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Friday, July 26, 2013

Q&A with Beverly Swerling, author of MOLLIE PRIDE

I'm delighted to welcome Beverly Swerling, the acclaimed author of numerous, marvelous historical novels, including her trilogy on old Manhattan, City of Dreams, City of Glory and City of Promise, as well as the stand-alone Shadowbrook; a recently released historical ghost story, Bristol House; and her first reissue in e-format, MOLLIE PRIDE. Beverly has been praised for her attention to detail, her deft hand with character and plot, and versatility within the genre. Publisher's Weekly has praised her work as "sweeping. . . readers will be captivated by [her[ intricate plot, colorful characters and convincing descriptions . . . ."

Please join me in welcoming Beverly Swerling
.

Q: Please tell us about your inspiration for writing MOLLIE PRIDE.

I suppose every historical novelist at some points toys with the idea of writing something set during that terrible and earth-shaking drama that was WWII.  Certainly I had the idea for years. For me all fiction is about characters, so the essential thing was to come up with a lead character who would play some role in that war.  That doesn't sound too difficult, but for a long time I couldn't find a peg--something to hang my story on--that felt at least somewhat fresh and new. 

Then one day I was playing around with opening lines, and thinking about the almost frantic mood of the roaring twenties. In no time I had a paragraph I really liked: "A lot of crazy things were happening in America in 1926. While a breathless nation watched, a couple dressed in jodhpurs and helmets tangoed from Santa Monica to Los Angeles; a high school student put forty sticks of gum into his mouth, sang Home Sweet Home, and drank a gallon of milk between verses; a guy called Shipwreck Kelly spent a large part of his life sitting on top of flagpoles; and from Harlem’s Cotton Club to Hollywood’s Brown Derby, everybody danced. For fun, for profit, for kudos – and sometimes just to stay alive."

Q:  What drew you to the particular era that your book depicts? What are some of the challenges and/or delights about writing about this time?

Once I'd written that paragraph, next thing I knew I had the Prides, Harry and Zena, who made a bare-bones living following the marathon dance contests that were part of the general 20's nuttiness.  And I had their adorable six-year-old daughter, Mollie, who anchored their act with her rendition of the Charleston.  
If you follow that timeline for a few years you're into the golden age of early commercial radio.  Why not make Mollie a child star on radio!  And from there…  Well, what about the role of radio in WWII?   It was huge.  This was the first time war was happening in people's living rooms.  And there was the other side, the spies dropped behind enemy lines who took their lives in their hands to broadcast coded messages.

Bingo, I had my WWII book.  
  
Q: What process did you use to transport yourself (and readers) to another time period? How do you go about research and incorporating it into fiction?

In the matter of WWII, the issue is finding the thread you want to follow when so much is happening.  I had settled on radio and that helped to keep me focused, but like all my books, it's always about more than what it's about.  People don't stop loving and laughing or hating and plotting just because there's a war on.

Q:  Does your historical fiction convey a message or theme relevant to our world today? If so, what do you think it is? If not, how do you think readers can find common ground with the characters in your story?

I think it's because of our world today that I decided to encore MOLLIE PRIDE as a Kindle E-book.  We live in a time of many challenges, and sadly our country sometimes feels painfully divided.  But the real values never change, though they might go underground for a time.  America was also deeply polarized before the onset of WWII.  In fact the majority of the nation didn't want us to get involved.  Perhaps because they didn't realize how truly evil Nazism was.  And the Great Depression was causing terrible suffering for so many.  But when the challenge ultimately came, ordinary people were compelled to step up and do heroic things and they did them.

Love, honor, duty… those aren't just words for Mollie and the people she loves.  And the stakes were incredibly high.  So in the end I didn't open the story with that paragraph I quoted about the crazy things happening in 1926.  I opened it with a prologue that takes place in Washington DC, in1946, and the threat of the death penalty for high treason… 

As for making the characters in historical fiction meaningful for today's readers, I think that requires the writer to be absolutely honest.  Sitting down at the computer, as has been said before, and opening a vein.  You've got to let real life happen on the page, and show what really motivates the people in your fiction, their fears and their desires and their longings… Emotions of that sort don't change much from decade to decade, or even century to century.  That kind of truthful writing is what I've tried to achieve with Mollie and the people around her.   When the book was first published in 1991 many readers felt that emotional connection to Mollie.  I'm hoping that will happen for those who meet her now.

Q:  Can you tell us about your next project?


I'm working on something called 37 SIN EATERS' STREET.  It's a Back-and-Forth-in-Time book that takes place in Prague in the 1940's, and New York City today.  In that sense it's not unlike my recently published, BRISTOL HOUSE.  And I've used that kind of dual period template in two earlier books: WOMEN'S RITES and A MATTER OF TIME. They are both scheduled to make their E-Pub Encore appearances later this year.  

Thank you so much, Beverly. To find out more about Beverly Swerling and her work, please visit her website

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