The Next Big Thing

I’ve been tagged by Kris Waldherr, author and illustrator of Doomed Queens, The Lovers Path, as well as many other fine books, in the online game of “The Next Big Thing.”

In this game, authors talk about their current work-in-progress.


What is the working title of your book?

The Almost Hippie Girl


Where did the idea come from for this book?

My husband Jim grew up on an Iowa farm, and according to family legend, two of his forbears were dropped on their claim by a livery driver moments before a major thunderstorm approached. This resonated strongly for me, and became the seed of Faith’s story. The legend also became an iconic story from her family’s past that profoundly shapes her worldview.

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary young adult fiction with crossover potential.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’ve had numerous discussions about this with my 10-year-old son, who voted for Taylor Swift as my protagonist, Faith, and Justin Bieber as her boyfriend, Lance. I had to talk him down.

Here is my own dream team:

For Faith, my protagonist, Georgie Henley (Chronicles of Narnia):

And for Faith’s boyfriend Lance, Devon Gearhart (Shorts, Canvas):


For Faith’s perpetually unhappy, ambitious mother, Christina Hendricks (Mad Men)

For her stalwart farmer dad, Lyle Lovett


For her impulsive, free spirit cousin Billie, Anna Sophia Robb

What is the one-sentence description of your book?

In 1969 Iowa, a hippie commune comes to a rural town, causing chaos and awakening a young farm girl to her own possibilities.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am currently looking for representation.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Approximately 11 months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Some sort of cross between Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock and In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I have to give credit to my husband Jim, without whom I would never have been introduced to rural Iowa and its people.


What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Here is a longer synopsis of The Almost Hippie Girl:

Summer, 1969. Astronauts walk on the moon. Hippies dance naked at Woodstock. And in the country town of Leola, Iowa, you can hear the corn grow. Sixteen-year-old Faith’s roots are five generations deep in the soil of Schulte Farms, and she takes these roots seriously, getting ribbons for her 4-H pigs and muscles from putting up fences.


Faith plans to go to Iowa State University with her cousin Billie to study agriculture and science, then return to farm with her dad. But Faith’s mom, Didi, has different plans for her. Didi’s idea of success is a Mediterranean-themed living room ordered from the Sears catalog. If it were up to her, Faith would clean herself up, marry a business major, and live in a big house in town.

The one person who supported Faith was her Grandma, who recently died of cancer.

Billie gets involved with a boy named Tree who lives close by in a new commune called Spaceship Earth. There, the hippies are starting a not-so-quiet revolution that Leola isn’t quite ready for. When Billie is drawn into what she calls their “universe of love,” Faith feels left in the dust, and sees her cherished plans for the future crumbling. Yet Faith herself can’t help being drawn to the hippies too, especially to Sunny, the commune’s kind mother figure, who seems to accept her just the way she is.

Faith is also exploring her own universe of love with Lance McNamara, her sometime lab partner. Lance surprises Faith by kissing her at the fair. Faith isn’t sure just how far this experiment should go, or how “free” love really is, especially when she notices all the young girls having babies at the commune.

When school starts again and Billie doesn’t show up, Faith is confronted by rumors of her cousin’s pregnancy. Her worst fears are confirmed, and it seems her plans for her and Billie are all but destroyed. Reality also comes crashing in when Faith visits Lance’s brother, Alan, who has lost a limb in the Vietnam War. This experience forces Faith to take a good, hard look at her unquestioned patriotism.

As a reaction to her tumultuous present, Faith turns to the past in the form of a folder of letters and photographs her grandmother had given her, passed down from her great-great grandmother, Greta. Through reading the letters, Faith gets an inside look at Greta’s struggles, her friendships and dreams. They become a source of strength for her. But the past isn’t a permanent refuge. Faith is forced to take sides when tensions between Leola townspeople and the hippies escalate to the breaking point.

Daunted by the complexities within her and without, Faith comes to realize that it isn’t so much what you’re made of, but what you do with it that counts; and that in the heartland, even damaged roots can heal and yield new dreams.


For the next part of The Next Big Thing, I tag my friend, critique partner, and author extraordinaire, Michele Sobel Spirn.

2 thoughts on “The Next Big Thing”

  1. This book sounds just wonderful, Ellen, and I LOVE the casting! Lyle Lovett as the dad is pure genius. I can’t wait to read it when it’s an award-winning published novel. Keep us all posted, and I’ll be sure to pass this along to the teens I know.

    1. And the adults I know, too, come to think of it. I’ve read some early drafts of this book, and I found it thoroughly compelling.

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