26 August 2009
Interview with historical novelist Linda Weaver Clarke
Linda Weaver Clarke has published a series of five historical novels set in Bear Lake, Idaho, that are partly based on her family history and local legends. The newest in the series is David and the Bear Lake Monster (American Book Publishing). Linda also gives seminars around the country on turning family and personal history into stories.
Welcome, Linda, and congratulations on the publication of David and the Bear Lake Monster.
You live in the desert of southern Utah, which sounds rather isolated. Have you found a community of writers there or a critique group, or are you completely on your own as a writer? How do you do your research?
I can’t help but laugh. We actually have quite a bit here. We have Dixie State College, the famous Huntsman Senior Games, and the St. George Marathon, which is attended by marathoners throughout the country because of the beautiful red mountains. We are called “Color Country.” We’re surrounded by canyons such as Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Canyon, just to name a few. St. George is a tourist community. (My youngest daughter told me to tell you that they even filmed “High School Musical 2” here.) We also have an annual festival called The St. George Book Festival.
What inspired you to incorporate bits of your family history in your writing?
After writing the biographies of my ancestors, I found that their lives were quite intriguing. I love inserting real experiences into my novels. It brings a story to life. I feel close to them and wanted to add their experiences to my fictional characters.
In Melinda and the Wild West, I inserted an experience that happened to my dad. When he was young, his father asked him to bury the skunks that he shot because they were getting into the chicken coop. Before my dad buried them, he drained their scent glands into a bottle. He called it “skunk oil.” When the bottle was full, he decided to take it to school and show his friends. While explaining how he had done it, he must have gotten a little too excited because he accidentally dropped the bottle, and it splattered on the floor. The scent of concentrated skunk oil was disgusting and permeated the room with a stench that was indescribable. Everyone ran out of the school as fast as their little legs would go. And the teacher followed close behind. They let school out so it could be cleaned up. My father said that he was a hero for one day because he got school out for his classmates. He also said that he never got into trouble for it and no one told on him. This novel eventually won an award as one of the semifinalists for the “Reviewers Choice Award 2007.”
I based Edith and the Mysterious Stranger around the courtship of my parents. They wrote letters to one another before they ever met. She said that she fell in love with the soul of my father, the inner person, what was deep down inside, and they didn’t even know what one another looked like. The day they met, my mother told me that her heart leapt within her and a warm glow filled her soul and she knew she would marry this man. I knew this would be the basis of my next novel, but there’s one difference. In my story, you don’t know who the mysterious stranger is until the end of the book. Some readers guessed right while others were pleasantly surprised.
My greatgrandmother, Sarah Eckersley Robinson, was my inspiration for David and the Bear Lake Monster. Sarah became deaf at the age of one and was a very brave and courageous woman. She never let her deafness stop her from developing her talents. I took a lot of her experiences from her biography and gave them to my heroine to bring some reality into my story.
Sarah was known as one of the most graceful dancers in town. She was known for gliding across the floor with ease, with just a touch of her partner’s hand. Sarah had such agility and gracefulness, not only on the dance floor, but also while swimming and diving. People would throw coins in the water so they could watch her dive after them.
Once an intruder hid in her bedroom under her bed, thinking he could take advantage of her since she was deaf. He must have thought she was an easy victim but was sadly mistaken. She swatted him out from under her bed with a broom and all the way out of the house and down the street for a couple of blocks, whacking him as she ran.
In researching the “hearing impaired” and talking to a friend who became deaf in her youth, I became educated about the struggles they have to bear. I didn’t realize that concentrating on reading lips for long periods of time could be such a strain, resulting in a splitting headache. After all my research, I had even more respect for my greatgrandmother and her disability.
What sources did you use to learn more about what the Bear Lake area was like in their time? How do you know when it’s time to stop researching and start writing?
I research books and the Internet. When I research the Internet, I always make sure they have a bibliography listed. That way, I know exactly where my information is coming from. Now you may wonder about the Bear Lake Monster and how it fits into my story. Is it fiction or nonfiction? Well, my book is considered historical fiction so I decided to add some parts of Bear Lake history that may sound incredible to you but actually happened.
The mystery of the Bear Lake Monster has been an exciting part of Idaho history ever since the early pioneers arrived in 1863. The legend of the Bear Lake Monster made life a little more exciting for the pioneers. Some people claimed to have seen it and gave descriptions of it. The monster’s eyes were flaming red, and its ears stuck out from the sides of its skinny head. Its body was long, resembling a gigantic alligator, and it could swim faster than a galloping horse. Of course, it only came out in the evening or at dusk.
Throughout the years, no one has ever disproved the Bear Lake Monster. A bunch of scientists tried to discredit the monster and said it was a huge codfish that was shipped in from the East but could not prove this theory. Does the Bear Lake Monster exist? Whatever conclusion is drawn, the legend still lives on and brings a great deal of mystery and excitement to the community.
How do I know when to stop researching? When I feel a story coming on deep down inside me. Also, when I can’t find anything more that interests me.
Why do you think recording family history is important? How should people who want to learn more about their family history begin?
It’s important because we are the people we are because of our ancestors. We must find out who they were and help our children to be proud of their heritage.
First, collect your thoughts; write down any experiences that you remember. Talk to family members and discuss memories. Use letters that they wrote to one another. You can make several short stories, making the history into segments. Or you can write the whole history as a continuous flow. For some examples of what you can do, read my short stories on my Website at http://www.lindaweaverclarke.com.
Research is very important. Learn everything you can about the area your story takes place, the time period, and any historical facts that you would like to add. Sometimes what the country went through has to do with the circumstances of your ancestors. If they lived during the Depression or war times, it helps your children understand why their grandparents had such tough times, why they barely made ends meet, or why they had to flee a certain country.
Find out everything you can about the area both to educate your readers and to make the setting feel real. If possible, go to the area you want to write about, walk around, and find specific places of importance, such as where your ancestors lived, went to school, and played. If you can’t go there, then do research and find pictures of that area. Study books at the library or search the Internet.
Time period is another important area of research. During the Roaring Twenties, bobbed hair was the rage. If your grandmother bobbed her hair and went to the dance marathons, write about it. If your ancestor loved reading books in the evening before retiring, it would be interesting to add what kind of light he used. Little details like this warm a story up and can bring your ancestor to life. Did he use electricity or an oil lantern? It sounds more interesting to say, “Grandfather sat in his overstuffed chair and read for hours with an oil lantern at his side.” Rather than just saying, “Grandfather read extensively before retiring.”
You chose to publish your books with a small publisher that does little marketing, so you’ve had to do your own marketing. What strategies have you tried, and what has been most successful?
Interviews are essential, but I believe that writing articles for the Internet or newspapers is very important, too. Publishing articles on the Internet will enhance your Web presence. These articles are important for your book’s success, for the one reason that people are getting to know you. Articles help you and your book to stand out and be noticed. There are some excellent Websites to write articles for. You may try American Chronicle, Article-hangout, Go Articles, Ezine Articles, Articles Base, Authors Den, Amazines, Search Warp, and Lady Pens—for women only. The American Chronicle is a great one because it has twenty-one other chronicles that your articles will be published on. First, you need to send an article to the Chronicle as evidence of your writing skills. They will e-mail you back and let you know if you’re accepted. The other article Websites don’t ask for any samples. All you have to do is sign up and begin writing.
What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?
I always write in the mornings when I’m refreshed. In the evening, my mind is too tired to think. But if you have a day job, then I would rest up and eat a snack before beginning. You need to feel relaxed before writing.
What will your next novel be about?
Elena, Woman of Courage is the last in this series. It’s set in 1925. It was a blast to research. I found out about expressions that I didn’t even know such as Cat’s pajamas! Ah, horsefeathers! Attaboy! Baloney! You slay me! When referring to a woman, they used doll, tomato, and bearcat. When a person was in love, they were goofy. If a person was a fool, they were a sap. And when a woman wasn’t in the mood for kissing or romance, she would say, “The bank’s closed.” I was able to use all these words and much more in my book. The language was great!
Elena, Woman of Courage is about a happy-go-lucky bachelor who is completely fascinated with a woman doctor, Elena Yeates. Of course, women weren’t encouraged to go to college back then, let alone become a doctor, and this fascinates him to no end. With the 1920s rise of women’s rights, this novel gives you insight into the struggles women had to go through, all the while watching a young love blossom! You can read an excerpt from each of my books at http://www.lindaweaverclarke.com/samplechapters.html.
What is your new book, David and the Bear Lake Monster, about?
It’s about deep-rooted legends, long family traditions, and a few mysterious events! David quickly becomes one with the town and its folk and wonders why they believe in this Bear Lake Monster. It just has to be a myth. While visiting the Roberts family, he finds himself entranced with one special lady and ends up defending her honor several times. Sarah isn’t like the average woman. This beautiful and dainty lady has a disability that no one seems to notice. He finds out that Sarah has gone through more trials than the average person. She teaches him the importance of not dwelling on the past and how to love life. After a few teases, tricks, and mischievous deeds, David begins to overcome his troubles, but will it be too late? Will he lose the one woman he adores? And how about the Bear Lake Monster? Does it really exist?
Thanks again, Linda.
You can learn more about Linda and her series of historical novels—A Family Saga in Bear Lake, Idaho—by visiting her Website at http://www.lindaweaverclarke.com/ and her blog at http://lindaweaverclarke.blogspot.com. David and the Bear Lake Monster is available online from Amazon.com and Borders.
More author interviews coming in the weeks ahead!