Author Judy Dodge Cummings is on the Front Lines of Fascinating History
In Great Escapes: Real Tales of Harrowing Getaways, readers meet five ingenious fugitives and freedom seekers who all shared one common goal: escape. The book includes the story of the Far Eastern Party pictured here, who spent months in Antarctica, trying desperately to make their way back to camp and to safety.
Sound horrifying? It's a very edge-of-your-seat kind of story!
Author Judy Dodge Cummings love history and does a fantastic job conveying her passion for everything past in her books. She's the author of the Mystery & Mayhem series, true tales about real episodes. In this interview, she talks about her writing process and what fascinates her about escape stories.Tell us a little bit about your background in this subject and how your own history helped you create this history book.
I was weaned on history. Our family took road trips every year across the country while I was growing up, and my dad never met a historical marker he didn’t like. The stories behind these markers intrigued me. Although I didn’t major in history my first time through college, I loved studying it. When I returned to school to get a second degree, I decided to stop fighting the inevitable, and I majored in social studies with an emphasis in history.
How did you select which escapes to include in this book?
I chose the escapes I found most thrilling, but I made sure to mix up the topic. There are many prison breaks in history, but I did not want every escape in the book to be about people breaking out of a literal jail. So, I included the stories of East Germans escaping from communism and Douglas Mawson escaping from Antarctica. I wanted readers to think broadly about the forces that take peoples’ freedom.
One of the fun things about writing for Nomad Press is the freedom my editors give me to choose my own direction with the topic I’m writing about. The only suggestion they nixed for this book was the escape of Aaron Ralston. He was a mountain climber whose arm got trapped under a boulder so he amputated it himself, climbed down the mountain and hiked miles to safety. It’s a very exciting story, but rather a gory one.
What is your favorite stage of writing a nonfiction book?
I love the research! Historical research is almost as good as a time machine. It takes you places and introduces you to people who shaped the world. But you have to be careful. Research is like a rabbit hole. You burrow to find the answer to a question and suddenly you’re headed down a different path and hours disappear. But it’s a fun rabbit hole.
Do you only write non-fiction historical books or do you work with multiple topics, genres, and age ranges?
History is definitely my favorite topic to write about, either nonfiction or fiction. However, I have also written books on the pope, polar explorations, and hip hop music. I write for upper elementary through high school age readers.
What is your next project?
I’m writing a history/activity book on the Civil War, and I’m working on a young adult novel set in seventeenth-century Massachusetts. It’s about witches!
Would you be tough enough to have escaped from the traps you described in this book?
That’s a great question. Mawson’s trials in Antarctica would have killed me, no doubt about it. As for escaping from Alcatraz, I hope I would never find myself imprisoned in a place like that. But if I did, I think I would just serve out my time. I’ve heard there are sharks in the San Francisco Bay. I like to think I would be as brave as the Crafts, Simon Gronowski, or the folks who crawled through Tunnel 57. But who knows? I suspect the tug of war a person feels between fear and the desire for freedom is intense.
What do you hope readers take away from this book?
I hope readers feel the thrill of history. History is not dull. It’s about life and all the drama that comes with human existence. If my book can spark interest in history in young readers, then I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.
Fiction vs nonfiction -- which do you prefer to read? Which do you prefer to write?
I can’t go to sleep at night without reading at least a few pages of a novel, even if I have to hold my eyelids open. Fiction is my escape. I really enjoy writing both fiction and nonfiction. They feed different parts of my brain.
Any last thoughts, insights, or words of wisdom that you would care to share with us?
I meet lots of people who say that they hated history when they were in school. If that’s true for you, give the subject another try. Well-written history tells universal stories that have meaning for modern readers.