Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Facing Evil Cloaked in Righteousness: An Interview with Historical Fiction Author Anne Sweazy Kulju

Today, I'm talking with Anne Sweazy Kulju about her historical tale of perseverance in the face of a very personal form of evil, The Thing With Feathers.

She's also doing a giveaway for a Nook Book Glowlight e-reader, so please make sure to click on the link after the interview and enter.

1) Tell us about your book.

The Thing With Feathers  a tightly paced story about a young girl in big trouble, in 1927 Oregon. Blair lives on a sparsely-populated area of the coast, she is just sixteen, and she’s pregnant. Life would have been scary enough, but her father is also the town’s fire-and-brimstone Baptist preacher…and he’s Blair’s rapist.

When the youngest son of a wealthy dairy farmer helps Blair, the preacher turns out to be pretty unforgiving, and he spends the better part of three decades reigning hell down upon the farmer’s family, their friends, and anyone else who might oppose him.

As with all tragic heroes, Blair must ultimately save herself. The story has its humorous moments, its heart-ripping times, and several bitter-sweet love relationships. It was written with a design to remind folks there is always hope, even when things seem in their darkest hour, or “in the chillest lands.”

2) What inspired this book?

A vintage photo of a young girl, found during restoration of my 1906 Victorian farmhouse (which is also the setting for the story).

3) When dealing with historical settings, there certainly are a lot to choose from. What was it about turn-of-the-century Cloverdale, Oregon that attracted you?

It seemed to be the time-period when the photo was taken, but it was also the time when Clyde Hudson, a famous Oregon photographer, the man credited with bringing radio to the coast, and from all accounts a wonderful human being, was in his prime. I modeled my hero, Sean Marshall, after him. The fact that I lived in his house made it pretty easy to nail the setting.

4) What primary themes does this book explore?

While there’s breath, there’s hope.
Practice forgiveness.
God expects us to fight for our lives, fight for survival.
Universal-Justice--a belief that when man’s justice fails, which it often does, one should trust God to right the wrongs. *There’s a warning that His justice might take a bit longer than we hope. We should be patient with that.

I hope I succeeded in conveying plenty of Christian themes throughout. I wanted my good characters to be genuinely good people, and I believe they are. At the same time, they had to be realistic--so, my goodness, they’re not Saints; who among us, is?

5) You've described this book at times as a saga. What does that mean to you, and how did it affect the writing of this book?

A saga is merely an epic constructed of prose instead of poetry. Both are written about famous or heroic men and women. The Thing with Feathers is a saga, because it’s prose which follows the trials and tribulations of the same group of heroic men and women, over a period of decades.

I’m not sure the genre distinction did affect the writing of the book, at all. The double-duty genre wasn’t really something I was conscious of while writing. Once I have covered the research well enough for me to “live in my story,” I concentrate on the characters and their respective genuineness, almost to exclusion, because they move my story forward.

6) Do you have an excerpt you'd like to share?

Sure. I really love my Preacher Bowman character. Boy, he’s evil! I set out to create a real bad guy, and I believe I succeeded; Bowman seems to possess not a single, saving, Grace. Here’s one of his scenes:

He’d done this once already this week. He knew it was dangerous. He wasn’t rattlebrained; he might be reckless… But he’d weighed the chance he’d be recognized against the incredible number of firefighting men who came from all over the south, west and further, and swarmed the town of Tillamook. He then considered the propitious number of whores who had descended upon the town in response to all those men. Finally, the squalid room he’d rented was on the opposite side of town, about as far as one could be from the downtown strip, and Bowman was satisfied he would remain unnoticed. Not even Welby knew where he was at the moment. Get a radio so I can contact you whenever I need to. Let the boy keep his pa’s gifts, or plan to replace ’em yourself. Don’t go celebratin’ without my permission…(chug) you ain’t respectable, you ain’t worth a box a‘ hair to me…” he wagged his head from side to side as he silently mimicked Otis Welby in a most unflattering way. A slow smile stretched feline-like across his narrow-lipped maw. He took a good long pull on his brown jug, looked sideways and saw the whore was watching him. Then he took another long chug, that time splashing a little on his mushrooming midsection. He hated Otis Welby. The man had been ordering him around--intimidating him--ever since the Tjaden wedding. Four years of extortion, that’s what it was.

He looked her way again and the whore quickly averted her eyes. But he’d seen enough to know the woman was a little fearful of him. Bowman liked that. It made everything so much more exciting. Tied with her hands to the iron headboard, face down, Bowman had promised her she would not be hurt, but he could see she did not entirely believe him. Yes, there was that fear, that trepidation…my God, how he’d missed that… “Have you ever heard of the Marquis de Sade, my dear?” he asked.
7) Please tell us a bit about your writing background.

A bit is about all that I can tell you about my writing background. I started writing by the seat of my pants following an auto accident that left me with serious injuries. I don’t have an MFA--I don’t even have a B.A., in English. So, I can’t claim any educational background.

As for practical experience, I never worked at a newspaper or magazine. I did a little writing, of newsletters, correspondences, that sort of thing, for a small utility company in California. It’s where I learned to proofread and edit my work. I found it amazing how quickly one could ascend the proverbial corporate ladder, when one could write well. Apparently, I could write well. But, I never wrote anything creative until I was well into my thirties.

I wrote three novels while recovering from injuries, surgeries, and what-not. The first two novels were pretty darned good, I thought, considering neither had received an even cursory edit-job. But, the third was atrocious. I wanted to make darned sure it never saw the light of day as a work ascribed to me, at some future time when I just knew I would be an accomplished author of literary fiction…so I burned it in my woodstove. There was no internet. There were no copies. I saved only a single chapter, which I reworked into a short story of horror fiction called “Not Quite Dead.” That story and another one, “The Party Favor” were included in the anthology Agony in Black. Besides those two short stories, I recently took Honorable Mention in The Source Annual Fall Fiction Contest for my humorous short-short story, “The Dog Sniffer-er.” I also self-published a recipe and local history book for my Bed & Breakfast Inn, but that was decades ago.  So, to be completely candid, I had zero creative writing education, and not a whisper of professional writing in my background--in fact, I never even wrote so much as a short story, before I wrote three novels--two of ‘em good!

I know some authors would hide (or pad) a writing background as thin as mine. But I’m hoping the truth inspires other would-be authors, who I know are out there, to go after a publishing contract. There are so many folks who know in their hearts they can write, but they shrink from going after a writing career because they have no professional standing. I’ll admit, it’s intimidating; I don’t know that I would have done it, if Fate, or whomever, hadn’t interfered and taken my life in a new direction. The truth is, if you can write and you are willing to put in the hard (marketing) work that ALL publishers expect from their unknown authors, you can do it. Whip those ever-important (one-page!) query letters into shape and start submitting your best work to publishers who accept online submissions. A simple internet search can tell you top ones in the country, and a query placed at a professional platform, like LinkedIn, will tell you the ones to stay away from.

8) Please tell us about your other work.

Thank you for asking about my current works. My final edit for Bodie went back to the publisher several weeks early; it took only ten days to incorporate minor changes, additions and the ever-important deletions, which gave my manuscript a nice polish. I have written the promotional copy (back cover trailer), and I would appreciate hearing what you think of it (plus, it will tell you about the book):

“Bad Whiskey, Bad Weather, Bad Men…” BODIE, in the California
desert, was the deadliest town in America’s history.

Lara and Lainy survived foster care and all its horrors, but the experience left them incomplete in that they had no knowledge of the people they came from. Unknowingly, until now, each of them has had a reoccurring dream for more years than they can remember—the same dream. When the girls are regressed by a therapist anxious to publish their story, they learn shocking details about themselves, an unsolved murder in Bodie, California, and a massive cover-up. They want to investigate--but a mining executive can’t allow the “Dream Sisters” to go poking around Bodie, anymore than he could allow the therapist to go public and threaten his thirty-five million dollar deal. Are the “Bad Men from Bodie” really dead? Join Lainy and Lara as they dig up shocking secrets in Bodie. This book is based on a true story--the authors own!

As for my WIP (work-in-progress), Grog Wars, I have to admit, the other manuscript’s final edit has taken precedence. But with only the final type-setting read-through to go on Bodie, I am looking forward to getting back to my protagonists, Burke and Lily. This one is Historical Fiction/Adventure about the first German lager-brewers to come to the Pacific Northwest. It’s a journey which sweeps across three continents, by traveling barely-seaworthy vessels or the savage-infested Oregon Trail, during the four years from 1848 to 1852--a most dangerous time to be a Portlander. I have a short broadcast promotional copy I can leave you with--I hope it piques your interest:

Before there was a Civil War….

They called them Brew Wars, in Milwaukee;  they were the feared River Wars, in Chicago. But in Portland, Oregon, Shanghai Capital of the World, they were the notorious Grog Wars. Brewing here can be murder…

Thank you so much for the interview. I had fun with your questions; I hope your readers enjoy learning some things about me and my books!


Thanks, Anne.

If you'd like to see more from Anne, you can visit her at her website, www.AnneSweazyKulju.com / www.Historical-Horse-Feathers.com or find her at any of the following places:

On January 4th, she'll be guest blogging at the Wise Words Book Blog.

The thing with feathers can be purchased at Amazon.

If you're interested in entering the giveaway for the Nook Book Glowlight, please click here:


Burt Morgret said...

Thank you for hosting today:)

J.A. Beard said...

It was my pleasure.

Anne Sweazy Kulju said...

Thanks again, J.A., for the fun interview. I wanted to let your readers know that my flash fiction, "The Dog Sniffer-er," humorous short story was chosen by Flurries Of Words book blog (U.K.) for their "Flash Fiction at Five blog feed today (5 pm GMT). Hope you can hop by and cop a read!

Mary Preston said...

Going back in time I would want to land in Paris at the turn of the last century.

Rebecca Graf said...

Great interview!