- Have you always wanted to be a writer?
That’s a good question, Jo. I’ve felt a creative urge for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer for many years. I grew up in a family of poets and painters traced back to the 1800s, to a great-great-grandfather in Wales , so any artistic ability I have comes naturally. In high school I dabbled in art and wrote poems, but I didn’t become seriously engaged in writing until I married and had children. I knew I wanted to create something worthwhile, but I wasn’t very good at drawing or writing poems. So one day I decided to focus my creative energies on just one talent and try to become proficient in that area. After some thought, and because I love the written word so much, I chose to become a writer—in my opinion the best of both worlds, because a writer is an artist who paints pictures with words.
- Tell us a bit about your latest book?
FACE THE WINTER NAKED is set in my birth state, Missouri , during the Great Depression, so I have a good background from which to write the novel, including a hillbilly dialect spoken with a terrible southern drawl! After browsing through my son’s high school history book one day, I became intrigued with the poverty and heartbreak of the Depression: homeless men hopping freights and living in hobo jungles, families starving. I’d been a child of poverty myself, so I knew what some of those people experienced. I wanted to write about a man who left his family to go on the road, and about the woman he left behind.
My character Daniel suffers shell-shock from the first world war. He can’t handle the nightmares and flashbacks, nor the humiliation of being unable to support his family, so he takes to the road to find work and solutions for his mental and emotional problems. The book has two plot lines that merge at the end: Daniel’s experiences while traveling, and those of his wife LaDaisy, who struggles to scrape out a living for their children, not knowing if her husband’s dead or alive. Too proud to accept charity, she does domestic work to make ends meet and breastfeeds another woman’s baby in exchange for food for her own children. She’s a strong, determined woman.
After writing seven chapters, I realized I didn’t have enough information to write the book. The pages languished in my closet for eighteen years, during which time I wrote children’s books. But this story wouldn’t die, and when I began working again, everything fell into place. The novel parallels today’s poor economic conditions, high unemployment, broken families, and men returning from war with PTSD.
Despite the heartbreak of the era, Face the Winter Naked isn’t all doom and gloom. There’s a good deal of humor, especially from Daniel, a simple man with love in his heart, a banjo on one shoulder, and a gunnysack on the other.
- How did you research for this novel?
I researched online and from library books. One book in particular stands out: Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man. (Robert S. McElvaine, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill) These were letters received by the Roosevelts from poor citizens crying for help. In one, a woman said they had no job, no food, no clothes, no heat for their house, and her family would have to face the winter naked. I researched trains, only to discover many of the old lines no longer exist. A librarian in Springfield, Missouri, dug up some old maps showing where the trains entered and left the city, and the Kansas City Public Library furnished a 1932 street & railroad map. I read pages and pages of Depression stories online. One of my handiest research tools was Google Earth, which allowed me to follow my character’s path wherever his wandering took him. Having lived in Missouri most of my life (and a year in Arkansas ), I was already familiar with the terrain and the dialect.
- You've also written books for children. How does your writing process differ when writing young and adult fiction?
My writing process is about the same from one genre to another. Both require time commitments, research, and a behind planted firmly in a chair for hours on end. Reading in the genre helps. For both genres, I usually come up with a character and a situation first. I know a bit about the location and where I want to go. I write as far as I can, then stop to see what I have and where I need to go next, whether plot or research. Many writers outline first, but I consider my first draft a sort of outline. It’s usually very short, but I can flesh the story out in the second draft. I tend to edit as I go. If something pops out at me, I either fix it immediately or highlight that section and work on it later. The complicated plot of my adult novel required more thinking, more planning, more research than the children’s books. I’ve learned to switch from left- to creative right-brain mode for writing. For FTWN, I used Stephen King’s writing method detailed in his book On Writing: I locked my door and didn’t come out until I’d written a certain number of words for the day, many of which I don’t remember writing. I also played the same music repeatedly as I wrote—banjo music in this novel, because the MC plays a banjo. To this day, when I play that music, I’m transported back into the novel. For all my books, I relied on my subconscious to come up with the story. For the children’s books, I was careful with the subject matter; for this one, I let it fly.
- Your books are published with lulu. What made you choose them and are you happy with the results?
My first children’s book, The Haunted Igloo, was published by Houghton Mifflin, but when it went out of print, the publisher declined to renew the contract, and they rejected the sequel, Spirit Lights. (That was the only time I ever cried over a rejection.) I had a children’s agent for a while, but we parted company when she became too involved with her own writing to submit my books. After trying unsuccessfully to interest other agents and publishers, I decided to publish the books myself. My husband had suffered complications from heart surgery, and when he went on the hospice program, I had no time or energy to query agents and editors. I also wanted to get the kids’ books out of my hair so I could concentrate on adult novels. After researching other self-publishers, I decided Lulu was the best. Their software is easy to use. If you have half a brain, you can figure it out. I enjoyed formatting the books, designing the covers, and learning something new, and I’m very happy with the professional quality of the books.
- What tips do you have for other writers?
I would tell other writers to develop a tough hide, because rejections come frequently before you’re good enough to be published—and sometimes even after you’re good enough. It’s part of being a writer, part of the publishing game. I’d tell writers to persist. Calvin Coolidge once stated, “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Would-be writers also need to study grammar and punctuation, because nobody wants to read a book that says “N the bgng wz the werd and the wrd waz w/god ect”—well, you get the idea! A basic knowledge of grammar is vital to good writing. When I visited grade schools, I told students to turn off the TV and video games if they wanted to write. Teachers, parents, and librarians thought that was a great idea, but the students groaned. Hopefully, some of those kids got the message and are now writing their own books.
- What future projects do you have coming up?
A publisher is currently reviewing my young adult novel, Drum Dance, set in the Arctic in the late 1930s. I would really like to get that book published before the Arctic melts! I hesitate to publish this one myself because traditional publishers can do more and better marketing than I can. A YA set in the Flapper era is in the planning stages. I can’t wrap my mind around the concept just yet, probably because I know there will be a lot of research, and once I get started researching, that’s all I want to do. In the meantime, I’ve resurrected a ghost story set in Wisconsin that I wrote twenty years ago—The Ghost of Calico Acres. I think it has possibilities now that I know more about writing. But I probably won’t write any new children’s books. I’m not getting any younger, and there’s enough work on my desk right now to last the rest of my life.
- Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
I have a web site: http://my.athenet.net/~aurorawolf It’s not a professional one, but I use it to talk about and advertise my work. The auroras and wolf theme refer to my Arctic books. I have an author page at Amazon.com and I’ll probably make a fan page at Facebook and MySpace, and I also want to create a blog—if I ever find time. I’m a member of Backspace – The Writers Place.
- Anything else you’d like to add?
If you let me, I’ll use up all your bandwidth with senseless prattle! So I’ll just say thanks very much for the interview. It’s been a very enjoyable experience.