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Lynn Cullen

Mrs. PoeBy Meredith Allard

Lynn Cullen is the author of the new historical novel about Edgar Allan Poe, Mrs. Poe (Gallery Books/S & S).

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing? Did you always write historical fiction?

Lynn Cullen: When you’re the sixth of seven kids like I was, you need a niche in which to shine. The title of Smartest, Wittiest, Prettiest, Most Athletic, and Funniest had already been taken so I needed to find another handle. Not long after I had learned to spell, I wrote my first story, a tale of a bear that ate so much honey that he had to roll home in a barrel. The acclaim (mostly self-) from that made me realize who I could be: The Writer. I’ve been happy in the role ever since then.

Gluttonous bear story aside, I have favored historical fiction from the start. My first published novel, for adolescents, was about a girl who found the ghost of a Civil War bugle boy in her backyard. At the time, historical fiction for kids was out of style, so I snuck in my beloved historical content by having my heroine go back in time with the ghost. In a weird twist, the year after The Backyard Ghost (Clarion Books) came out, I actually found cannonballs from the Civil War in our backyard. My story, in a sense, came true. I have since become a believer in the power of coincidences, a philosophy that I worked into Mrs. Poe.

M.A.: What inspired you to write Mrs. Poe?

L.C.: In a word: desperation. Two years ago, a year after my husband had lost his job like so many others had during the Great Recession, my then-publisher turned down the manuscript I’d been working on for a year and a half. They wanted something with a more “feisty” heroine. Feisty heroines, it seems, sold in a market that was very shaky, as was about every kind of market around the world back then. The week I got this devastating news, my husband fell ill with a life-threatening case meningitis (or encephalitis—they never figured out which). When I brought him home from the hospital, I didn’t know how we were going to survive. He had sustained a debilitating brain injury from his illness and I had no book prospect. So there I was, pacing in my office, half delirious from fear and exhaustion, thinking, “Feisty heroine, feisty heroine.” Suddenly into my dazed mind came the word Poe. 

Not having read Poe’s work since high school, I raced to my computer to look him up. I saw that he was an orphan, very poor, and a lonely lost soul:  just my kind of guy to write about. But I wanted to write a novel from a woman’s point of view—and a feisty one, evidently, at that—so I kept looking. Poe’s wife, Virginia, was thirteen when he married her and didn’t seem so very feisty. Then I read about his alleged affair with poet Frances Osgood just after he’d written “The Raven.” I found that Frances had been abandoned by her portrait-painter husband and was trying to support her children with writing. So here was this desperate woman trying to survive by her writing. Oh, I could so relate. And she was plenty feisty, too. As my husband healed, I set about telling the story of Frances and Edgar from her point of view. If Frances’s desperation seems real to you, it’s because her creator was living it. But I’m grateful to have gotten a genuinely emotional book out of that traumatic time, and, happily, my husband has completely recovered.

M.A.: I learned a lot about Edgar Allan Poe from reading your novel. Mainly, what I learned is that a lot of what we think we know about Poe isn’t necessarily true. I had always thought of him as an opium-infused alcoholic who wrote these brilliant pieces and died in poverty and obscurity. What did you learn about Poe from your research for Mrs. Poe, and what surprised you the most?

L.C.: It came as a shock to me that Poe’s image as a drunken madman comes to us courtesy of his rival, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. They were enemies after Poe had criticized Griswold’s poetry collections and had taken some of Griswold’s literary criticism gigs. Griswold hadn’t been able to harm Poe’s reputation while Poe was alive—everyone knew that Griswold was a hothead and a bully. But once Poe died, Griswold got his revenge. In the most bizarre twist of fate in literary history, Poe’s aunt made Griswold Poe’s literary executor, even after Griswold had written a widely-published malicious obituary about Poe. Once he got his hands on Poe’s papers, he proceeded to doctor them as he saw fit. With Poe’s tampered letters in hand, he began to spread lies about Poe’s behavior and wrote a biography full of inventive slander. This biography stood alone for the next 25 years; subsequent biographers repeated all the falsehoods in it. Our image of Poe as an addicted psychopath, therefore, is the direct result of Griswold’s smear campaign. It doesn’t help Poe’s cause that his stories were so dark, but in real life, he was a very hard worker with little time or money to feed an addiction. The truth is, he wrote his scary stories because they sold. Like so many writers trying to support themselves by their writing in any era, the man was desperate for cash.

Another surprise was that in 1845, the year of “The Raven” and of Mrs. Poe, Poe was considered to be quite appealing and attractive. Reports from those days called him “elegant” and “handsome.” As one man said, “He had gentleman written all over him.”  Poe was not the morose and sketchy-looking specimen of the daguerreotypes which with we’re most familiar. Those photos were taken a few months before he died, when he was not well—not a good time for one’s close-up. Yet these photographs stand since they fit Griswold’s creepy image of the man. A more appropriate portrait has been done by Frances Osgood’s husband, who even though well aware of his wife’s close relationship with Poe, painted this winsome portrait of his wife’s alleged lover.

M.A.: I write historical fiction myself, and my main characters are always fictional while I keep the real-life people as secondary characters. What are the particular challenges of writing an historical novel where your main characters are real people, and not only real people but famous authors? After all, Edgar Allan Poe is a legend in American literature.

L.C.: The challenge of writing about Poe was different than it would be if I’d written about someone who had been at least somewhat fairly assessed throughout history. My challenge—and delight—was to bring to light the man who I think is the real Poe. Even though my Poe is a fictitious character in a novel, he has to be more accurately drawn than the fictitious product of Griswold’s lies. Yet I will be the first to admit that I’m a novelist, not a biographer. My Poe is my own interpretation of the man after I’d done my research. I shaped his character around my story. I saw him as being much like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights—an orphan whose unkind treatment in the hands of his foster family instilled in him debilitating self-loathing. Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff in the BBC Films version of Wuthering Heights provided a handy visual reference—sexy, brooding, and vulnerable beneath cool silence.

M.A.: Mrs. Poe definitely kept me turing pages because I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next for Poe. How would you describe Mrs. Poe to potential readers?

L.C.: It’s an interesting challenge to reduce to one sentence a story that is the result of two years of intense work, but here goes: Mrs. Poe traces Poe’s rise to prominence with “The Raven,” to his utter ruin within the space of one year, through the eyes of his alleged lover, poet Frances Osgood.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

L.C.: I started out by trying to write children’s books when my daughters were young. My three girls had been born within a four year span, so while they were growing up, the most I could manage was shorter fiction, especially since I always had to work at least part-time to contribute to the family finances. Later, I trained as a teacher but as soon as I was certified, gave myself a year to get published or throw my lot entirely with teaching. I had no idea how naïve a goal that was but miraculously, I made it. Twelve children’s books were a result of that hectic period.

Once my kids were older and I’d seen my father through his final illness, I was able to devote the longer hours necessary for writing historical fiction.  My young adult novel, I am Rembrandt’s Daughter (Bloomsbury), served as a bridge from children’s books, and then after publishing two more adult books about misunderstood figures in history, Reign of Madness and The Creation of Eve (both Putnam), I arrived at Mrs. Poe (Gallery Books/S & S). It has been an interesting trip, the best part of it being the people I’ve met along the way.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

L.C.: Penelope Lively is my go-to author when I’m stuck in my writing and simply to refresh my brain. I must have read her Heat Wave a dozen times. She also inspires me because she went from writing children’s books—all fabulous—to winning the Booker Prize. I am also inspired by Stephanie Cowell. Her Marrying Mozart is astonishing in its exuberance and veracity. As a historical novelist, I really respect what she achieved in that book.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

L.C.: Don’t let all your hard-won research blind you to your main goal: telling a believable story that sheds some light on the human condition. And have fun. Although historical fiction might be the most difficult genre to write, it’s also the most fascinating. Enjoy the people you meet on your trip back into time!

M.A.: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

L.C.: When a door closes, a window opens.  Really—I thought my career was over during those dark days of 2011. Yet from that trauma, the book of my dreams was born. I was given the chance of a lifetime. I am so thankful.

________________________________________________________________

Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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Justin Hoffman, Editor

By Carol Smallwood

Justin Hoffman is the editor of  FreightTrain Magazine.

Carol Smallwood: Please describe your work with FreightTrain Magazine.

Justin Hoffman: My work at FreightTrain Magazine consists of everything that needs to be done, from reading submissions to editing, from the web programming to story posting. It’s a small operation that I do in my spare time right now. The project is done out of love for reading and writing. It’s one way I can do something more for the author community.

C.S.: Tell us how FreightTrain Magazine came about.

J.H.: FreightTrain Magazine was something I wanted to do for a long time, so I took a small press publishing course in college. As you can imagine the point was to create a small press. I choose to create the fiction magazine I had been dreaming about for years. Ever since I have rarely been able to stop working on it.

C.S.: What writers have influenced you the most?

J.H.: Here’s a really short list: Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, George Orwell; I could go on forever, but I’ll stop there. The two that probably influenced me the most are Stephen King because he made me believe I could write, and F. Scott Fitzgerald because he’s the one I wish I could write like.

C.S.: What are the most common writing mistakes you see?

J.H.: Punctuation. I see a lot of novice author’s work. They mostly stick to commas and periods, which is a shame. Often a story can be improved with slight changes to the sentence structure, and all it needs are some colons or semicolons. The biggest problem is the comma. Writers tend to either overdo the comma or never use it, and most times, they flip back and forth in style during a story. Usually reading a story out loud will alert the author to the placement of commas. Tense consistency is another common issue. If the story is in past tense, don’t use present and so on. Those are technically mistakes; if I had to come up with a plot problem it would be: your story probably shouldn’t end with the main character dying. That’s the easy way out; a mistake I find myself making on too many short story first drafts. There’s usually a stronger ending.

C.S.: What classes have you taken that have helped you the most?

J.H.: I went to college for fiction writing, so I would have to say just about all of them. The key really isn’t what you write or who reads it that will help you the most. It’s simply writing constantly and consistently. The classes also helped in another way: by forcing me to read varied and new-to-me authors. It’s important because you might learn a new way to tackle a problem or find a style you might like to incorporate into your own.

C.S.: What advice would you give other writers?

J.H.: Don’t stop. Writing like anything else, takes a lot of practice. You need to read a lot to learn how to write, and to write a lot to learn how not to write, and to listen to a lot to learn from your mistakes.

________________________________________________________________

Carol Smallwood’s books include Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching, foreword by Molly Peacock (McFarland, 2012) on Poets & Writers Magazine list of Best Books for Writers; Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing (Key Publishing House, 2012); Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity, and Other Realms (Anaphora Literary Press, 2011). Carol supports humane societies.

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Valerie Kirwan

By Glenice Whitting

If you want to explore life lived on the edge, then see, read or buy anything written by Valerie Kirwan. This talented author is something of a legend. Skilled in many genres she writes plays, novels and short stories that challenge, fascinate and intrigue. Her following of dedicated readers pack out playhouses and eagerly pounce on every new work.

LOVERS AND LOSERS

It was by chance that I won the La Mama Theatre door prize: Valerie Kirwan’sLovers and Losers of the Last Century. The next day, toast in one hand, book in the other I glanced at the first page. I was instantly hooked and soon totally immersed in an erotic, frightening, but fascinating world of friendship, love and deception. A friend called at noon and found me still in my pyjamas. We had a quick coffee and I was glad when she left. Odie dog whimpered for attention and finally, dinner bowl in mouth, begged. I absentmindedly tossed him a few dog biscuits. Nothing got done until I’d devoured the last word.

EROTIC ESCAPADES AND BLACK HUMOUR

My Internet search for this author revealed an inspiring list of published work. Fourteen plays staged at various venues including La Mama Theatre, Carlton Courthouse, The Botanic Gardens and St Martin’s Theatre etc. Four novels:The Will to Fall. Bizarre adventures and Shale Hemly Whirls. Top best seller list in 1984/85. The Moon is Bloodshot. Erotic escapades and black humour. The Disease of the Silkworm. Betrayal, slavery and sexual politics. The soon to be published Taking a Fool to Paradise , an unsettling but darkly amusing psychological thriller of obsession and potential violence. A collection of short stories: Wandering. Four novellas in Lovers and Losers of the Last Century , nominated for the 2003 Victorian Premier’s Award. Short stories have appeared in IslandMastheadImago, and New England Review . Four stories in the Beyond the Glass Anthology. Three literary awards, including the Jim Hamilton Award from the Fellowship of Australian Writers.

LIVING ON THE EDGE

So many accomplishments, but behind the achievements and accolades is the story of a fascinating woman who has overcome many difficulties to be where she is today. Kirwan studied English literature at Melbourne University, taught English and Drama and had several other jobs including working in a local nursing home. In 1974 she began writing, directing and performing in her own plays and was the first Australian woman playwright to be produced at La Mama Theatre. She became the Theatre’s first Playwright–in-residence and during that time, she wrote and directed her play “The Art of Lobster Whistling.” However, Kirwan did not stop at drama. “I always had a strong desire to write fiction, so, in the early eighties I gave up theatre to concentrate on my novels,” she says.

SHALE HEMLY WHIRLS

Novel writing gave Kirwan the opportunity to explore in depth her fascination with the element of chance, e.g., chance happenings, chance discoveries. “I welcome, perhaps even live for, the unpredictable,” she says. Kirwan creates situations where she is exposed to the unexpected and these experiences not only provided new writing material, but immense entertainment for someone who thrives on serendipitous situations. “Last spring a friend and I set up a small table in the center of a large park at midnight, and wearing large hats and gloves we played a game of chess in the wind. Only two youths on bikes passed by, said hello and went on their way, but I found the experience fun and exciting because of the wind and the beautiful night and the feeling that anything could happen,” she says. Kirwan used her many bizarre random games, called Shale Hemly Whirls, which encourage adventure and unpredictability, as the basis of her first novel, The Will to Fall

THE WILL TO FALL

It was also Kirwan’s untamed spirit of adventure and the ability to step out of the norm that resulted in the publication of The Will To Fall . She says, “When I told everyone I was sending the manuscript to Penguin Books, they said, ‘You’re crazy. Penguin will not publish an unknown, especially a first novel written by a Dadaist playwright.’ My husband said, ‘You’re mad, but I’ll drive you there if you want.’ He did and I simply dumped the manuscript on the reception desk without speaking to an editor. One year later Penguin contacted me and told me they were excited about the novel and they would publish it. Not only did they publish The Will To Fall, but the book made the twelve top best selling list in 1984/1985.

FATE INTERVENES

Unfortunately, after this success she became physically ill, unable to walk, lacking in the necessary energy to keep working and to be part of society. After a break of several years Kirwan was dismayed to discover that the art/literary/ theater world was now swamped with political correctness and that her edgy, dark, brave writing was not being published. Rather than tone down her work to fit in with the current market, she continued to write in her own individual style.

BLANDTRASH AND THE HORNET’S NEST

She joined The Hornet’s Nest and found kindred souls in the group of uncompromising writers who refused to be part of the homogenised BLANTRASH (a word invented by the group). The Hornet’s Nest published two of Kirwan’s novels. The success of these novels attracted the interest of Indra Publishing . This well known supportive publisher contacted Valerie Kirwan and a collection of novellas, Lovers and Losers of the Last Century (nominated for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award), was soon on the market.

Valerie’s latest novel, Taking A Fool To Paradise, a fabulous psychological thriller that keeps the reader guessing. If you get a chance, join the queue and get a copy of this latest novel recently launched by Indra Publishing and I’m sure you will agree with the write up in the Melbourne Times Newspaper :

“Valerie Kirwan’s stories are strong, warm and direct. They marry a sharp edge of detachment with a sensual depth charge. Her lyrical mind-rambling has wit, elegance and charm. Her’s are certainly the fine and sparkling reflections that should be available to all of us.” (David Edwards)

EMBRACING THE THEATER AGAIN

As her readership expands Valerie Kirwan becomes more and more passionate about communication through the written and spoken word. Recently, her interest in theater was revived when she was contacted by La Trobe University to stage one of her plays. “I’m just thrilled,” she says. “Fiction writing and the theater are opposite extremes. Novels are written in solitude and part of me needs the communication that theatre people bring.”

Unpredicted happenings play a big part in anyone’s life. Just when you have your life planned, an unexpected telephone call, a chance meeting or letter can turn that world upside down and life is never the same. Winning the door prize at La Mama Theatre meant a talented author touched my life and I now embrace life’s challenges with a sense of excitement and wonder. I too will play chess at midnight and experience, as Kirwan says, “The wind, and the beautiful night and the feeling that anything can happen.”

______________________________________________________________

Glenice Whitting started writing in her last year of a B.A. at Monash, which was ostensibly going to take her towards a career in Sociology. Fate however, intervened in the form of a class in fiction writing. Many of her short stories have won competitions and been published in newspapers, magazines, and journals. She is currently contributing editor for Inspiring Women at Suite101 and has an e-book of the same title. Her unpublished novel, Pickle to Pi , was shortlisted in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Her play, “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow,” was produced during the WWIT Fertile Ground New Play Festival.

Home Page: http://www.suite101.com/myhome.cfm/womenfollowingdreams 
E-book: http://www.suite101.com/topic_page.cfm/4651/4661

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Sandra Gulland

By Glenice Whitting

Sandra Gulland’s magnificent obsession? Josephine Bonaparte. Discovering, and writing Josephine’s amazing life story full of love and power, took Sandra from her comfortable Canadian culture headlong into the turmoil of the French revolution.

The sun’s dying rays slowly gilds the log home perched on top of a gentle hill. Sandra’s horse, Finnegan whinnies; birds call and finally roost as dusk falls. In the dark of night, Sandra Gulland dreams about a man and a woman who are going to play the parts of Josephine and Napoleon. When they don their costumes the actors lose their identities and become the characters. Sandra wakes, her heart beating, palms sweaty. She says, “This was a terrifying dream and I leapt trembling from my bed, my hands holding my stomach. I felt there was a glass ball inside me, and inside that ball was a spirit trying to speak. Simultaneously I knew that I would write a novel about Josephine.”

Twenty years later the result is three historical novels The Josephine B Trilogy,consisting of The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B: Tales of Passion and Tales of Woe, and The Last Great Dance on Earth, currently published in eight languages in eight countries. A visit to Sandra’s Stunning Website will give you some idea of the magnitude of her success.

How does a writer living in rural Ontario Canada, who used to hate history, eventually become an expert on a French empress born on a Caribbean island more than 200 years ago? Sandra says, “In 1972, I read a short biography about Josephine Bonaparte. It was an amazing story full of magic, love and power. I was kidnapped by Josephine’s profound humanity, her heart, her intelligence, her grace, her courage. She became for me a guiding spirit. An inspiration.” Josephine became Sandra’s magnificent obsession.

MARIE FROM MARTINIQUE

Bonaparte called his wife, “my Josephine,” but her name was Marie Josephine Rose Tascher Beauharnais Bonaparte. Sandra was determined to find the real person behind the name and began to understand the thoughts and feelings of this fascinating woman who, in a time when love was considered to be found only in romantic affairs, fell hopelessly in love with her husband, the enigmatic Napoleon. This was not the usual marriage of convenience, where the wife is simply an attractive figurehead. Josephine was absolutely devoted to him, and he was madly in love with her.

EMOTIONAL JOURNEY OF THE INTELLECT

Sandra’s research is impeccable and all embracing. She followed traditional channels, but also embraced spiritual channellers, psychics and tarot card readers to supplement her academic research. Sandra became a recognised authority on Josephine and the Napoleonic era. Her thick, meticulouslyfootnoted timeline detailing Josephine’s daily movements, and those of her family and friends: plus social issues, battles and even the flue viruses that plagued the population of Paris at the time, has to be seen to be believed.

However, it is the little personal things that bring Josephine to life. Readers are delighted to discover a woman who used charm and cunning to cope with the in-laws from hell, who tried to hide her bad teeth, who was a sensuous lover, a devoted mother, a warm and loving friend, who loved her pug dogs and whose life was a constant struggle against impossible odds.

IN JOSEPHINE’S FOOTSTEPS

To fully experience Josephine’s world, Sandra learnt to read French, travelled to Paris, walked through the neighbourhoods Josephine lived in, and went to the prison she was locked in. She travelled to Martinique, where Josephine was born and raised, attended mass in her church, went to the health spa she frequented, tried the treatments, visited museum exhibits in New York and Memphis and consulted with period scholars. After years studying historical evidence Sandra says, “ I felt that Josephine had been harshly judged. Few seemed willing to question the assumptions made in the past. Few seemed willing to try and see things from her perspective, to walk in her shoes, to give her the benefit of the doubt. And that, precisely, was one of my intentions when I began my novel; to give Josephine a chance to speak, to give her a voice.”

JOSEPHINE REVEALED

Sandra certainly has done that. She discovered a woman more of our time than her own. The Josephine Sandra has revealed was devoted to her children when it was fashionable to be aloof: intolerant of infidelity when it was fashionable to be unfaithful: negotiated deals with bankers and businessmen when it was unthinkable for a woman to involve herself in money matters, much less profit: had close male friends and was comfortable working with men when a sexual relationship was thought to be the only relationship possible.

THE LAST DANCE

The Last Great Dance on Earth marks the end of a passionate project that has consumed Sandra for more than twenty years to the extent that sometimes she finds herself unconsciously writing cheques and dating them with the year 1800. However, she is not alone in her obsession with Josephine. Readers in Italy, Spain, France, The United States of America, England, Denmark and Catalan line up to buy her books and the German hardcover edition of The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B sold 25,000 copies. All three titles have sold a staggering half a million copies world wide. “This is just astonishing,” says Sandra. “In Canada, sales of 5,000 constitute best selling status. I was also surprised to receive an email from a London friend telling me I was on Britain’s Guardian bestsellers list. However, for me, the highest praise is how well the books are doing in France. I thought that would be the most resistant market of all. It’s exciting and I certainly never in a million years expected it. In fact, when I began, I thought, no one’s going to want to publish this, let alone read it.”

Read it they did and clamour for more. Will they plead in vain? Is Sandra going to rest on her well-deserved laurels, content to doze in front of the fire in the comfortable family home that sits solidly atop a hill, occasionally gazing at the broad rolling spaces of Killaloe, two hours from Ottawa’s bustle, four from Toronto? Of course not. Her next book, which she is currently writing, is also set in France: the same country as her trilogy, but not the same century. This time it is the court of Louise X1V, the Sun King and Sandra is passionately researching and getting to know her new heroine, the fabulous royal mistress Louise de la Valiere, who just happens to also love horses.

Sandra cannot wait to begin learning the secrets of horse whisperers and to master riding sidesaddle. She will take Baroque dance lessons, try on the clothing of the period, including the heavy fashionable corsets of the time,and do anything else that will open a window to the soul of her latest magnificent obsession. ______________________________________________________________

Glenice Whitting started writing in her last year of a B.A. at Monash, which was ostensibly going to take her towards a career in Sociology. Fate however, intervened in the form of a class in fiction writing. Many of her short stories have won competitions and been published in newspapers, magazines and journals. She is currently contributing editor for Inspiring Women at Suite101 and has an e-book of the same title. Her unpublished novel Pickle to Pi was shortlisted in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Her play, “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow,” was produced during the WWIT Fertile Ground New Play Festival.

Home Page: http://www.suite101.com/myhome.cfm/womenfollowingdreams 
E-book: http://www.suite101.com/topic_page.cfm/4651/4661

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Mary Doria Russell

By Zack Ruskin

Author Mary Doria Russell is best known for her novel The Sparrow, winner of the Arthur C. Clarke award. This interview focuses on her newest novel, Doc, which explores the relationship between Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp.

ZACK RUSKIN : What was your approach to researching Doc? Did you binge on episodes of Deadwood, or were you eager to avoid past portrayals of your characters?

MARY DORIA RUSSELL : We don’t get HBO so I’ve never watchedDeadwood, though a lot of people have recommended it. In any case, Doc is set in Dodge City, Kansas. Midwestern towns are not interchangeable!

In general, I’m pretty strict about avoiding fiction that overlaps my own. I might read one or two of the best novels in the genre I’m entering, to get a feel for what top quality is, but after that – it’s all non-fiction for me.

I always ground my novels in fact – even speculative fiction like The Sparrowand Children of God required careful research. Typically, I collect 20-30 linear feet of reference works for each novel. For Doc, the books ranged from economic studies of the Kansas cow towns and the Texas cattle trade to a memoir by a 19th century prostitute to the history of a Jesuit mission school in Wichita.

And of course – dozens of biographies! Adults either build on or react against the first 15 years of their lives. Understanding the childhood of characters – fictional or real – is crucial. What was happening historically when each character was young? What were their parents like? I need a clear idea of what characters were dealing with at 14 in order to imagine a realistic response to their circumstances when they’re 24 or 44 or 64.

ZR: Which probably explains why your portrayal of Doc Holliday is such a surprise to many readers!

MDR: John Henry Holliday had beaten some terrible odds just by surviving infancy – he was born with a cleft palate in 1851, when such children commonly died within weeks of starvation or pneumonia. His uncle was a surgeon who repaired the defect. His mother invented a form of speech therapy to improve his diction. He was enfolded by a vast extended family that sheltered him in childhood and supported him in his youth. He was quiet, bookish. Intensely close to his mother. An accomplished pianist, and a serious student who earned the degree of Doctor or Dental Surgery from the best dental school in the country when he was only 20.

So I didn’t start with “the infamous gambler and gunman Doc Holliday.” I started with Alice Holliday’s fragile infant son, and and worked forward from there. John Henry Holliday did not spring to life in Tombstone, Arizona, spoiling for a fight. His life was more than that.

ZR: So you don’t find the expectation of accuracy confining when you write historical fiction?

MDR: Oh, no! I like the touch stone of reality. But how you handle facts is important.

Doc is set in 1878, so in my novel, the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral is still years in the future for the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. I wanted to strip all the accumulated nonsense and slander away. I wanted to find them before they were anybody – before the lies and legends began to accumulate.

I also felt that no novelist or biographer had really taken the full clinical reality of John Henry Holliday’s tuberculosis into account. So I did a lot of research into the effects of untreated TB and respiratory disease. TB is not just an annoying cough. It’s a vicious, painful, debilitating disease that progressively destroys the lungs until there’s simply not enough oxygen uptake to keep you alive. It’s a slow and terrible form of suffocation, and John Henry had had watched it kill his beloved mother by inches.

So he knew exactly what he was facing when he was diagnosed with advanced pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 22. Think about that: he spent his entire adult life dying. He was almost always in significant pain. He was sicker every year until he died at 36.

Now, the usual interpretation of that fact is that Doc was a nihilist or a fatalist, but it’s also a fact that he spent his entire adult life trying to find something that would retard the progress of the illness or mitigate its effects. To the very end, he was searching for a cure. He wanted to live.

Tuberculosis – not the gunfight at the O.K. Corral – was the central reality of Doc Holliday’s life. Absent tuberculosis, he would have lived and died as his cousin Robert did: as a successful Atlanta dentist, respected in his community and his profession, with a wife and children. A forgotten man, but a happier one.

ZR: You’ve crossed a lot of genres throughout your novels. Do you find you have to alter your prose to fit the narratives?

MDR: I alter my prose to fit each book and for each character whose point of view I’m conveying. That’s the fun of it – finding the voice of each character, hearing their dialog. That’s when I know I’ve got a story going – when I can hear the voices.

In writing Doc, the narrator’s voice was an echo of Shelby Foote, the Southern historian who was featured in the Ken Burns film “The Civil War.” The narrator in Doc is similarly relaxed, discursive, informative – a storyteller who speaks now and then, when commentary is called for or when the action needs explanation. He is compassionate, understanding, wry.

The bulk of the story is conveyed through the voices of the characters, however, and their frames of reference differ widely.

John Henry Holliday was an educated man of the 19th century, familiar with Greek and Latin classics, with French literature, and history and mathematics. He studied chemistry, metallurgy, physiology, and anatomy in dental school. He played classical piano and read widely. So he thinks and speaks in paragraph form, in sentences with clauses, quoting Homer or Shakespeare or Flaubert.

By contrast, Wyatt Earp was probably dyslexic and certainly not over-burdened by education. His sentences are short. His grammar’s poor. His thinking is concrete, linked to the world of horses and weather.

So even in narration, their voices are distinctive.

ZR: I’m curious about how you’d categorize your first novel, The Sparrow. I’ve seen it shelved in various sections at bookstores, and in some ways it fits in all the places it’s kept.

MDR: Yes… It’s usually shelved in Science Fiction, and it certainly does fit that category. They don’t give the Arthur C. Clarke Award to mysteries! On the other hand, the commonest thing I hear about that book is, “I hate science fiction but I loved this book.” So it works for people who are sophisticated readers of the genre and also for those who are actively hostile to it.

Personally, I thought of The Sparrow as a historical novel that takes place in the future. As in Doc, there is a strong narrative voice – that of a Jesuit historian, looking back at the events from a distance of a century or more. For the reader, the story is in the future, but for the narrator, it’s all far enough in the past that he has some perspective on the decisions and mistakes of the characters. He unsparingly recognizes damage caused by the characters, but he is compassionate in conveying their story. His first remark about them is, “They meant no harm.”

That’s the perspective I try for when writing historical novels. I have some distance from the events. I can feel some compassion for real people who made real mistakes in the real world, but I also recognize the harm they’ve done, even inadvertently. There are consequences, and there is judgment, but there is also a recognition that they thought the were doing the right thing at the time.

ZRWhy does historical fiction have such an appeal for you?

MDR: I just love research. I love digging into histories and biographies and economics and psychology. If I’m not working on some great big chewy research problem, I get cranky and nervous and start redecorating. My husband always knows when it’s time for me to tackle a new book: he bumps into furniture that didn’t used to be there.

My inclination toward historical fiction also has something to do with the fact that I had severely crossed eyes as a child.

I was born into a time and place when that defect could be surgically repaired. Even as a kid, I was aware of how important that was. Imagine how different my life would have turned out if I’d been born earlier or in a different country! In the 1400s, I might have ended up in a convent – too homely to be considered marriage material. In the 1600s, I might have been shunned as a witch. If I’d been born into my own family two generations earlier, my life might have been like that of Agnes Shanklin in Dreamers of the Day.

A Thread of Grace is a World War II thriller, and in any book about the Holocaust, the underlying questions are, How could this have happened? What would I have done? Each of the characters in Thread is one of my potential answers to that latter question.

The Sparrow and Children of God were set in the future. Nevertheless, the task was to create a believable time and place that were not my own. Within that context, the characters Anne and George Edwards let me think about the kind of wistful freedom that childless couples have: they can pack up and go to Puerto Rico, or Rakhat, without worrying about never seeing their grandchildren! My husband and I became parents at the age of 36, and we were suddenly rooted in a way we hadn’t been before Dan came into our lives. What might we have done and become if we’d remained childless?

Which is not to say that my novels are about me! But a writer’s life is a toolbox, and you use what comes to hand. You bring empathy to bear on the historical research.

ZR: Going back to Doc: one of the most interesting things about Doc Holliday is that he was a dentist–

MDR: Not if you go by the movies!

Most screenwriters have failed to find much drama in dental work. They usually ignore the fact that John Henry Holliday held the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery from the best school in the country in his day. Or they make him into a physician. Or there’s just a throw-away line, like when he urges someone to “Take care of your teeth.”

ZR: But he really was serious about his profession!

MDR : Absolutely. John Henry Holliday was a dedicated professional and inDoc, I try to make it clear why. When his companion Kate demands to know why he wastes his time trying to be a dentist when he could make so much more money just playing poker, Doc’s answer is stark and stunning: “Because I can relieve sufferin’.”

Remember, until quite recently people lived with the chronic pain of decay and the acute misery of abscesses. Take Lawrence of Arabia, just as an example. He was 32 when he enlisted in the R.A.F. after the Great War. His records show that he was missing 8 teeth and had significant decay in 12 others. And his dental health status was actually considered good! Try to imagine chewing with that mouth! But that was typical for middle class Brits in 1923. Things were even worse on the American frontier in the 1800s.

So dentistry wasn’t just a dull day job that Doc Holliday ditched when he got a chance to go West and gamble! That’s why I didn’t write about Tombstone. I wrote about Dodge City in 1878 is because that was the last time when he was well enough to re-establish a dental practice. He’d have stayed in Dodge if Kansas winter hadn’t turned out to be so hard on him. He lived quietly there – the only time his name was in the papers was when he announced the opening of his dental office.

ZR: How did you learn about dentistry practices in the American Old West?

MDR: From Dental Cosmos, the premier 19th century dentistry journal. I read all the issues between 1870 and 1878 – from when John Henry matriculated at the Philadelphia College of Dental Surgery until he arrived in Dodge City.

ZR: Is it true that you managed to work some horse riding into your research process?

MDR: Yes! As a girl, I’d save up my babysitting money to pay for an hour at a stable on an elderly saddle horse – you’re more a passenger than a rider under those circumstances.

But horses the backbone of the economy in the 19th century and a constant part of everyday life, as cars are today. Wyatt Earp was a serious horseman, and I needed to get a feel for his life.

So I spent time on the KD Guest Ranch in Adamsville, Ohio, where Kari and Dave Burkey taught me to ride with authority. And I had the time of my life!

I also watch RFD-TV, a network that has a lot of shows about riding and horses. And I read books about equine veterinary issues, horse breeding and racing. Not nearly as fun as penning calves at the KD Ranch, but very interesting.

ZR: Did you ever go to Dodge City while you were writing Doc?

MDR: No. The town has changed during the past 133 years! I worked from plat maps and photos from the 1870s. I grew up in Illinois and was familiar with prairie ecology, so I know what the landscape looks like at dawn, for example.

On the other hand, I visited Griffin and Fayetteville, Georgia, where John Henry Holliday spent much of his childhood because that landscape was his frame of reference when he went west. Personally, I find the flat lands subtle and serene and beautiful, but if you grow up with rolling hills and pines forests, the prairie can seem empty and boring, and intimidatingly lonely.

I’m writing about Tombstone next, and I will visit that area. I’ve never lived in or near a desert, so I’ll be spending five days on horseback in the country around Tombstone, and will visit in both spring and fall, to get a feel for seasonal changes.

ZR: Westerns have been out of fashion in Hollywood for some time, but there seems to be a resurgence in them lately.

MDR: Yes! True Grit was a big hit, and there seems to be an appetite for them again.

ZR: Why do you think the time is right for the genre now?

MDR: For adults in the 50s, I think perhaps early TV Westerns were partly nostalgia for the time when they’d had close contact with horses and the land. Back then there were still horse-drawn wagons on the streets of Chicago, where I grew up, but horses and mules were quickly disappearing from people’s daily life, just as television was gaining ground and as suburbia was encroaching on farmland.

For kids like me, they provided settings for imagining freedom that was unmonitored by the parents and neighbors and teachers who controlled so much of our lives.

Then in the 1960s and 70s, the Civil Rights movement and the American Indian Movement made simplistic, racist “Cowboys and Indians” tropes unacceptable. For a while, there was a revisionist reaction: Indians became noble and kind, cowboys became ugly and vicious, but the Western was still about good guys and bad guys.

Finally the genre was replaced by Star Wars and Star Trek, where you could make aliens the bad guys and not worry about being picketed by protesters.

I think we’re beginning to get enough distance from all that to start thinking in terms of real human beings, not categories and groups. Also, Westerns as a written genre tended to be pulp, with a few exceptions like Shane and The Oxbow Incident. Perhaps starting with Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove,there’s been an effort to write to a higher standard, to present realistic characters in historically accurate situations and to think past the easy solutions and handy cliches of the genre’s first century.

I’m not sure I could defend this analysis in an academic debate, but those are my first thoughts about it anyway…

ZR: Back on the subject of historical fiction, can you offer up some books you think readers of your work should be sure to check out?

MDR: I enjoyed Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and Iain Pear’s The Dream of Scipio. And I really admire Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra. That’s a brilliant biography, but it’s so wonderfully written, it reads like a good novel.

And it’s unfashionable to say this, but Gone With The Wind is a better book than it’s given credit for, today. Margaret Mitchell and John Henry Holliday were cousins – their family histories overlap, so I reread the book as background for Doc, but came away from it with a lot of respect for the novel and its author.

Mitchell was really brave – it takes real guts to put a ruthlessly, relentlessly self-absorbed character like Scarlett O’Hara in the center of a 1000-page story. And yet, the narrative drive never flags, and Scarlett’s blinkered selfishness is used to make other characters’ nuances stand out in high relief. Not an easy trick to pull off…

ZR: Before I let you get back to writing, would you talk about the role of music in your books?

MDR: You know, I’ve only recently become aware of what a strong element music is in my writing. Not so much in Dreamers of the Day, but in all the other books there are characters who are musicians or who sing, or who are so moved by unearthly music that they are willing to cross the heavens to hear more of it.

Until recently, I had never studied music formally – it was all listening: just emotion and reaction for me. But John Henry Holliday and his mother were accomplished pianists. To write for them, I needed to become familiar with the 19th century piano repertoire by Chopin and Beethoven, and Schumann.

When I started this novel, my tastes ran to 1980s bands like Def Leppard and Van Halen, but I just fell in love with Chopin. I cannot get enough of Chopin! And I ended up structuring the entire novel around Beethoven’s Emperor concerto.

The first thing I did after sending the manuscript for Doc to the publisher was go shopping for a piano. I couldn’t find middle C when I started lessons a year ago, but since then, I’ve mastered Traumerei, with training wheels; a very simplified Chopin prelude, and the grown-up version of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C from The Well-Tempered Clavier!

Six-year-olds are usually pushed at lessons; at 60, you’re pulled by the music. I’ll work for months on one piece until there comes a day when that music isliving right there in my own hands. That is pure magic. ________________________________________________________________

Zack Ruskin graduated in 2010 with a BA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes short stories, reports for Patch.com, and works for Book Passage bookstore in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is currently becoming certified as a copy editor at University of California, Berkeley and interning at McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. He is infatuated with his Norfolk terrier Scout, hiking in the fog and arguing baseball with his friends. All his words can be found at  http://www.zackruskin.com/ .

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Lee Roddy

By RD Larson

I’ve known Lee Roddy for a number of years and love his books. I just finished Days of Deception. It gave me such pleasure to go away in time and have a train adventure. In addition, all of the children in my life have at least one historical novel written by Mr. Roddy. It pleases me to say that each of those children has an abiding interest in history. You can’t go wrong when you read a Lee Roddy book.

Lee Roddy is a best-selling author who has written 50 novels and 15 non-fiction books with sales in the millions of copies. His credits include Grizzly Adams, which became a prime-time television series, The Lincoln Conspiracy, which made the New York Times best-seller list, Jesus, now a film in more than 500 languages, and four series of novels for young adults. Visit his websitewhere you can order his books and read more about him.

Lee Roddy: Hi, RD. I appreciate your doing this interview.

RD Larson: Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Readers want to know about your work. How old were you when you started to write?

L.R.: My first short stories were published when I was 14, so I’d been trying for a year or so before then. However, it took many years before I could make a full-time living off of my writing

R.D.L.: Did you always like history? And how did you to start writing historical fiction? Have you always had a great love for history?

L.R.: Some of my adult novels and three of my series for juvenile readers had contemporary settings, but my love of history moved me to write about that for both young readers and grown-ups.

I was very fortunate to have a high school teacher who taught me that history is not dates and events, but people reacting to their times. I really loved history from that time on.

R.D.L.: Where did the inspiration for The Lady Pinkerton Chronicles come from? Was there something specific in the time after the Civil War that you wanted to explore?

L.R.: I always try to write about something not well known in history, so I knew the Civil War has been the subject of more books than for any other period, but there was little on Reconstruction and building of the transcontinental railroad. I wondered what would happen if a female former Union spy and an ex-Confederate cavalryman were involved with railroading leading up to bridging the nation with iron rails. It took three books to tell this romantic suspense story

R.D.L.: Do you have a schedule that you follow when you are writing a novel? Do you work a certain number of hours a day, write a certain number of pages a day, etc.?

L.R.: I arise daily at 5 a.m. and am at the computer by 8 a.m. I work until 5 p.m; five-and-a-half-days a week. I do not try for a certain number of pages each day, but do write each one as best as I can.

R.D.L.: Do you always conceive the novels as part of a series, or did the idea for the series grow out of one book?

L.R.: I usually think of characters or a subject that is too big for one book although I have written several stand-alone novels. I prefer series or trilogies. That’s because they give me the space to explore the period, the characters and stories in greater depth. If readers become intrigued with the characters, it’s natural for them to want to read more about them and their situations.

R.D.L.: What are you working on now? What areas of history would you like to visit in your writing in the future?

L.R.: I have two works-in-progress: one has a different slant about the California Gold Rush of 1849. The other takes a unique angle about the Pony Express. As for the area of history I would like to write about in the future – well, for years, I’ve thought about how I could help people rediscover their true American heritage. I see so much deviation from the historic facts that I’d like to tell stories that recapture what it was really like, and not slanted as much of our heritage is today

R.D.L.: Your wonderful exciting novels come to life through your use of history. How does your research process work? Is it time consuming? Do you have any research tips for writers of historical fiction?

L.R.: I prefer working with original resources when possible, so I’m always looking for old manuscript sources, etc. I work by getting an idea of what I think would be interesting to readers and also keep me enjoying the search. Usually, I read an hour each night on various subjects that interest me. I travel to the historic sites where possible taking my video camera and tape recorder. Yes, it is very time consuming, but it’s a pleasure, not work. My interest stays high because I have a strong desire to pass on what I’ve learned through researching history.

As for tips: You’ve got to love what you do or your manuscript won’t have the spark and glow that should show in the finished story. Of course, all well-told stories have about the same basic structure and contents, so it’s how you tell the story that makes it appeal to readers.

R.D.L.: Some writers believe that every fact must be true, while other writers wish to take some dramatic license with their works of fiction? What do you think? A novel has to be exciting to take the reader into it.

L.R.: I believe a fact is always true, but I also believe it’s okay to “write from the silences,” as an author friend expresses it. That is, I sometimes take historic characters, described as they were and shown in a factual setting, and have them interact with my fictitious character. However, I never go against what is historically known about that character or the locale in which he encounters my made-up person(s). Often I can find what the historic character said or wrote, and use those words in a scene. I never change an historic character for the sake of my story. I want that character to be true to self, just as my imaginary characters are true to themselves as I envision them.

R.D.L: What is your advice to aspiring writers of historical fiction?

L.R.: First, learn the craft of writing a solid story. At the same time, begin or continue the unending search for both the historic facts to be melded with characters that only exist in the mind. The challenge comes in trying to write an exciting, page-turning story set against an historically accurate setting. The goal is to entertain while painlessly feeding in bits of heritage that make the reader understand the times, and glad they read the work so they’re eager to buy your next book.


RD Larson was born on the north coast of California. Two of her childhood stories were published before age twelve; at age fourteen, she wrote and produced a play at the local library for younger children. She attended Humboldt State, majoring in art and art history, and then continued her education at College of the Redwoods and Sacramento State University. Ms. Larson began to write again, attending many writing classes and seminars, each time saying she learned more about herself and her writing. In 1995, she began to enjoy e-writing on the Internet and joined writer groups and exchanged many writing ideas worldwide. In 1999, her anthology of her childhood stories was published by bookmice.com. Mama Stories has been read in New Delhi, Beijing, Sydney, and Ottawa, and many readers all over the U.S. have written to her in response to her work. She was a Pirate’s Alley Faulkner’s semifinalist in 1996, and she was nominated in 1999 for the Frankfurt Award. She lives in the Gold Country of California in the Sierra Foothills and enjoys an avid interest in the rich historical past of the area.

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Brian Wainwright

By Wendy J. Dunn

Wendy J. Dunn:  I read you are, like me, a “notorious Anne Boleyn fan.” Well – I know why I am one of her devotees, but how about you? What attracted you to Queen Anne?

Brian Wainwright:   I think the interest in Anne Boleyn probably started with the famous Keith Michell series back in the 70s. I was still at school and (hard though it is to believe now) it was the subject of a great deal of discussion between classes. The girls tended to like Jane Seymour best of the wives and (typically of me) I liked to be awkward. I suppose all six stories were interesting in their own way, but Anne was simply the one I found most interesting of the lot. Maybe it was partly that she was the first woman of rank to be executed in England since Lord knows when – I suppose it’s a question of whether Maude de Braose counts as being “executed”. Moreover, it seemed to me then, and it does still to this day, that she was executed on no evidence whatever, just because Henry wanted shut of her, and that, I thought, was a shocking injustice. Whatever Anne’s faults (and I should be the last to suppose her a saint) she did not deserve to be murdered. I also liked and admired her spirit and courage – she was an amazing woman in that sense, she was willing to stand up to anyone for what she wanted. She might have been wiser to hold her tongue a bit more, in terms of survival, but then that wouldn’t have been Anne, would it?

(As for Jane Seymour, I used to say that considering she was such a perfect creature it was odd that she was willing to marry a man just a matter of days after he had publicly murdered his previous wife!)

One of my first dates, I took a girl to see Anne of the Thousand Days, which was a new film then, and although it was a different “take” on things, it still intrigued me and made me want to read the factual books about the reign. So I did. You know, if fiction does nothing else it must persuade at least some people to look into serious history.

Henry VIII is my least favourite Henry – I even prefer his father, which from a Ricardian is saying a lot. H8 seems to me to combine all Edward IV’s worst faults with many of Henry 7’s. Edward IV was sometimes a bully – and actually I had a scene in my abortive GYH which made me realise how much of one he was – but at least no one could ever have called him a coward. I remember that bit when Anne was really, really ill, with some sort of fever and Henry didn’t have the courage to visit her because he was afraid of catching it. Some love!

I don’t think I will ever “do” anything about Anne Boleyn, because I am “uncomfortable” in the era – I really should have hated to live in the Tudor period, and especially during the reign of H8. Learning more about the reign I realised that the injustice done to Anne was part of a pattern – it was one long tyranny of injustice, starting with Dudley and Empson and ending with Surrey.

W.J.D.:   Oh yes. You and I are in total agreement about Henry VIII and – of course – Anne Boleyn. I see her death (and that of the five ‘AB party’ men also losing their lives in May, 1536) as plain and simple murder. Eric Ives says Cromwell set the wheels in motion because he feared for own his survival and places very little weight upon her last abortive pregnancy. But it is clear that Henry needed very little convincing to get rid of her. It’s a very tragic story…

I’ve read in a great interview with Wendy Zollo  how much you hated school. You know, I detested school too. That and an unhappy childhood turned me into an escapee – either by reading books or making up imaginary worlds. Also was the reason I became a teacher – thought if I went it to it knowing reasons why it made some children very unhappy, I might make some difference. I hope I did.

You mention The Woolpack by Cynthia Harnett as one book you remember as a child. Are there any other authors from your early years you found inspiring?

B.W.: I can’t recall all the authors but I was a very “wide” reader, in fact I would read anything if it was the only book available. Arthur Ransome’s books about children having adventures in the Lake District are one lot I remember. The “William” books of Richmal Crompton (who came from Bury!). The “Bunter” books of Frank Richards. Things like “Black Arrow” and “Treasure Island” by Stevenson. “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell. “Ivanhoe” by Scott. These are a few. I was blessed to be possessed of a reading age far ahead of chronology – while still at primary school I read (for example) George Dow’s massive three-volume history of the Great Central Railway, and Dow was a lover of many big and unusual words. In those days you figured them out or looked them up. There was none of this “accessible” nonsense. I read a lot of adult railway books because that was my absolute passion. “Tales of the Glasgow and South Western Railway” by D L Smith was another, a wonderful set of anecdotes that most people would enjoy if they could get hold of it – it’s a rare book.

I don’t think I got into medieval “adult” fiction till I was about 13, and I have an idea the first one I read was Anya Seton’s Katherine. At about the same time I discovered that you could also read adult factual books on the middle ages. The rest is history…

W.J.D.: Your answer here does lead to another question. When did Constance, your wonderful princess and main character of “Within the Fetterlock” begin to tug at your interest?

B.W.: I was very interested in this era, and one day I was reading a book “The Political History of England” I think, and it mentioned Constance’s escape from Windsor with the boys. It was a very brief reference, but up to that time I had not even known that Edmund of Langley had a daughter. She is often left out of family trees – just check out any books on the wars of the roses!  This escape was such an amazing event that I had to know more and I spent literally years, on and off, trying to discover as much as I could about Constance. There is no one text book about her, and to an extent I had to delve into things like the Calender of Patent Rolls, Complete Peerage and one or two of the various Chronicles. Some information printed on her is quite wrong, it claims she was Edmund Holland’s mistress before she was Thomas Despenser’s wife, which is manifestly absurd in terms of chronology; indeed she was almost certainly married to Thomas before Edmund was even born. “Married” in name, you understand. What emerged from this scratching around was a quite amazing life story and I am a bit surprised that no modern novelist has written about her before me, though she does appear as a bit character in some novels. (Actually there is a Victorian Novel about her, White Rose of Langley by Emily S Holt, but you are very unlikely to be able to get hold of a copy.) The thing is, the more I found out, the more I seemed to be “hooked”.

To be honest I am not quite sure exactly when I started writing about her but it was a long time ago; there were several versions before Fetterlock and very little of the original remains. I don’t want to give you the idea that I did nothing else – I had various other hobbies as well as a full time job, and sometimes literally years went by before I did anything more on Constance. One problem was that I could not keep up with either my own style developments or the new research findings I discovered, so I would typically “complete” it and then start again! I also wrote Alianore Audley, in remarkably quick time by my standards, during a rest break! The research findings continued almost to the end. For example Nigel Saul’s superb book on Richard II was published and demonstrated that Richard had visited the Despensers at Hanley Castle in 1398, something I would not have dared invent:-)

In a way, my approach was “how not to be a professional novelist”! No professional could or would have spent so much time on it, or hared off down so many side alleys, as I did. I shall certainly never do the like again; I haven’t the time in this incarnation. In that sense it is literally the work of a lifetime. It was also a great practical learning experience, though, and in a way I am very glad that the earlier versions did not see the light of day, as I should not have been happy with them. Sometimes I would get five or six pages into a chapter and then realise “that’s not what happened”. It may sound odd, but at times it was as if Constance was helping me to write it! Certainly she became very real to me, and in an odd way I “know” her. Some parts of the book were very harrowing to write – readers will probably be able to guess which ones. Perhaps in a way it was that that made me go on – I felt I could not fail her.

W.J.D.:   You know – my character also became real to me (still is! He’s already preparing to take voice in my trilogy about Katherine of Aragon. But I’m still working on the first draft of book one. Tom’s got a bit of waiting to do for his minor role…)

I also came out of Dear Heart not wanting to fail Tom in finding a publisher. He so wanted his story told, gaining this opportunity to defend Anne Boleyn. I’ve pondered on this lot. Sometimes, it seems to me that writers really tap into something. Whether it because we just tap so well into our imaginary worlds or there is something beyond our understanding happening here. BUT I had so many things fall into place – I felt guided…do you think it’s possible we were? Did any intriguing things happen to you at just right time and place for your Constance novel? You know – what I love so much about writing and the reason I just can’t give it up, is that it is all a magical, spiritual adventure…

B.W.:  This is a really difficult one. As my grandfather used to say, I am sure there’s something there but I have no idea what it is. An additional complication is that writers almost by definition have imagination and imagination takes one to very strange places. Finally, I don’t really feel happy with a character anyway until that character takes on a sort of independent life. It’s hard to describe but it’s the difference between a “cardboard” character and one who lives for the reader. I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at.

Having said all that, Constance was a remarkably vivid character, and she certainly seemed a very real person to me. Now I have stopped writing about her, I really miss her, it’s like an old, dear friend has emigrated or something. I can say that she (and also Edmund Mortimer) insisted on doing some things in that book that I definitely did not plan out even in my mind – they just seemed to happen as I wrote it. Does that make any kind of sense? Probably not! I would love to know how far the real Constance co-coincided with “my” Constance. To a point I think they did, but there is no way of knowing for sure, not this side of death anyway. Do you know Maria from the lists? Maria who knows so much about Spain produced an historic description of Katherine of Lancaster, Constance’s double cousin, and the physical description of Katherine was remarkably close to my imagination of Constance.

One thing that was odd was that in an early draft I had Edmund Kent left behind in Ireland by Richard II, but then found (from what few references there were) some indications that this was not so. Imagine my surprise and delight when I found a letter from Kent to his uncle, which made it clear that I was right first time! He and his sister in law had been left behind, and were arrested landing in England in early 1400, not (as some historians mistakenly believed) trying to flee!

I think I told you about my visit to Elsing and my subsequent discovery (thanks to Rania) of the marriage between Margaret Hastings of Elsing and John Russell. On my travels I would quite frequently see a signpost and think – ooh, that was one of Constance’s manors! (Sometimes I would divert to see it, but rarely to any great profit except satisfying curiosity.)

I certainly don’t rule out the possibility we are guided in some way. I always think that most people who are interested in history have a particular affinity with certain periods. Why is that?  I must admit I am more “at home” in Constance’s era than in the Yorkist period, and although I am interested in the latter I am ultimately not as life-and-death passionate about it. It’s very odd. Why do we take sides? What made me write about one particular person out of all the interesting characters who thronged Richard II’s court? Don’t know. Just did. She’s not even particularly famous – in fact she’s rather obscure – but I just had to tell the story, and I had to get it right, however long it took. She and her family were so real to me; it was almost like a vision. How do you explain all this? I really don’t know – it just “is.” ________________________________________________________________

Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer obsessed by Tudor History. She now has a new passion: Medieval Castile. The author of the award-winning novel Dear Heart, How Like You This?, Wendy is currently working on a trilogy based on the life of Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII.

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Anne Easter Smith

By Wendy J. Dunn

Wendy J. Dunn: Do you agree, Anne, that Richard III is an overworked subject in historical fiction?

Anne Easter Smith: Judging from the e-mails I have had from people all over the country, sadly Richard is only just getting on their radar screens because of my book. This is not to say there haven’t been plenty of Ricardian novels over the years — some good and some not so — but I think having a major publisher like Simon & Schuster behind mine has given it wider visibility, that’s all. But compared with Tudor fiction in the last few years, Richard can’t hold a candle!! As a member of the RIII Society, I know at least four people writing and more than that who have published Ricardian novels, but I don’t know how big of an audience they have rated. So far my book has sold 23K – which S&S tells me is very good for a first-time novelist in five months. Just wish I could sell it in Oz and NZ — and then perhaps the UK will take note! It will be out in Germany next month (“Ach, du liebe!”) and has just come out in an audio book, which is terribly exciting. I have the same actress who read Bridget Jones’ Diary and sequel. She’s awfully good.

W.J.D.: You say you admire Richard III – can you please tell me why?

A.E.S.: My main reason for admiring Richard is his loyalty: first to his brother, holding the North strong for him without any power moves to challenge Edward for the throne, unlike brother George; to his wife in their marriage, although we know he had two bastards, they were old enough to have been born before that event and there were certainly none later; and to those two children, whom he took into his household and treated like royalty. That is why I chose to give him one mistress–I think he was someone who was fiercely loyal to those he loved. And that is why I do not think he murdered the princes in the Tower— they were his nephews and sons of his beloved brother. Richard was also a just ruler of his subjects–despite the short reign, he improved the judicial system for commoners and other than the odd execution of Hastings, was fair-minded when dealing with people. Even though he knew Elizabeth Woodville had plotted to keep Richard from being Protector of young Edward, he persuaded her to leave sanctuary and come and live at court. Surely she would have refused had she thought he had killed her sons.

W.J.D.: Do you have any firm theories about likely fate of Edward IV’s two sons??

A.E.S.: I think I pretty much laid out my whole theory in Rose for the Crown!

W.J.D.: My next question is related to your current project, expected to be
published next year. I gather this is about Margaret, the sister of Edward
IV and the wife of Charles the Bold? I am a curious soul, and wondered if
you might have found yourself inspired by Ann Wroe’s The Perfect Prince. I
must admit her book got me thinking about Margaret…

A.E.S.: When I gave my editor the proposal for a book about Margaret of York, I
was under the gun to come up with it as I had a two-book deal with Simon
& Schuster and they wanted to seal the deal in 24 hours. As I had written
Rose for the Crown as a labor of love over many years and really hadn’t
expected it to be published, I was floored by the prospect of writing another book. My agent mentioned that I had come away from the research on the first book with an interest in Margaret, so I figured I could probably use all the knowledge I already had on the period to construct a plausible story around her. What I was not reckoning on was becoming so engrossed in this new character that I ended up liking her even more than my Kate Haute! What an intelligent, intriguing woman she was. And yes, indeed, Ann Wroe’s Perkin orThe Perfect Prince was a useful resource. Ann and I had tea in London when I went to England and Belgium to do research on Margaret, and we struck up a nice friendship that has lasted on email. She has been invaluable in helping me write this second book. In fact, Perkin’s story may be part of the next book I am beginning to think about. Daughter of York is supposed to be on on the shelves by next April.

W.J.D.: Can you tell of the day when you realised that S&S was about to take you for the ride of a life time?? How much has it changed your life?

A.E.S.: I had just recently returned from a RIII Society annual conference in Toronto (the first joint Am/Canadian one) and people knew my agent was shopping the book. It had been doing the rounds since August with the first five editors targeted by Kirsten. It was now with the second five and I figured I didn’t have a prayer, although Kirsten told me that many times it takes a dozen or so before you might get a hit. I was alone in the kitchen making myself a cup of tea  when the phone rang. It was Kirsten. “Am I talking to the soon-to-be published author Anne Easter Smith?” I almost fell off the counter, where I was sitting swinging my legs waiting for the kettle to boil. She then proceeded to tell me about this fabulous — for a first-time novelist — deal that Touchstone Fireside (a division of S&S) was offering me. I had no idea whether it was fabulous or not, because I had not a clue how these things worked. I had to take Kirsten’s word for it. “Now part of the deal,” she continued, ” is that she wants a second book from you.” This time I had to sit down on a chair and put my head in my hands. “Another book?” I groaned, “but I’ve never thought about writing another book, and this one has taken me seven years!” Kirsten waited a beat before adding, “and I need a proposal in 24 hours.” Blimey, I thought! Well, I quickly decided that Margaret of York had intrigued me enough during the research of “Rose” that I could probably write a good story around her, and S&S accepted.

It only took me a month of understanding the timeline for the second book (a year after I finished the edits on the first) to make me quit my lovely job as administrative director of a music school so I could write. I immediately made plans to go to Europe on a research mission for three weeks in January 2005 and I really haven’t stopped since. I have to confess I was not prepared for the fantastic response I have had for Rose in the form of sales, complimentary emails and requests to talk at libraries and book clubs. It all seemed as though it was happening to someone else. I certainly have not gained celebrity status 😉 but I still get a thrill when I see someone carrying my book. My husband drags me into bookstores wherever we are traveling and asks the manager if they’d like me to autograph whatever copies they have. I wouldn’t dare to present myself to the manager for fear of being told “Who are you? And how do we know you are who you say you are?” My British “never blow your own trumpet” rise up at these moments! Luckily, I’m married to an American who has no such inhibitions!

The only negative aspect to all of this is that I do not have a regular income anymore. Authoring certainly doesn’t make you rich even if it makes you famous – unless you are a Stephen King or perhaps Philippa Gregory! I have to sell 100,000 of both books before I see any more income after the initial advance. That could take many years, although Rose has hit the 25,000 mark after six months, so hopefully when Daughter of York comes out I can eat more than baked beans again!!

W.J.D.: You’ve covered so much that I think two more questions would be more than enough for this interview. What authors inspired you as a child, teenager, now? Any advice for aspiring writers??

A.E.S.: I began to read historical novels as a pre-teen with books like “The Woods of Windri” by British author Violet Needham. Then I moved on to reading all of Jean Plaidy’s royal series and Georgette Heyer. At age 18, and traveling up and down in the train from home to my job in London every day, I set out to write my own Georgette Heyer once I realized I had read every single one of hers. It still is in my trunk upstairs in the attic today — all six wishy-washy first chapters that got abandoned once I got a flat in London and the social life took over! But the single most important influence in writing The Rose for the Crown (my first finished book) was Anya Seton. I have readKatherineThe Winthrop Woman and Green Darkness several times. For research prowess, I have to hand it to Edward Rutherfurd for Sarum andLondon. He is a goldmine of information about every period. My advice for aspiring writers is, don’t give up. I set out to write Rose without one single writing class to my name in my whole life. I had no clue how to structure a book or how to flesh out a character. I just had fun with it and tried to write a book I would enjoy reading. If anyone else wanted to read it, then that was gravy! I did not set out to write a book that would be published. I just set out to write a book.

__________________________________________________________

Wendy J. Dunn is the author of Dear Heart, How Like You This? It was awarded the ABPA 2003 Glyph for Best Adult Fiction and First Runner Up for Commercial fiction in the 2004 Writer’s Notes Book Awards.

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Dr. Gillian Polack

By Wendy J. Dunn

Dr. Gillian Polack has an academic and public service background. She completed her doctoral thesis in French and English Medieval history at the University of Sydney in 1987. She has also studied at the Centre for Medieval Studies in Toronto, Canada, as well as in London and Paris.

Gillian’s main foci are writing and teaching. The writing covers a wide range, from academic to popular, non-fiction to fiction. She has had over twenty short pieces published (including a story for which she won an Australia Day Award), and has completed several major works, including one play and a cookbook.Illuminations is her first novel.

Wendy J. Dunn: I’m interested in hearing about your journey from medieval historian to fantasy author. What comes first for you – writing imaginatively or being a historiographer?

Gillian Polack: That is surprisingly difficult to assess. I have wanted to write fiction since I was eight, but my family heavily dissuaded me, so I wrote for myself until I was nineteen.  By that time I was already studying history and historiography as an undergraduate.

Thinking about it, my interest in history is about as old as my interest in writing fiction, which is why I studied it at university (to more family protests!).  My love of history was more a vocation than a potential career – it still is.  I was the daughter who dragged the whole family into rural museums while we were on holiday and exclaimed over old shoes and pre-electric irons.  I had to investigate roadside markers and the plaques on trees.  I asked older members of the family about their lives and was told a thousand family stories.

How entangled are these two parts of myself?  Inextricably.  I used my Arthurian self as a backdrop to “Illuminations” and am planning books using a fantasy Middle Ages.  I use my historian’s sense of Australia and family in writing my current novel and the last one (still in search of a home)  – it all comes out in my fiction.

W.J.D.: Has writing your novels changed you in ways unexpected?

G.P.: Absolutely. The big thing it has given me is a sense that I am allowed to be myself. The more people tangle my fictional characters with me, and the more fictional characters of mine get seen that way, the more license I seem to have to be the somewhat quirky person I am, and to keep following my dreams.

It was more important for me to do things for other people than to be there for myself, but now I find myself saying, “If I get too sick, I can’t write all the books I have inside me.”  I am a lot more self-centred than I used to be and vastly more self-confident.

W.J.D.: You know, eight seems to be important age when so many of us begin to know the road we want to walk in our lives, What writers influenced you in your early years? And when did the Arthurian legends/genre first draw you in?

G.P.: Oddly that is two questions for me.  Let me answer the second one first. I know that most Arthurianish people are addicted to things Arthurian from their formative years, but I wasn’t.

I loved T.H White and Rosemary Sutcliffe and Mary Stewart from when I was young, but at the same time I hated Mallory (and still don’t adore him, to the consternation of my students).

Arthuriana became central to my reading during my doctorate, partly because I was able to read the glorious Old French prose tales, and partly because everyone kept bugging me to tell them about these tales. What kept me Arthurian after that was that people wanted to know more and more, so I had to read more and more.  And so I discovered what great fun are modern tellings of Arthur, and now I enjoy them as themselves.

My natural bent when I was young was for pure science fiction and for non-Arthurian fantasy.  When I was eight I loved Sylvia Engdahl and Andre Norton and ‘Doc’ Smith and the early Heinlein.   I read them alongside Elizabeth Beresford and the Abbey books and Edith Nesbit and Anya Seton.

My tastes extended just as far as the libraries I had access to would allow. As fast as four books at a time permitted, I worked my way through every library I had access to and read non-fiction as avidly as fiction.

My parents had the wonderful principle that I was allowed to read anything. This was a very powerful teaching decision on their part:  it helped me grow through my reading. In my early teens I discovered for myself that Dostoyevsky was awesome, that Chekhov was subtle, that Nabokov was ick, and that Dickens was often boring.

For me, the big truth about my early reading was not what influenced me, but the fact that I was given this authority from very young to be critical and to think through what I was reading. Every book I read counted, whether written by a big name or by someone who has already been forgotten by everyone else.

I still keep a lot of my favorites from different points in time, so I can walk through my home library and point to my developmental stages.  I can see the moment I stopped collecting Enid Blyton because I suddenly realised just how much she played on ‘us’ and ‘them’ and how totally ineffectual most adults were in her society.  Or when I started reading Tolkien’s other books, because his societies became more interesting to me than the adventures of a single hobbit.

If any author interested me in history early, it was Hilda Lewis.  After reading her fantasy about a time-travelling ship, I started reading historical fiction as well as science fiction and fantasy.  Rosemary Sutcliffe became as close to me as Andre Norton.

W.J.D.: Another question if you’d care to answer. Tell us about your new novel and the works you have on the boil…

G.P.: Always happy to talk about these things, but I will try not to say too much.
Firstly, The Art of Effective Dreaming .  When people ask, I tell them, “It is about Australian public servants and dead Morris dancers.”  Actually, it is about that moment when you are just about to sleep and all your dreams spring to life in your mind.  And it is about how we use our dreams to create our lives. It just happens to have public servants and dead Morris dancers in it as well. I can’t tell you exactly when it will be out, but keep an eye on Trivium Publishing’s website because that is where the announcement will appear.

The rest of my books are a bit complex. I am revising one and writing another and planning three more, all at once.

The one I am revising is Secret Jewish Women’s Business :  family secrets,anti-Semitism, magic, sisters, and echoes of domestic violence.   It is set mostly in Sydney, but with bits of Canberra and Ballarat.

My work-in-progress is Life through Cellophane which I like to call a domestic drama with slivers of horror.  There are mid-life crises and boyfriends and an evil boss and impossible families and a very, very strange mirror.  There are also ants.  Lots of ants.

The ones I am planning to write after Life through Cellophane take me back to fantasy Middle Ages.  This time it is the twelfth/thirteen century (Not Arthurian Britain).  I want to write three linked books (not a trilogy!). Right now I am still developing background and having a whale of a time.  I am enjoying it so much that I have put hints of what is to come in Life through Cellophane – the Middle Ages sneaks in everywhere.

W.J.D.: Can I toss in one last question? I really want to ask you about your fascination with food in fiction…?

G.P.: My historian side has done some work on culinary history and has taught everything from Ancient Roman to modern Jewish cuisines.

Like everything else in my life, the love of food and food history refuses to stay neatly packaged into its own little space, and crept into my fiction. My historiography and Arthurian studies led to Illuminations and to my particular take on the Arthurian tales. My folk interest gave folksongs and Morris dancers to The Art of Effective Dreaming and my food history has given me a full background of recipes for Secret Jewish Women’s Business . When/if the latter gets published, I promise to web a few recipes.

When I think about it, I suspect it is the fact that I study cultures and the fabric of people’s lives and their writing. This means there are many natural links between my studies and my fiction writing, even though I try to tell people that I keep the historian and writer quite separate. The type of historian I am produces material of vast interest to the type of fiction writer I am, I guess.

______________________________________________________________

Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer obsessed by Tudor History. She now has a new passion: Medieval Castile. The author of the award-winning novelDear Heart, How Like You This?, Wendy is currently working on a trilogy based on the life of Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII.

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Barbara Mertz

By Ernest Dempsey

New York Times bestselling author Barbara Mertz is a world famous Egyptologist. She is the author of several novels and a few nonfiction publications. Her latest book Temples,Tombs, and Hieroglyphs (HarperCollins, New York, 2007) gives a popular history of ancient Egypt with a scholarly commentary on the evolution of its cultural and sociopolitical climate.

Ernest Dempsey: Barbara, would you please tell us a little about your academic and writing background in brief?

Barbara Mertz: I received my doctorate in Egyptology from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago when I was twenty three. I have written articles for encyclopedias and journals and written two non-fiction books on the subject. My principal writing career has focused on mystery novels, particularly (under the name of Elizabeth Peters) a series featuring Amelia Peabody, a Victorian lady archaeologist, and her family, in which I use my background in Egyptology. I have also written suspense novels as Barbara Michaels.

E.D.: When we speak of history as ancient as you describe in Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs, what exactly is our interest in knowing about times as old as that?

B.M.: No history, however remote, should be without interest in these days. History is about people and how they behave.

E.D.: What is so unique about Egypt that its study has become a whole wide field of knowledge in itself?

B.M.: Every culture is unique. However, Egypt has a special appeal because so much has survived from ancient times–the great pyramids, the golden treasures of Tutankhamon and other kings and queens, mummies, tombs, temples.

E.D.: Given that you are also a fiction writer, where do you draw the dividing line between fiction and history when writing of ancient events as those included in Temples, Tombs,and Hieroglyphs?

B.M.: The dividing line between fact and fiction is pretty clear, isn’t it? I stick to the facts even when writing fiction, but since there are differences of opinion about some areas of ancient history, I select the opinion that suits my plot.

E.D.: There has been a rooted tendency to credit a single place, particularly Egypt, as the origin of human civilization. Do you consider this way of thinking as fair or justified?

B.M.: I think it’s wrong, period. Civilization, no matter how you define it, arose in different parts of the world at different times.

E.D.: Your book discards certain myths about Egyptian civilization, like that of the supernatural construction of the Giza pyramid. But, as I have heard about it, some documentaries and popular history books do suggest, no matter how subtly, the impossibility of their human origin. How do you intellectually respond to such presentations?

B.M.: I cannot respond intellectually to the far out theories of supernatural or extraterrestrial influences on Egypt because the theories are themselves irrational. I say so, in my book and everywhere else. There is no evidence whatsoever for such ideas.

E.D.: Drawing on your study of the Egyptian heritage, do you find any skeptic minds, living in those times, who challenged the conventional and the orthodox?

B.M.: There are always, thank heaven, skeptics who challenge orthodox ideas. They are the great thinkers of all times. Egypt has several such individuals–the best known, perhaps, is the pharaoh Akhenaten, who abandoned the old polytheistic religion in favor of the worship of one god.

E.D.: How do you correlate myths in ancient Egypt and those encircling us today? Is there any causal connection?

B.M.: I am at somewhat of a loss to understand what you mean by current myths. Some people consider various religious ideas mythological; others would use the same word to refer to UFOs and psychic phenomena. The only causal connection between these and ancient Egyptian beliefs is the need of human beings to believe in something beyond the material, in survival after death, and in such abstract concepts as justice and mercy. They are, in my opinion, basic human qualities.

E.D.: What do you enjoy better: writing history or writing fiction?

B.M.: I like both, depending on the mood I happen to be in. Fiction is a lot easier to write, though.

E.D.: What is going to be your next book?

B.M.: The next book is a mystery (under the Elizabeth Peters pseudonym) featuring my heroine Vicky Bliss, who has appeared in several earlier novels. It is set in modern Egypt; the title is The Laughter of Dead Kings.

Read a review of Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs athttp://bookreviewpot.blogspot.com/2008/01/temples-tombs-hieroglyphs.html. ______________________________________________________________

Ernest Dempsey is the author of four published books. He is a freelance writer, editor, and citizen journalist. He currently edits the print quarterly Recovering the Self ( http://www.recoveringself.com/) issued from Michigan, USA.

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