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BookWorthy Chats with Linda MacKillop

BookWorthy Season 3 Episode 4
Hotel Oscar Mike Echo Cover


Valerie -Welcome to Bookworthy. Today, we're talking with Linda McKillop about her middle-grade book, Hotel Oscar Mike Echo, which follows 11-year-old Sierra as she struggles to discover that home isn't always what we dream it will be. Welcome to Bookworthy Linda.


Linda -Thank you, it's a delight to be here.


Valerie -It is a pleasure. Now, our question of the week is, what do you do to make yourself feel better when you're having a bad day?


Linda -We live in a charming town where you can walk downtown from our house. I love to go for a walk, get a coffee, and sit in a park. We have a nice park that's just super restful. Usually, I can pray and get my mind into a better place.


Outdoor walk

Valerie -It's amazing how just changing your environment can change your mood. And I love that even when my kids were little, I was always, okay, we are in a mood, so that means we're either going to take a bath or go outside to change the environment.


Linda -Ha, and both of those still work for adults.


Valerie - Very true. Now, tell us a little bit about the title of this book. Hotel Oscar Mike Echo is a very unusual title.


Linda - The inspiration came; I have a good friend from a three-generation military family; her grandfather's a three-star general. And somehow, we would get together and jokingly spell things out with the military alphabet. And so whenever I'm writing something, a lot of whatever's happening in my life currently ends up in a book. And so that ended up being a huge part of the book. It's all the chapter headings.


Valerie -It took a while for my brain to get that in line. I was like, okay, I'm not reading the words; I'm reading just the first letter. But it did. While I struggled with it initially, it became an integral part of the story as you moved out how Sierra relates to other kids at school and how she communicates with people. So I love how that detail makes your book very unique. Now, I also love how your book talks about several topics that might seem a little too adult for kids ages 8 to 12, like PTSD, homelessness, and addiction. But you have relatable struggles for kids, like making friends and bullying. What was your inspiration behind Hotel Oscar Mike Echo?


Linda -The inspiration came from several different opportunities where I have volunteered. One of them is my husband, and I teach parenting. We have a local jail here, a county jail. Teaching parenting to the inmates gave us just some insight into what the kids at home are going through. And they're going through a lot of embarrassment and fear. So, it gave me just great compassion for her. And then my sons are all grown now. I have four grown sons. But when they were younger, we read them hard books and wanted them to have a sense of the world outside our house, making our home feel very safe. And I wanted them to grow compassion. And so that's where some of that came from. Then, in the book, Sierra and her mom end up living in a transitional home for women and children needing a place to live called the Koinonia home. And I used to volunteer there teaching literacy. And so that's local here where I live in Illinois. But I moved it to Richmond, Virginia, where the story takes place. It's the same; it's in an old school in Illinois, and I moved it there, and it's in an old school there. So it's a different piece of my life. And then just a desire that kids are living harsh realities. And I have heard from some of them already. And I sent a copy of the book, or the publisher did, to the transitional home in Illinois on which the book is based. And they were just, you know, honored and thrilled, and they were having kids there read it. So it helps kids know they're not alone and going through challenging circumstances and are not; people see them.


School Lunch

Valerie - I love that about the book that even, you know, as you deal with these complicated topics, but, you know, Sierra's need for friendship and acceptance is. It's just so broad. It's about, you know, all of us wanting approval and friends, learning to stand up for ourselves, and knowing the difference between when to jump into a situation or step back physically. And I love that you're creating an opportunity for people to understand a world that is not expressed very often with these, you know, warriors coming home. We don't hear a lot about the stories of when they get home and have to deal with PTSD, what their families look like, and the struggles that they go through. We do hear a lot of, you know, what's going on the other side of the world, but there's a whole world happening when they come home. And it opened my eyes to elements of, you know, a soldier's family and story. And definitely, my kids also had a lot of great questions and great ability for us to have conversations about homelessness, about, um, a little bit about racism, a little bit about, um, how our bodies react to different things. And so I love that you are tackling a challenging topic for these young kids because they're dealing with the same stuff, just not as extreme, but still dealing with bullying, trying to make friends, and relating to their peers. And I think that's a charming message that comes from your book. Sierra loves to cook and prides herself on making anything with just about three ingredients. Are you as creative in the kitchen as Sierra is?


Linda -I would say yes, and it can drive my husband crazy because he's an engineer, and he follows a recipe to the letter, and it makes him crazy to watch me just throw things together and open the cabinet and put it. So yes, and I have one of my sons who, growing up, always worked in restaurants, and he will constantly adjust whatever I'm making and is super creative with what he cooks as well. So yeah, it is; that's probably another way I enjoy using creativity in cooking and serving at taverns. Yeah, thank you.


Valerie -Immaculate. Well, what is it? I was it. I'm one of those people that I wouldn't say I like to stick with exactly what is on the recipe, but I need to stick with what's on the recipe. I want to add creative flair but don't understand cooking well. There is an art to it, for sure.


Linda -And there are occasional flops in our house. So, oh well. Yeah. Oh.


Valerie -It's all part of the experience. I have three picky eaters, too, so finding food that everybody eats is always an event in our house. So my kids will come down and say, " Mom, this doesn't smell good. I was like, well if mom and dad don't like it, we will order other food. So, we will find something else. But we're trying something new. Oh goodness, we got to stretch them where I can. But Linda, with this book, what do you hope to communicate or for kids to take away from this story?


Linda MacKillop Quote

Linda -I would hope, and I hope, that kids experience compassion for anybody in their schools who might be struggling or are in their life. One of the questions I read somewhere, I don't even know who to credit with this, but a parent always asked their child when they came home from youth group, who did you sit with today who wouldn't have had anybody else sit with them? I did not ask that of my kids, but I wish I did. And so I think I would love kids to learn that God wants us to care about the hurting. And one of my favorite scriptures is Micah 6,8. He has told you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. And I would love to tell young readers that we desperately need that in our world from all of us in and outside the church, where we are showing compassion and care. So that would be my hope. And yes, it is a young age to start talking about it, but it also feels like a formative time to consider a posture toward life where you are looking out for hurting people.


Micah 6:8 image

Valerie -Yeah, that's interesting. Cause, um, with my three boys, we started, or my oldest started experiencing bullying in third grade, and that's eight and nine. And that's, I mean, that's young. And so I, I feel like they are topics that need to be, you know, brought to these young kids because they're experiencing it younger and younger where most of the bullying, I guess, for me and my husband when we were in school was more in middle school is when that happened. But it's trickling down, and it's something that sneaks in there that you don't know what to do with. But the more kids can see themselves in characters experiencing those things, the more they can equip themselves to handle that situation and cope with it too emotionally. And to see people not just for, oh, that's the weird kid that sits by themselves, but that person that could be hurting and having a hard time. Or why isn't anyone sitting with them? Are they new? Just asking those questions, looking outside of ourselves, which kids have difficulty doing. And even I have a hard time doing it, I will admit. Exactly, exactly. Now, when did your writing journey begin, Linda?


Linda -I started enjoying writing in high school, and it was more poetry and short stories. I felt like I wanted to go to college and study writing. I ended up doing communications, which was not specifically creative writing. There's a little bit of regret there. And then we ended up having four sons, close together, twins. So, in my mind, I wanted to write novels, and I wanted to write fiction, and that was put on hold for a long time. And I know some people juggle kids and novel writing, and I am not one of those people. So, I began to write seriously when my kids were in middle or high school. But it was, what I was publishing was nonfiction, like creative nonfiction and writing content. And I wrote some columns and that kind of thing. And they did get picked up. Then, I finished a novel for adults. And that was the first book that I wrote to completion. Then, Hotel Oscar My Gecko was the second book. So.


Valerie - Very neat. Now, what has been, I guess, did you always want to be an author? You answered this a little bit, that it's always something in the back of your brain, but is it something that you, I don't know, naturally fell into?


Linda -I think ever since, so I remember writing a poem when I was in high school, and it was, and I don't know if I still own it, but it was on acceptance. And I remember finishing it and thinking, I just learned something from that, which, you know, I wasn't a Christian at the time, but I feel like that was almost a call in my life. That, and so, in the back of my mind, I wanted to write somehow. And then, in my twenties, I became a Christian. And then, you know, writing takes on a different style and purpose and all of that. But I would say since I was a teenager, I wanted to be a writer, but it took a lot of practice.



Valerie -It still takes a lot of work, even for those that come easy. I have a teenage son. He wants to write stories and struggles to get things down on paper. And I was like, look, but 10% of it is, you know, getting it on the form. 90% is editing. It's like, it doesn't have to be perfect, you know, the first time down. And he struggles with that. Like, no, it has to be perfect. Like, no, get it down. That's the hardest part.


Linda -Yeah. That's excellent advice for him because I think the revising part is where so many exciting things come out, and it can be fun and creative. And so good advice, mom.


Valerie - Thanks. Occasionally, right? Now, did any of your boys' head to the military?


Linda -No, no, they all went off to college. So, my dad was in the military, my father-in-law was in the military, more that generation.


Valerie -Gotcha. Okay, then here's the tricky question: military question. All right, which branch of the military?


Linda - I think my father and father-in-law were in the army, and neither went into battle during the Korean War. They were doing a kind of administrative work. So, well, that's a good question. I'll have to confirm.


Valerie- My family is an Air Force family, and my husband's family is an Army family. When we first married, there was a significant conflict over how we folded the sheets under our bed. And so it's always these funny ways like, okay, is it how we do it? Is it the army better to fold folding sheets, or is it the Air Force way? So, it's always fun to see people's reactions to the different branches because there's a culture in each.


Air Force

Linda -Very funny. I always remember my father; his shoes were perfectly lined up. As he learned, he learned that neatness in the military. You know, our garage was perfect. And so, order, order.


Valerie -Order, order, order. Yes. Cause if you don't, then you're running another lap to find now, Linda, what has been the most impactful book in your life besides the Bible?


Linda -My first answer there would be the Bible, but that's like the Sunday School answer. I would say there are a few nonfiction books that I love. One is The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns. I don't think he's the head of the world's vision anymore, but when he wrote the book, he was, and he's talking about, it's kind of a hard word for Christians, but to care

Celebration of Discipline Cover

about the poor and the hurting and the people living on the margins. I took that to heart. Another book I loved, and I read this probably as an early Christian, is the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. He breaks it down into different spiritual disciplines, but he wrote this one chapter on simplicity, and it was my absolute favorite chapter in the book. At the time, I had four young kids, and my life was chaotic, so I think the idea of simplicity sounded great, but he wrote a book based on that chapter called Freedom of Simplicity. And that's also a book I took to heart. It was freedom, simplicity, how we spend, live our lives, use our time, and have it to give away. So, I've taken that to heart over the years, which is good.


Valerie -That's counter-cultural is, you know, because we are always like, let's do the thing, do, do this, do this, especially with the kids at home. And I think we do long for that simplicity and that rest that, you know, God asks of us in his word. And I believe that there's some real sound wisdom there. I even have that Celebration of Disciplines book by Foster's, too. I was like, where is that? I was challenged the most by the fasting chapter in that Celebration of Disciplines book just because it's again not something natural in our culture to bring fasting in, and it's been an exciting challenge through Motherhood and all the things Let's see. What was it? I guess about 15 years ago, when I read it, fasting when I'm trying to decide or need God's guidance was a new discipline. So it's been good. But your first book was for adults, and then Hotel Oscar Mike Echo is for the middle-grade audience. What made you make the jump from adult to middle grade?


Linda – When my sons were young for a couple of years, we homeschooled, and I did a literature-based curriculum with them. And so I have, you know, a library filled with kids' books that I just loved. And there was, and there really was, just different ideas in the back of my mind. And so this came about; it felt like an excellent way to pull all of these pieces together where I had been thinking about kids in challenging circumstances. And one other part about the inspiration: a friend of mine lived in the inner city of Richmond for several years. The story takes place as a single woman who worked for a ministry there where they were; they tutored and taught classes for the kids in the neighborhood. She inspired me, and I could stay with her for a while, attend some of their classes and meetings, and see how they were investing in the kids.


Valerie -Yes, I can't remember their names, but the two that run the Kimono home, yes, the good ones. I love their heart, and we can all think of a good character in our lives. They're like, ah, they just were home to me, and they, you know, were inspiring and made me feel safe. And I love that your experience is fed into creating this home, this ministry, these people. I love what you did with the book to make it accessible for kids on these complex topics and allow them to see something and relate to it. I think that's the goal of books around middle-grade age, to help them see beyond themselves. I love that your reader does that. Now, what can we expect next from you, Linda?


Linda -I am. I finished a third novel, which is back to writing for adults. It's with my literary agent, so I'm waiting for that one to be sent out and hopefully find a home. And then, with the way that Hotel Oscar Mike echoed, echo ended, I always wanted to write a follow-up and already have some ideas. We will see. I guess it's, you know, I don't know if the publisher is interested in doing that, but I think I'm just going to write it. I will write a follow-up to her because I feel like there's more to her story. And I just really, and I love the characters. The hardest part about writing fiction is you put the end at the end of a book, and you've gotten to know these people. And I was sad to say goodbye to her.


Valerie -I know she is such a sweet character. I love that even in the trials and the hardship she's going through, she has a hope of, you know, I'm going to be on a cooking show one day and just, you know, there's, there's that hope and that promise that you put throughout the book, just that she's not so focused on her situation to get lost in it, but she just continually has hope for something else. And she does that great with the little boy, helping him with his math and, you know, in his situation. And so, I would love to see more about Sierra's story and how her home develops, which isn't so much a place, but a group of people. So I love that. Where can people find out more about you and your books, Linda?


Linda -I have a website that's just my name , I am on Instagram and Facebook as Linda McKillop's Writer. So, people can remind me there.


Valerie -Okay. Well, I hope people will reach out and discover more about your books and all that you're doing with your writing because I have enjoyed getting to know you and your book here in the last few weeks as I've been reading through it. So, thank you so much for joining us today.


Linda -Thank you, it means a lot. Appreciate it.


Valerie -And thank you for joining Linda and me on this episode of the Bookworthy Podcast. Check out the show notes for any books or links we discussed, and let us know in the comments what you like to do to turn a frown upside down. Be sure to like and subscribe to discover more great books together.

Happy reading.

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