Stone Heart’s Woman

“If you want something done,” wrote Benjamin Franklin, “ask a busy person.” Unquestionably, the venerable statesman would apply this definition to Velda Brotherton, a whirling dervish author who – now in her seventh decade – shows no signs of setting aside her pen or moving away from her keyboard. If the books she has published to date are any indication of her prolific imagination, we’re in for a gloriously long ride with characters she is unabashedly pleased to bring to life. And hey, who among us can’t relate to her crush on Tom Selleck?

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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What ignited your passion for writing and what were the first steps you took toward that journey? 

I wrote a lot when I was a young mother, but then as my children began to need more of my time and I went to work full time as well, I put away my novels and short stories. Then we moved to the Ozarks and I began to work with a Craft Outlet. They asked me if I would interview crafters and write a weekly column for three small newspapers. That reignited that lost love, and I began to write fiction again. It really took off when a young woman came into the shop while I was there and began to talk about her writing. We hooked up, spent one day a week working on our books and I realized that I might have something going for me. I’ve been at it ever since, 28 years.

Did you have a day-job prior to or while you were pursuing a career as a writer? What was it and were there any aspects of that employment which proved helpful in seeing the fictional world through different eyes?

While I was young I worked for a temp agency and one of my assignments was in New York City where I worked for the American Cancer Society. My boss was gone a lot, leaving me with idle time where I had to be present but with little to do but answer the phone. I began to write a novel there and learned that several people were also writing. We would get together and compare notes. I also saw the world through different eyes when we moved from Kansas to New York. I learned not to take what people said at face value, but to experience and see for myself. People there were nothing like what we heard living in the Heartland!

Some of the best writers are individuals who were voracious readers throughout their adolescence and into adulthood. Was that the case with you and, if so, what are some of the titles and authors that particularly resonated with you?

Funny story. My mother read a lot, and some of the books were considered, well today we’d call them MA. She’d hide what she was reading in her closet. My brother and I found one of the books and we read it. Of course, giggling at the sex and language, which I’m sure now would be PG. I wish I could remember the name of that book, but that kicked off my love of reading and I checked out books from the library at school every week. I remember reading The Robe and being enthralled. While working in NYC I took the train and subway everyday, and read Anna Karenina and loved it.

Did you have mentors who helped guide your career or did you embrace a DIY approach in learning the craft and navigating commercial publishing waters?

I’ve had a lot of supporters during my career, but it’s been mostly DIY as far as learning the craft itself. One friend is responsible for pushing me into pitching my first novel to an editor, and it later earned my first contract with Topaz through that editor. That sort of support has been invaluable to me, but I go my own way with the craft itself.

How does today’s publishing differ from when you first published?

It might as well be a million miles apart. Today I publish with small publishers and I know the editors personally, spend time on three-ways with cover designer and my editor, and become friends with them.

When I was with Topaz I had a marvelous editor, but she had no idea about western writing at all, so I had to educate her to the lingo. There was a wide gap between me and them, though. I had no say in my covers. However, in the beginning they did a lot of promotion and ran large ads for our books and the distribution was wide. Of course, today’s distribution is worldwide and as long as we put in hours on promotion, sales will happen. The biggest difference is advances and royalties. Without advances – such as we had with New York publishers – we have to rely on royalties for a paycheck and we never know what that will be.

To that end, what do you know now that you wished you had known at the start?

Patience and I learned not to take stuff personally. Especially rejection.

Tell us about Stone Heart’s Woman and your inspiration for its plots and characters.

I read a book called Cheyenne Autumn written by Mari Sandoz in 1953. She interviewed many of the people involved in this story of the Northern Cheyenne’s final break from the reservation to go home to the land of the Yellowstone. Many were still alive then. Their stories stuck with me and I couldn’t get them out of my mind.

When that happens to a fiction writer, the solution is usually to write a book, and so I created my characters and dropped them into the situation of that final breakout.  It took me several years of working off and on before I had this book the way I wanted it – with just the right mix of history and a love story. I consider it not so much a romance as a cultural love story set amidst a tragic time in both the history of the whites and the American Indians. By the way, most prefer to be called that, rather than Native Americans.

How does the history of the time period you research affect your characters and story?

The effect is enormous. My heroine must live and love in the way of the time. The language must be carefully studied so words that weren’t in use don’t crop up. The hero, though he has to treat her properly for a romance, is influenced by the way men were then. Clothing, ideals, morals of the day have to be considered.

How much creative license do you take when you place your heroines and heroes against a historical backdrop?

My only creative license happens when I use real characters. I study as much as I can find about them, but can’t possibly know how they might think or talk. In Stone Heart’s Woman, Libby Custer plays a part in the story offstage. She writes a letter that impacts the final scene of the book. I knew only that Libby spent her lifetime trying to improve the reputation of her husband, George Armstrong Custer, so I used that knowledge to formulate the letter. Of course, she never wrote any such letter, so that’s creative license.

You have a new series – The Victorians – coming out in time for holiday reading. Tell us about it.

Wilda’s Outlaw is the first of the series from The Wild Rose Press. They have decided to issue the ebook to Kindle on December 5th free for five days, then $2.99 until the print book comes out February 13th. This story is a lot lighter than my previous book with them. It’s set in Victoria, Kansas where the English actually brought England with them to build the town and eschewed becoming Western or American. Two sisters and their younger cousin journey for a year to join Lord Blair Prescott who is bound to marry Wilda and become a guardian to the other two until they marry. She finds she can’t stand his Lordship and arranges with a young, handsome outlaw to be kidnapped so she won’t have to go through with the wedding. There are good reasons she can’t simply say no.

I plan two more books involving the other two women, then hope to link the final one to Victoria, Texas where I’ll continue the series.

Who is your favorite character in your books and why?

That’s almost as hard as picking a favorite child or grandchild! But I do like Allie Caine, the photographer in Images In Scarlet. She is strong, willful, intelligent and stubborn. She sets out to travel to Santa Fe in her late father’s “what’s it” wagon, taking pictures along the way to pay her expenses.

Might we find aspects of your own personality in your fictional casts?

Of course. I don’t think we writers can avoid sticking bits and pieces of ourselves in our books. My first serious novel, which has never been published, probably picked me up as a whole and set me down in the fictional story. I hope one day to do something more with that book, which earned me an agent early in my career. He never understood why he couldn’t sell the book, and neither did I.

As traditional publishing venues continue to downsize in the 21st century, it’s the midlist authors that have been abandoned and left to fend for themselves, a scenario that has prompted many of them to either pursue self-publishing routes or seek out the harbor of smaller houses that will welcome their talents. What was your own response when the midlist writers crisis hit?

Two or three days of moping, swearing I’d quit. The entire route. Left adrift when Topaz closed, I was unhappy with the house my agent sent me to for an additional two books. I finished up the last one and walked away. For a few years I worked with small regional publishers and did some nonfiction books. All the while I continued to write my books.

Then one day, at a conference, a friend came over to me and asked me if I’d pitched to the editor who was there from a small house. I said no, it hadn’t occurred to me. She told me that I should pitch one of the many fiction books I was sitting on, and so I did. That began my career with small publishers. They took Stone Heart’s Woman, another house took a paranormal I’d written and now I’ve approached yet another to take a mystery series. I feel like my career in fiction writing is back on track. I also converted the rights to my earlier books and published them all to Kindle, taking a few months off writing to learn how to do it myself.

What is your writing schedule these days and how do you stick to it?

Since the beginning I’ve written all afternoon six days a week. Now I’m so busy that every morning I handle emails and all requests there, then still write every afternoon six days a week. I’m never tempted to do anything else. Only doctor’s appointments or emergencies take me away from the schedule. I take a break at 3 p.m. and kick back in a recliner with a Pepsi Max, then at 3:15 I’m back in my office. I might as well have a boss.

Do you outline, take copious notes or just wing it?

I wing it, but do take a lot of notes as I write so I don’t forget stuff like eye color or minor characters’ names which I create as I go.

A lot of writers seek out critique groups for brainstorming and/or feedback. From your own experience, are these groups a help or a hindrance?

Since I’ve been a member and now co-chair of a critique group for over 20 years, I must think they are a help. Some can be a hindrance if they veer away from constructive critiquing. Some become a mutual admiration society. No help at all there. Others drift into gossiping or worse tearing down each other’s work. It all depends on those in charge whether things go well or not. Our motto is: Don’t put out the flame.

What’s your advice to new writers who are just starting out?

Persevere. Don’t give up unless you begin to hate what you’re doing. In that case do something else, but if you have a deep down love of writing and the voices won’t leave you alone, then you only have one choice. Don’t quit. Do it for the love of it, not that you imagine this romantic career with lots of fame and money.

What has writing meant to you in your life?

I tell my husband it keeps me off the streets. Truly, I can’t imagine a day without it. The dear friends I’ve made, the wonderful writers I’ve met, the conferences and yes, the parties, have all been such a joy in my life. I can’t imagine going through the days without sitting down at a keyboard and stepping into that fantasy world most of us writers live in a part of the time. Are we crazy? Well, yes, just enough to have a great deal of fun.

What are you currently reading?

Just finished Junk Yard Dogs by Craig Johnson and looking forward to another of his books, Hell Is Empty. Have read all of James Lee Burke’s books and waiting impatiently for his next one. I don’t read romances, I do enjoy writing them. I can’t explain that sufficiently.

What would most people be surprised to learn about you?

That I’m in love with Tom Selleck?  No, that probably wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me.  That I enjoy watching schlock horror movies late at night. Once in a while.

What’s next on your plate?

Several more Victorian novels, hopefully a mystery series that’s with a publisher right now. Actually, I probably won’t live long enough to do everything. I want to self publish some women’s novels I haven’t sold, and hope to do that in 2013.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Yes, I feel that this is the best time for writers that has come along in years. Sure, things will have to sort themselves out. The bad stuff will have to drift away and the excellent come to the top like thick cream. What with so many small houses publishing excellent books and so many self-published writers making their great stuff available, times couldn’t be better for readers and writers.

Black Cow

Since 2008, unemployment in the U.S. has escalated, the housing market has plummeted, wages have dropped, taxes have increased, and the national debt is $5 trillion higher. Is it, therefore, any wonder in light of America’s impending trajectory off the fiscal cliff and descent into socialism that so many people are feeling anxious, depressed and desperate for an exit strategy? While Magdalena Ball’s new novel, Black Cow, transpires an ocean away – in Australia – there’s no doubt she has crafted a compelling, insightful and topical message about survival that will keenly resonate with readers around the world.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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How did your spark of passion for the craft of writing initially catch fire, and who are some of the authors whose work you most admire?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading. Books have always been a significant part of my life. So my passion for the craft of writing comes from my passion for reading – a passion for the written word and the way in which stories and meaning are made through the connection between reader and writer.  Again, I can’t remember a specific moment when I thought that I wanted to write – writing has always been part of who I am. I wrote poems and stories to augment my reading and create my own things from the first moment I could hold a pencil in my chubby hand (let’s say aged 3 or 4, though the transition from listener to reader to writer was a subtle and interlinked one).

There are so many authors I admire, and I keep discovering new ones but I find myself returning to James Joyce regularly, and every time I open Ulysses, I find it inspires my writing.  Another surprising, recent source of inspiration for me is Gertrude Stein. I just discovered Tender Buttons (which completely bamboozled me when I first came across it) and the impact on me as a writer has been dramatic. For modern authors, a few that I love that come to mind immediately are China Miéville, Peter Carey, and Julian Barnes for fiction, with Emily Ballou, Luke Davis and Dorothy Porter for poetry.  There are many, many others. 

When and where was your first piece of writing published?

The first thing I can remember was a series of poems published in a well-known (at the time) East Village NYC newspaper while I was an undergraduate at college.  I had the entire centre spread of the newspaper and didn’t even know about it until my cousin told me.  I didn’t save a copy (I have no idea why I didn’t save it, but I suspect it might have something to do with several international moves).

Do you ever go back and read it and, if so, what do you think?

I can’t even remember which poems they were, so no I don’t go back and read it, but I can guess that I would probably cringe! My writing was reasonably dark back then – sometimes ridiculously so – something to do with reading too many confessional poets or a teenager’s liking for the macabre and drama.

Describe your favourite place to write and why it energizes/inspires/comforts you.

I have to be able to write anywhere, so I don’t really have a favourite place to write.  I’ll write anywhere – even pulled over my car a few times to write something that was in my head.  I do enjoy writing outside though – sitting by the pool on a day that’s just warm enough but not stifling hot, with a little sun on my back but not so much it makes the screen impossible to read.  I just got a greenhouse and I have a feeling that it might be my new favourite place in the winter – since it’s lovely and warm, sunny and kind of inspirational with all that young growth and potential nutrition.

You’ve launched a fun website called The Compulsive Reader in addition to a companion radio show. How did these two creative ventures evolve and how do they interface with your daily writing schedule?

I set up The Compulsive Reader in 2001 – so it has been around a very long time in Internet terms. I had been doing some reviews for another website. The first book I got was Frank McCourt’s ‘Tis, which came in a beautiful hardcover set with Angela’s Ashes, followed by the opportunity, which later fell through, to interview McCourt.  As I was a heavy reader already this was a dream job for me – unlimited books, and the opportunity to use my writing skills and enjoyment of close readings (and talking about books) made it a natural thing to do.  So when the site closed, I decided I was hooked and instead of applying for jobs elsewhere, I just decided to start my own. 

If you were asked to describe your new novel, Black Cow, in a single sentence, what would it be?

The story of one modern family’s search, in the midst of recession and the inevitable changes that occur in mid-life, for a sustainable, meaningful life.

What was the inspiration to write this book?

I’ve long wanted to write a book that explored the notion of self-sufficiency: one that traced a family who decided to go ‘off-grid’ and produce their own food and live off their own land. It was something of a hobby interest of mine and I spend a lot of time reading magazines like Grass Roots and Backwoods Home. At the same time, as we moved heavily into the Global Financial Crisis, I saw many people I knew working harder, longer hours and at the same time, spending more (all this sanctioned by governments under the heading of “stimulus spending”).  It’s a vicious cycle – you work harder to spend more and as a consequence have to work even harder. I knew a couple of people who ended up having nervous breakdowns. So I decided to play with these two notions: a couple trapped in that cycle, wondering what they were working for and why they were spending so much, and what might happen if they were to just stop and actually leave the game.

And the title – what does it mean, both literally and metaphorically? 

There are many black cows in the book.  There are the Wagyus (a variety of cow) that James and Freya decide to raise on their Tasmania property. At one point, when James and Freya are looking at the property James goes over to one of the cows and whispers into its ear.  This represents a few things – both James and Freya’s desire to feel connected with the earth and with their lives again. It’s a creative longing.  Other black cows including the Steely Dan song, which James listens to in the car – it reminds him of his youth. Fear of aging and what it means for the couple is a key theme in the book.  There’s also the drink, which the song is about. Freya makes Black Cows in the kitchen in preparation for James’ 40th birthday. He arrives home late from work and doesn’t have time to drink his (or eat dinner). 

Your novel transpires in Australia and yet its themes – economic uncertainties, emotional stress, and the “for better or worse” hardships imposed on marriage – are relevant and relatable to virtually any part of the planet. How would you say that the events in the book reveal evidence of your own world view, including your emigration to NSW Australia after an upbringing and education in New York City?

I really wanted to write a book set in Australia – with the beauty and iconic nature of the Australian scenery that surrounds me, especially since my first novel was very much a New York book, but the themes are definitely universal, and maybe even more relevant for the U.S. where the recession hit harder than in Australia and continues to have a strong impact on the everyday lives of families.  All my family are still in the U.S., and I also lived in England for some years, so I do tend to write with a global audience in mind.

Who is your target demographic for Black Cow and what is the takeaway message you’d like these readers to embrace by the final chapters?

Black Cow is fiction, so I don’t necessarily want to say that they should have a takeaway message at the end. I’d like people to be moved and invested in the story of Freya and James. The underlying theme of the novel (and maybe all my novels…), is the critical importance of living creatively, thinking deeply about who we are, the meaning we are making in our lives and about the value in living sustainably – in all senses of the word, not just the ecological. I wouldn’t like to (ever) exclude any readers but I’d say that my target demographic would be people who are around mid-life, and who might see recognise themselves or those around them in the story – people for whom the story will ring true. Because the sustainability theme is strong, I find that the book tends to resonate best with readers who are interested in notions of creative, sustainable living.

At the start of the book the protagonists Freya and James are clearly in trouble. Are these characters based on real people?

Like many of my characters, they are amalgams of all sorts of things – people I know and my own experiences to be sure, though reworked and repurposed, but also ideas I wanted to try out, characters in films, in other novels, etc.  There certainly isn’t a one-to-one correspondence, though I’ve been finding that many people who read it will often tell me that they are indeed “James” or “Freya” and that I’ve written their lives.  Though it’s not necessarily a good place to be (at least in the beginning), from a writer’s point of view, that’s the best comment, because it means I’ve succeeded in verisimilitude or making the story real.

If Hollywood came calling for a film adaptation, who do you see in the lead roles?

Funny you should ask that. My mother is friends with Liev Schreiber’s mother Uma and we’ve been talking (dreaming) about how utterly wonderful Liev would be in the role of James and his gorgeous Australian wife Naomi Watts would be in the role of Freya.  She even encouraged me to send a book to Uma, which I did. Feel free to put it about!

Freya and James both suffer from stress-related conditions and yet they react in different ways. What was your rationale for the opposing perspectives they adopt?

Well they’re different characters, with different backgrounds and motivations. People do react in different ways to stress, and they bring the totality of their experiences into the situation that they’re in.  There are also a number of parallels – both have health issues, both are obsessive perfectionists in their way, and both are running so fast that they have forgotten who they are.

Insofar as the setting you’ve chosen, how does the transition from Sydney to Tasmania impact the story as well as the evolution and character arcs of Freya and James?

From a plotline point of view, the move to Tasmania marks a transition in the story. It was originally my part two.  However, and I don’t want to give too much away, the move from one place to another is not the real solution to Freya and James’ woes.  As the old Zen saying goes (and one of my wonderful reviewers pointed out), wherever you go, there you are.

There’s a small hint of Norse mythology in Freya’s lineage. How does this play out in terms of her character development and memories?

I’m so glad you picked that up :-).  I tried to be subtle with the Norse mythology, but Freya as a character is Norwegian and there are references to her grandmother’s home in Tokleskaret, the 24 hours of daylight, knitting, and her grandmother’s words “Av skade blir man klok.” which mean “injuries make one wise”. Finding the way back to those roots – the historical connections to our family – the DNA link – is a theme in the book.  Of course in mythology Freya was the goddess of love, beauty and fertility, and these qualities also play out in the book.

How do you define “happiness”?

Happiness is a shifting noun. It’s relative and notional and perhaps rendered meaningless by overuse, but in Black Cow, what the characters are looking for is a sense of peace (‘calm inner strength’), a sense of satisfaction that comes, to my mind, through creative work, and connectedness (with family, with friends, with community).  It seems to me that those things are worthwhile enough aims to count for happiness.

Do you believe that excess has created a false sense of security for most people?

It could be. I do suspect that the need to accumulate ‘possessions’ for the sake of the possession rather than from any real need is driven by fear and a sense that being able to afford so much is an indication of safety.  Of course the sense of security is nonexistent because the fear remains. The hunger remains because it isn’t satisfied by excess.

Is less more?

I have to admit that I’m personally attracted by minimalism. I don’t necessarily think that it’s right for everyone, but I get nervous by too much stuff around me. I’m completely willing to admit that this is just my own issue, and I wouldn’t like to turn that issue into a principle, but I’m definitely more comfortable when I don’t have too many things around me. That said, when it comes to time, less may not be more. Less time with my family is not more.  Less creative output isn’t more for me. It’s all about balance and finding time to do the things that really matter.

Identify three things that you are optimistic about and why.

Every time I go into my children’s schools and listen to the kids talk I become optimistic about the future. There are so many bright, intelligent, interested, vibrant children that I am filled with hope that the substantial problems that we’re facing in the modern world will be dealt with.

I know I’m biased, but my own children are pretty amazing too in so many ways, and they fill me with optimism.

I’m pretty optimistic about the future of books and literature in general. So many wonderful books keep coming out. You’d think after so many years of writing poetry, novels, and nonfiction that there would be nothing new to say but even yesterday I opened a new book and was shocked at the beauty of the language and the fresh talent in the writing.

What’s next on your plate?

I’ve been working on a poetry book and it’s pretty close to completion.  I’ve also got my third novel in the works. It’s looking like being a science fiction, with time travel, which is a very new direction for me and a big leap in structural terms, but I’m pretty excited about the direction the work is taking.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?

Just that more information about all of my work, including my Compulsive Reader website, my radio show, my poetry books, my blog, and lots of freebies, can be found at my website http://www.magdalenaball.com.  I love to connect with readers and other writers (I’m pretty gregarious – in person and in a social networking sense), so please do drop by and link up with me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.

The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

 

The tight-knit Nevada community of Red River Pass in 1895 may seem like a world apart from Great Britain but when the scandalous news of Oscar Wilde’s conviction on charges of gross indecency ripples across the telegraph wires, the effects are cataclysmic. The town’s self-righteous, God-fearing denizens – especially the womenfolk – just can’t seem to stop talking about the playwright’s perversity, especially insofar as the unsavory memory it conjures about two young males from their own ranks who were once caught in a compromising scenario. Paulette Mahurin’s new novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, does an exceptional job in not only capturing the landscape in detailed brushstrokes but also delivering a plausible cast of characters whose collective objective is to sling mud and muck on others in order to feel better about themselves. Here’s what she has to say on how her novel came about.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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What was your inspiration to research and write this story?

I took a writing class in Ojai, CA, where I live, and the teacher came in with a stack of photos. We were to write a ten minute mystery using one of the photos. The one I took was of two women, huddled very close together, wearing turn of the twentieth century garb, looking fearful. It screamed lesbian couple, afraid of being found out. After that class I couldn’t stop thinking of the initial seed for that story, thoughts, ideas, dialogue kept coming up and I wrote them down which formulated the story. As I researched that time period, I hit pay dirt when I came up with Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment which would serve as the impetus that would generate fear in Mildred Dunlap, the protagonist in the story. When the news of Wilde’s imprisonment hit the small Nevada ranching town she lived in, it stirred up a hornet’s nest of hatred, which she overheard. The town was in a chaotic frenzy of homophobia bigotry and she was afraid it would spill over onto her and her partner, Edra.

What was the actual process you followed to develop the story?

Once I had the initial overview of two women afraid of being found out, I needed to understand why this would be the case, at this time in their life. That’s when I started on the research to see what would come up that might relate to that time, that would explain the change in them. Once I came up with Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment, in Britain, for homosexual behavior, the rest was easy. I had to have a conflict to create tension: who would oppose Mildred and why? Josie was born. I needed scenes, what was happening in everyone’s daily lives to fit the story into, and what would be some good side stories to move things along with depth and not pull attention off the action. I did an overview of where I wanted it to go, diagrammed the town, so I’d not lose reference when moving from chapter to chapter and that began my first draft. At that point it was back and forth with write, research, plan, piece things together, a dynamic process. There’s never any ending to the minutiae of research detail, to ensure  accuracy so as not to pull the reader off the story.

Who is your book’s target demographic?

Anyone over the age of twelve.

How much familiarity did you have with the circumstances surrounding Oscar Wilde’s  trial and conviction?

I was familiar with it and my husband was also familiar with it from law school. We discussed it and I read up on it to get the facts straight. It was a very complicated trial, actually two trials. He was brought to court by the father of his lover, the Marquis de Queensberry, for indecency (Britain had recently changed its laws to make homosexual  behavior a criminal offense punishable by two years in a hard labor prison camp, the offense indecency) and in this trial Wilde won. He couldn’t leave well enough alone (he later writes in De Profundis) and counter sues and loses, upon which he goes to prison for two years and lives like he’s in a concentration camp, sleeping on a wooden slab, walking a treadmill six hours a day, eating watery portage, and not being allowed as much as pen and paper.

What prompted you to tie this scandalous news to a small Nevada town so far removed from Great Britain?

The sequence was I had the two women in a relationship and an idea came up to place them on the frontier, to enhance the possibility that there would need to be a clever story line to hide them in this environment. Part of the research involving pioneering and frontier living, brought me to the Donner debacle and how pioneers migrating west took more southerly routes after this, to avoid the elements. This brought me to the Walker Lake region which resonated as a  great place to put them, in a small town, where gossip would be a way of life. Oscar Wilde’s news fit into this. It had actually gone out over telegraphs, in fact I found a New York Times article, dated April 5, 1895, in which the news of his imprisonment was publicized with great commentary on the immorality of it all. This was a watershed piece that helped to change the attitude on same sex relationships. It all fit with the ideas as they came with the research.

Do you believe that attitudes toward individuals who are “different” have evolved over the past 100 years or that they are more polarized than ever?

That’s a really good question. The fundamental attitudes of hatred were alive then as they are now. Back then, however, it was  a more genteel time, where hostilities were not as overtly in your face, as they are now, but the question you ask speaks to the attitudes, not the behavior. Hatred is in itself inherently polarizing, and where it exists, no matter the time period, then there will be polarity. It’s not easy to compare then and now as far as degree, but what we can compare is the unchanging human condition, not society and the changing acceptance and groups that are more openly liberal for that is a societal change, when we talk about an individual, our insides, then I would say not a lot has changed. “We” harbored hatred, prejudice, bigotry then, as well as now.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned while your storyline was in development?

That if I got out of the way the story would find itself to the page in a much better flow than if I over think it to death and try to put in the things that I want to. I found a lot of great info in doing the research and wanted to include it. I loved the little side track about the Donner party debacle but when my editor read it she told me it sounded like the story had veered into a history lesson, interesting, but completely off the action of the story. I was deflated so I cut. She made me cut more. Pages in the two digits were cut down to one sentence. When I read the story back through, I had to admit that it really moved nicely as opposed to side stepping off into a ton of other historical side bars. This was a really valuable, and surprising, lesson in writing and in life.

Homophobia is a prevalent element in your book but were there other prejudices running rampant as well? 

Yes, 1895 was a good year for hatred fodder. One of France’s all time scandals took place around that time, the Dreyfus affair, which divided France as a nation on its views on anti-Semitism. That was the year Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta Address, which drove racists nuts. And, the Monroe Doctrine was  expanded into South America, which fueled hubris. I factored all this into the story line to make the point of prejudice and not have this just be a story of homophobia but rather one of intolerance.

In a historical context, it has always been easier for two women to cohabitate without drawing suspicion than it is for two men, this being a plausible reflection of safety-in-pairs and economics. Given the duration of Mildred and Edra’s relationship and the fact that neither one would ever be perceived as a desirable mate, why did the news about Oscar Wilde escalate their respective fears of discovery?

This is accurate, women friendships were very accepted. Two women could even live together if they could afford to and were considered spinsters. But, were a couple labeled “lesbian” and not just two women who were friends or living together, they were deemed (diagnosed) insane. The treatment was rape, to cure them so they would enjoy sex with a man. This was the air of lesbian persecution at the time. Mildred and Edra were very learned and intelligent women, they would know about this. Max, Mildred’s father, sensed what he needed to do to protect them and so they were educated women. Okay, so they’re living together, with excuses, what changed was the hatred Mildred became aware of that day when she went to town and overheard the news of Wilde’s imprisonment. Nothing had felt personal before but there was something in the air, the energy, the attitude that told her the tide could change for her and Edra. You have to understand that Wilde’s  imprisonment actually did this to the GLBT community back then. Research shows that it created a change of attitude from that of a social tolerance, to one of overt hostility, a danger for anyone suspected. Mildred caught it head on and her body screamed to her to watch out, that’s why the psychosomatics occurred so early on in chapter one.

Did you draw on your background as a nurse practitioner to write some of the scenes involving illness?

Yes, especially the scene with the dehydrated baby. And, Mildred’s stress internalizations. And, also the psychological aspects of Edra’s emotional instability, the PTSD eruptions, and Josie’s sociopath personality.

If Hollywood came calling to adapt this book to a film, who would your dream cast be and why? 

I would love to see an unknown cast. Great actors but new people. With one exception and that is the role of Gus, I think a perfect Gus would be Philip Seymour Hoffman. I’d put the Hollywood talent behind the direction, like Ron Howard or Jane Campion, or Streisand. I think this is such a novel plot, not a lot of books or films in searches come up with this kind of plot, and it would work well to have the big names relegated to behind the scenes.

What message do you want readers to take away from your book?

What we think of someone is not always accurate, most times it probably isn’t and yet we make these thoughts into realities about someone, think that’s who they are,  a uni-dimensional living creature, but no one is like that. Human beings are complex emotional, biochemical, conditioned, functioning conglomerations of cells joined together into organs that make up a body that houses a brain that thinks and identifies in all kinds of illogical, not based on fact, ways. We, as humans, all have emotions, wants, desires, dark aspects/shadows (to use Jung’s term), we all do. If we can see our differences as different and not good or bad then we may be able to get along better instead of wanting to go to war with the difference, to subjugate it or meld it into our way of being. Can we accept differences, suspend beliefs/ideas and embrace these, which all humans possess? If so then the light on tolerance has seen a good day.

How did you go about promoting the book prior to its debut? What marketing techniques are you continuing to use to keep the interest level high and attract more readers?

I didn’t use any marketing before it was out. Once it was out, I e-mailed all my friends, put up a Facebook page, and started to ask how to network. I did what was suggested, left no stone unturned, but really I got lucky… people liked it and the word spread. Someone influential read it and it got press coverage, someone else and it went to an Art Center Literary Branch, and I continued in the trenches to go on every blog site I could, to give books to reviewers, to swap reviews with others, to keep putting myself out there, despite all temptation not to want to. Many, and I mean a lot, have been very helpful in promoting it. I’ve been very lucky.

Each chapter opens with a quote by Oscar Wilde. Which one of this playwright’s many quotes is your personal favorite?

Be yourself, everyone else is taken.

Tell us about why the profits from your book are going to animal rescue.

I had a dog, Tazzie, who lived to be 15+ years. Right around the time she died, I completed the story. We went to a shelter to rescue another dog (a kill shelter) and I was still heartbroken, all those sad faces got to me. I couldn’t bear to see them in cages on death row, for what? Because they were born or were an inconvenience. I wanted to help, but how? We ended up bringing a dog home but I became preoccupied with those faces. It was also around the time the first and only no-kill shelter opened in Ventura County, CA. The light bulb went off that I could use profits from the book to help more, and so I partnered up with the shelter, Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center, and as soon as profits started coming in, I turned them over to them. My husband and I have been into rottweiler rescue for the last 28 years and have a passion for dogs.The more we can help the better we feel. And, lately, I’ve been sleeping very well at night.

Where and when do you do feel the most creative as a writer?

Morning when I am awake and refreshed.

What was your road to publishing like, and what do you know now that you wished you had known then?

It’s been interesting. One of my best friends, a publisher and talented format/editor, (X-NY Journalist) wanted to see this book I was working on. She took it upon herself to jump on board and work with me. Through her it went to press but the printing costs and promotion were out of sight  for her, so we took that over. We stayed with her printer until we became aware of CreateSpace and Kindle publishing then switched over to them. That part was easy. The hard part is all the time, all the networking, walking through the process with no compass to direct me and fumbling a lot, but it was okay because my life doesn’t revolve around this book. I’m okay with letting go. I do put in the work because the demand is there right now and it’s doing well, but if and when it ends, than that’s just a phase of my life and I’ll move on. I think that helps keep me grounded in not taking too much  too personal. I’ve been blessed with the support and help I’ve gotten, and the success. It’s been in the largest circulating press in Ventura County, Sunday Life Section front page  article, been written up in the Ojai Press, Santa Barbara  Independent, national magazines, featured by the prestigious Ojai Art Center’s Literary Branch as the read of the month this last July, etc. We did a five day free download to thank everyone who supported it and had just under 19,000  downloads. I’ve been told that’s a really good number. It hit Amazon as their #3 kindle store best seller and has been on the top of the list for searches for “persecution in books”on Amazon.

Who were your favorite authors when you were growing up and how do you feel they influenced your outlook and your writing style?

There were so many but the one that stands out is Steinbeck. When I read Grapes of Wrath, I couldn’t believe how it haunted me, how I couldn’t stop thinking of the Joad family. He took what could have been a mundane boring story and turned it into gold. I’ve never forgotten that, his detail, how he dug  into the emotional cellular chemistry to bring forth something remarkable. Of course, others felt the same – it won The Pulitzer.

What are you reading now?

Just finished Suzy Witten’s The Afflicted Girls. She’s masterful and the story is superb, about the Salem Witch debacle.

If you could beam yourself to anywhere in the world (“Beam me up, Scotty!”), during any time in history, where and when would it be―and why?

Spontaneous answer is sitting with Oscar Wilde and picking his brain. I’d also love to speak with Emile Zola about exonerating Dreyfus, for it was he who discovered the letters that were written by the real spies, that the prosecutor had but wouldn’t use. Zola found the data and wrote about it, freeing Dreyfus but it got him kicked out of France. These are the things Kennedy wrote about in, Profiles in Courage. It reminds me of what Viktor Frankl wrote about when he went through his concentration camp experience, that one can have all taken away from them but what they make their attitude. Remarkable people who risked. I would like to know what would I risk for decency. If I were Wilde, or Zola, for instance, what would I have done? That’s what came up.

What’s your best advice to other writers?

A writer writes. Sit your butt down in the chair and do what the Nike commercial says, just do it. It  really doesn’t matter if it’s ten minutes or ten hours, if you’re not in the chair banging away on the keyboard then the process isn’t happening.

What’s next on your plate?

I’m into my next novel. A short story I wrote and won an award on while in college about a couple who meet in their oncologist’s office. It’s a tender and very different love story. It was a true story, poignant but also very spiritual, in that they really learned through each other what it meant to  be fully alive. I won’t tell you about the outcome, don’t want to spoil it, but not every “terminal cancer” case is, in fact, terminal.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?

I am grateful for this opportunity here today, Christina, thank  you. And, to anyone who has bought my book, read it, reviewed it, featured me on their blog site, had me on their radio show, or just spread the word about it, I thank you with every cell in body in the name of tolerance. By communicating perhaps we can shine a light on what the heart knows that the mind can never conceive of, all that is possible.

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The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap is available on Amazon and Amazon UK. Readers are also invited to visit the author’s Facebook page (and like it!) at
https://www.facebook.com/ThePersecutionOfMildredDunlap.

 

Hollywood Game Plan

When I was 10, I had a grand plan to run off and join the circus. Well, it wasn’t so much a plan as it was a deep desire to leave home, do something interesting, and have a brand new assortment of friends. I didn’t know the first thing about circus life other than what I saw in movies and, further, I had no circus-y skills that might have made me a welcome addition to the fold. I share this bit of trivia because it’s not unlike members of today’s younger generation – and quite a few adults as well – who want to run off and make a name for themselves in Hollywood. They have no skills. They have no experience. And yet Hollywood exudes a dreamy coolness that beckons them like a siren’s seductive song. If you have, in fact, heard that song yourself and are thinking about answering it, Carole Kirschner’s new book Hollywood Game Plan should be at the top of your reading list.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Can you recall the moment when you first knew that a Hollywood career was what you wanted to pursue?

A: I was working as the assistant to the Director of a museum and one of the volunteers asked me if I was interested in being the P.A. for a friend of hers who was a television writer. I’d never thought about it before, but once she asked me a light went on and I realized how much I wanted to be in entertainment. I was incredibly fortunate because I got that job and it launched my career.

Q: What was your own “game plan” for breaking in and how long did it take to get to where you are now?

A: After I’d been an assistant at that job for a couple of years, I realized I needed to move on from the protected environment of working for this wonderful boss. He was very supportive, but I knew it was going to be hard to be more than a great assistant if I stayed there. So I decided to launch an intense campaign to get the job that would take me from being an assistant to being a decision maker. It took me about a year and a half to make that transition.

Q: Who were your most important mentors and what did they teach you that can’t be learned from books?

A: My first boss, Jim Hirsch was a terrific mentor.  He taught me how to work with writers in a respective way, he taught me how to be a mensch in dealing with everybody, from executives to people on the crew. He did all this without really talking about it, but by modeling it.

Q: There’s no shortage of aspiring writers across the country who believe that catching the next bus, train or plane to Los Angeles will make their dreams come true. What would you say are the most common realities many of them fail to take into account?

A: That your beloved first script (or second or third) will automatically make you an in-demand writer and everything will be smooth sailing.  The truth is it can take years – and many more scripts — before you get traction.  A lot of aspiring writers don’t have a game plan for getting an entry level job and getting out there and networking like crazy, while they’re honing their writing chops.

Q: To open doors in Hollywood, would you say that it’s more about who you know or what you know? Why?

A:  Actually I think it’s much more about who knows YOU… and wants to help you or be in business with you. And to get to that place requires strong writing, determined networking and creating a profile for yourself in the business.

Q: Given the advances in technology, is it really necessary to relocate to the west coast at all?

A: If you want to work in television you have to be on the West Coast. This is where the jobs are… and the meetings and parties and networking events that help you get those jobs are. It’s not so essential if you want to make indie films or put your work up online.

Q: Hollywood is based on perceptions. Since learning to market your authentic self to the entertainment industry is essential for success, what are some of the “right” ways to accomplish this?

A:  Think deeply about what makes you uniquely you. Use the good experiences from your past and the painful ones, too, to create your personal story.  Learn how to talk about yourself in a way that’s authentic, but also shines a light on your best qualities and accomplishments. Create a profile for yourself that’s consistent and compelling.

Q: How much does luck factor into a Hollywood game plan?

A:  Great question!  I think luck is when preparation meets opportunity.  You have a lot control over both of those things.  The “something amazing happens out of the blue” kind of luck is very rare, but when it happens you want to be prepared to take advantage of it.

Q: If a writer has just moved to Los Angeles and doesn’t know anyone yet, what does s/he need to learn about the art of networking and expanding contacts?

A: That networking isn’t about finding people and getting them to do things for you, it’s about creating a community of like minded folks who mutually support each other. It’s finding a way to help them, before you ask them to help you.

Q: Do you need an agent? And if so, how do you go about finding one?

A:  You need blazingly hot material before you can even think about getting an agent.  Once you have that, (shameless plug) if you read my book there’s a whole chapter on how you find an agent.

Q: Let’s talk about working with a mentor and what the respective expectations are about this relationship.

A: When you are fortunate enough to have a mentor (and very rarely does someone actually ask a person to be their mentor, it just naturally evolves) be respectful of their time and don’t ask for too much.  And if they help you get a meeting or job, make them proud.

Q: What if you have to take a day job to support yourself while you’re struggling to get discovered? Any advice on the subject?

A: Don’t get one that’s so demanding it leaves you too exhausted to work on your writing.

Q: Huzzah! Someone at a studio read your resume and invites you to come in for a chat. What do you say? What do you do? How do you make sure you don’t come across as a total doofus?

A: Be ridiculously over prepared for the meeting.  Know who all the people in the meeting are, what their backgrounds are, what projects they’ve been involved with, etc. Do your homework. Know your personal story so well you can say it in a natural way when they ask the inevitable question,  “So tell me about yourself?”  Do more research and have something interesting to say about the business and be prepared to talk about your material or pitch ideas if they ask.

Q: One of the things you talk about in your book is the importance of having a “Personal A-Story” that reflects some memorable aspect of your personality. But what if (1) you’re terrible at telling anecdotes and (2) you don’t have a story?

A: EVERYONE has a story! It’s just a matter of digging deep into your past and present life and figuring out what experiences and perspectives make you different from all the other aspiring writers. I guarantee it’s there. Very few people are natural story tellers, so you have to do a lot of practicing until you’re comfortable telling your personal stories. Since you’re writers you can always write them up first and then practice them in front of friends and get feedback, until it’s much easier to come up with and tell your anecdotes.

Q: Hollywood Game Plan is a must-have playbook for anyone contemplating a job in the film business. How did the inspiration for this book come about?

A: When I got into the entertainment industry I didn’t know anyone in the business and I didn’t have a clue about how to navigate it.  I made a lot of mistakes and I vowed that when I succeeded I would give people coming up the “unwritten” rules and information that would save them from making the same mistakes I did… and support them along the way.

Q: What do you feel is its strongest takeaway value for readers?

A: That it’s possible to succeed if you have a well thought out plan, you build a supportive community and you do a lot of homework. You do the work and then you go for it!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Getting to help more writers through workshops, an upcoming teleseminar and my career consulting practice, Park on the Lot.com. Plus a trip to Australia in late February 2013 to do workshops there as part of the Television Studio Event.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A:  Here’s what I say to writers at the end of my seminars:  Be brave. Be bold. And be relentless in your drive to improve.  This business is ALWAYS looking for new writers and new voices. If you’re talented and prepared, it might as well be you.  Good luck!

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 Hollywood Game Plan is available at Amazon.com as well as www.mwp.com.