About a year ago, I interviewed Lee Zacharias for New Books in Historical Fiction about her novel Across the Great Lake, then recently published by the University of Wisconsin Press.
This week I received a message from a friend of Lee’s, also with a new novel. I couldn’t offer her an interview, because my schedule for the network is already overbooked, but I did invite her to submit a guest post for my blog—and here it is. You can find out more about her work and how to contact her by paging down to the end. Thank you, Rita, and I wish you all success with your books!
From Rita Sims Quillen:
First and foremost, I am a poet, having published five books of poetry, but I had always dreamed of moving to fiction. When my husband first told me the tale of his grandfather’s incredible adventures during WWI, I thought, I don’t even know what that war was about. In school, we study the Civil War—crazy but clear—and World War II with its two fronts—crazy but clear—but WWI? It seemed a very complex war, more irrational than the other two, if that makes any sense. And I couldn’t recall anything really about the time period except the big flu epidemic. I did remember that from history class.
When I decided I was going to try to write my first novel, Hiding Ezra (Little Creek Books, 2014), it would be built around the basic true story of my husband’s grandfather deciding that his family needed him a lot worse than the Army did, but I could find nothing in the library to help me understand his predicament or the times he lived in. I did read some books and articles about the war, and also specifically about the flu epidemic, but I found nothing about deserters, nothing about the reaction of real people here at home in southwestern Virginia, nothing about what challenges the first modern draft presented. So I knew I was going to have to find out what I needed to know some other way.
So I began to look for newspaper accounts of the day. I ended up spending 4 summers—when I was out of school—squirreled away in local libraries readings newspaper accounts of that time. I read the Kingsport Times News, the Bristol Herald-Courier—the Scott County, VA, paper of the day—and several other coalfield papers, starting from the summer of 1918 and going all the way through to the fall of 1922. Every day’s paper, cover to cover. On microfilm. Now you see why it took four years.
But then I was ready to write Hiding Ezra, having come to understand that my husband’s grandfather was part of a huge sociological phenomenon—175,000 men that went AWOL for similar reasons—and that incredible events besides the flu epidemic were occurring: a coal strike, a wheat shortage, the coldest winter in decades.... History came alive, as sharp and clear and real as my own life, and I had to make others see it, too, with new eyes, to understand what incredible hardship had occurred in this forgotten and often overlooked war. It is the story of thousands of families—a story that had to be told
Now, fast forward a few years, and the long-awaited sequel, Wayland (Iris Press, 2019), is out. With this novel, I returned to the story of many of the characters I loved from the first novel, but without the restrictions of a true story to impose its own requirements and confinements! People say, what’s your new novel about? My mind whirls. The answer would be too long if I told it all. It’s about characters from my first novel, Hiding Ezra, that I love dearly and wanted to give some joy, peace, hope that they didn’t have in that novel. It’s a love story wrapped inside a marriage in trouble. Wayland is a study of sociopaths and mental illness, in general, versus eccentricity. It’s about the world of the hobos and their culture during the Great Depression in a tranquil and quaint little community in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s about the beautiful, unique, and good-hearted country people of my community, people of deep faith and deep thoughts about life’s most important questions. The book is an illustration of the way that the Bible and its language are so integral to the daily lives and daily thoughts of Appalachian people in the world I grew up in.
The subject receiving the most attention, however, and the one that took tons of research and thought was pedophiles and how they choose, then manipulate, their victims and their families in order to gain the trust necessary for the kind of access they need to fulfill their twisted fantasies. In hobo Buddy Newman, I wanted to create an unforgettable and engrossing evil character. I used Shakespeare’s conniving, diabolical Iago as inspiration for the way he pitted people against one another, whispering in vulnerable ears whatever lies that would take him closer to his target. I thought about Hannibal Lector and his cruel games, about Faulkner’s Abner Snopes and his furious resentment of those who were more successful, his psychotic violence and sense of entitlement.
But the bottom line is, I wrote a book to entertain and keep you on the edge of your seat as you watch the tale unfold— suspense! If I can do that while also giving you the ability to recognize a pedophile’s efforts at grooming your child or grandchild, well, that’s a good year’s work. If you’d like to read sample chapters and much more info about all my work, I hope you’ll stop by my website.
Rita Sims Quillen—poet, musician, songwriter, and novelist—is the author of Hiding Ezra and Wayland, as well as several poetry collections. She lives and farms in Scott County, Virginia. Find out more about her, including her social media links, at http://www.ritasimsquillen.com.