers, I knew I wanted to incorporate them into my first book, The Healing Spell. It took a lot of digging into special collections and the university libraries in Louisiana to find much. If you want to know more about Miz Mirage Allemand, you must read The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets.
The traiteurs I met are warm and wonderful people who very much believe their gifts come from God and they are to use those gifts to bless others. They do not accept any payment or gift in exchange for their help.
Katie Rose: Do you believe magic/magical experiences like this can really happen?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: Hmm, personally I’m sort of on the fence. I’m a religious person and have faith in God so I do believe in miracles, and have seen them in my own and other’s lives. Unfortunately, there are people out in the world (we even talked to some in Louisiana, actually!) who have become involved in magic-craft or witchcraft. I tend to stay away from that because I worry that those beliefs and practices are used for mischief or to hurt, instead of to do good and help others.
Rose-Marie Lyttle: You don’t touch much on ethnicity, although I believe the issue of race had a subtle presence in the book. Was that purposeful?
Kimberley Griffiths Little: When I began drafting this story I knew that the servant girl from the turn of the century would be an African–American girl who had come from slave heritage, but I was too focused on the character’s relationships and purpose to the plot. The Time of the Fireflies isn’t a story about slavery or bigotry.
It wasn’t something I purposely stayed away from—it just didn’t fit the story. I hope it was woven into the story in such a way that readers can take away what they’d like from it. From all that I’ve read, researched, and personally experienced, the portrayal in my book is very true to life—back in 1912 and in modern day.
When Larissa Renaud starts receiving eerie phone calls on a disconnected old phone in her family’s antique shop, she knows she’s in for a strange summer. A series of clues leads her to the muddy river banks, where clouds of fireflies dance among the cypress knees and cattails each evening at twilight. The fireflies are beautiful and mysterious, and they take her on a magical journey through time, where Larissa learns secrets about her family’s tragic past — deadly, curse-ridden secrets that could harm the future of her family as she knows it. It soon becomes clear that it is up to Larissa to prevent history from repeating itself and a fatal tragedy from striking the people she loves.
With her signature lyricism, Kimberley Griffiths Little weaves a thrilling tale filled with family secrets, haunting mystery, and dangerous adventure.
I make way too many cookies when I’m writing or revising a new book – and I’ve got the best book trailers in the universe – for reals! Check them out here: www.kimberleygriffithslittle.com. Please find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Youtube.
Awards: Southwest Book Award, Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel, Bank Street College Best Books of 2011 & 2013, Crystal Kite Finalist, and New Mexico Book Award Finalist.