University lecturer’s first novel lands major publishing deal
The book, “The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls,” is about a girl in the Depression Era who lives in a secluded Florida home. After she is engulfed in scandal, she’s sent off to a camp for girls.
“The Yonahlosse Riding camp for Girls is a real place, it serves completely the pleasure of my imagination, but for a long time it was the oldest girls camp in the U.S.; and it no longer functions, it is no longer in existence but the idea of place was just really fascinating to me,” DiSclafani said.
Indeed, the setting for the book came to DiSclafani almost before the idea for the book itself. The camp is right next to her parents’ cabin in Blowing Rock, N.C. With the setting and the idea of a girl sent against her will, DiSclafani set about writing the book—her first piece of historical fiction.
“I didn’t set out wanting to explore a particular time as much as I wanted to explore a particular place. And so I definitely—in my mode of writing historical fiction, I wrote the novel first and then added in a lot of historical detail. So I wasn’t like a history buff, I was more fascinated by this place,” DiSclafani said. “My family eats dinner at a restaurant that is in the old headmaster’s cabin. So I just love the idea of girls going away to this camp; I mean, they were all relatively wealthy but they would leave that world and go back to a world where there were few options for women still, and that idea just stuck with me.”
DiSclafani brought her love of writing to Wash. U., where she teaches several non-fiction courses and historical writing, the latter for the first time this semester. She also helps to run the Skipped Generation Writing Project, a program that pairs senior citizens with undergraduate students to develop their writing skills.
Even with all her work with Washington University, DiSclafani finds time to write, mostly for two to three hours in the morning.
DiSclafani loved being a part of the MFA program where she wrote the majority of her first book.
“You are surrounded by people who care about the same things you care about and it is a lot of time devoted to writing before you have to enter the real world. And then I think just doing it—sitting down in a chair and making yourself do it is the hardest thing for me and for a lot of writers—just making it part of your routine, which isn’t glamorous but I feel that it works.”
DiSclafani also met husband and Wash. U. professor Mathew Smith at the school’s MFA program.
“We are a fiction love story,” she said. “We met in the MFA program, both the same year, and we got married near where the book is set in 2009,” she said. They also read each other’s writing.