Sue Pearson Answers Some Questions

Friday, January 24, 2014

Sue Pearson is an award winning Journalist who has released a novel based on the Nancy Hart Militia, a group of women who took up arms to defend their home in the possibility of an attack by the Union during the Civil War.  

She will be in the store tomorrow (1/ 25/ 2014) at 2pm.  Her book, "The Nancies," sells for $10.00 and is currently being carried by the store. 

Q: Where did you first encounter the story of LaGrange?

Sue: My sister, Margie, who lived in Atlanta, went to LaGrange on business. She knew our father's family came from LaGrange and she stopped in at the Troup County Archives there to do some genealogy research. That's when County Historian Clark Johnson told her that some of our relatives were members of a unique all-female militia during the Civil War. She wasn't sure which relatives or what the significance of this group might be, but since I was the journalist in the family, she turned the documentation over to me to look more deeply into this story. On the airplane returning to California from a visit with Margie in Atlanta, I poured over the documents she had given me. Suddenly, the story was revealed: my two great aunts were officers in a home guard formed to defend the homes and families of LaGrange should there be an enemy invasion. There were 46 women in the Nancy Hart Militia and they did indeed face the enemy in the last days of the war. It wasn't until several years later while doing more research at the Troup County Archives that we found a militia roster with the name of my great grandmother.  Addie Bull was just 14 years old when the war began but she signed up to be one of the militia women. 

Q: How long did you research this this topic before the novel spilled out?

Sue: I had known for many years that I wanted to try my hand at a novel. I just hadn't gotten the seed for a great story. But on that airplane somewhere between Atlanta and Sacramento I knew I had the greatest story of my many long years as a journalist. I couldn't wait to get online and begin the research. I spent a solid two years learning everything I could about the Nancies, as they called themselves. I traveled to LaGrange several times and met with historian Clark Johnson who was incredibly generous with his time. He unearthed every document in the precious archives that detailed the activities of the Nancies and revealed rich details about the women who formed this fighting unit. I studied the history of LaGrange, the Civil War and my own family history in Georgia. I traveled to Virginia to track an important battle many LaGrange men fought in during the Peninsula campaign including my great uncle. I studied Civil War battles in history books and in documents and displays at the Atlanta History Center. When I first started writing the novel my head was so filled with history it was hard not to put every detail I had learned into the story. So two years later with my first draft, I got some excellent but not easy to hear advice: less detailed history, more character, plot and story nuance. So I did a lot of wrenching editing. But then I fleshed out dramatic scenes and wove a thread of plot through them. In the end the novel is much more character driven. I wanted these women to come alive for the reader. They were incredibly brave but disappeared into their traditional roles as wives and mothers after the war ended. I thought it was time for them to come back and take a bow.

Q: Did you change any of the little bits of the history for the requirements of story?  Or were there any pieces of history that plot/character development required you to gloss over?

Sue: I stayed true to the factual details of the Civil War in describing real events and introducing real people. But when it served the story I placed some of my family members in situations that were purely of my imagination. For example, there was truly a warship Alabama and much controversy and intrigue about efforts to get the ship out of England and on its way to Confederate service in the war. My aunt Delia and her father were probably not involved in this international incident but it played well in the story to have them be part of the intrigue. In the beginning of my writing, the issue of slavery was like the elephant in the room. The Nancy Hart Militia had not formed to address the politics or the human rights issue of that time. They only wanted to save their homes and families if the fighting came close. I didn't know what to write about the slavery issue but I knew I couldn't ignore it. Those LaGrange relatives of mine owned slaves and ran plantations. I think I was able to portray the gritty realities of slavery, at the same time staying true to the real focus of this story which was the Nancy Hart Militia.

Q: Was there anything you encountered in your exploration of the subject that you could not include but wished you had?

Sue: Oh, how I wished I could have jammed the book full of all that fascinating history I learned! But alas, it would have slowed the reader down and likely caused death by boredom. 

Jeanine Stevens Q & A

Saturday, January 11, 2014

For those who missed today's Meet and Greet and even for the ones who had the chance to enjoy Jeanine's presentation, here are the questions I sent her and her answers.  It was really a great experience having her in the store today.

Q: How did you come to convey your creative mind in poetry over other forms of expression?

Jeanine: Long interested in many art forms, I tried batik, painting, drawing and collage. These required specialized materials and equipment. I like the simple requirements of poetry: paper, pencil or pen. My grammar school in Indianapolis was named after the Indiana state poet so I had an early introduction to rhyme. I’ve also done various kinds of writing from diaries at an early age, to M.A. and ED.D theses. Also, I was responsible for numerous reports, evaluations, curriculum development, affirmative action directories (working at the California Post-Secondary Education Commission and teaching at American River College) which required many, many pages. I like the brevity of poetry and the idea that one can pack layers of meaning into a few lines. I had a fairly permissive childhood with many opportunities to explore the inner city as well as woodlands and nature areas. Good libraries were close by and my home had encyclopedias and news magazines. Also an avid movie goer, I had an active imagination. I tend to be a visual person and can still recall many dramatic scenes from Saturday matinees, some of which have ended up in my poems.

Why did I start to write poetry? I think the inclination was there all along, and about 20 years ago I was in a bookstore and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, was on an end-cap. That was my jumpstart into poetry. Much of my inspiration for my work comes from travel, life events and reading other poets. I continue with collage, some of which has illustrated my poems and book covers.

Q: How does your degree in anthropology guide or influence your poetry?

Jeanine: I’ve always been interested in other cultures and prehistory, so anthropology was a natural field of study for me. I was fortunate to have excellent professors in the Anthropology Department at California State University Sacramento, as well as those instructors in the English Department. At American River College I taught anthropology for many years: Cultural, Physical, and Prehistory, so anthropology has been a constant in my life. I think the influence on my poetry is immense. I’ve written poems about cave paintings in southern France (Combarelles Cave), Native Californian legends (Pogonip), Scottish mysticism (Bean Nighe), and archeological excavations (Sifting). I try to remember cultural relativity when I explore and write about situations different from my own. A recent trip to Turkey opened up more ideas for new work,“House of Candlelight,” based on a fresco found in a hidden cave in southern Turkey, and “A Dish of Figs in Thrace.” A chapbook, The Meaning of Monoliths, contains poems related to other cultures and their “monoliths.”

Q: In what way did the Creative Writing Program at Davis help grow your craft?

Jeanine: 1. A course on writing from photographs was instrumental in a number of poems
written over the past few years. All kinds of photos from National Geographic, newspapers,
Sierra Club Magazine, Archeology Magazine and others captured my imagination. Many of the
poems were written from photos of women from young Frida Kahlo to a girl escaping gunfire
in Liberia to others living on the streets.

2. The course, “Poetry and Translation” gave me inspiration for my second collection, Loving
Assemblage, which deals with French themes, French writers and artists. I used the model
of “variations” or “variations on a theme by” French authors I’ve long admired such as Paul
Verlaine, Apollinaire, and Simone de Bouvier. We also analyzed poems in depth, line by line
which is useful for revision.

3. In other courses I learned how to sequence a collection, create a broadside. Another challenged me to write in the style of Gertrude Stein.

Q: You celebrate art in your poetry, so I take it that the greats in all forms (literature to sculpture)
are muse for your poetry. Could you describe your process here? Is it a sudden jolt of inspiration
faced with great beauty? Or is a more obsessive niggling that make the art stick in your mind long after you’re in front of it?

Jeanine: The process I use for ekphrastic poems will vary depending on the piece of artwork. One of my favorite paintings is Le Pie (The Magpie), by Monet. Reprinted, you see a lot of blue and white but when I saw this in person I was astounded by brighter shades of yellow and also how large the painting was, almost life size. I could have stepped right over the rickety farm fence. I may also focus on single item such as the top hat worn by a Native American in a sketch from the 1800’s. The poems I’ve written from Chagall’s work (so full of life and energy) have more to do with action and activity, such as “Blue Circus” and “Joseph’s Dream.” Or I may try to visualize what just happened prior to the scene, or what may happen after.

In “Haida Moon Mask” I imagined what the intent of the wood carver might have been so
described the piece as a carving for his young son who was “startled by stars.”
My poem, “The Blue Nun” was written in response to a small wooden carving, also painted,
which I purchased at a roadside restaurant in Bakersfield. “Made in Russia” was stamped on the
bottom, so I imagined her apparel and her travels from there to here. “Sunday on the Banks of
the Marne” is from a black and white photo and the date, 1938, led me to construct a scenario
prior to World War 11. The time element was important here.

On occasion, I will sit down and begin to write immediately after being inspired by a work
of art. Often though, it will be an image I keep in mind and keep coming back to. Recently I
wrote a poem called “Breast Reliefs.” I’ve had this photograph of broken pieces of sculpture
for some years. I researched the site where these artifacts were found (Lake Constance), and
also the surrounding environment at the time and was able to write the poem from the sculptor’s

Q & A with Owen Sullivan, Author of "Liquid Gold"

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Owen Sullivan is one of two authors who will be in for the Meet and Greet this Saturday, at 2pm.  He is discussing and selling "Liquid Gold," the sequel to "The House's Money."  He writes mysteries focused on real estate and finance and in "Liquid Gold." 

Q:  How was the sequel different to write--harder or easier? 

Owen: The sequel was easier to write as I had a better understanding of how to write after writing the first novel and going through the editing and re-writing process. I had never written a novel before The House's Money, so everything was new and I didn't have an understanding of what it tales to write something that people might actually enjoy reading. After going through many re-writes I got a better handle on that.

Q: In what way has your work history inspired your writing?

Owen: My work history has been very instrumental in my writing. I am very comfortable talking about real estate and the inner workings of Wall Street and large deals. I tried not to get to into the weeds about high finance and real estate because I didn't want o bore the readers. But I also wanted the readers to come away with knowledge about the industry that they didn't have before they read my book.

Q: What is the most common question readers ask you?

Owen: The most common question I get asked is what inspired you to write The House's Money? My answer is Around 2008 when the real estate market was crashing I found myself trying to workout projects with banks and tried to do some short sales on a couple of my properties. I've been in this business fro 35 years and I couldn't believe how difficult it was to get anything done with banks or to even find someone who could answer a question. I figured if I'm having this much trouble and I'm in the business, what about the millions of people who aren't in the business and are struggling. There had to be a story there and I felt I could tell it.   

Q: What is the question readers never ask, but you really badly want them to--and what is the answer to that question?

Owen: I want my readers to ask after they've read the books; are there really people out there in the real estate industry like your characters? Those are people you love to hate. The answer to that question is absolutely yes! My characters are fictional of course, but they are a compilation of people I've know and dealt with in the industry over my career. 


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