Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Interview with Linda Weaver Clarke

Since it's Book Bloggers' Appreciation Week, I have a special treat for you: an author interview! I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Weaver Clarke, a historical fiction novelist whose newest books, David and the Bear Lake Monster and Elena, Woman of Courage, were released this past summer. Linda also runs a Family Legacy Workshop, where she travels around the country teaching people how to write about their ancestry.

Short Bio

Linda Weaver Clarke was raised on a farm surrounded by the rolling hills of southern Idaho and has made her home in southern Utah among the beautiful red mountains. She travels throughout the United States, teaching a “Family Legacy Workshop” at libraries, encouraging others to turn their family history and autobiography into stories. Clarke is the author of the historical fiction series, “A Family Saga in Bear Lake, Idaho,” which includes the following novels: Melinda and the Wild West - a semi-finalist for the “Reviewers Choice Award 2007,” Edith and the Mysterious Stranger, Jenny’s Dream, David and the Bear Lake Monster, and Elena, Woman of Courage.

Family Legacy Workshop

Can you tell us about the Family Legacy Workshop?
I teach people how to take their family history or their own autobiography and turn it into interesting stories. It’s important to teach our children their heritage. Each of us has a story from our ancestors to tell. If these stories are unwritten, then they’ll be lost forever. Our children need to be proud of their ancestors. To read samples of what you can do with your stories, visit my website at http://www.lindaweaverclarke.com/ and read the “short stories” of my ancestors.

How is writing about ancestry different than writing fiction?
When writing your own ancestors stories, everything is taken from biographies, letters, or autobiographies. Sometimes, they’re stories that have been handed down for generations. Leon Garfield said: “The historian, if honest, gives us a photograph; the storyteller gives us a painting.” What I’m teaching people to do is how to paint their stories, to be the storyteller.

What kind of information do people need to have before they start writing their family history?
First, write down any experiences that you remember. Talk to family members and discuss memories. Use letters they wrote to one another. If possible, go to the area your ancestors settled, walk around, find specific places of importance, where your ancestors lived, went to school, and played. If you can’t go there, then do research and find pictures of that area. Time Period is another important part of research. Find out what the country was going through, and insert it in the history of your ancestor. The turmoil of a country helps you to understand what your family went through and why they suffered. Did they live during the depression, and if so, how did it affect them? If they lived during war times, it helps your children understand why their grandparents had such tough times. When writing my father’s biography, I found out that in 1942 they rationed gas to three gallons a week. To me, that was amazing. How about prices? Did it cost ten cents to go to the movies and five cents for an ice cream cone? And what flavors existed? Did they travel by horse and buggy or a Model T Ford?

What have you learned from traveling all over the United States?
I have learned that many, many people are interested in writing their family history. I have met wonderful people who are family oriented or want to bridge the gape between them and their children by writing their stories down.

I see that you work with abused teenagers. What techniques do you use to teach writing as a therapeutic tool?
Writing can be a healing process. When writing your own autobiography or even fiction, it helps to express your innermost feelings and desires. What I teach the youth are the writing techniques that will help them put a story together. We discuss setup, characters, plot, and the importance of conflict and emotion. The secret of holding a reader is using emotion. It’s the difference between a slow or a lively recounting of a story. The greatest reward I received was the hug of a young teenager.

Your Books

What is your historical fiction novel David and the Bear Lake Monster about?
It’s about deep-rooted legends, long family traditions, and a few mysterious events! While visiting the Roberts family, David finds himself entranced with one very 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?

What kind of research did you have to do to write that novel?
It was so much fun to research. My great grandmother, Sarah Eckersley Robinson, was my inspiration. I wanted to use her experiences for my heroine to bring some reality into my story. As a child, she lost her hearing but she never let her deafness stop her from living life to its fullness. 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. My mother told me that she glided across the floor with ease, with just a touch of her partner’s hand. Sarah had such agility and gracefulness while swimming, that people actually threw 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 blocks, whacking him as she ran. What a courageous woman! Because of my admiration for my great grandmother, I named my character “Sarah.”

In my research about 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 found that I had even more respect for my great grandmother and her disability.

Now you may wonder about the Bear Lake Monster and how it fits into my story. Is it fiction or non-fiction? Well, my book is considered historical fiction so I decided to add some parts of 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. 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.
Why did you choose to write historical fiction?
I love to learn about the past. It has always intrigued me but one of the greatest reasons was because I had just finished writing my ancestors’ stories and their experiences were still vivid in my mind. They settled in Paris, Idaho so I decided to set my Òfamily sagaÓ in Bear Lake Valley and then gave some of my fictional characters their experiences. To me, it brings a story to life. For example: 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 he had shot. Before my dad buried them, he drained their scent glands into a bottle. He called it “skunk oil.” Then he took it to school to 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 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. My father said that he was a hero for one day because he got school out for his classmates. This novel eventually won an award as one of the semi-finalists for the “Reviewers Choice Award 2007.”

In “Edith and the Mysterious Stranger,” I based this story 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, 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.


What do you like most about being an author?
I love uplifting others with my stories. To bring a smile or a laugh to a weary person makes it all worthwhile. I also enjoy teaching others to write and see the enthusiasm in their faces.

How did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

I have always loved writing, but it wasn’t until I wrote my own ancestor’s stories that I realized how much I loved it. Afterward, I couldn’t stop writing so I turned to historical fiction.

Is there any other information you think the readers would like to know about?
Oh yes! “Elena, Woman of Courage” is the last in this series and was just released. It’s set in 1925. It was a blast to research. I found words 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, he was goofy. If a person was a fool, he was 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!

It’s about a “Happy-go-lucky Bachelor” that 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 1920’s rise of women’s rights, this novel gives you an insight at the struggles women had to go through, while watching a young love blossom! To read an excerpt, visit http://www.lindaweaverclarke.com/samplechapters.html.

Thank you so much Linda for doing this interview with me! I, and the other readers, have certainly learned a lot about you, your books, and the Family Legacy Workshop. If you would like to learn more about Linda Weaver Clarke, please visit her website.

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