7 Questions with Michael Leali

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1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?

Well, if there’s no time-wimey nonsense happening and no risk to myself, I’m absolutely going back to visit the dinosaurs. Who wouldn’t want to hang with a brontosaurus? I was completely captivated by dinosaurs as a kid. They fueled so much of my imagination and sparked my interest in storytelling. From The Land Before Time series to the plastic dollar store figurines I used to make my own dino movie with my family’s camcorder, I was obsessed. Dinosaurs were magical— Who am I kidding? They still are.

2. Your book is set today but heavily delves into the American Civil War. What fascinates you most about this time period?

I think what I’m most fascinated by is the conflict, tension, and potential that the era represents for the United States. The American Civil War, in many ways, was the beginning of the fight for the soul of our country. I am not a historian by any means, but that’s the way I see it, as someone who is still learning, growing, and coming to understand the world I live in. While the American colonies represented hope and freedom to many white people, it meant the death and destruction of so many others. In addition to the atrocious genocide of Indigenous peoples, for centuries white people enslaved Black people, building a country upon their labor and lives, benefiting from their pain and bondage. For me, the American Civil War era is a turning point in our country’s history toward something better, the first real steps we took to be truly free and equitable for all. We have come a long way since then, but we still have a very long way to go.

3. What elements of this time period are still with us today?

We might not frequently use butter churns or play skittles, but we are still fighting for equality and the moral center of our country. BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities still suffer greatly from inequities, as do many other individuals with underrepresented and historically marginalized identities. We might not go to battle as they did in the mid-1800s, but we fight on in other ways. We sign petitions, and we vote. We use words. We tell stories.

4. What kind of insights do you think kids from this time period have?

This was an era that tested many peoples’ courage, across many identities and backgrounds. Young people fought and died to ensure that “equality” was not a hollow word in the United States. That persistence, determination, and bravery to stand up against your own family and friends, against bigotry and hatred—it’s powerful and not to be forgotten as a part of the history of the United States.

5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?

Since The Civil War of Amos Abernathy isn’t historical fiction but rather about history and set in the present day, I had to be very selective. My focus was narrow and mainly on the LGBTQ+ community during the 1800s and largely during the American Civil War. That being said, there was a minute there that I was sure I’d be able to incorporate some of the music from the era into the novel. None of it made the cut, but I do recommend giving some of the songs a listen! Here’s some of the tunes I listened to on repeat: “Wildwood Flower,” “Two Brothers,” “Hard Times,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” and “Battle Cry of Freedom.”

6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)

I detest choosing favorites—how does anyone pick their favorite book, even if narrowed down by genre? Alas, I’ll pick a few. Growing up my mom read many historical fiction novels to me and my siblings. I loved listening to Johnny Tremain and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Both are still two of my favorite books. In recent years, I’ve fallen completely head over heels for titles like Julie Berry’s The Passion of Dolssa and Adam Gidwtiz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale. They are must reads!

7. What are you working on right now?

I’m not sure how much I can actually say about my next book, but… it’s a contemporary fantasy middle grade that is a very loose retelling of a popular folktale that explores truth, identity, and community. This book is due to come out in 2023 from HarperCollins. I’m also working on a couple of young adult projects, and I have a picture book out on submission. I’ve also got a middle grade fantasy project that I’ve drafted, and I am very eager to continue developing it. My brain is always writing, even when my fingers aren’t at my keyboard!

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