Taffy of Torpedo Junction

By Nell Wise Wechter

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Taffy of Torpedo Junction

154 pp., 5 x 7.5, 4 halftones, 1 maps

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4619-3
    Published: August 1996
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-0136-6
    Published: August 1996

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Author Q&A

Copyright (c) 1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. All rights reserved.

Celebrating Taffy's 50th Birthday

Nell Wise Wechter's prize-winning Taffy of Torpedo Junction hasdelighted readers of all ages for decades. Wechter, a North Carolinanative who died in 1989, tells the adventures of the 13-year-old Taffyin the Outer Banks during World War II. The book was first published in1957 and went out of print in 1995. One year later, the University ofNorth Carolina Press obtained the paperback rights and continued topublish Taffy. On May 9, 1996, Taffy celebrated her 50thbirthday. The following is a conversation with Wechter's daughter,Marcia Kass, about the book's importance, the joy of celebrating its50th anniversary, and its ability to be enjoyed for years to come.

Q: TAFFY OF TORPEDO JUNCTION has been called "perhaps the best piece of children literature ever produced in (North Carolina)." What makes this story so phenomenal?

A: First of all, it's based intruth. Mother experienced everything that she wrote about in thebook—everything is something that really happened. Second, she told thestory so vividly. She brought to life things that people had neveractually experienced, but when they read them they felt as if they hadbeen there. The story just had so much authenticity. Mother had a giftfor language and for writing conversation—she was able to capture theflavor of the Outer Banks and of the people who lived there.

Q: What was your reaction when you discovered the book was going out of print in 1995? And how did you feel when the decision was made to reprint it just one year later?

A: When it went out of print I wasdistraught; I was in tears. I couldn't believe it, and I said this justcannot be allowed to happen. I called a few people, among them DennisRogers of the (Raleigh) News and Observer. Dennis shared my dismay, andhe began the campaign that turned into a nationwide story. We justcouldn't let Taffy die. And I'm eternally grateful to UNC Press forhaving the foresight to take Taffy on. It's given her a whole new lifeand generation of fans.

Q: Do you think the audience will appreciate Taffy's story differently than they did when it was first told?

A: I think so. There aren't manypeople alive now who were alive back then. The story will have to standmore on its own merits and less on the memories of those who livedthrough the kinds of things that happened in the book. She may have awhole new group of fans in this generation. And kids need to learnhistory now more than ever before—so many children live strictly in thepresent. They need to know where their parents and their grandparentscame from, the history of their family, and how good they have it today.

Q: What was it like being around your mother as she was writing this book?

A: It was like being on a rollercoaster! Writers are a volatile lot, and the pride of authorship is adelicate thing. Mother would go on emotional waves. She would pound onher typewriter so hard that you could hear it a mile away. If she gotnegative feedback from her publisher, it could send her into the depthsof despair. But she was a person of great determination. She kept at it,and she ended up with a product that has withstood the test of time.

Q: Do you think you inspired any part of Taffy's character?

A: I don't think I did, but Ithink Carol Dillon certainly did. Carol was about twenty years mysenior, and was one of my mother's students during World War II. Motherwas single when she first began teaching, and she lived in aboardinghouse that was run by Carol Dillon's mother, Maud White. Andmany of the other characters were based on people who lived around mymother. You can bet that Maud was the model for Mrs. Oden, thepostmistress. She was a sweet lady, but she had a sharp tongue. Big Jenswas modeled after my father, who was a Coast Guardsman on the OuterBanks during World War II. I'm sure other children whom my mother taughtwere models for children in the book.

Q: Your mother was a very accomplished author of children's literature. How does TAFFY OF TORPEDO JUNCTION compare to her other books?

A: By far, Taffy is my mother'sbest book. It was her first, and I think it's her best. Betsy Dowdy isvery interesting too. It has a heroine who is similar to Taffy—a braveteenager who is very patriotic. Betsy and Taffy shared a lot ofcharacteristics. Swamp Girl was actually written about my adventures asa little girlÑa lot of the things that happened in the book happened tome. So that's my personal favorite, selfishly. And Teach's Light wasdifficult for my mother because she was dealing with a genre that shewas unfamiliar with—science fiction. But she did a wonderful job—whenyou get to the end and she's describing the sulfur, you can really smellthe sulfur.

Q: What is your favorite part of Taffy's adventures?

A: I think my favorite part waswhen she found Brandy. That was very exciting—you want to just grab himup and hug him. Brandy was also modeled after a dog that lived in ourneighborhood in Greensboro—a little boxer named Brandy, too. Again, youjust read the things that happen, and you feel as if you were there andthey were happening to you.

Q: TAFFY OF TORPEDO JUNCTION certainly appeals to young children growing up near the ocean. Do you think it appeals equally to children elsewhere?

A: Yes, it does. Taffy appeals tochildren everywhere. Her characteristics, as author Bland Simpson soaptly described them in his foreword, are admirable. She is brave andindependent and curious; she is respectful to her elders; she isresponsible. She has all those attributes that we all aspire to, or usedto when we were young.