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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Historical Fiction Author Speaks Out

Interview With Author June McCash

1. What type of books do you write?  I write both historical fiction and nonfiction. Of my 10 books, two are historical fiction, but that is what I will write in the future. I find it liberating.

2. What is your newest book about? Actually I published 3 books in 2012. I don't write that rapidly, but they all culminated in the same year. One, The Jekyll Island Club Hotel,  was co-authored with my son, Brenden Martin, and was commissioned by the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, which is the only place it can be purchased.Plum Orchard, also published in 2012, is a historical novel based on the true story of the relationship between Elisabeth Bernardey (Zabette) and Robert Stafford of Cumberland Island, GA. She was born a slave, the daughter of a French planter and his slave mistress. Robert, who was decades older than Zabette, was the wealthiest planter on Cumberland. They had six children together, one of whom married a Russian count in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Zabette spent the Civil War years in Groton, Connecticut, with their children, letting society think she was their nursemaid. When the war ended she chose to return to Cumberland, though none of the children did. Her story is compelling. The last one was A Titanic Love Story: Ida and Isidor Straus. I worked on that one for about ten years before I published it. It's a nonfiction work about the lives of a remarkable couple, the only first-class couple to die together by choice on the Titanic.

3. What inspired you to write it?  In both cases, I felt they were stories that needed to be told and made available to general readers. Concerning A Titanic Love Story, I was mesmerized by the beautiful love relationship between Ida and Isidor Straus. Isidor's father came to America in the early 1850s as a peddler in Georgia.  Within one generation Isidor and his brother Nathan owned Macy's department store. I also wanted to set the record straight, since James Cameron's film Titanic virtually ignored the couple, leaving the scene he shot on the cutting room floor (though I guess today they don't really have a cutting room floor, but their scene was deleted, and there was no first-class couple who died in bed as the film depicts). Their story is quite remarkable.
In terms of Plum Orchard, I was captivated by the courage of Zabette and interested in her choice to return to Cumberland after the war. There were so many questions about her and her relationship with Robert that historians can't answer. Fortunately, the historical novelist can explore the crevices. I loved writing this book, and I am delighted that it is selling so well on the Georgia coast. Both of these books are currently nominated for awards.

4. What is the writing process like for you?  It's an absolute joy. I have recently taken a few months off from my writing, trying to take a vacation of sorts, but  the days are so long. When I write they zoom by. I once heard a writer comment that she wouldn't be a writer if she could do anything else. What she meant was that she was unable NOT to be a writer. She was compelled to write. And I feel exactly the same way. Every day that passes when I do not write is, I feel, a day lost. A day wasted. So even when I'm not writing, I still write. Letters. Brief essays. Journal entries. Something. I cannot NOT write. It is my life.

5. What did you do before you became an author?  I was a college professor. I taught French and humanities. I was the founding director of the MTSU Honors Program (now Honors College) and chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.  MTSU is Middle Tennessee State University, a university I am proud to be associated with. I loved my career there, working with students, teaching and researching. And I am still in touch with many of my former students. While I was at MTSU I won an Outstanding Research Award as well as the University's most prestigious award, the Career Achievement Award. I was also named an Outstanding Alumna for distinguished career by Agnes Scott College, my alma mater. I also have an M.A. and Ph.D. in comparative literature from Emory University.

6. How does it feel to be a published author? It feels great. But more important, it's great to have readers. I love it when readers contact me to tell me their reactions to my books. I wrote books as an academic, but fewer people read those books, only other scholars writing about and researching similar topics. Now I get letters from people all over the country who have read my books. I love interacting with them.

7. Any advice for struggling writers? Yes. Work hard to hone your craft. Always have a book edited before you submit it for publication, especially if you're unsure of your grammar, etc. Nothing is a bigger turn-off to agents and publishers than carelessly written material. Go to conferences. Join a writers group. Get your work critiqued by other writers before you submit it anywhere, and don't be offended by constructive criticism. We all want our work to be the best it can be. But remember, in the end, it's your work. Getting edited is even more important if one decides to self-publish.

8. Where do you see book publishing heading? Wow, that's a great question. I see the writer being liberated from the agent-big publisher stranglehold.  So many talented authors today are choosing to publish their own work, and in today's world, they can do so. The stigma of self-publishing is rapidly disappearing, and, if we look at the history of literature, the greatest authors in our canon were originally self-published. It was only in the 20th century that the agent/publisher obstacle to publication took over. I say that, having published with 5 different publishers and having never self-published. But I would not be embarrassed to do so. I think a good writer today, given the opportunity for promotion with social media, can make his or her own future, but it's hard work.  It's a very exciting time to be a writer. Of course, self-publishing also opens the door to some really bad writers, but it also liberates many good ones.. Without the filter of agents and publishers, one has to work hard to let readers know you're the real thing. But it can be done.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This blog is copyrighted material by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2013 

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