My rating: 4.85 out of 5 stars
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What advice would you give young Nell about bullies?
I think Nell knew she was no match for the Tormenters, so she avoided them as much as possible. That’s the first and often the best strategy but if there was no place to hide, then I think she would have had to stand up to them in the only way she could: Point out the error of their ways and hope for either reason on their part or rescue. I was bullied as a child, and avoidance was the only strategy I could turn to. The bullying took place outside of school. So there was no teacher to help. I learned to be pretty adept at avoidance.
Of the places Nell and Jeremy visited, which do you find most interesting?
I think the Badlands and Deadwood were the most interesting places. I went there in the summer before the book came out so that I could be sure I wasn’t saying anything inaccurate or unclear about the area. I even went to Wounded Knee and was touched by the thought of unarmed Native Americans, mostly women and children, being mowed down by Gatling Guns. I visited the Mt Moriah Cemetery where Calamity Jane was buried, and I read a great book about her, "Calamity Jane: The Woman and the Legend" by James D. McLaird. Deadwood is pretty touristy, but if you dig a little deeper than the saloons and souvenir shops downtown, you can get a sense of how it was.
So, if the book were a movie, who would you have play Nell and Jeremy? Who could portray Nell's mental image of Calamity Jane?
Hmmm. I don’t know much about actresses and actors today, but I guess a young Jodie Foster would make a good Nell. As for Jeremy, I can see Michael Weatherly of NCIS in that role. As for Jane, I think Meryl Streep could put a twist on her as a character. You can tell I don’t know a lot about current movies.
How did your father pass on his passion for history to you?
It was what he talked about, what he read and what he loved. When we would take a car trip, he would make it a moving history lesson, stopping to point out the remains of old forts or battlefields from the French and Indian War or the Revolutionary War along the way. He’d slow down along the highway and tell us how some historical figure led an expedition right through here on the way to wherever. He was always up for a visit to a museum or an expedition to some local historical point of interest. He talked about history much of the time, and while I wish I’d listened better when I was young, his take on American history stays with me.
What I have read of your writing so far is varied in style. What genres and authors do you particularly enjoy in your personal reading?
My reading tastes are varied so I often read prize winners, like the Pulitzer or the National Book awards. My reasoning is that since there are so many books and so little time, I find a prize winner usually guarantees a good read. Not always, but often. I love John Steinbeck’s work, but I’ve read all of them, so I have to move on. I love Willa Cather’s books and I’ve read all of them, too. Among contemporary authors, I enjoy Lee Smith’s books, set in Appalachia, and I like Molly Gloss and Jeannette Walls. There’s no rhyme or reason to my reading tastes. I read the same way I write: I look for a good story, well told.
What are your upcoming projects?
Right now I’m working on a trilogy, a family saga set against the 19th century iron industry in Pennsylvania. The first volume, The Furnace is out. Volume Two is well on its way, and Volume Three is still percolating. That will keep me busy for at least the next year and a half, but I have more ideas for books than I have time for. Family sagas are interesting because I love genealogy and it is so interesting to see how families ebb and flow from one generation to the next. Great stuff to write about.