Thursday, November 05, 2009

Getting Historical - My Interview with Linda Weaver Clarke

One of the best things about blogging is that it gives me the opportunity to meet so many fabulous people. Recently, my blog introduced me to another great writer. Linda Weaver Clarke writes historical fiction and she also goes around the country lecturing on genealogy and writing out your own family history. She was kind enough to let me interview her for the blog, and Linda will be around to answer questions. So away we go:

Merry: I find the idea of teaching a Family Legacy Workshop fascinating! I'm wondering, did you get the idea from working with historical fiction, or did you start by working on your own ancestry and then got into historical fiction?

Linda: I was first interested in putting my own family stories together. After writing my ancestors’ stories, I couldn’t stop writing so I turned to historical fiction.

Merry: How do you spur your ideas, as far as setting as historical placement for your novels? Do you find something in your research first, or do you have the idea and then research the time-frame?

Linda: Sometimes in my research about an area, I find something that gives me an idea for a book. I get most of my ideas from true experiences and every day life, though. For example, in my first book, “Melinda and the Wild West,” it was inspired by a true experience that happened to me as a substitute teacher. A teacher labeled a young girl as a troublemaker and put her behind some bookshelves so she wouldn’t be a menace to others. I based my story on this experience, but I also wanted it to be a love story. This book eventually won an award as one of the semi-finalists for the “Reviewers Choice Award.”

In “Edith and the Mysterious Stranger,” I based this story around the courtship of my parents. They didn’t meet the conventional way. They wrote letters to one another before they ever met. She said that she fell in love with the soul of my father, and they didn’t even know what one another looked like. The day they met, my mother told me that her heart leapt within her and a warm glow filled her soul and she knew she would marry this man. I knew this would be the basis of my next novel, but there’s one difference. In my story, you don’t know who the mysterious stranger is until the end of the book. Some readers guessed correctly while others were pleasantly surprised.

“Jenny’s Dream” was inspired by events that happened to me in my youth. I learned that forgiveness was essential for true happiness. In this novel, Jenny must learn to forgive and put her past behind her. This story is about accomplishing one’s dreams and the miracle of forgiveness, with a bit of adventure from Old Ephraim, the ten-foot grizzly bear taken from Idaho history. The research about this old grizzly was exciting to me because I had grown up with the stories of Old Ephraim. He wreaked havoc wherever he went, slaughtering sheep and calves, and scaring sheepherders so badly that they actually quit their jobs. With one blow of his paw, he could break the back of a cow. I found that he was the smartest bear that ever roamed the Rocky Mountains. No one could catch him. Every bear trap they set was tossed many yards away from where they had put it, and the ones that weren’t tripped had “Old Three Toes” tracks all around it. He was too smart to be caught. In this story, I included every detail about this bear and his deeds.

My great grandmother, Sarah Eckersley Robinson, was my inspiration for “David and the Bear Lake Monster.” Sarah lost her hearing as a child but she never let her deafness stop her from developing her talents. I took a lot of her experiences from her biography and gave them to my heroine to bring some reality into my story. Sarah was known as one of the most graceful dancers in town. She was known for gliding across the floor with ease, with just a touch of her partner’s hand. Sarah had such agility and gracefulness while swimming, that people would actually throw coins in the water so they could watch her dive after them. Once an intruder hid in her bedroom under her bed, thinking he could take advantage of her since she was deaf. He must have thought she was an easy victim but was sadly mistaken. She swatted him out from under her bed with a broom, and all the way out of the house, and down the street for a couple blocks, whacking him as she ran. What a courageous woman! In this book, I also added real experiences about the Great Bear Lake Monster, a part of Idaho history. Does it exist? Well, the people of Bear Lake believe in it. I’ve met people whose grandparents actually saw it. This part of my research was fun. To read an excerpt from each of my novels, visit:
Linda’s Website

Merry: For family histories, how would you advise someone new to genealogy to get started?

Linda: It’s important to teach our children their heritage. Our children need to understand their ancestors and be proud of them. First, write down any experiences that you remember. Talk to family members and discuss memories. Use letters they wrote to one another. If possible, go to the area your ancestors settled, walk around, find specific places of importance, where your ancestors lived, went to school, and played. If you can’t go there in person, then do research and find pictures of that area.

Time Period is another important part of research. Find out what existed back then. During the roaring twenties, bobbed hair was the rage. If your grandmother bobbed her hair and went to the dance marathons, write about it. If they lived during war times, it helps your children understand why their grandparents had such tough times. When writing my father’s biography, I found out that in 1942 they rationed gas to three gallons a week. To me, that was amazing. How about prices? Did it cost ten cents to go to the movies and five cents for an ice cream cone? And what flavors existed? Did they travel by horse and buggy or a Model T Ford? All this info makes an interesting story. To read samples of what you can do with your stories, visit my website at and read the “short stories” of my ancestors.

Merry: Are there any research methods you find particularly helpful or favorite sources you revisit for various projects?

Linda: I do research on the Internet and in books. If I research the Internet, then I always make sure there’s a bibliography along with it. You don’t want people’s opinions but facts. I had a blast researching for my last book, “Elena, Woman of Courage.” It was in the 1920s so I did a search about the language for that time period. I found words that I didn’t even know such as: Cat’s pajamas! Ah, horsefeathers! Baloney! You slay me! If you were All Wet, you were mistaken or wrong about something. If a man said, “Hey, look at those gams!” What were gams? Of all things, it’s a woman’s legs. When referring to a woman, they used doll, tomato, and bearcat. When a person was in love, he was goofy. If a person was a fool, he was a sap. And when a woman wasn’t in the mood for kissing or romance, she would say, “The bank’s closed.” I was able to use all these words and much more in my book. The language was great!

Merry: I love historical fiction, but as a writer I find it daunting because I'm afraid I won't have a firm enough grasp of day to day life in the time period. Do you have any advice for would-be historical fiction writers on how to stay accurate and capture the voice of the time?

Linda: Research is the secret for me. I research the time period, the clothes they wore, whether electricity was used or not, whether closets existed, etc. I found out that clothes closets weren’t used in 1896. Melinda had to put her dresses in a Wardrobe. I found out that pencils were painted yellow for the very first time in 1896 and for a very good reason. I included it in my first novel and received many e-mails about it. I found that Idaho allowed women to vote in 1896. They were the fourth state to give women rights. Wyoming was first, Colorado was second, and Utah was third. It was fun to learn this trivia. Yes, research is the best way.

Linda’s books are available on Amazon, through local bookstores that buy from Baker and Taylor, and on her website: Linda Weaver

You can also get to know Linda through her blog.

I’d love to hear from you guys in the comments section. If you have any questions for Linda, she’ll be stopping in, or if you just want to discuss historical fiction, genealogy, or your own methods of researching, fiction and non.


Mary Witzl said...

Linda's stories sound so interesting -- especially the one about the grizzly bear!

I love genealogy too, and I believe that learning family history is one of the best ways we can study history. When my grandfather knew he was dying, he dictated his memories of homesteading with his father. I've got the original, and although it's riddled with typos and non sequiturs, it's one of my favorite pieces of writing and one of my most prized possessions.

And it must be because my parents were about 20 years older than most people's parents, but I know all those expressions from the 20s, including 'bearcat'.

Merry Monteleone said...

I actually knew most of the terms, too :-) And my parents were also older than my friends' parents - my dad was 49 when I was born, most of his friends' grandchildren are my age!

My mom is very into genealogy, and has her tree traced all the way back to the middle ages. For some reason I don't find those way back relations as interesting as the ones only a few generations ago... I bet that homesteading memoir is fantastic!

Linda Weaver Clarke said...

Thanks for such a fun interview. I remember one word my mother use to always say and it was "Cat's Pajamas!" I never knew what it meant until I wrote my novel. It really means "How wonderful!" The language was great and I had fun writing this book, using all the fun language. I didn't know about gams were. That was new to me.

Gary Corby said...

I can't imagine trying to write to a family history. Interesting about the research. I loved the plots originating from real experience, especially the girl being made to stand behind the bookshelf.


Linda Weaver Clarke said...

Hello Gary. Thanks for your comment. About the young girl who was labeled as a troublemaker, this same thing happened to my oldest daughter. She was in 4th grade and her teacher had labeled her as a trouble maker but her next teacher in 5th grade labeled her an active child and adored her. I wanted to teach that negative labels tear down and positive labels build up. So in my novel, Melinda has to undo everything the former teacher had done and build up this young girl. Yes, I agree that true experiences can make an interesting story.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Gary,

Thanks for stopping in!

Hi Linda,

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions and for stopping back in to talk to any readers.

Linda Weaver Clarke said...

Hello Merry. I would like to add that if anyone is interested, I occasionally publish important bits of writing info on my blog site. I have written articles about research and how to write your family history. Good luck with your writing everyone!

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Linda,

Thanks again for the great interview and all of the fabulous information. I've added your blog to my "Authors to Watch" section in the sidebar, hopefully any of the writers who found the interview interesting will tool on by.