My previous post review Paulette Mahurin’s The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap. When she offered me the chance of interviewing her I thought that it was a great opportunity to get to know her better and to understand her novel from a more personal level. So, I thought of ten questions that interested me and honestly, her answers really touched me and I hope you too enjoy reading them. Thank you so much Paulette for your time and kindness and thanks to everyone who reads this interview.
1. What inspired you to write ‘The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap’?
I was taking a writing class and the teacher brought in a bunch of photos for us to do an exercise on writing a ten minute mystery. My photo was of two women, dressed in what looked like turn of the twentieth century dress, standing very close together, and it screamed out to me lesbian couple. Prior to that I had been dealing with a person who was gay and in the closet, afraid to come out because of molestation and prior abuse issues. All this dovetailed together into the seeds for the story. When I started my research into that time period, Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment rang out as a key homophobic event in history, that I could use to create an air of persecution and move the story along. It would be the news of his imprisonment, that spreads around the world and reaches the small Nevada town where Mildred Dunlap lives with her partner, Edra, that throws the town into a frenzy of hatred and prejudice.
2. Have you ever suffered prejudice first hand before?
I have by association with my older brother, eight years, my senior, who was morbidly obese all his life, and bullied in High School, which landed him in a mental institution, schizophrenic. Friends were intimidated to be around him or come visit so I couldn’t have friends over. When I was in Junior High School, I was kicked out of the group of friends I was in which was devastating. It caused me to grow up feeling very self-conscious, which thankfully I have outgrown – with the love and support of a great husband, family, and friends.
3. What advice would you give to anyone who is a victim of bullying?
Find your inner light. We’re all human, all varying shades of the whole mixture of good, bad, indifferent, and all have the capability of not identifying with others words. I would say, you are not a label, you
are not someone else’s idea, you are a light onto yourself like
every other human being alive, or who has ever come before.
Be that light onto yourself when others spew hatred, don’t
buy someone else’s hatred, you don’t need to own their
suffering hearts. Protect your heart and know you are made
perfect as you are. Associate with others who will reinforce
this in you, protect your boundaries from toxic people and
words that hurt to keep your good heart safe from abuse.
4. What is your opinion on those who gossip, bully and judge people unjustly – much like the character Josie in TPOMD?
I think I was raised by a gifted father who had a vast capacity for love and having an open heart. I learned from him. Whereas I don’t associate or friend people like Josie, I don’t hate her. I don’t really feel much of anything toward her other than in her, I see a element of the human condition, a good teacher. I say that because she, and others like her, are mirrors of our own hatred, our own flaws of bullying in whatever shade we harbor it, our own judgments and gossiping tendencies, and in that we can learn and grow. Through Josie we see what a heart of hatred does to our own heart and the impact it has on others, devastating results. Gus tried to help Charley understand Josie, and in that scene there is the metaphor for hoping others will try to see through understanding, and in doing that perhaps know tolerance in a deeper sense, and grow.
5. Oscar Wilde’s persecution haunts your novel and is quoted throughout, what is your favourite piece of his writing and why?
I LOVE this question. Without a doubt, De Profundis. It is one of the most profound pieces of literature that has ever been written and I will quote it here. Here is a man, sentenced to prison for loving his partner, and in his letter to this person, he writes pages and pages, pouring his heart, soul, and demons out to him. My favorite part:
When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realizing what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else – the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.
6. What is your all time favourite novel and why?
The first one that comes to mind is Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
> because no other novel has pulled me in, kept me glued, and
haunted me to this day. I can still taste the draw dust imagery
in my mouth and the torturing pain this family lived through.
That said, there are really too many great stories out there
to pick any one single favorite. When I’m captivated by a
book, to the point I don’t want to put it down and am
disappointed when it’s over, that’s a good book.
7. What did you enjoy the most about writing the novel?
The relationship with the characters and what would suit them and their message. They seemed to come alive and direct me. It’s almost as if the writing did itself at times, and in those times I was in a great place of joyful writing.
8. How long did the writing process take for you?
Six years. But, part of the reason was I had Lyme Disease and it would exacerbate and go into remissions. I had periods of meningitis, cardiac valve involvement, paralysis, when I couldn’t write. This went on for many years. Toward the end of the writing and when I was heavily into the editing phases, I started to get better and it was easier. Thankfully, I did get better during those times, because the editing and rewrite process was the most difficult for me and I had to really be present and concentrate on making changes that fit and flowed with the story.
9. Do you have any other books or projects on the horizon at the moment?
I wrote an award winning short story while in College, based on a true story, about a couple that had terminal cancer and met in an oncologists office. They formed a beautiful friendship, fell in love, and helped each other till death do us part. I won’t comment if they both died or not.
10. Finally, if you could be any character from any novel who would you be and why?
I’m laughing and you won’t be expecting this answer. I would be, want to be, and am, the watchful observer from Tolle’s The Power of Now. I don’t really aspire to be anyone other than who I am, but grant me the wisdom and courage to accept that, with all my human foibles and glories.
And, so my friend, Sarah across the big pond, as this interview closes I hope that anyone who’s read it, or reads my book, will take a minute to pause and reflect on tolerance. Not just for others but oneself. Sarah, it’s been an absolute gift to meet and work with you.
Posted 21 minutes ago by Sarah Anne Coburn