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Interview with Dorice Nelson, Historical Author

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How did your interest in writing begin?

I had library duty one Friday at school. The history of Albany, NY, was on display. One of the tables contained documents about an 1826 murder. Although I had lived in Albany most of my life, I had never heard about the murder. Being nosy, I was extremely interested in what must have been a scandal in those days. I asked to borrow the materials to read over the weekend.

The first text brought out the tenor of the historical period and was for instructional use in high schools. The murderess, an orphan from a well-to-do family, had eloped at fifteen in an attempt to quit school and leave her foster home. Later, she had an affair with an itinerant handyman. Her life was in shambles, caring for a young son while her husband worked away from home on the Erie Canal. Women in those days had no rights, but this gal was a bit feisty and tried her wings. She behaved inappropriately. At the end of the affair, her husband was murdered. She and the handyman were both accused but were tried separately. In his confession, he blamed much of it on her, despite the fact that he had murdered before. At her trial, the judges sent her away in disgrace after forcing her to watch her former lover being hanged.

The next book by a local professor was quite different – a decidedly biased account. I was stunned to read an academic work where the author placed the entire blame on the evil woman. That’s when I decided to write a rebuttal in the form of a novel, a novel now residing in one of my file cabinets just waiting for me to write it. Not once did the professor take into consideration the confines of society, the state of her living experiences, or the fact that she was terribly young and immature. I’m not saying the woman was not at fault in the murder – just that she was a victim of circumstance. That story has many implications, and I can’t wait to re-write it.

This story is interesting to me because of the historic attitudes of the day. The woman never spoke up in court to defend herself and the judges, thinking her a simpleton, let her get off with nothing more than their censure. The professor’s book led everyone to believe that she was a seductress who willfully intrigued the handyman and made him murder her husband. I wanted to write the story from a woman’s point of view, to show how women were treated during that time period. Men ruled the world then (and still do in many ways).

That single book influenced my decision to write, and defined my interest in history. I began to read history books and enjoyed them. As I researched, I gained a definite interest in history as a subject. I love to read. I love to research. AND, I love to write.

Do you ever wish you led the life of one of your characters?

Not the life of one of my heroines. Life was tough in 852, 1650 and 1863.

From the beginning, both Irish and Scottish women had more liberties in their countries than American women of those times. The Celtic countries had to rely on their women to be strong. The women were superstitious, believed in whatever religion their mothers taught them, and knew their place in the hierarchy of the clan. The stubborn women had few luxuries and weren’t concerned with more. They worked in the fields alongside their men. Life was hard. They did not take abuse lightly and always had kin to help fix those problems.

Irishmen and Scotsmen always revered their mothers – even to this day. Celtic men had a different feeling about their women. The female life span was short. Many died during childbirth; and there were no birth control pills. Many had their children at home even in 1863. Some women had fifteen or more children, and often, the children didn’t live long. With so many children, wives and mothers were important to the status of the clan.

The people of that time period had the same illnesses as we do but didn’t call them the same names. Cures were rare, and they used herbs. There were few witchdoctors, elders, or healers. If someone were truly ill, the family and clan would try to help and if that didn’t work, they called the priest.

Not much changed in the lives of women until the 1900s. In the earliest days, the women had a say in the government of each clan. By the 1650s, they had lost some of their freedoms as governments became more civilized. By the 1860s, women kept their mouths shut with the exception of a few prohibitionists. In every generation, there have been women who stood up for what they believed was right. Generally, men despised them.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you conduct research, and some of the obstacles?

For the Cherry Hill Murder, I read all of the testimony from the trials, plus voluminous history books of the period. I used the city library, the internet and bought many more books than I could afford. Most of them, I still have and still use. I studied them until I could imagine what the living circumstances might have been in those days.

The role of women in 1826 was very constricted. They had few liberties or movement away from their families. They often were virtual prisoners within their own homes and had little to say in the running of the home or the upbringing of their children. Abused by their husbands, they had few avenues for help. Not even relatives would interfere in the lives of married women.

What are your current projects?

I now have three books being reissued through the Cambridge Book Division of Write Words, Incorporated. Clan Gunn: Gerek, of the Scottish Heritage Series, is out now. Clan Gunn: Baen, the second in the Scottish Series, will redeem one of the villains from the first book. I’m hoping to have him “unvillainized” by the same folks he conspired with previously. I get to redeem a villain, which will be fun.

I also have a suspense novel in revision. The life of the gal in this novel is contemporary. She’s a horsewoman beset with problems: money troubles, an old long-lost lover, finding two unknown sisters, and fleeing from her mother’s killer.

What are your books about?

My books are adventures with action, romance, and sometimes, a bit of mystery. I hope readers worry about what will happen to my Celtic characters. In addition, there’s always a bit of history in the novels. Writing is a craft, and takes a long time to learn. I am not one of those easy writers who have words fall off the tips of their fingers.

History plays a large part in my books. I may even use a historic character or two, however, I usually only reference them in the book instead of using them as a central character. I’ve read diaries from the various time periods and generally incorporate whatever I learn into the novels. As for specific things I’ve learned—I couldn’t possibly recount all of them. I learned about James Graham, who was hanged during the Bishops’ War, Killearnan Castle, and the feud between the Keiths and the Gunns. In Lost Son of Ireland, the Danes did have control of Dublin. There was a fort on the tip of the Dingle Peninsula and it is true the Norse did try to oust the Danes and capture all of Ireland for themselves. In Saratoga Summer: 1863, there were riots in New York City over the Draft for the Civil War. In the riots, they burned down an orphanage and destroyed the city.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

I don’t really have a favorite author, but I read all the time. I like to read the commercially popular stuff listed in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. I’m strictly a commercial writer and don’t have a literary bone in my body. Reading is entertainment and should be easy and enjoyable, with good characters and a good story.

Where do you hope to take your writing in the future?

I hope to take my writing to a higher degree of competency and hope to make my characters so interesting the reader doesn’t want to put the book down. I like to entertain and be entertained and find the writing part more rewarding than marketing. I try to get my book out there in front of the public, but until an author gets national recognition, marketing takes a lot of time away from writing.

Find out more about Dorice Nelson at her website. Find her books at Cambridge Books or Booksurge.

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