Newman University Alum Clare Vanderpool and her family

‘I love a good story’


Home and family have a special meaning for Clare (Sander) Vanderpool.

Newman University Alumn Clare Vanderpool and her family

L-r: Mark, Grace, Luke, Clare, and Paul Vanderpool on a recent Colorado vacation.

The 1987 graduate of Kansas Newman College grew up in the College Hill area of Wichita, the neighborhood she lives in now.

While growing up she attended Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, the church she and her family attend today.

And as a girl she went to Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, the school she and her husband Mark chose to send all the Vanderpool children: Luke, age 15; Paul, 13; Grace, 11; and Lucy 9.

So perhaps it is not surprising that home and family play important roles in her novel, Moon Over Manifest, the story of the only daughter of a drifter who is searching for her own meaning of home.

“The book looks at what ‘home’ is from a perspective of the girl, who is always on the move with her father,” Vanderpool said. “I’m very rooted in the idea of ‘home,’ and so the character is completely opposite of me. That made it interesting for me in many ways.”

‘It was the fun’

Although Vanderpool had thought about being a writer since she was a young girl, she came to Newman in 1983 with the intention of being a teacher. She said she chose Newman in part because other campuses she visited didn’t appeal to her.

“There was just a very nice feeling here,” she said, “very welcoming, with an active, vibrant campus life.”

Staying in Wichita also allowed Vanderpool to work as a secretary in the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, a job she held through much of college.

At Newman, she lived on campus and was involved with student government and the teachers club. And while she values the high academic standards and spiritual grounding that characterized her education, she said another aspect of her college experience stands out in her memory.

“My classes and the teachers were great, but really it was the fun – the crazy college things you do,” she said. “And I made a lot of friends with students and faculty. Some have been very long-lasting.”

Vanderpool earned a bachelor’s degree in English and elementary education, but instead of teaching in a school she was hired as program director for the Diocesan Youth Office. Her teaching skills served her well in that role, as she planned and operated retreats, weekend leadership camps, leadership training sessions and similar projects for high school students and young adults.

Vanderpool said she loved the experience.

“I like high school kids,” she said. “I like their humor and enthusiasm. And I felt I was doing something important, providing them with opportunities to share their faith and get involved in the church. Now that I have kids that age, the experience has really been helpful. I’m still using the things I learned then.”

Building her craft

Vanderpool stopped working for the diocese when her first child, Luke, was born, and began writing while he was still an infant. She continued writing – and having children –over the next five years. From the beginning, her interest was children’s literature. All of her work has been written for middle school readers.

Vanderpool said the most significant experience she had building her craft as a writer came from the former Milton Center at Newman, which held a weekly Friday afternoon writers workshop.

“I was invited to come and read from my work and discuss it with other writers,” she said. “That was invaluable. I was struck with how, for me coming in as a novice, the group would treat my work with the same care and hold it to the same standards as the more experienced writers. That was very helpful.”

Within a few years, Vanderpool produced her first book, a time travel story about a young girl who is transported from present-day America to World War II-era Ireland. Vanderpool hopes to do some further editing on the book and submit it for publication as well.

Vanderpool said she began thinking of a second book based on “a little idea that had percolated in my head.” She had come across a book about old maps, which had a quotation in the forward from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: “It is not down on any map. True places never are.”

Vanderpool was intrigued by the idea, and when her next opportunity to read for the Milton Center came up she produced 20 pages of what would ultimately become Moon Over Manifest. Vanderpool said those 20 pages are still in the book,  in pretty much the same form as her original draft.

Moon Over Manifest is the story of 11-year-old Abilene Tucker who, thanks to her father, finds herself in Manifest, Kan., during the Great Depression. The setting for the fictional town of Manifest is based on Frontenac, Kan., located in the southeast corner of the state, that was home to members of her maternal grandparents’ family. As Vanderpool delved into the region’s history, she found that it increasingly steered the direction of the story.

“I found out that people from more than 20 foreign countries lived in Frontenac,” she said. “They worked in the mines. At one time that part of Kansas, Cherokee and Crawford Counties, were considered the bootleg capital of Kansas. So, all that research kind of filtered into the story.”

One element of her family history that played a large part in the plot was the Spanish Influenza epidemic that swept through the Frontenac area. Several of Vanderpool’s family members contracted it. Her grandmother was the only one from her immediate family who survived.

Historical fiction

Moon Over Manifest is being published by Random House, and will be in bookstores across the nation in fall 2010. Vanderpool said she is pleased with the book. “I try not to start off a book with too much of an agenda,” she said. “I just want it to be a good story.”

Last year, she began working on a third novel, although she has temporarily set it aside because of the proofing, revisions and other work associated with publishing Moon Over Manifest. Like her other works, the new book will entail research – an activity Vanderpool said she enjoys so much that she often has to force herself to actually start writing.

Her love of research was the topic of a presentation she made at a Children’s Literature Workshop sponsored by Newman last June, which was designed to help educators, writers and other interested parties learn from professionals in the children’s literature publishing industry. Vanderpool said she thoroughly enjoyed describing to others how she used newspapers, yearbooks, and historical records to develop Moon Over Manifest.

But then, she pretty much enjoys everything about historical fiction.

“Given the choice between writing about contemporary times or historical times I’ll choose historical every time,” she said. “It just seems richer to me in terms of setting, and it conjures up more in my imagination of what was happening, and what can happen. Some writers say they love words, or the themes that come out during the writing process. For me, it’s all about the story. I love a good story.”

Even better, a story about home and family.

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