Zoozil Author Spotlight: Samantha Grace Moran

Samantha Grace Moran is one of Zoozil’s youngest writing talents. Having just earned her Bachelor’s degree in 2015, we’re very lucky to have this rising literary star amongst your ranks of historical fiction storytellers. She’s the author of Hazel Homeward: A Journey Through the Great Depression, an historical drama about family and perseverance during one of America’s most troubled eras. We sat down with her to talk about the experience of crafting her Zoozil novel, life in Richmond, VA, what inspires her, and more.

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When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer ever since I can remember! When I was a child, I began creating my own stories and sharing them with others before I could even read or physically write them down. I just love storytelling! As I got older, I loved reading and writing, and I dreamed of becoming an author one day. I’m so blessed to have that dream become a reality!

Whose writing has influenced you the most? Or, who is your favorite author to read?
Many different authors have influenced me—it’s hard to pick just one. To name a few, I’m really inspired by Earl Hamner Jr., Thomas Wolfe, Marcus Zusak, Karen Kingsbury, David Baldacci, L. M. Montgomery, and Janette Oke.

What makes you excited about writing for Zoozil?
I’m so excited to write for Zoozil because it gives me the opportunity to combine three things that I love: history, fiction, and the genres of children’s and young adult literature. I think stories can be a great vehicle for learning about history because they allow you to experience the past through your imagination. You connect with the characters and learn and feel what a particular time period was like through their perspectives. Stories personalize history in a way that textbooks of mere facts cannot. I think it’s important for children to learn about the past because it is connected to their present and future. Reading stories, like those found in Zoozil books, can get them excited about history—especially when they get the chance to make choices along the way! I really love the format of Zoozil books, allowing readers to change the story. It allows me, as a writer, to expand my stories with multiple possibilities and alternative endings that I would not be able to include in a traditional book.

How was your experience writing Hazel Homeward? What challenges did it bring, and how did you overcome them?
Writing Hazel Homeward was a very enjoyable experience! I loved creating the characters of Hazel, her family and friends, and other interesting people she meets on her adventures. As I researched the Great Depression, I liked including unique details in the story that some people may not know about this time in history, and I especially loved writing about what my hometown of Richmond, Virginia was like during the 1930’s. Mentioning landmarks like St. John’s Church, The Jefferson Hotel, and the Main Street Station was one way that I personalized the story because these are sights that I’ve grown up visiting. One challenge I faced while writing Hazel Homeward was creating a story with so many different choices for the reader to make and paths for them to follow. I’d never written a book in this unique format before, and at first, it was difficult to plan it all out, but I kept working on it and ended up really enjoying it!

Is Hazel based on anyone in particular?
Nope—just my imagination, fictional. ☺

You’re a musician — so what kind of music do you either like to play or listen to? Does music ever inspire you to write?
I’m teaching myself to play the banjo! I really enjoy playing church hymns, bluegrass, and country music. I listen to many different styles of music from classical (I was a ballet dancer) to contemporary Christian, folk, musical theater, some pop, and older vintage-sounding music (the kind I can buy on antique records). Some of the artists that I particularly love are Andy Williams, Gene Kelly, Matthew West, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, and Rascal Flatts (the variety in that list gives you a glimpse of my broad range in musical tastes. Haha!). When I write, I love listening to movie soundtracks! They really help me to envision the scenes I’m writing and feel the emotions of the characters because when I create a story, it plays like a movie inside my mind, and the music makes it seem more real.

What is one thing about you that people think is strange or unique?
I play the banjo by ear. I haven’t learned to read sheet music. I can often figure out how to play a song just by listening to it.

What were your favorite things about growing up in and/or around Richmond?
There’s so much history in Richmond to explore and fun places to visit in the area. Growing up, some of my favorite places to go were Dorey Park, Maymont Park, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, the Children’s Museum, and the Science Museum. I still love them! I was in the Concert Ballet of Virginia from the time I was eight years old to fourteen, so I have many great memories of performing at RVA venues like the Bolling Haxall House (the Women’s Club of Richmond) and the Dogwood Dell amphitheater.

What is your favorite local RVA spot to hang out?
I love going to Maymont on a sunny day and just enjoying nature — it’s so relaxing and peaceful.

Where is your favorite place to write?
My family and I just designed and built a writer’s cabin for me in our backyard! It’s small and cozy with a porch—a place all of my own where I can write my stories. I love that it’s surrounded by the beautiful woods and my garden—so inspirational.

You’ve done a bit of traveling this summer — what is one place you hope to visit in the future? 
Ireland! I like researching my family’s genealogy, and we have roots in Ireland, so I’m very interested in visiting there one day.

What do you miss the most about the 90’s?
The 90’s were my childhood, so I miss playing Super Mario Bros. on my Gameboy Color and the computer games of the day like Pajama Sam and The Oregon Trail. Haha! And watching The Lion King VHS tape so many times that I practically memorized the whole movie (still one of my favorite Disney classics).

What is the most valuable thing you have learned since becoming a published author?
Stories can capture the human condition and experience, and when they do, they can touch people’s hearts. I always want my writing to do that! I love it when readers tell me that what I wrote meant something to them—that they relate to the characters and care about them, that they learn something from the stories. Writing is an important calling when you look at it that way.

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