|Posted by Alana Woods on October 6, 2012 at 11:05 AM|
I’ve been reviewing books and posting the reviews on my website blog for some time but it was only when this week’s reviewed author mentioned interviews that it occurred to me a useful accompaniment to a review would be an interview with the author. So because it was a comment by Paulette Mahurin that prompted the idea it seems only fair that she has the — shall we say, honour — of being the first author I both review and interview.
Alana: Paulette, thank you for agreeing to launch my author interviews. I’ll try to make it memorable.
Paulette: Thank you for having me, Alana. It’s been such a pleasure getting to know you.
Alana: The persecution of Mildred Dunlap — your first published novel and the subject of my book review — has lesbianism and intolerance as its topic. Has the book had a reaction or interest from the gay and lesbian communities? If so, what has it been?
Paulette: Great question! It’s had really good support from the GLBT community that I’ve been in contact with. The largest circulating lesbian e-newsletter in Southern California, The Lavender Living Room, promoted it, The Windy City Press is doing a review (that’s a major Chicago LGBT newspaper), several GLBT readers have bought and reviewed the book and made comments like “it made me cry in a good way”, “it describes exactly what I went through” and one man, an author I admire, read it and wrote “it’s destined to be a classic”. Last week I was featured on a well-followed GLBT blogger site and had a very warm reception from several who commented.
Alana: Was the story and the lesbian theme sparked somehow by personal experience?
Paulette: Yes. I had a friend who was severely abused, molested, and tortured as a child and teenager. No counseling or other supportive help has worked thus far. It pains me deeply that my friend is in the closet, unable to live a life in the sun like flowers blooming, birds singing, dogs wagging tails, and others laughing and connecting from their authentic selves. When I became ill with Lyme disease and was housebound I had conversations with my friend and by the time I was better and started a writing class, in which a photo sparked the seed that was to become my book, the combination of the two women in a photo (an exercise from class was to take one of the photos brought in and write a ten minute mystery) and my friend’s saga screamed out to me: ‘lesbian couple afraid of being found out’. A lot of what I poured into the story was my angst over the heartache that my friend lives with.
Alana: The book is written in what I thought was verging on a formal style, reminiscent of the bygone age in which it is set. Was this deliberate, to heighten the setting for your readers?
Paulette: That’s interesting. I did that and also fell into my own contemporary way of communicating which flowed more naturally with the writing. When it felt too stilted or there was too much effort to replicate history I just gave up and just wrote. I’ve had a few critiques that have mentioned the dialogue seemed too modern day. My overall main focus was not ‘does this sound correct historically’, but rather what felt natural, what sat well in my skin when I read it back?
Alana: I have to say I liked the style very much. It seemed a very natural part of the story overall. Is the cover photo a family one? If not, where did you find it and did you discover who the people in it are?
Paulette: Thanks for the comment on the style. There was a huge growth process to step out of my own way and let the story come across organically. For example, I had spent weeks doing some of the historical research and wanted to include a lot of it because of all the time I put in — an ego show off thing, like the kid in school jumping up and down with a raised hand saying, “Pick me, pick me, I have the answer!” But when I went back to read those parts they sounded too didactic and pulled attention off the action of the story.
My editor made the same comment, “Shorten it down to a sentence or two,” she wrote, “it sounds too much like a history lesson”. I cut and cut and brought many pages down to a paragraph, for example the scene where Mildred & Edra are visiting the graves of Mildred’s parents, the part about the Donner Party Debacle, the pioneers settling near Walker Lake and the history of the Bell family. Then the story flowed and it was about the characters and not Paulette. Truth be told I felt much better about it. That was quite a lesson, about taking part in what’s best for the outcome, not what’s best for me.
The cover photo is my husband Terry’s grandfather, grandmother, and grandaunt. It seemed to suit the story line of Mildred and Edra with Charley and was chosen when we couldn’t find the original photo from my writing class that first sparked the story.
Alana: The Wilde and Dreyfus affairs, which are the catalysts for so much hatred in the story — were they also catalysts for you to write the story? Is political history an interest of yours; did you know of these events already?
Paulette: No, they weren’t a catalyst. The Wilde imprisonment came up when we started doing the research. My husband found it and I immediately realized it was pay dirt! He had known about the trial and Britain’s changed laws because he’s an attorney and it came up in Law School. I wasn’t familiar with it, or if I learned of it in school I had forgotten. Same with the Dreyfus Affair. It came up while researching the history of 1895, the year Wilde was imprisoned. We also factored in Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Address. So now we have a gay man, a Jewish man, and an African American man; all three great targets for hatred and bigotry. It just all fell into place. And serendipity was that the New Yorker wrote an article featuring the Dreyfus Affair during the time I was writing. It gave all the facts of what happened. I was dying to put that into the story because it was one of France’s biggest scandals but, again, my editor said, “It’s not a story about Alfred Dreyfus”. I’m fascinated by that story and may turn it into a novel. It was Emile Zola whose press coverage exonerated Dreyfus, but it got Zola excommunicated from France. But enough of that or I’ll bore you all silly!
Alana: There is one tragedy in particular in the book involving a baby that is hard to read. I know you have a nursing background — were you able to call on your knowledge and experience to write it or was it something you had to research?
Paulette: That was from experience. I worked in the second busiest emergency room in Los Angeles County, with the highest census of child abuse. You name it I saw it, and I had to take care of it. A moment of silence here for too many victims. The thing that I feel is so important about the story is that hatred, bigotry, prejudice, all have consequences and sadly involve innocent people who weren’t taught to be aware of evil and go along because of ‘group think’ and wanting to belong. Good people, innocent people, fuel the hatred unwittingly, and unfortunately some reap the consequences.
Alana: Was the scene hard to write?
Paulette: No. You just get in a different zone where you’re not thinking about it personally. It’s not that I’m unfeeling; on the contrary I’m overly sensitive when it comes to my life and connections (I can’t tolerate seeing an animal in a cage on death row, or read about a child cruelty or bullying in the news). But when it’s something I deal with professionally, whether as a Nurse Practitioner or writer, it becomes something out there, objective. I’m lucky that I don’t tend to hold onto things either, or I’d be driven mad with all I have to deal with.
Alana: I understand that all profits from the sale of the book are going to dog rescue or, to be specific, the first and only no-kill shelter in VC, CA. Can you say something about that?
(Paulette, what does VC stand for?)
Paulette VC = Ventura County. It’s in California, the next county south of Santa Barbara County, which you’re probably more familiar with. It’s a large county, over 800,000 population. Just a few months ago its first and only no-kill animal shelter opened in one of the smaller towns, Santa Paula. My husband and I are animal advocates; we’ve been rescuing dogs for 28 years.
The story of why I’m donating all the profits to this rescue group was just written up in the VC Star (the largest circulating press in the county) and I’ll quote from them to answer this very important to my heart question.
“Paulette Mahurin’s eyes light up when she talks about the dogs. An animal advocate, the Ojai resident and her husband Terry have been rescuing Rottweilers for nearly three decades … When her beloved rottie, Tazzie, died last year at age 15 she was heartbroken. In addition to losing her best friend, the dog had been her constant companion throughout Mahurin’s life-altering bout with Lyme disease.”
The story then talks about my illness with Lyme disease getting into my heart valves, paralysis, arthritis and meningitis and goes on to talk about how I attended class when I was well enough, and finally ends with this quote:
“In honor of the 15 years spent with her beloved companion Tazzie, as well as her desire to support no-kill animal shelters, proceeds from the sales of The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap benefit the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center.”
Alana: Paulette, thank you very much for talking with me. I wish you all the best with the book.
Paulette: It’s been my pleasure to come have this chat with you. Thank you again, for your time and help with your review and this interview. I hope it helps spread the word in the name of tolerance and animal rescue.
Take this link to my review of The persecution of Mildred Dunlap