Sacramento Baseball

Sacramento Baseball

While it’s common knowledge that baseball is America’s favorite pastime, lesser known is that the sport was being played in California’s capitol, Sacramento, ever since the days of the Gold Rush. When the country’s first professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, came to play against the locals in 1869, it was just the beginning of the Delta community’s love affair with the game, a passion that still exists today in everything from neighborhood t-ball tryouts for tykes to The Sacramento River Cats, a minor league team with legions of fans. Whether you have ever played in a game, cheered in the bleachers, overindulged on hot dogs and peanuts, or just get weepy whenever Roy Hobbs puts the fictional New York Knights on the front pages in The Natural, Bill McPoil’s debut book, Sacramento Baseball, is a must-read history for sports enthusiasts’ favorite season.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: In the realm of small world coincidences, you first came on the radar screen of You Read It Here First through a mutual friend that you and I have known for years. Tell us about who he is and in what capacity the two of you came to meet each other.

A: Ernie Daniels and I met when we both worked at the Sacramento Police Department. He came on a short time after me and though we never worked as partners, we worked around each other extensively. We really got to know each other during “Pig Bowl V”. (This was an annual football game between the Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department.)  Ernie was one of the veterans of the team and it was my first, and last game; I found out I was made for baseball, not football.

Q: Following retirement, where did your career path take you?

A: After a little over thirteen years on the department I was forced to retire because of injuries I sustained making an arrest – I tackled a guy running from me and broke both my knees. My last few years on the department I served on the police union’s board of directors and as Vice President. When I retired I went back to school to finish my college degree with the intention of becoming a teacher. Right before I finished my degree a friend, and former president of the police union, who owned a labor relations firm called and asked if I might be interested in coming to work for him. The paycheck and the work sounded good so I did. I made arrangements with a couple of my professors to finish my classes while I traveled for the job – the firm represented over 60 public employee unions in California and Nevada doing contract negotiations, and representing employees in grievances and disciplinary proceedings – and although I did finish, it took an extra semester. I still had that teaching thing in the back of my mind so I went on, continuing to work between fifty and sixty hours a week, and got a master’s degree.

Q: Did you always have in mind that your love of history would one day lead you to write a book?

A: In graduate school I had to write a publishable article for my second graduate course. Since my emphasis as an undergraduate was military and naval history I decided to write about the development of Wake Island prior to World War II. The research took me to the National Archives Annex in San Bruno, about a two hour drive from Sacramento. When I finished the era search and the article, which I got an A- on, I submitted it to a couple of military journals and received rejections. Then I submitted it to Prologue: The National Archives Quarterly and they accepted it. That gave me the writing bug. I wrote a couple of more articles for periodicals, and though I thought one day I might write a book, I never really had time.

Q: What was the inspiration that caused you to say, “The time to start writing is right now?”

A: I retired from labor relations in 2007 following a heart attack so suddenly I had a lot of time on my hands. I thought about the book idea again, but didn’t really have a focus. Over Christmas, 2014, I was visiting my son and his family in Colorado when I went into one of my favorite book stores there and stumbled across an Arcadia book about baseball in Colorado Springs. When I returned home I started looking for the Sacramento version and found out there wasn’t one. I sent an email to Arcadia, not really expecting to hear from them, and received a return email the next day with a 12 or 14 page proposal package for “my book.”

Q: Did you have any writing experience prior to this particular venture?

A:  Only the articles I mentioned above and legal briefs I wrote following arbitrations. I also wrote and copywrote a training manual for labor unions while I was at the labor relations firm.

Q: Covering a century of local baseball and curating over 200 accompanying images sounds like a daunting amount of work (especially acquiring the photographs)! How did you go about collecting and organizing all of your research?

A: When I was filling out the proposal package they asked me where I would get the photos. I had no Idea so I just pulled ideas out of the air – friends, relatives, the library. When they approved the proposal, I pretty much just started panicking and scrambling. In the end I found photos from a lot of great people, the Sacramento Public Library, and the California State University, Sacramento Special Collections Archives.

Q: From the inception of the idea to its completion, how long did it take you to put the whole thing together?

A: About a year and a half – two years if you included the editing that took place after submission.

Q: Did you allow anyone to see your work-in-progress or did you make everyone wait until you were done?

A: I had a friend, who is a Sacramento Solons expert, proof the book’s introduction and the introduction to the Solon’s chapter, but other than that, my wife was the only person who saw everything that was going into it along the way.

Q: What governed your decision to make Sacramento Baseball a photo history rather than a manuscript?

A:  The fact that we didn’t have one, and to document amateur and professional baseball in a way that anyone, not just baseball historians, could enjoy.

Q: Sacramento has a rich history of adventurers, politicians and diverse industries. What made you choose baseball above all else as the topic for your book?

A: I played baseball as a youngster and have been a S.F. Giants fan since they moved to the West Coast in 1958. I went to Sacramento Solons’ games when I was eight and nine years old, and went to my first Giants game at Seals Stadium in 1959 and then to Candlestick Park the first year it opened in 1960. I “knew” Sacramento was a baseball town, but some guy on a local radio show, as I was thinking about writing this book, tried to prove it really wasn’t. By documenting the history in more than a hundred years’ worth of photos I think I proved him wrong.

Q: Did you play baseball when you were growing up? If so, what position?

A:  Only Little League, Colt League, and sandlot. I was a catcher and occasionally played center field.

Q: What’s the first pro baseball game you ever attended (and did your team win)?

A: The San Francisco Giants in 1959. I don’t remember if they won or not – too many years ago.

Q: Favorite team of all time?

A: San Francisco Giants

Q: Favorite player of all time?

A: Willie Mays

Q: Favorite movie about baseball?

A:  It’s a toss-up between A League of Their Own and Bull Durham.

Q: If you could have lunch with any famous baseball player (living or dead), who would it be and what question would you most like to ask?

A: Willie Mays. “Could I have your autograph?”  (I’ve read all of his biographies.)

Q: Just for fun, if you could be the owner/manager of a new baseball team, what name would you give them?

A: Wow, I don’t know. Maybe the Spaldings if it’s allowed. The first catcher’s mitt I owned was a Spalding.

Q: Share with us some trivia about baseball that most people wouldn’t know.

A:  In 1951 the New York Giants were trailing the Brooklyn Dodgers 3-2 in the third game of a three game play-off for the National League Championship and the right to go to the World Series. With two men on base in the bottom of the ninth inning the Giants third baseman, Bobby Thompson, came to the plate and hit a three run home run to win the game. Almost every baseball enthusiast could tell you that. But, who was on deck and would have come to bat had Thompson made an out?  A twenty year old rookie named Willie Mays, in his first year of Major League Baseball.

Q: Long before The Sacramento River Cats, the capitol’s baseball claim to fame was The Solons, a team that underwent multiple moves and name-changes. What can you tell us about them and do they still exist somewhere?

A: No, they no longer exist except in the hearts and minds of baseball historians and Sacramentans over the age of sixty. As the Sacramento Senators they were charter members of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) when it was formed in 1903. Until the Giants and the Dodgers moved west in 1958, the PCL was the professional baseball league on the West Coast. As the Senators they were often referred to by sports writers as the Solons in deference to the fact that Sacramento is the state capital and the legislators were referred to as Solons at the time. They finally got the Solon name officially in 1935 and stayed that way until 1960 when they moved to Hawaii to become the Islanders. For three years in the late 1970’s a team called the Solons tried to reclaim Sacramento, but it just didn’t take because they couldn’t come up with a suitable place to play.

Q: Back in the days when I was in theatre, it was often said that Sacramento couldn’t be taken seriously in the performing arts because of the city’s proximity to San Francisco. Could the same argument be made about sports and, specifically, baseball? 

A: Sort of. That’s why the Solons moved out in 1960. With the Giants only ninety miles away and games beginning to be televised, attendance and revenues declined so much they just couldn’t be supported here. But now we have the River Cats and they have been setting PCL records for over half of their time here. We also have the Sacramento Kings basketball team and The Sacramento Republic, our professional soccer team that we believe will become a MLS team soon.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’ve started doing research for a manuscript about the SF Giants and the Oakland A’s in the context of the turmoil in the Bay Area in the 1960’s. I’m just doing secondary research now, but I think I’ll be going into primary research in the fall at least for the first chapter which will cover the Giants and the HUAC Hearings in San Francisco in May, 1960.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: I don’t know. I’m not very public. I like getting the book the publicity you and others are giving it, but I really don’t think I’m that interesting. People in Sacramento can find me at Peet’s Coffee at 38th & J most afternoons working towards the next book. Other than that, it’s baseball season and every night there’s a River Cats game I’ll be sitting behind home plate.

 

To Live Out Loud

To Live Out Loud FRONT PROMO copy

I’m very happy to re-introduce our global village of readers to Paulette Mahurin, the author of The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, which made it to Amazon bestseller lists and won awards, including best historical fiction in 2012 in Turning the Pages Magazine. Although semi-retired, Paulette is by no means taking life easy. Her new book, To Live Out Loud, is a fascinating historical fiction about what it means to be a friend when the personal costs of that friendship become increasingly high. In addition to her writing, she works part-time as a Nurse Practitioner in Ventura County, does pro-bono consultation work with women with cancer, works in the Westminster Free Clinic as a volunteer provider, and volunteers as a mediator in the Ventura County Courthouse for small claims cases. As if all this wasn’t enough, she and her husband are actively involved in and support dog rescue. Profits from her books go to help rescue dogs. Welcome Paulette!

Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

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Q         When did the Dreyfus Affair first pique your interest?

A         When I was writing and researching my first book, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, I looked up events that happened in 1895, the year Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for the criminal act of indecency. The topic of my storyline was intolerance and persecution. I found out that 1895 was a great year for prejudice and intolerance worldwide.

Not only was homophobia raging out of control in England with Oscar Wilde being thrown in prison for two years, but anti-Semitism was alive and well in France with Alfred Dreyfus being falsely accused as a traitor and thrown in Devil’s Island for life.

Over here in the U.S. racism was going wild as Booker T. Washington fought for blacks to be allowed in schools with his famous Atlanta Address. I became fascinated with the Dreyfus Affair at that time.

Q         The research is clearly vast. Which were the best resources?

A         Multiple books, especially one written by the son of one of Zola’s publishers, Ernest Alfred Vizetelly, Émile Zola Novelist and Reformer: An Account of his Life Work. I used multiple websites to gain an understanding of Jewish history in France during that time, which is where I found the one sentence I quoted from Dreyfus, “when will I kiss you again” (paraphrase) in his letter to his wife, Lucie. I found the transcript of the Zola Libel trial and used that. There are too many sources to reference here, but suffice it to say that my eyes were sore from all the reading.

Q         Government Corruption and prejudice can probably be found in any era and in every country. Do you see yourself tackling the topic again?

A         If there’s a historical situation, a person, or an event that moves me, then yes. I’ve started a brief outline and first chapter on a book called, The Seven Year Dress, about a woman I rented a room from while I attended college.

When I first met her I noticed the numbers on her arm. During my time living with her, I heard her story and became intrigued. There are so many incredible historical stories and events to draw from, like Florence Nightingale being lesbian and serving men at war. Right now, I’m just not sure.

Q         Do you have a favorite Historical era?

A         I’m fascinated by ancient Greece, when hubris was a crime and Socrates was put to death for it. I’m also fascinated by the early 18th century, when Thomas Payne wrote The Age of Reason, which challenged institutionalized religion and the legitimacy of The Bible. Not that I’m against any religion, it is just a fascinating time when freedom of speech and liberties is highlighted. Of course there are the paradoxes and dichotomies of every generation who oppose forward thinking. However, when the wave moved high for tolerance, those are the times that interest me, like the Dreyfus Affair, which changed a nation.

Q         Injustice and Bigotry were also the subject of your novel The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap. How did the topic become a passion?

A         I think it’s just my nature; to want to help the little guy, the underdog, the downtrodden, especially when there’s unjust intolerance. If an action isn’t hurting anyone, then let it be. How are gays hurting? Who are Jews hurting? Who are blacks hurting?

Q         Monsieur Charles Mandonette; the fictional narrator in To Live Out Loud feels very authentic for the era. You made him a childless bachelor, so I’m curious; after all the serious research, how did you come up with the character? Was he always the planed original voice for the book?

A         Initially I wanted to write from the prospective of Lucie Dreyfus or a friend of hers, but it was too hard to unleash any information about her. The love letters between Lucie and her husband have been circulating Jewish museums, but I couldn’t view any of them on-line.

There was a paucity of available information about Lucie, and what little I did find I included in the book. Because of this scarcity, I went for a friend and confidant of Zola’s, which was modeled after a real confidant and friend, Henry Vizetelly. Vizetelly kept a long running journal of his time with Zola, including being present at the libel trial. The idea of a confidant of Zola’s was then more plausible as a protagonist and narrator. Once I got into his voice, the rest flowed organically.

Q         We all know that life teaches us many lessons. What has been the hardest personal or writing-related lesson for you to learn, and why?

A         Close to eighteen years ago my husband and I moved to Ojai, California. Two weeks after arriving, I went to the local animal shelter and met a dog. Tazzie was a ten month old Rottweiler with a broken femur. I took her home with me and our love affair began. This was also the start of the most challenging physical debacle my body has incurred in this lifetime. Tazzie came with ticks, and one of them latched onto me. Two days later, my left side developed a huge bull’s-eye rash, clinically diagnosed as Lyme Disease. I was treated with antibiotics, but six months later I woke up with crippling Monoarticular left knee arthritis. The orthopaedic surgeon did blood work, an MRI, etc. The diagnosis: Lyme Disease. It was confirmed. In addition to the arthritis, my body weakened with meningitis, cardiac valve involvement/enlargement, and other odd bodily things. My right arm became paralyzed, as did my left facial muscles, etc. These symptoms went on for years, throwing me into a depression. All this time, Tazzie was by my side, seemingly the only light in the dark crevice my life had become. It was her vigilance over me that started the glimmers of gratitude. What good was left hadn’t been ripped from my life. Slowly I regained ninety percent of my health. As fate would have it, just as I was getting healthier, she lay dying in our home. There has never been a more profound life-changing experience for me with regards to my health, suffering, coming through in a newfound place of gratitude, and having a friend—Tazzie—who taught me more than any other teacher or life lesson before her. 

Q         There is far more to writing a good novel than most people will ever realize. What is the most difficult aspect of writing for you, and why?

A         Sitting down in the chair and doing the work. Showing up. Continuing to show up, and then when it gets so tiresome that I want to stop, to quit, persevering by doing what the Nike commercial says, “Just Do It!” So I continue, despite all temptation not to, despite wanting to burn every piece of paper on the planet when going through the editing phase, despite hating those times of excruciating feedback from editors, publishers, etc. As with any work, there are the good days and the bad, the ups and downs, the joys and crap, but ultimately hanging in there, going through it all, “the process” is rewarding. It’s a good feeling to look back and say, “Yup, I did it. I hung in there and look what happened. A book was born.”

Q         Writing historical fiction requires huge amounts of research that can feel a little like falling down the rabbit’s hole. How do you decide what to include or not include in your story and characters?

A         I think the story decides for you and you ride along on the sense that it’s enough. Then of course there are the editors who scream that reality so loudly that if you don’t obey, don’t cut back, you receive their wrath until you do. I’ve worked with an editor from Simon & Schuster, a minimalist who is a wordsmith cutter. It’s been a downside with some readers who want more, but then you can’t make everyone happy. You just do your best, work with people who are professionals and who you trust to guide you, and put your product out there.

Q        Many writers of historical fiction struggle with blending fact and fiction in a way that tells the intended story, yet stays true to certain elements of time and place. How do you tackle the art of weaving fact and fiction in your historical novels?

A         My first novel was more storyline with the historical facts as background. It centered on the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde, and I added facts into conversations from the characters living the storyline. Historical facts about time-related things went into scenery and the narrative as back story. With my third book, I really stayed with the Dreyfus/Zola history because it is one of the most profound historical stories about intolerance in France’s history. I didn’t want to add much to it. I used the vehicle of a friend of Emile Zola’s (one of his publisher’s in fact) to give a fictionalized voice to the narration, and parts where history was scanty, like Zola’s death. With this book, again the reviews are mixed. Some readers feel it is true to the facts and is accurately portrayed, while others want more dramatization from the characters. I didn’t want to add a lot of false/fiction to Zola, to Dreyfus, to Dreyfus’ wife or brother, to Esterhazy, or other historical figures. With the protagonist, Charles Mandonette, the narrator, I took liberties.

Q         It is often said that writing is not for the faint of heart. What advice would you give to new writers just starting out on this crazy journey?

A         What defines a writer is writing. Sit down in that chair and just do it. Whether it be an hour, a day, once a month, a writer writes. Don’t worry about the editing process or how good it reads, just tell your story and leave the editing up to the professionals. I do suggest working with a really good creative and line editor to give shape and validity to the writing. Readers are turned off by poor grammar or juvenile writing. They don’t want to pay money for it. There’s a big difference between telling a story and making it look professional. We all know how to tell stories. Just sit down in that chair and tell yours. The editor will help shape it to look good and read well.

Q         Who has been your greatest personal or writing mentor, and why?

A         I’m very fortunate to live in a small town that’s a Hollywood bedroom community with lots of talent living among us. I took a class by one such person, a stage and screenwriter whose work has made it to the stage. She encouraged me to write and gave me feedback that was very helpful in developing scenes and continuity of storyline for flow. It was her genteel, positive way that made me feel I could do it. One of the best things I learned from her is to not listen to the critic inside my head. It’s never accurate anyway.

Q         For many people, writing is a personal journey, or a calling. What has writing taught you about yourself, and why?

A         Writing can be fun, a purging, and serve many functions. On a personal level, it’s given me the space between what’s in my head that stimulates all sorts of chemical reactions in my mind and body. In that space, I can see. It’s breathing room. Without that space, it’s just me over here experiencing something that passes, without reflection or understanding. This is not to say I don’t have self-reflection without writing, that wouldn’t be true, but writing puts it out there and gives the vision greater clarity.

Q         So, what’s next for you, Paulette?

A         Thanks for asking. While attending UCLA, I roomed with a woman who was a concentration camp survivor. As time progressed, she opened to me about the atrocities she’d witnessed, including the loss of her family. As you can well imagine, there are stories within stories as she shared this unthinkable time with me. The working title, The Seven Year Dress, is derived from her telling me she wore the same dress for seven years.

You can find and connect with Paulette here:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5895757.Paulette_Mahurin

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Paulette-Mahurin/e/B008MMDUGO/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MahurinPaulette

Blog: https://thepersecutionofmildreddunlap.wordpress.com/2015/08/02/to-live-out-loud-by-paulette-mahurin/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/paulette.mahurin?fref=ts&ref=br_tf

Press article on Paulette’s book profits going to help dogs get out of kill shelters: http://www.vcstar.com/news/2012/sep/08/ojai-authors-historical-novel-teaches-tolerance/

The Girl Who Came Home: A Titanic Novel

The Girl Who Came Home cover

What is it about the tragedy of Titanic that still holds us in such a mesmerizing grip over a century after its collision with destiny in the North Atlantic? A multiplicity of novels and movies – as well as a haunting Broadway musical – have attempted to illustrate what life was truly like above and below decks during that fateful week in April, to reinforce the cavernous social divide between the haves and the have nots, and to capture snapshot instances of selfless courage and self-righteous cowardice during the ship’s final hours.

Perhaps we never tire of these stories because they cause us to examine our own values, to see in every character – both real and fictional – composites of people we actually know, and, as always, to speculate what might have happened to the multitudes who met their deaths that night had there been a tighter focus on safety rather than speed.

For her debut historical fiction novel, The Girl Who Came Home, author Hazel Gaynor was inspired by true events surrounding 14 Irish emigrants who boarded the extraordinary ship on a seemingly ordinary day in Spring.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: When was your interest and curiosity about Titanic first ignited and what inspired you to develop a story in which this tragedy was the central theme?

A: I was in my teens when the wreck of Titanic was discovered and I think that was significant in cementing my interest. I am drawn to so many aspects of the story: the Edwardian era, the human tragedy, the stark divisions of social class and the remarkable chain of events which contributed to Titanic’s demise. It is simply beyond belief, and that is what makes it so fascinating.

For years I said I would write a book about Titanic, but whenever it came to putting pen to paper (or fingers to typewriter) it was just far too daunting a prospect to tackle. It was only in early 2011, after pursuing my writing seriously for several years, that I started doing detailed research, particularly into the Irish connection with Titanic. That was when I discovered the story of The Addergoole Fourteen, who left their small Irish community together to sail to America on Titanic.

Writing The Girl Who Came Home was both a daunting and incredibly moving experience. For me, this wasn’t simply about writing a book – it was about understanding better a part of history, and doing justice to the memory of all those who lost their lives that night.

Q: What were some of the primary research tools and resources you used to so beautifully capture the costumes, dialects, social mores and, of course, details about the magnificent ship herself?

A: Being such a huge event, and being the first real event to be broadcast in mass media, there is an incredible volume of information and detail available on Titanic. I researched in detail online and in press archives, right down to the smallest details of the cabins my characters slept in, the meals they ate aboard the ship and the songs they sang during their evenings. I spoke to members of The Addergoole Titanic Society who were extremely helpful. I listened to audio recordings of the survivors and watched incredible images of the Titanic setting out from Belfast and other footage of passenger’s relatives and friends massing outside the White Star Line offices on Broadway in New York when news of the disaster arrived. I studied Father Browne’s incredible photographs and read books about the disaster. I read survivor letters and newspaper articles. I was entirely immersed in Titanic’s story.

Writing historical fiction certainly requires commitment, passion and a real interest in the historical event. Researching for this book was an absolute labour of love. Of course, being such a tragic story, I often found myself becoming emotional. All the time I was writing, I was very aware of a sense of obligation to do justice to the memory of the people who lost their lives that night – and to those who suffered so much as a result of the trauma of the event. I was also conscious of the need to show sensitivity to the surviving descendants of the Titanic victims – this was neither the time, nor the place, to be in any way sensationalist.

Q: What’s your favorite Titanic movie and why?

A: Although many historians and movie buffs have picked fault with it, I have to admit to being a fan of James Cameron’s 1997 epic. I first saw it on New Year’s Day in Sydney, Australia and cried from the moment it started. It was just so visually amazing and despite the typically over-the-top ‘Hollywood’ treatment of the event, I still love it as a movie.

Q: The intersection of fact and fiction is typically easier to orchestrate when one is dealing with a large-scale contingent of passengers and crew such as those on Titanic versus the Lewis and Clark expedition in which there were fewer than 40 people (plus a dog). Tell us about the decisions that went into making plausible your fictional characters’ interactions with real-life individuals such as Harold Bride, the ship’s junior wireless officer.

A: I started by making notes on each real-life individual I intended to feature, to ensure that I had their role in the event correct: where they would have been on the ship, what their level of ranking was, etc. I guess the joy of writing historical fiction is in imagining the conversations and interactions between people which – given what facts we know about them and the event – might credibly have taken place. When referencing real people, I made sure I stuck to the facts about them. For example, it would have been implausible to have Harold Bride talking to my steward, Harry, on the bridge, or in the First Class dining room, but by having their interactions take place in the Marconi radio room, where Bride and Philips were working, it is a more honest and authentic interaction. If it is done well, the intention with blending fictional and real-life characters would be to ensure that the reader isn’t focusing on who is real and who is imagined, but is simply immersed in the story.

Q: Were any of your fictional personalities composites of real individuals?

A: While The Girl Who Came Home was inspired by the true story of the Addergoole Fourteen, I knew it would be too confusing for the reader if I attempted to tell each of the fourteen passenger’s stories equally. That is why I decided to create just one central character, Maggie Murphy, who is actually an amalgamation of two of the youngest girls of the Addergoole group: Annie McGowan and Annie Kate Kelly. The addition of the character of Harry Walsh, the steward, was inspired by accounts of real stewards and also gave me a way in which to show the experience of those working on Titanic. The character Vivienne Walker-Brown is loosely based on the real passenger, actress Dorothy Gibson and provided a way to incorporate the experience of the First Class passengers as a contrast to the Irish group in steerage.

Q: In the aftermath of unspeakable tragedy, those who live often experience “survivor guilt” for the rest of their existence. From whence in her background did your protagonist, Maggie, draw her greatest strength and what lesson can that impart to your readers?

A: It was the story of a survivor and ‘survivor guilt’ that I was particularly interested in exploring in The Girl Who Came Home. Many survivor accounts did, indeed, reference their sense of guilt at the fact that they had been spared when so many others hadn’t. It is something which was also spoken of often after the 9/11 tragedy. I see Maggie as a spirited, resilient young girl who, over time, drew strength from the memory of those she had travelled with on Titanic. I imagined that she would have wanted to live her life in their memory – to ensure that she made the most of the life she had been given. Maggie came from a humble, Irish community where family was everything. In my mind, I believed that she would have learnt to live again through her own family – husband, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. I think we can all draw strength from the things which are closest to us and which we cherish the most – be that family or friends who we see every day, or through the memory of those we have loved and lost.

Q: Did you work from an outline or simply start writing and allow your characters to guide you as you developed the story from one chapter to the next?

A: From the start, I had a very clear vision for the book; that it would be set in two periods of time: 1912 and 1982, but with the 1912 story taking up the majority of the narrative. Essentially, this was two stories running in parallel. I then mapped out loosely what would happen in each chapter; particularly how I would take Maggie, and the group she was travelling with, from their village in Mayo to Queenstown, what would happen when they were on Titanic, and what was happening to their relatives in Ireland and New York while they were at sea. I knew I wanted to capture the drama of the sinking, but that I also wanted to focus on the experience of the relatives awaiting news at home, and on what the experience was like for the survivors in the lifeboats and on the rescue ship Carpathia and once they arrived in New York. It was those aspects of the Titanic story which I felt were less well known.

Once the structure of the chapters was in place, I wrote the story quite quickly, being careful to weave in my research details as I wrote. Although I had a mass of information to hand, and in my head, I would research specific details as I was writing that part of the book. For example, when I was writing about the experience in the lifeboats, I researched as I wrote. Again, when I wrote about the experience of the relatives waiting for survivors to disembark The Carpathia, I researched passenger accounts as I wrote. That way, I took each stage of the experience and each step, in turn – which prevented me from getting bogged down and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the story I was hoping to tell.

Q: Why does the tragedy of Titanic and its passengers still resonate with us – and with you – a century later?

A: For me, Titanic is a very human story. Even for the casual observer, the sheer scale of the disaster is hard to comprehend:  from the 2,207 individuals on board only 712 survived the sinking. From the 107 children and infants on board, 53 died in the tragedy and all of those children were travelling as third class passengers.  I think there are many reasons for the enduring appeal of Titanic: the class divisions being played out so starkly, the elegance of the Edwardian era, the many possible reasons which have been given for the sinking, the fact that this happened at a time when radio communication was relatively new which made Titanic the first major news event of the 20th century, and the first to be broadcast around the western world. And, of course, it is also the opulence of the ship itself and the arrogance of those who made such bold claims as stating that the ship was unsinkable which also play a part in our continued fascination with the event.

Titanic also sank at the dawning of the film industry and the story has been told over and over again, Ultimately, Titanic was the most tragic of accidents. We simply cannot believe that this really happened; that such a huge vessel sank with such a devastating loss of life. Perhaps we are fascinated by the notion of what we would have done in those circumstances. Whatever the many and varied reasons for our fascination with her story, Titanic’s tragic allure will, undoubtedly, only grow stronger over time.

Q: What would fans of The Girl Who Came Home be the most surprised to learn about its author?

A: How lovely to think that my little book has fans! People have expressed their surprise that this is my first novel, which gives me great encouragement for writing more novels. Maybe others would be surprised to realise that the book was written at my laptop at the kitchen table in stolen moments between cooking the dinner, making Lego castles and playing football in the back garden! I am often surprised that it was ever written at all!

Q: Upon completion, did you attempt to pitch the book through traditional publishing channels or was self-publishing your objective from the start?

A: I am a traditionalist at heart and I did pursue a traditional deal with The Girl Who Came Home before turning to self-publishing. I was working with an agent in London at the time and when I told her I wanted to write a novel about Titanic she was very supportive, but did warn me that most publishers would have already bought their ‘Titanic’ novels  by the time mine was ready to be pitched. I hadn’t realised, at the time, that 2012 would be the centenary year of the Titanic tragedy. In the end, the novel was only pitched to a small number of publishers in Ireland who, although being very complimentary about my writing, didn’t offer me a publication deal.

That was very nearly the end of the story. I had no intention of self-publishing and, as a debut author, felt anxious that if publishers didn’t think the book was ‘good enough’, then it probably wasn’t. For months and months I wondered: could I self-publish? Should I self-publish? With a Titanic novel in my hand and a huge media event of the Titanic centenary staring me in the face, there was really only one answer to my questions: Yes, I could and I should. I had the book edited, did some re-writes, had a wonderful cover designed and published the book though the Amazon KDP programme. It quickly became a No. 1 bestseller in the Kindle historical fiction lists and has gone from strength to strength ever since.

I still adore the physical book and bookshops and it is still my dream to find an agent who really believes in me and my writing and who can help me to secure a traditional publishing deal. For me, it is partly about gaining validity and credibility as an author and partly about gaining the professional experience of working with an experienced editor and a publishing house.

Q: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what’s your personal cure for it?

A: I think every writer suffers from writer’s block – or some form of it. For me, it usually happens at around 30,000 words when that first flourish of ‘new book creativity’ has been written down and I look at my work and doubt myself and wonder how on earth I am ever going to write another 70,000 words! My advice – go for a long walk. There is nothing like time away from the screen to clear the mind, to come up with plot solutions or to simply find the determination to keep going. I think at times of frustration and self-doubt, it is important to try not to keep looking at the impossibly distant summit, but to just keep putting one word in front of another.

Q: Rejection is a fact of life and yet it can teach us volumes about how to keep moving forward. To date, what’s the worst rejection you have ever received as a writer and how did you cope with it?

A: I think every rejection is the worst rejection! There is nothing harder than hearing that an agent or editor doesn’t feel that your work – which you have put blood, sweat, tears and several bottles of good wine into – just isn’t right for them, or for the market. With The Girl Who Came Home being my first novel, I did find the rejection very, very hard, especially when I saw lots of other writers around me securing publishing deals. In hindsight, it was the push I needed to find another way to get my work out there.

In a strange way, I have also found that some of the toughest rejections are the ones where an editor has been extremely complimentary about my work and has said that it was a very difficult decision for them to say no. It is so crushing to feel that you came ‘so close’ and are yet so far away! I don’t think I naturally have a thick skin, but I am certainly learning to toughen up and have taken an awful lot of confidence and determination from the success of The Girl Who Came Home.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors and how has their storytelling style influenced your own writing?

A: I love everything written by Philippa Gregory, Rose Tremain, Tracy Chevalier and Sarah Waters. Their ability to create memorable characters, rich historical settings and incredible storylines is so inspiring. The plot twist in Sarah Water’s ‘Fingersmith’ is one I talk about all the time! Their writing inspires me to write better, to write more honestly, to not be afraid of tackling big historical events and to remember to write what you want to write – not what you think you should write. Someone in the publishing industry once told me that women don’t want to read books written in a male voice. I recently read Rose Tremain’s fabulous Restoration and Merivel – never has a male character been more brilliantly imagined or written – which just goes to show that opinions about what readers want can differ hugely!

Q: Do you write full-time? If so, tell us what a typical day is like for you. If you have a full-time job doing something else, what is it and how do you fit writing into your off-hours schedule?

A: I have two young children, so my writing is now based around their school hours. When I first started writing, and while I was writing The Girl Who Came Home most of my writing was done early in the morning before the children woke up, or late at night after they went to bed. Now I would consider myself a ‘part-time’ writer as my time is very much divided between writing and family life. I am very grateful to be able to work at something I love and still be at home for the children during these early years. I know that in the future I will be able to spend more and more time writing, but for now I have to split myself in two!

Q: What are you currently doing to develop your writing craft and hone your skills?

A: I read and read and read and can think of no better way to inspire myself and stretch myself as a writer. Reading gives me an insight into how other people write and reading brilliant books just makes me want to write better. I also maintain a regular blog of my own and also blog for a writing website. I also like to enter short story competitions when time allows. All of these things are helping me to flex my writing muscles in slightly different ways.

Q: In your opinion, are critique groups and social networking with other writers a valuable pursuit?

A: Absolutely! My whole writing career started by being inspired by two writing workshops I attended. It’s a great way to meet other writers, published authors, agents and publishers. Writing can be a very lonely, isolating existence – so I’d encourage anyone who is serious about writing to go to workshops, talks, book launches, festivals – anything to put them in contact with people in the industry. Social media also keeps me in contact with other writers and has been a great way to meet other writers and readers and to have those ‘water cooler’ moments from your own desk.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: History has always fascinated me, and having finally found the confidence to tackle a major historical event in The Girl Who Came Home, I am very excited about writing further historical novels and have plenty of ideas. I completed my second novel Daughters of the Flowers at the end of 2012. It is, again, inspired by true events, this time surrounding orphaned flower sellers in Victorian London. Spanning several decades, Daughters of the Flowers tells the story of a young girl who is searching for her lost sister and a young woman who is searching for acceptance. I am literally waiting to hear back from several UK publishers as I type – fingers crossed! I am also making The Girl Who Came Home available in paperback  (and hopefully in limited edition hardback) through Amazon Createspace. Details will be on my blog as soon as it is available.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: At my blog www.whimsandtonic.com or at my Facebook page or by following my tweets @HazelGaynor I also write a regular guest blog for National Irish writing website writing.ie and review books for Hello Magazine at blog.helloonline.com/offtheshelf. I love to hear from readers so please do get in touch!

Costume Design 101

Costume Design

Back in the days when I ran a touring theater company, one of my closest friends was my costume designer, Richard Arlen Crane. Dick and I had met in the early 70’s when we were cast in a musical production called Young Abe Lincoln. “If you ever start your own troupe,” he told me, “I’ll make all the costumes for you for free.” His only proviso was that I write fun roles for him and that none would ever require him to reprise the part for which he was physically the best suited: the 16th President. (Not only did I honor this promise but in Exit Grand Balcony, I let him play John Wilkes Booth.)

Dick was obsessive about historic accuracy in his costume designs, though some of his modern improvisations to create a particular effect were often enough to raise eyebrows. “You might want to be careful bending at the waist,” he once warned about a breathtaking Louis XIV gown he’d made for me. “I used hacksaw blades in the bodice…” Whether or not this was true, I was smart enough not to ask. Costume designers – like piano players – are the people you least want to offend in live theater because of the subtle tricks they can play on you like leaving straight pins in awkward places or transposing all your songs to a different key.

It was also assumed that I wrote the plays and then gave Dick instructions on how to dress the cast. Quite often, however, Dick would call to tell me he had just purchased several bolts of brocade, satin and chiffon. “You should write the next play about a sultan and his harem,” he’d tell me. And so I did. I share all of this in preface to my recent interview with Richard La Motte, a costume designer whose career has spanned four decades and yielded an incredible collection of “been there/done that” material for his book, Costume Design 101. As I immersed myself in La Motte’s remembrances of iconic stars, popular movies and budget challenges, there was a common thread that made me smile and think, “Dick would really have loved this book.” Even after a first read-through, this text would likely have a plethora of yellow highlights, dog-eared pages and copious margin notes.

And that, as we move into my conversation with La Motte, is quite possibly the highest praise I can give a behind-the-scenes book about what it really takes to “dress the part.”

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: So what attracted an art major and former Marine to a career in costume design?

A: When I got out of the Marines, my mother told me about a Producers Apprenticeship Program. I went and interviewed with the thought of getting into construction and becoming a Production Designer. Instead, they assigned me to work in the Men’s Wardrobe Department at Fox Studios. All of my mentors were male costumers, men who had been costumers since the 30’s and had worked on many of the older films which I loved like Grapes of Wrath.  They worked in a time in the industry when costume designers were not a regular part of the crew, and were only usually called to do dresses for the female stars. Because of that, most films’ costumes were presided over by a Key Wardrobe Man and a Key Wardrobe Woman who supervised the wardrobe department and did much of what we would call ‘Costume Design’ today.

Q: Over the course of 40 years, you must have had the chance to see the work of countless costume designers. Who did you most admire for their style, innovation and creativity in the early years and who do you most admire now?

A: Actually I never had the chance to work with a lot of costume designers. The one I remember the best, though, was Dorothy Jeakins. (Interviewer note: Jeakins, born in 1914, was a studio freelancer who won recognition for her design work in The Music Man, The Sound of Music, Samson and Delilah and Young Frankenstein.) I also can’t really pick one designer over another – they all have different budget and time constraints to work with. But like everyone else, I think Edith Head was brilliant.

Q: Life is a series of choices in which we gather information and assess risks in order to either stay within our comfort zone or push the envelope and try something bold. How would you compare this to the choices that costume designers make in outfitting the characters in a film or television show?

A: As designers, we have to try and illustrate the drama using our medium, clothing. We also have to use historical research, human psychology and artistic principles in fashioning the overall look of the show as well as helping to delineate screen characters. The other big concern is ‘what kind of a film will the producers/director want to see and fund. We never work in a vacuum, so part of the ‘risk’ is in the presentation of our ideas and their cost.

Q: What would you say was the most challenging production you ever worked on?

A: Gods and Generals. I took over the show two weeks before shooting. The production lasted about half a year. We dressed between 500 and 1200 people a day, six days a week. We shot two, sometimes three units, sometimes 24 hours  a day (first unit nights, second unit days), sometimes in two different states at the same time. The sheer volume of clothes going in and out of the department, for repair, cleaning, reissue, new characters and bits, including the day-in, day-out manufacture of uniforms and cast clothing was enormous! My day started at 4:30, 5 a.m. and lasted until 9-10 p.m. almost every day (excluding Sundays when I only worked eight hours a day). It was more than a month into shooting before I felt like we had enough costumes to make our daily requirements. The anxiety was bad enough but added to the raw daily physical requirements – well, the experience made me very tired.

Q: What original design of yours still makes you say, “Wow! If I’m to be remembered for only one costume, this would be the one.”

A: It’s hard to pick one. As a show, I think The Wind and the Lion is still my favorite. I like the way both Sean Connery and Candice Bergen turned out. I have had women tell me that the riding skirt on Candice was a favorite of theirs – but the overall ‘look’ of the film still stands up pretty well. I’ve had people ask me if we shot in Morocco – but no, we shot it all in Spain and all the ‘Arab’ background was in costume.

Q: Do costume designers take their lead from what the director tells them to do or do directors defer to the designers’ knowledge of history, culture, fabrics, etc.?

A:  It’s different on different shows. Sometimes you have to prove yourself in the beginning with research and sketches, but after they start seeing a good looking show in dailies they tend to trust you – and everybody is so busy anyway they just let you go.

Q: What fabrics work better on screen and under hot lights than most people think they would? Conversely, what fabrics look nice in off-camera situations but are a nightmare for costume designers to work with?

A:  Since almost every film I’ve worked on has been period, I’ve always worked with fabric appropriate to the period. Usually naturals like wool, including wool crepe and cotton are the best, followed by linen (looks great, loses its shape). Shiny fabrics are more difficult. Silk can become too hot and the sound department hates the ‘rustling’ sound it makes, although raw silk is a great fabric. Satins can be hard to work with and cameras hate highly reflective fabrics as well as whites because of the ‘bounce’.

Q: How do you unleash your own creative process? 

A: I try to digest the script and think about what it’s trying to say – what it’s about – who are the characters and what’s their story function. I research the period and try to imagine what it looked like – maybe do some scribble sketches – perhaps look at other films done about the same period. I try to picture things like an overall color flow – then relax and try to think of ways to make this costume presentation my own – things usually become clear. 

Q: Knowing what you do about what people wore in earlier centuries, what period would most appeal to you if you could time-travel?

A: There are several contenders – American Revolutionary/Colonial period for the men, French Empire for the women, the streets of ancient Egypt or Rome – the Aztecs. I can’t decide!

 Q: How do you make ‘good’ art – symbols that connect – and engage a broad audience for pleasure and profit?  Do you feel the artist reflects or leads the general culture?

A: What unites us is our common cyclical life experience – it’s the essence of all drama. We are a person, a personality – we’re adjusted to ourselves at our age group. We ‘grow out of ourselves’ when we encounter a life situation that exceeds our ability to successfully solve based on our experience/ knowledge/ personal mythology. This leads to emotional turmoil – angst – then we have a cathartic moment perhaps a revelation – a ‘new answer’, and  the ‘old person’ dies and a ‘new person’ is born – and we enter the next or our ages. This is the three-act play of ‘introduction’- ‘confrontation’- ‘resolution’. We are all in some stage of this process. The successful artist finds meaningful symbols to concretize and communicate awareness of this process (think coming-of-age stories or mid-life crisis stories). The artist might use old forms like historical drama, or dress the ancient knowledge in new forms like Science Fiction; in this sense the artist-filmmaker might both reflect age-old concerns while leading the general culture into new forms.

Q: What is something about the Hollywood costume world that most people would be surprised to learn?

A: It’s a lot harder than it looks! I have heard people say things like, “Oh, a Costume Designer! That sounds like fun”. I have enjoyed satisfaction from my job but I never found the work to be fun.

Q: Tell us about your new book, Costume Design 101. What was your inspiration to write it and what was your selection process for determining the content?

A: I had worked on a film in Winston-Salam. We used the film school as a crew base. The Dean of the school, Mr. Sam Grog, asked me once my opinion on why his theatre costume department always had a hard time interfacing with commercial projects. We spoke quite a while on the difference between the requirements of the Costume Department in Theatre and Film. A few years later Mr. Grog became the head of AFI. The publishers of my book called him for a referral for someone to write a book on how theatre costume students could translate their knowledge to film work; he was kind enough to remember our conversations and my name.

Q: Who is your book’s target readership and what do you believe will be the takeaway value for them in reading it?

A:  I wrote the book to help anyone interested in the job of costume design on any film or television production, be they a student or someone already working in the industry. The ‘takeaway’, hopefully, is a realistic, unvarnished step-by-step guide to being able to function in a responsible, professional and successful manner as a costume designer – from job-interview through assessing department requirements, budgeting and scheduling, running a department, interfacing with production, and so forth.

Q: It’s interesting to see that your “retirement career” is real estate. How did 40 years of designing costumes prepare you for helping clients find a house that’s not only the right fit but suits their personality?

A: Actually it’s more about real estate investing. When I retired, I went back to school for two years and studied Interior Design which was a nice complement to my years as a non-union Production Designer where I designed and built sets for low-budget film, commercials and music videos. I intended to use the new knowledge to assist me in rehabbing interiors or creating thematic interiors.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Right now I’m doing some painting. I always have drawn and painted and enjoyed it; now I can spend a little more time at it!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Everything in life happens by either Design or Default. I think it behooves everybody to learn a little about basic design principles. In its most simplified explanation – Good Design = the best use of demanded elements, whatever they may be – and the words of Leonardo De Vinci, “Simplicity is elegance.”

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Costume Design 101: The Business and Art of Creating Costumes for Film and Television is available at Amazon.com. To learn more about La Motte, visit his website at www.richardlamotte.com.

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.

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.