Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Conversation with Linda Weaver Clarke

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About the Author: Linda Weaver Clarke is an author and lecturer. She travels throughout the United States, teaching a “Family Legacy Workshop” at various libraries, encouraging others to turn their family history and autobiography into a variety of interesting stories. Clarke is the author of Melinda and the Wild West, a semi-finalist for the “Reviewers Choice Award 2007.” The historical fiction series, “A Family Saga in Bear Lake, Idaho” include the following novels: Melinda and the Wild West, Edith and the Mysterious Stranger, Jenny’s Dream, and Elena, Woman of Courage.

Q: What do you teach in your Family Legacy Workshops?

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. It’s up to us to write these experiences down. Our children need to be proud of their ancestors. 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.

Adults are usually the main audience, but I’ve attracted many teenagers who want to learn how to write. I’ve taught the runaways and troubled, who have been brought to my workshop as part of therapy. Writing helps to express one’s innermost feelings and desires. It can be a healing process. For many of these young people, it’s just the beginning. To learn more about what I teach and read samples of my own ancestors’ stories, you can visit my website at www.lindaweaverclarke.com.


Q: What do you encourage people to research?

The area your ancestors settled and the time period. First, find out everything you can about the area to both educate your readers and to make the setting feel real. Paint a picture like an artist. Since the reader can’t be there physically, then perhaps they can be there mentally. If possible, go to the area you want to write about, walk around, find specific places of importance, where your ancestors lived, went to school, and played. If you can’t go there in person, then do research and find pictures of that area.

The time period is very important. If they lived during the depression or World War II, then write about it. What happened during those years of conflict? What did your ancestors have to endure? I found out that in 1942 they rationed gas to three gallons a week. To me, that was amazing. In 1896, they painted pencils yellow for the very first time, and for a very good reason. (I included this in my first novel, Melinda and the Wild West, and received many e-mails about it.) I found out that in the 1920s, women bobbed their hair and raised their hemlines. This new style brought about a lot of trouble. If women bobbed their hair, they were fired from their jobs. A teacher in Jersey City was ordered to grow her hair back by the school board or she would be fired. A preacher warned his congregation that a “bobbed woman was a disgraced woman.” Men even divorced their wives over the new hairstyle. Amazing! I love research!


Q: A reviewer wrote: “Jenny’s Dream tells a beautiful story that incorporates the value of loyalty, love, family and forgiveness into it. I also enjoyed how the author put real experiences, taken from her family and friends, into the plot. This is a great touch. Jenny’s Dream is a wholesome novel that will be enjoyed by family members of all ages who would enjoy a great historical romance. I think this series is destined to be a classic.” Why do you put true family and ancestral experiences in your novels and can you give us a few examples?

I love inserting real experiences. It brings a story to life. I feel close to my ancestors 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 filled, 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 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, 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 great grandmother, 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. To me, the experiences of my ancestors have always intrigued me.

Sarah was known as one of the most graceful dancers in town. She never sat on the sidelines at dances because of her natural ability. 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 actually throw coins in the water so they could watch her dive after them. They would applaud, letting her know how much they enjoyed watching her, and then throw another coin in the water. Once an intruder actually 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.

In my research about the “hearing impaired,” and talking to a dear friend who became deaf in her youth, I became educated about the struggles they have to bear. It was a surprise to find out that some struggle with self-esteem and the fear of darkness. 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. What a courageous woman!

Q: Can each of your books be read separately or do you have to read them in order since they’re a series?

Each story has its own plot and can be read separately, but the main characters grow up. In the first book, “Melinda and the Wild West,” Jenny is 8 years old and her father is a widower. This book is about how Gilbert and Melinda get together. Driven by her intense desire to make a difference in the world, Melinda takes a job as a schoolteacher in the small town of Paris, Idaho, where she comes face-to-face with a notorious bank robber, a vicious grizzly bear, and a terrible blizzard that leaves her clinging to her life. But it’s a rugged rancher who challenges Melinda with the one thing for which she was least prepared—love.

In my second book, Melinda is “with child” and her cousin comes to Paris to take care of her. Now Edith’s adventures are just beginning when she receives a mysterious letter from a stranger. So, you see, these books continue the story in the family saga but they each have their own plot and can be read separately, also.

Q: I understand that you love to put holidays in your books and allow your reader to know how they got started in the first place. Will you tell us about a holiday that you include in one of your books and what your readers will learn?

It was so much fun researching these holidays. I found that Valentine’s Day has been around much longer than most people realize. In 269 A.D., Claudius was the Emperor of Rome. He wanted to have a huge army, but the Romans were not interested in joining. They didn’t want to leave their wives and children. This upset Claudius to no end, and as a result, he outlawed marriage so the men would join his army. Saint Valentine was a priest and didn’t agree with the almighty ruler so he continued to marry couples in secret. Eventually he was caught and thrown in jail. While in prison, he supposedly fell in love with the daughter of the prison guard who visited him regularly. They would sit and talk for hours. The day of his execution, February 14th, Valentine left a note, thanking her for her friendship. He signed it, “Love, from your Valentine.”

I also learned about Thanksgiving and the traditions of Halloween. I put Halloween in “Edith and the Mysterious Stranger.” That was fun because Edith meets the “Mysterious Stranger” who she’s been writing to and doesn’t even know who he is because he’s masked.

Q: What is the synopsis of your new book, “David and the Bear Lake Monster: A Family Saga in Bear Lake, Idaho”?

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 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?

Q: What about this Bear Lake Monster? Does it really exist?

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. 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?

The interesting thing is that all the reports have pretty much the same description. 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. It had small legs and a huge mouth, big enough to eat a man. Of course, it only came out in the evening, at dusk.

Is the Bear Lake Monster fact or fiction? Whatever conclusion is drawn, the legend still lives on and brings a great deal of mystery and excitement to the community. Remember, when visiting Idaho, never doubt the Bear Lake Monster or you’ll be frowned upon. No one makes fun of the great legend of Bear Lake Valley!

Q: When is the last book in this series going to be released and what is it about?

“Elena, Woman of Courage” was just released. It’s set in the 1900s. It was a blast to research. I found out about 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, 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!

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 great insight at 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.

Q: Page One Literary Book Review wrote something about this series that I would like to quote. “Linda Weaver Clarke displays an easy and excellent style of writing, blending adventure, romance, history, humor, and courage. A Family Saga in Bear Lake, Idaho is an instant classic and should put this author on the literary map all over the world. A MUST read!” How did you feel when you received this review?

Surprised, astonished, amazed, speechless! I had to read it over and over again to make sure I had read it right. Needless to say, it touched my heart beyond words and I was in seventh heaven.

To learn more about Linda, visit her blog at http://lindaweaverclarke.blogspot.com.

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