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Interview with Linda Weaver Clarke, author of Elena, Woman of Courage

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Linda Weaver Clarke writes historical novels and teaches family legacy workshops across the country. Her latest book, Elena, Woman of Courage, has just been released. She's here today to talk about her popular workshops and about her writing.

It's a pleasure having you here today, Linda. Please tell us about your Family Legacy Workshops and how you started organizing them.

I teach people how to write their family history or their own autobiography. It’s important to teach our children their heritage.

How did I get started? After writing my own ancestors’ experiences down, I decided to teach people how to write their stories. So I began in my own area, and gradually expanded further and further from home. Before I knew it, I had libraries from all over the U.S. signing up for my workshops. Libraries provide many ways of education for their communities as long as they have an active Friends Group to support them.

What do people learn at your workshops?

I teach a variety of things. First of all, I encourage my audience to research the area their ancestors settled and the time period. Find out everything you can about the area. If possible, go there and walk around, find out 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.

The time period is very important. If they lived during the depression or World War II, then write about it. What happened during those years of conflict? What did your ancestors have to endure? When I was writing my father’s biography, I found out that in 1942 they rationed gas to three gallons a week. To me, that was amazing. In 1896, they painted pencils yellow for the very first time, and for a very good reason. I found out that in the 1920s, women bobbed their hair and raised their hemlines. This new style brought about a lot of trouble. If women bobbed their hair, they were fired from their jobs. A teacher in Jersey City was ordered to grow her hair back by the school board or she would be fired. A preacher warned his congregation that a “bobbed woman was a disgraced woman.” Men even divorced their wives over the new hairstyle. Amazing! I love research! If your grandmother bobbed her hair and went to the dance marathons, write about it.

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? If your grandfather loved reading books in the evening before retiring, it would be interesting to add what kind of light he used. Little details like this warms a story up and can bring your ancestor to life. Did he use electricity or an oil lantern? Instead of saying, “Grandfather read extensively before retiring,” it sounds more interesting to say, “Grandfather sat in his overstuffed chair and read for hours with an oil lantern at his side.” To read samples of what you can do with your own stories, visit my website at www.lindaweaverclarke.com and read the “short stories” of my ancestors.

How hard is it to find out about one's ancestors?

First thing, write down any experiences that you remember. Talk to family members and discuss memories. Use letters they wrote to one another. Someone asked me how they could get their parents to talk about their experiences because they kept saying, “I can’t remember. That’s too far back.” My suggestion is this. Get relatives together and discuss memories, turn on a recorder, and ask questions. When loved ones get together, they tend to reminisce. I did this with my aunt because I had very few stories of my mother’s childhood. At first she said it was too long ago to remember but when I began asking questions, her husband would remember things and that got her into “memory lane.”

You're also the author of a historical fiction series. What was your inspiration for them? Are your novels related to family legacy?

Yes, I love inserting real ancestral or family experiences into my novels. To me, their experiences have always intrigued me. It brings a story to life. In my family saga series, I have set my story in Paris, Idaho… the place that my ancestors settled in 1863.

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 “Edith and the Mysterious Stranger,” I based this story around the courtship of my parents. They wrote letters to one another before they ever met. She said that she fell in love with the soul of my father, what was deep down inside 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 right while others were pleasantly surprised.

In “Melinda and the Wild West,” I inserted an experience that happened to my dad. When he was young, his father asked him to bury the skunks he had shot. Before my dad buried them, he drained their scent glands into a bottle. He called it “skunk oil.” Then he took it to school to show his friends. While explaining how he had done it, he must have gotten a little too excited because he accidentally dropped the bottle and it splattered on the floor. The scent of concentrated skunk oil permeated the room with a stench that was indescribable. Everyone ran out of the school as fast as their little legs would go. And the teacher followed close behind. My father said that he was a hero for one day because he got school out for his classmates. This novel eventually won an award as one of the semi-finalists for the “Reviewers Choice Award 2007.” To read an excerpt, visit my website

Do you have a blog?

Yes, I finally have a blog. I kept putting it off because of my busy schedule and wasn’t sure how a blog worked in the first place. After my husband kept encouraging me to do it, I decided to check out other author’s blogs and see what they talked about. After a day of researching, I decided that having a blog wasn’t so difficult after all. So I put one together this summer. I thought I would talk about writing, family, and interview authors. I’ve interviewed a fantasy author already and have another author lined up for an interview. You can visit me at http://lindaweaverclarke.blogspot.com.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

Oh my! Definitely! My last book in the family saga was just released: Elena, Woman of Courage. It’s set in 1925. It was a blast to research. I found words that I didn’t even know such as: Cat’s pajamas! Ah, horsefeathers! Attaboy! Baloney! You slay me! 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, 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!

It’s about a “Happy-go-lucky Bachelor” that is completely fascinated with a woman doctor: Elena Yeates. Of course, women weren’t encouraged to go to college back then, let alone become a doctor, and this fascinates him to no end. With the 1920s' rise of women’s rights, this novel gives you an insight at the struggles women had to go through, while watching a young love blossom!

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.