The year I wrote this book I had a delightful boy in my class called Fred. We had some animals visit the class, and by chance the ferret was named Fred and the iguana was named Fred. We all thought that was very funny, and I told Fred that the next time I wrote a book my main character was going to be called Fred. I don’t think he thought it was going to be a girl.
People ask me if I’m Miss Agnes which startled me at first,since it had never occured to me that anyone would think that. I hasten to say no, I’m not anything like her.
But the setting, the classroom, is pretty much like a classroom I had once with kids from kindergarten to 8th grade. It was a wonderful class, and I had the same kids for six years. And later I even taught some of the next generation, the kids of those kids. I had a great time writing about some of the things we did in those six years. (The school play in Miss Agnes, for instance. We did it just that way in my school in Ruby, with marten traps for the ghosts’ chains. Except that Claudie, who played Scrooge, panicked when he saw the audience and had to be dragged on stage.)
There was a real Miss Agnes. When I was a teenager I met a teacher on the banks of the Koyukuk, and she gave me a peek into her little log school. Her name was Agnes Schlosser, and I couldn’t have talked to her for more than five minutes. But she stayed in my mind for all of those years, and I often thought of her when I became a village teacher myself. I have no idea what kind of teacher Agnes Schlosser was or what kind of person, so I made all that up, but she was in my mind a representation of all those dedicated teachers in the old days, single women for the most part, who lived for their students.
The kids in this book are all someone I taught or–in the case of Marie–an old friend. I always use real people and real events because there are so many unique village people to remember and so many mind-boggling stories to preserve in print. Every incident, every character, comes from something that really happened, someone I knew. But the only real names I’ve used in Miss Agnes are Sam White, the pilot, and Bobby Kennedy. I don’t know why I felt they had to have their real names, but then I seldom know why I do anything when I’m writing!
I wrote Miss Agnes in eight hours, on a spring break, because I took a sudden notion to experiment with first person. It sounds strange, eight hours, but since everything was from memory–I was 10 in 1948, like Fred–and since I had a classroom like that, there was no research, no thinking anything out. I just wrote. When I finished I put it on the hard drive and forgot about it until I got broke and thought I’d better sell another book.
And she’s been a joy, Miss Agnes, because of the letters I’ve gotten. I’ve saved all of them, and someday I’m going to read them all again.