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What’s the Story? When Rox asks about the mother who disappeared when she was three months old, her grandmother Mimi always says, “Tell ya later.” Her older cousin John Martin knows the story but he’s not talking either. As Mimi always insists, “The three of us together—you, John Martin, and me—are family enough for anyone.” And it is almost enough, especially when you throw in Rox’s second family: Danny Swain the Tire King, Spice Marie, Miss Louise, and all the other vendors at the flea market where Rox and her grandmother spend their weekends. But sometimes Rox wonders…what happened to my mother?
The answer may be as close as the diary Rox finds hidden in her own closet. Could it be that the diary will answer all the questions that Mimi won’t? To find out all Rox has to do is read it.
Where did the story idea come from? Near my house in Tallahassee is a huge flea market. My husband and I go there most weekends to look at all the oddities that are for sale—and to buy vegetables. I hadn’t been going there long before I noticed that at many of the stands the adult vendors were assisted by children, sometimes children as young as five or six. Once I’d noticed them I began to see that, week after week, and sometimes year after year, the same children were setting up displays, making change, and putting purchases in bags. They weren’t there to have fun or to gain work experience, they were helping their families pay the bills. That was a story I wanted to tell. So I created the character of Rox Piermont, a twelve-year-old girl who helps her family make ends meet by selling other people’s junk at the flea market. On flea market days Rox writes a number on her hand, the amount of money she needs to make in order to pay the next bill, and then she gets to work.
What’s real? Wakulla County, the setting for “Sister Spider Knows All,” is just a little way down the road from the neighborhood portrayed in most of my books. My family owns a piece of land there that we call “Bluebird.” Why Bluebird? Because bluebirds think it’s their land, too. There is a very big grape arbor at Bluebird. When you step out the door with Rox and look at her scuppernongs and muscadines, those are our grapes you’re admiring.
The flea market is very real. Come to Tallahassee any weekend and buy yourself a T-shirt. The tornado that hits the flea market actually happened. It closed the flea market for weeks. I wasn’t there when it hit, but that didn’t stop me from imagining.
The idea for Helen’s diary came from years and years of keeping diaries of my own (sometimes faithfully, sometimes not so). When Rox talks about losing her diary under the bed, she’s describing something that happened to several of my early diaries (it’s amazing how much junk you can fit under a bed). In “Sister Spider” the diary is a device. The mother isn’t around to speak for herself, but I wanted the reader to hear her voice. I let her speak through the diary.
This is the Japanese version of “Sister Spider”. Wonder if they have flea markets in Japan?