Friday, November 13, 2015

Part Two of Four Interviews

This world is a remarkable place. We four writers met through ACFW, which is to say we only know each other electronically. Though our commonalities (the Lord and our passion for writing) brought us together, we are distinct. We live all over the world. Our paths to and through this writing life vary. You're invited to get to know us better as we get to know each other better through a series of four interviews. You can read the first here.

This week Jebraun Clifford is interviewing Robin Scobee.

What inspired your current project?

The group we now call Pilgrims always seemed cartoonish to me. Big black hats with yellow buckles above the round brim. White coifs, stiff collars, Puritan sternness. Only Squanto, with his fish and corn and generosity brought a warmth, a humanness, to this cardboard group of people.

That is, until I read a nonfiction book called The Light and the Glory by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, lent to me by a friend at church. I learned more American history in two days of reading that book than in years of public school and undergrad education.

I learned that these stalwart people were exiled first to Holland before they traveled on the Mayflower. I learned about one of their leaders, William Bradford, whose words are preserved in letters and journals. I read a portion of his letter in which he gave his reasons for leaving Holland in 1620. The hardness of the life they had chosen was so extreme almost none were coming from England to join them. Their labor was debilitating, especially for the aged, who were being so worn down, he feared they might not be able to physically remove when the time came. But most alarming (to me) is what this lifestyle was doing to their children. In Bradford's words, "many were being drawn away by the lures of the world around them." (p. 109)

I read that sentence over and over. How odd, I thought. How...human. That's my struggle as a parent.

What if...  Those wonderful words that are the foundation of all stories danced in my imagination.

What if...a young woman...raised by faithful parents (who were stern to a fault) found herself in Holland, but...but she didn't want to be there? What if she rebelled? What if she found love outside the fold of her faithful community? What would they do? How would she get free from them? What would become of her? Would she miss out on that wonderful destiny of being a Pilgrim?

And a story was born.

I understand your series is about sisters who came to American on the Mayflower. It must be challenging to write about a real event. What kind of research have you done for your novels? And are your characters built on any real person?

Research is difficult. Many traditional reference materials have been written with an anti-Christian bias, and I don't feel they accurately portray who these people were. I seek out materials that quote the journals and letters written by actual Mayflower passengers. There is a surprising archive of primary source writings; much of it accessible for free on the web.

The Smithsonian offers an excellent source of trustworthy information.
This website for the Pilgrim museum in Leiden is my absolute favorite. It is a dream of mine to visit Leiden and meet Dr. Bangs to hear him tell this history he knows so well.

I also like to study works of art painted during that time period. Jan Steen, who was born in 1626 in Leiden, and educated in Leiden University (as well as one of the fictional characters in my novel!) offers a fascinating picture of every day Dutch life. We can see the way people dressed, what they ate, what their musical instruments looked like, how their homes were decorated, what animals they kept as pets. He shows us people praying, sleeping, laughing, "merrymaking," even little boys getting their hands smacked by their schoolmaster. What a treasure! I use so many details from his paintings in the pages of my writing.
"Peasant family at Meal-Time (Grace Before Meat)" 1665

My main characters are not based on real people. I could have given them names of actual Mayflower passengers, but I chose not to out of deference to the estimated 20 million people who claim to be descended from them. My characters are complex, rife with flaws as well as strengths, and it seemed rude to ascribe imaginary flaws to ancestors of living people.

Real people do occasionally make appearances in the story (Bradford, for instance), and I generally try to make them seem flattering based on what I know of their actual character.

Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Definitely a pantser! I have paid for this in whole chapters having to be deleted during revisions, but I can't seem to do it any other way. My characters grow and change and surprise me during the writing, so I let them. Perhaps as I continue to learn about writing, and become more skillful, I may evolve into more of a plotter.

Describe your ideal writing environment (music you listen to, snacks to nibble on, at home? in a cafe? morning? evening? midnight, lol?)

Ideally, I like to have my mini-HP netbook in my lap, sitting in my cushy recliner, feet out, coffee on the bookshelf next to me, blinds raised so I can stare at the goings on outside, as I often do while I write. I can't have food near me. I munch instead of write.

When life is normal, I limit my writing to the quiet hours while my husband is at work and the kids are at school. My husband is in the Army, so he is away from home sometimes for weeks or months at a time. Although my life is better when he's home, I get a lot more writing accomplished when he's away because I can write morning, noon, or night. Or all three. Whatever. My muse is not picky. I have trained my mind to prepare for those quiet hours, whenever they happen to come.

Music is tricky. Sometimes it helps me know a character better. Sometimes it distracts. If I listen to anything, I pick an artist I like and listen to their playlist on Youtube, or their channel on Slacker Radio.

Who's an author who has influenced you?

I have to say Laura Ingalls Wilder. My mom read the "Little House" books to my sister and me when we were young, and I've read them to my daughters. I didn't realize until I was an adult that she lived in a small town not far from where I grew up. I had an opportunity to visit her home last summer when we went back to Missouri for a visit to my family.

I saw her writing desk, Jebraun. A little unassuming thing, probably built by Almanzo, with a tablet of paper and a pencil positioned on it, as if she had been just been there.

She was just a woman, like me, a former teacher, a Midwestern wife and mother, a nobody, who thought it would be a good idea to beginning writing things down. That makes me think maybe I'm not crazy to sit in my cushy chair, with my laptop open in my lap, staring out the window, imagining stories.

You write historical fiction, what's your favourite genre to read? 

I do love historical fiction probably more than any other. I grew up on it. My sister and I devoured historical romance during our teen years. I also tend to seek out literary fiction because I appreciate complexity and brilliance. I learn the most about writing from it.

Favourite scripture and why?

Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 "Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked? Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life."  I latched onto this verse during a difficult time for our family. My husband had lost his job 10 days before I gave birth to our third baby. A month later he wrecked his car on the way to a job interview. A month later my middle child was hospitalized with pneumonia. It seemed like everything was crooked, and I was weary from trying and failing to straighten things out. I couldn't make sense of the chaos. I found this verse, wrote it on a little white domino, and carried it around with me until that difficult season was past us. It did end, and God showed himself to us in remarkable ways. I still have the domino (it's faded now) displayed on a shelf near my writing chair.

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