A Writer's Playground

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Who Would Write About Leprosy? Joyce Moyer Hostetter, That’s Who

Posted by lindamartinandersen on January 27, 2013

“Who Would Write About Leprosy?  Joyce Moyer Hostetter, That’s Who” by Linda Martin Andersen

“A Writer’s Playground”–A place to find wordplay, writing, and monthly calendar activities for kids and those young at heart.

It’s World Leprosy Week–January 27–Feb. 2. 

You  have the opportunity to meet an author who says,

  “I write historical novels for young people. Sadly, I am drawn to tragic themes. However, my books do contain humor, and each are populated with spunky characters who tell their stories in a lively voice!”

Today, Joyce Hostetter will provide a question and answer session about leprosy and her book, Healing Water: A Hawaiian Story.

Join me in providing a warm welcome for Joyce Moyer Hostetter


Healing Water: A Hawaiian Story


Leprosy Q & A:  A little Conversation With Myself

Why did you write about leprosy?

Yeah, really.  Because is there a more depressing topic?  And my book, HEALING WATER starts on a real downer, with my character, 12 year old Pia, being deported to the Kalaupapa leprosy settlement in Hawaii.

The Book Trailer will give you a glimpse into Pia’s experience.

I wrote this story after discovering that Father Damien, a Catholic priest, chose to live among Hawaii’s leprosy patients.  He found terrible living conditions and much despair but he loved the people and petitioned the government to meet their needs. Because of Damien, the leprosy settlement became a hopeful community.   And trust me, my book gets more hopeful too!

So, before we go any further, what exactly is leprosy? 

The World Health Organization offers some terrific info on the disease.  IF you take a close look at their site you’ll discover that.

  • Leprosy is caused by a bacterium. Untreated, it damages skin and nerves and can lead to blindness and disfigurement. There are several types of leprosy.
  • Leprosy is not nearly as contagious as we once imagined.
  • Leprosy is spread through droplets from the mouth and nose of an infected person.
  • At the beginning of 2012 there were 182,000 people affected by leprosy – mostly in parts of Asia and Africa.

Is there a cure for leprosy?

Not at the time of my story (mid 1800s).  But, today, yes!  There are several drug combinations for several different types of leprosy.  One type requires twelve monthly doses.  The other involves six monthly doses.

Why are people so afraid of leprosy?

  • Untreated, leprosy can lead to disfigurement.
  • In the past people with leprosy were nearly always separated from their homes and family.  That’s something to fear!
  • The Old Testament (Leviticus 13) called leprosy a plague.  People with leprosy were considered unclean. In the Bible, leprosy typically referred to a variety of skin conditions – not necessarily leprosy as we know it today.  But the stigma followed leprosy down through the centuries.  The term “leper” is offensive; so many people now prefer to call leprosy Hansen’s Disease.

Why Hansen’s Disease?

In 1873 Gerhard Hansen of Norway, discovered the bacteria that causes leprosy.

Where do you go to research a story about leprosy?

How about Hawaii?  Actually I went to Hawaii to research life in Hawaii and also to visit the former leprosy settlement where my story takes place.  Doing so, gave me a feel for the landscape where my character lived.  However, I could only visit the leprosy settlement through a brief guided tour because former patients still live there and the state protects their privacy.  (That’s a good thing, of course.)

So how did you research leprosy itself?

I consulted the World Health Organization and leprosy related websites.  But I especially wanted to learn the kinds of things my character would have believed about leprosy in the mid- 1800s. I read memoirs by people who visited or lived in the Hawaiian leprosy settlement. I also interviewed three doctors who worked with leprosy patients in Africa and Trinidad.  They read my manuscript for accuracy and helped me get it right.

A favorite resource was an old book – The Path of the Destroyer: A History of Leprosy in the Hawaiian Islands and Thirty Years Research Into The Means By Which It Has Been Spread.  You’ve got to love a descriptive title! The author, Dr. A.A. Mouritz, worked with Father Damien.

Where can I learn more about Hawaii’s people and their history with leprosy?

Try these books.

Kalaupapa:  A Collective Memory – by Anwei Law

My Name is Makia:  A Memoir of Kalaupapa By Makia Malo

Molokai – by Alan Brennert – a novel set in the Kalaupapa leprosy settlement

Didn’t you write about some other disease too? What’s up with you and diseases?

Ah, such a good question.  I think tragedy calls to me.   My middle grade novel BLUE is about a girl whose family is affected by polio.  The sequel, COMFORT deals with the after-effects of polio and also post-war trauma.

So what disease are you writing about now?

Surprise – no diseases involved.   My work-in-progress is about fourteen year-old Amber whose mom has died. Amber regrets how she treated her mother and wants to undo the conflict in their relationship.  She goes on a search through some family keepsakes to recover her mother’s story.  Some pretty amazing stuff happened in her mother’s life which leads Amber to discover her grandfather’s story and on back through several more generations.  Each generation is a separate fully plotted story and they’re all threaded together by Amber’s emotional journey.

Thanks Linda for hosting this Q & A.  I’m impressed you are commemorating Leprosy Week.  Would you believe, I didn’t even know there was such a thing until you told me?

Guess what?  Joyce has agreed to give away a copy of Healing Water.  To enter, please leave a comment here before midnight February 2, 2013.  The winner will be announced on February 3, 2013.  Thank you for offering to do this, Joyce.  Please leave your email address on the post so I can contact the winner.  Thank you.

If you’d like to learn about the leprosy hospital in Carville, Louisiana that has now become a museum, check out Joyce Hostetter’s latest blog post at http://joycemoyerhostetter.blogspot.com/2013/01/in-keeping-with-world-leprosy-week-id.html

Copyright © 2013 Linda Martin Andersen

82 Responses to “Who Would Write About Leprosy? Joyce Moyer Hostetter, That’s Who”

  1. Maureen Wartski said

    I remember reading the eloquent
    Portion of Mitchner’s +Hawaii+ that dealt with leprosy. I a short story about that subject long, long ago.
    Brvo, Joyce. A wonderful book.
    Thanks for posting it, Linda.

  2. Dear Linda,

    Thank you for interviewing Joyce Moyer Hostetter. I loved her book, Blue. Joyce has a great way of putting you in the world of her characters so that you understand their trials and triumphs. You feel they are yours, too. I admire her determination and creativity in writing Healing Waters.

    • Joan,
      I agree that Joyce puts you right there and lets you know her characters well. Sounds like you’re a fan of her writing, just like me. Thanks for being a faithful follower of my blog too.

      • Joan Y. Edwards said

        You’re welcome for my being a faithful follower of your blog. It’s a fun blog. It’s the place to be.
        Celebrate you.
        Never Give Up
        Joan Y. Edwards

    • joycemoyerhostetter said

      Hi Joan,

      Thanks for your kind words. In some ways this is my favorite of my books but it is lesser known. Probably my fault – you know the neglected second child! ; )

      • Joan Y. Edwards said

        Dear Joyce,
        You’re very welcome. Lepers have always been the underdog in history. It’s good that you explain it so that people are more compassionate than afraid. Thank you for writing such good stories for us to read.
        Celebrate you.
        Never Give Up
        Joan Y. Edwards

  3. authorann said

    Thanks for posting this great interview. I remember reading about Father Damien when I was in high school. He is such a wonderful and inspiring man. I am anxious to read Joyce’s book, Healing Water. The next time I go to Hawaii I plan to visit the colony on Molokai.

    • Ann,
      I hope you’ll get to read Joyce’s book and visit Hawaii again too. Thanks for commenting. I hope your writing success continues to expand upward and outward.

    • joycemoyerhostetter said

      So Ann, do you expect to ride mules into the leprosy settlement or hike in. You can fly in too, of course. I was afraid to ride the mules and chose to hike. Sore muscles! But it was worth it. Hope you can go.

  4. Kayla Gerber said

    I really want that book I have read it once but I really want to read it again !!!!!!LEASE GIVE IT YO ME!!!!

  5. Hi Linda,
    I thoroughly enjoyed this interview with Joyce. Hi Joyce. I’ll be sure to check out your books.
    And Linda, good for you for dealing with a subject most would shy away from. I also didn’t know it was Leprosy Week.
    Have a wonderful week, ladies.
    Tracy 🙂

    • Tracy,
      I’m glad I introduced you to one of my favorite authors and a very nice lady. Please check out Joyce’s books. You’ll be glad you did. Thanks for being such a loyal follower.

    • joycemoyerhostetter said

      Hi Tracy,

      I love your whimsical blog! Thank you for dropping in. Don’t know how available my books are in Ontario but hey, maybe you’ll win this one and I can send it.

      • Hi Joyce,
        Thanks for checking out my “Whimsical Blog”. I hope you’ll drop by sometime.
        That would be super cool if I won a copy of your book.
        And Linda, you’re my loyal follower too! 🙂

  6. Great interview, and I don’t think I ever saw this movie trailer–it’s a great one! Thanks for hosting Joyce, Linda, but you don’t have to enter me in the contest. Have read and loved this book!

    • Carol,
      How kind of you to enhance everyone’s chances at winning the giveaway since you’ve read the book already. I’m glad you enjoyed Joyce’s post and the movie trailer. It’s always get to learn more about and from someone we admire.

    • joycemoyerhostetter said

      Ah Rosi – Thanks! So kind of you to bless a school.

    • joycemoyerhostetter said

      How does one delete a misplaced comment. Not sure how I got Rosi’s comment on yours, Carol. But thanks to YOU for your feedback.

  7. Rosi said

    Wonderful interview. I LOVE this book. It is a magnificent piece of work. Since I own it and have read it, if you pull my name from the hat, please donate it to your local school library. Thanks for the wonderful post.

    • Hi Rosi,
      Welcome! Thanks for visiting and commenting at “A Writer’s Playground” and Joyce’s guest blog post. I know just the library for Healing Water, if your name is pulled. What a terrific gesture on your part. I agree that Joyce’s writing is magnificent–like fine art. Please stop in any time. Glad to have you.

    • joycemoyerhostetter said

      Thanks so much Rosi for blessing a school this way. And also just for dropping by.

  8. HEALING WATER is the only one of Joyce’s books that I haven’t read. I admire the incredible research Joyce pours into her books and she always nails the voice too.

  9. Alex Baugh said

    Great interview and I can’t wait to read Healing Water. I love that Joyce writes about such topics. Like polio (Blue/Comfort) Leprosy isn’t talked about much these days, but people should be familar with it. Please through my name in the pool for a copy of the book.

  10. Thanks for the great interview on writing about a not-so-touched topic. As a writer, I could learn a lot by reading Joyce’s Healing Water. My email is juli_the_alto@yahoo.com.

  11. Kathleen said

    Wonderful interview. I am a big fan of Joyce. I loved reading BLUE and COMFORT and it inspired me to write my story in first person as well. Thank you for all this information!

    • joycemoyerhostetter said

      Hi Kathleen, great to hear from you again. How’s that story coming? Such a compelling (tragic) piece of history. World changing – for your mother and all of us.

      • Kathleen said

        Hi Joyce, Thank you so much for asking. THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM manuscript is finally finished! Hooray! I wanted to finish it in time to give to my mother on her 80th birthday last month. 🙂 I am just about finished with editing my last few chapters –again. I then plan to send queries to agents and crossing my fingers. 🙂

      • joycemoyerhostetter said

        Awesome, Kathleen. All the best as you seek an agent and eventually publication.

    • Kathy,
      Wonderful to hear that Joyce’s books inspired you to write in first person. Just like Joyce, you have a great book in the works. I’m really looking forward to reading it. I wish you the best!

      Thanks for stopping by and for commenting.

  12. Hi, Joyce–your subject immediately caught my eye because I remember reading about Father Damien as a child. Remarkable man, remarkable story. I look forward to reading yours. julie krantz

    • Julie,
      Welcome to “A Writer’s Playground.” Always good to have new friends visiting and commenting. I’m so glad you noticed the topic and chose to read Joyce’s guest blog. She’s super. Enjoy reading Healing Water. Come again soon.

    • joycemoyerhostetter said

      Lovely to hear from you, Julie. Hope you can read Healing Water. Father Damien is now Saint Damien. He continues to amaze me.

  13. I remember my father’s mother, GranMaury, telling us about her visits to the Hawaiian leper colony in 1915 and how awful it was to see people treated like pariahs.

  14. As always, you inspire me, Joyce! How fascinating to learn some of the backstory and research that went into writing HEALING WATER (I already have an autographed copy from you!). You really piqued my interest with your teaser of your new work in progress. So ambitious and what a challenge! Keep us posted.

  15. Janelle said

    What a great interview! I learned a lot! I love that you write about important and little-known aspects of history like this, Joyce! And I’m thrilled that you’re highlighting such a great book and important theme, Linda!

  16. I’d love to win a copy to add to my Sciency Fiction collection! I’m a microbiologist by training, so I have a keen interest in infectious diseases.

  17. This book sounds wonderful. I love historical fiction…a clear sign that I have a bit of a fascination with depressing topics, too. 🙂 But I love the way a good historical novel shows hope in the midst of war and disease and tragedy.
    I’d love to win a copy! Here’s my email: faith(dot)hough(at)gmail(dot)com

    • Faith,
      So glad you stopped in to read Joyce Hostetter’s post at “A Writer’s Playground.” Historical fiction seems to be gaining in popularity. I’m glad because I love it too. You’re entered to win.

    • joycemoyerhostetter said

      See Faith – that’s it exactly! “I love the way a good historical novel shows hope in the midst of war and disease and tragedy”
      Thanks for entering and good luck!

  18. Joyce, you are an inspiration, as always! Thanks for doing this interview, Linda. HEALING WATERS is on my reading list whether or not I win the copy. prmiller(at)bnin(dot)net

    • Peggy,
      So glad you visited “A Writer’s Playground” and left a comment. Nice to have you. Be sure to check Joyce’s latest posts that tell more about Father Damien and leprosy. It’s good to hear that Healing Water will be read no matter what. Good deal!

    • joycemoyerhostetter said

      Well, Peggy I do believe you’ve won several giveaways I’ve been involved in. Maybe you’ll be lucky again!

  19. Susan Williams said

    Joyce and Linda, I am really sorry I missed this interview. We had 2 deaths in our family that took me out of town, and I honestly forgot the date. But as a medical technologist who specialized in microbiology, I certainly want to read the book. I remember learning many years ago in school that the organism causing leprosy could only be grown in the footpads of an armadillo. That has changed now. And it’s really not as contagious as once believed. It’s good for everyone to learn that many times things aren’t as scary as they seem.

    • joycemoyerhostetter said

      I agree, Susan. Time to let go of some of those old fears.And especially all the negative attitudes toward this disease. I have read (NY Times) that armadillos can spread leprosy. Apparently some people eat armadillo!
      I’m sorry to hear about the family deaths. Blessings as you regroup.and settle back into life.

    • Susan,
      I’m so glad you were able to participate in this discussion. I know you were looking forward to it. I always enjoy reading your comments. You have interesting facts to add. Thank goodness science and medicine have come a long ways.

      Sorry to hear of more deaths in your family. Celebrate the joy in your life.

  20. Gail Hurlburt said

    If I win the copy I will donate it to Randleman Elementary School Library. Thanks for your wonderful books!
    Gail Hurlburt
    Randleman, NC

  21. […] Who Would Write About Leprosy? Joyce Moyer Hostetter, That’s Who (lindamartinandersen.wordpress.com) […]

  22. […] A Writer’s Playground – https://lindamartinandersen.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/who-would-write-about-leprosy-joyce-moyer-hostet… […]

  23. […] Who would Write About Leprosy?  Joyce Moyer Hostetter, That’s Who https://lindamartinandersen.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/who-would-write-about-leprosy-joyce-moyer-hostet… […]

  24. […] A Writer’s Playground – https://lindamartinandersen.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/who-would-write-about-leprosy-joyce-moyer-hostet… […]

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