Author Interview with Paulette Mahurin
This morning I have the pleasure of talking with Paulette Mahurin, author of the Historical novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap. Let’s start off with The eReader Cafe’s signature first question:
Coffee or Tea?
Both. Coffee for my emotional satisfaction and green tea for my health, antioxidants. Preference: coffee, the aroma, the flavor, the emotions connected with the wonderful moments of sharing it with someone over
a great conversation, or just sitting along with my dog at my feet watching the birds drop seeds in our garden.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and when did you start writing?
I started writing when I was about ten, short stories, poetry, journal and diary entries. By the time I got to college, I won a couple of awards for short stories I’d written. After college, I had a very busy life up till I got a tick bite, around 10+ years ago and quit working in the emergency room where I was a Nurse Practitioner. I contracted Lyme disease and my life came to an abrupt halt; meningitis, paralysis, cardiac valve enlargement, arthritis, and an exhaustion that left me useless. As I started to regain my health, I took up writing. At first it was therapeutic, I love to write and it made me feel better. Eventually, I became well enough to attend a writing class and it was there the seeds for my book erupted. The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap came about from an exercise using a photo in which we had to write a ten minute mystery.
In the class, I just mentioned, the photo I picked, the one that called to me, was two women in turn of the twentieth century dress, it screamed lesbian couple afraid of being found out. That was the seed that began the inspiration. It fully bloomed when I started to research that time period and discovered Britain had recently changed its laws on homosexuality where a man convicted of indecency was sentenced to two years of hard labor. It was around this time Oscar Wilde was imprisoned. I couldn’t imagine meeting someone, becoming attracted, falling in love, making love, then being thrown in prison for it; with a daily routine of a six hour treadmill, sleeping on a hard wooden surface, eating watery soup, it sounded like a concentration camp–which was unconscionable. He could no more help himself than a tree can help shedding its leaves in fall, a bee can stay away from honey, a body breathes, or fire burns the skin, all aspects of the natural way of the universe, all mystery. I couldn’t stop thinking about this, so convenient to the story I had thought up with the women in the photo, that his imprisonment, the news of it, would create a chaotic frenzy of hatred as a backdrop to paint a story of intolerance. It is the unjust intolerance that inspires me to write, to speak out, to be a voice for all those before who couldn’t speak for themselves, for fear of imprisonment, or worse. My story became their voice, a homage to them.
Describe your writing process. When and where do you write?
I have a den that I use that overlooks our front yard, filled with trees, that overlooks a creek. I usually write in the mornings and well into the early
afternoon. If I’m on a roll, I’ll continue off and on, resting to guard against
exhaustion that can set in some times, a residual of the Lyme disease. I have to pace myself. My process is just to do it, to sit down and do it.
What do you do in your free time when you are not writing?
I have a great husband, family, and friends and two dogs that I adore, that I love spending time with. I also work as a Nurse Practitioner, specializing in women’s health, part time and do a lot of pro-bono health consultation for women who need some medical hand-holding or advocacy. And, I love helping with animals, dogs in particular, and spend a fair amount of time trying to promote my book, since profits are going to the first and only no-kill animal shelter in Ventura County, CA (Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center) where I live.
Too many to comment on but up there is Steinbeck and The Grapes of Wrath. How he took a story, like the dust bowl debacle and a family on hard times and turned it into a magical Pulitzer prize winning story is something I deeply admire. That story haunted me for days after I read it, couldn’t stop thinking about it, the struggles so many families went through, not unlike a lot of the hardship around the world today.
What are you reading now?
Suzy Witten’s The Afflicted Girls, which centers around the Salem Witch trails. She is a masterful writer.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Tell your critic, the voice in your head with excuses, can’ts, shoulds, to be quiet, and sit down and write. Just do it. Don’t judge it- just vomit it out and leave the editing to an editor. And, if you don’t write, be gentle with yourself about it. Everybody has a story, something to say or tell, everybody, and once you sit down and write, it’ll come out. Don’t worry about how it comes out, or overly criticize it, because in the early stages, before the first ten or so rewrites most authors feel the same about a large portion of their work, is it any good? So don’t worry about your human insecurities, we all have them, just sit down and write and give yourself a pat on the back for doing it.
Are you planning on writing another book in the near future?
While in college I wrote an award winning short story about a couple, both with cancer, who met in an oncologists office and became friends, then romantically involved, till death do them part. I started extending that into a full length novel and am up to chapter seven.
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