Glad You Asked, Q5

May 18th, 2017


I Love to ReadWhat did you study in college?

I entered college as an English major but quickly became enamored of the Classics department because it was much smaller and more interesting and they had sherry parties every Friday afternoon. My final major was double—Greek and English.

Fear, Propaganda, and Hysteria

The CrucibleOne of the most famous of plays written in the 1950s in the midst of McCarthyism and the “witch hunts” accusing artists, actors, musicians, and people in many walks of life of being Communists was Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. It uses the allegory of the Salem witch hunts to spotlight the effect fear, propaganda, and hysteria can have on a community. The Loud Silence of Francine Green is set in southern California, where the accusations and suspicions cut deeply into the community of the movie studios and the thousands of people who worked for them.

On PBS, American Masters aired Arthur Miller, Eliza Kazan and the Blacklist: None Without Sin (2003). There are resources on their site that would work well to accompany reading Francine Green and discussing the fear that arises when oppressive tactics are fomented by people in power.

Glad You Asked, Q4

May 4th, 2017

Are there particular memories of growing up that, looking back, you see as leading you toward a writing career?

My first 17 or so years seemed to be leading me to a writing career.

I wrote all the time—poems, short stories, a 7-page novel, an epic poem cycle based on the life of Elvis.

A lot of what I wrote was involved with creating a world I’d like to live in starring a person I’d like to be.

Charles Loring Brace and the Orphan Trains

Children's Aid Society

Rodzina Brodski is one of thousands of orphaned children who were sent West to find homes from 1845 to 1929. She is the heroine of my novel Rodzina. Here’s some of the factual background behind the orphan trains.

RodzinaThis article about the Children’s Aid Society recounts the history of Charles Loring Brace, the man who faced head-on the heavy immigration to the United States after the 1840 famine in Europe. With so many orphaned and abandoned children in New York City, Brace saw the need to establish an organization to get them off the streets. He was the mover behind the orphan trains, seeking to find homes for the children.

“Critical of congregate institutions such as orphanages and almshouses, Brace thought that the rigid discipline of those institutions sapped a child’s self-reliant spirit, and that charity only encouraged children to remain dependent. Alternatively, the Children’s Aid Society opened low-cost lodging houses for boys and girls, set up reading rooms and “fresh air” camps for their benefit, and established industrial schools to prepare them for employment and self-sufficiency.”

The photo above, which shows the CAS training children for office jobs, is one of a number available on Harvard University’s website depicting the Children’s Aid Society in its early years. The organization still exists today. It is considered to be one of the top children’s charities in the country.

California Gold Rush Expansion

There were so many immigrants moving to California during the Gold Rush, from the East Coast and other countries, that the population of San Francisco grew from 1,000 to 20,000 in two years. Can you imagine the construction and the need for sanitation, food, and medical practitioners? Teachers?

The Harvard University Library Open Collections has photos you can study, quite closely, for your own research into the period, as well as digitized newspaper and magazine articles, passenger lists, maps, and more.

At the foot of the Big Tree, Grant National Park

For instance, Hunting for Gold, by William Downie, shares his personal recollections of hunting for gold from California to Alaska.

Sunset magazine, published by the Southern Pacific Railroad, published “Gold Mining in California,” by Chas. G. Yale, in August, 1899, describing California’s status as the leading gold mining state whose mines in 1899 were still “productive and profitable.” The photo below was published with this article.

Ten Dollars a Day

Ballad of Lucy WhippleMy book, The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, is set in the heyday of the California Gold Rush, in Lucky Diggins, California. When Arvella Whipple moves to this gold mining town to become proprietress of the boarding house, she brings her three children with her. Her oldest, California Morning Whipple, who later renames herself “Lucy,” is the narrator of this story. She resents the move from Massachusetts and wants to return to civilized surroundings. An avid reader, there are few books in this rough-and-tumble town. Will she ever grow used to her new surroundings?

A list of fantasy books, part 10

The Seeing StoneThe Seeing Stone—Kevin Crossley Holland. King Arthur as a boy. Lovely story, lovable characters, beautiful language.  Just what one expects from a poet.

Glad You Asked, Q3

March 30th, 2017

What’s your strongest memory of the 1950s?

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley, Jailhouse Rock, Wikimedia Commons

Elvis. No question. I also remember looking at all the unhappy housewives on our suburban street, sipping martinis and making lunches, and feared I would end up like that.

PS:  I didn’t.

Glad You Asked, Q2

March 28th, 2017

Did you take writing classes?

writingMy university had a graduate creative writing major but there was only one course for undergraduates. I took it, hated it, and never went. People sat around and criticized each other’s work. Not for me. The night before the quarter was over, I stayed up all night and wrote twelve short stories. The professor commented that I seemed to have learned a lot during the class even though I never came. Go figure. That was my first and last writing class.

Glad You Asked, Q1

March 23rd, 2017

Are you working on a new manuscript?

I’m struggling my way through a book set in San Diego in 1941, shortly before Pearl Harbor. Here’s the beginning, or the beginning at the moment:

Jorge lifted the slimy creature to his lips and bit it right between the eyes.

I shuddered as I watched.  “Doesn’t that taste muddy and disgusting?”

 “Nah,” he said, wiping mud from his mouth. “Is only salty. This way they don’t die but only sleep, stay fresh.” He threw the octopus into a bucket and slipped through the mud flats to another hole in the muck. He filled a baster from a mud-spattered Clorox bottle and squirted the bleach into a hole. When the occupant slithered to the surface, Jorge pulled it out and bit it, too. “You want?  Make good stew.”

I shook my head.  I preferred fish that came in cans and was mixed with mayo and chopped celery.

San Diego's Santa Fe train station

San Diego’s Santa Fe train station 1940s

What I’ve Been Reading

March 16th, 2017

Life in a Fishbowl

For young adult readers:

Life in a Fishbowl
Len Vlahos

Certain to be controversial, this novel tackles life and death, euthanasia, celebrity, reality television, religion, cancer, oh, most everything. Even Jared Stone’s brain tumor had a voice and a point of view, and I found myself feeling sorry for it. How can you top that? Sad and funny and insightful, this is a tour de force.