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Interview with the author of The Immortal Twin

D. B. Woodling is the author of seven books, including historical fiction, mysteries, YA, and now her latest, The Immortal Twin, a paranormal romance about a mortal twin brother and sister adopted by vampires. (See my Amazon review here).

I like to help other authors by promoting their books, so I recently interviewed Deb over email, to learn more about her books and her writing process.

 Did you always want to be a writer? What got you interested in writing?

 At a young age, I often wrote poetry. Later, while in high school, despite the encouragement of   several English teachers to tap into my ‘talent’ for creative writing, I set my sights on a theatrical career instead. Twenty years and a thousand or so performances later, my passion for the theater waned. Soon discovering that I needed a creative outlet, my attention turned to writing. Like many writers have often confessed, this doesn’t seem to be a vocation one chooses, but rather one that chooses us.

Where do you get your ideas?

All seven of my novels began with a single opening line that came to me out of nowhere.

Describe your writing process. Do you outline? Do you always know how the book is going to end?

In the beginning, I never outlined. When I began the sequel to my detective series, I found it prevented glaring errors when transitioning from the first book to the second. After that, although having fought the idea of anything so regimented in the past, I found it extremely helpful. That said, despite the best of intentions and a meticulously detailed synopsis, the ending doesn’t always follow the prescribed course, the characters often taking the story in an entirely different direction.

How long does a first draft take you to write? How many edits do you usually do before you feel your book is ready to be submitted?

The timeline varies. I work best under pressure, so I tend to procrastinate until forced to comply with a deadline, which usually constitutes a two-to-three month period. I never submit a work until I’ve dissected and examined it four to five times. I’m an obsessive perfectionist, so I never truly feel the book is perfect.

You have written several books. Which is your favorite and why?

I have a soft spot for Shannon’s Revenge: Broken Promises—a contender for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for literary fiction and recognized by The Copperfield Review, a renowned literary journal. A fictional account of the circumstances that led to the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the battle itself, I hope I’ve successfully captured the story as told from both sides.

Name your favorite books by other authors.

There are so many. If pressed, I’d have to say Howard’s End by E. M. Forster and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, works that dive deep into the human spirit and, to some extent, reveal something of the authors themselves. My guilty pleasures are anything written by Janet Evanovich and several titles by Stephen King, Michael Connelly, and Karin Slaughter.

One thing I wondered about The Immortal Twin is why the Toroks adopted Celeste and Nick. Can you explain that?

Guilt. Despite repercussions from the Omniscients, they could have given their parents immortality and chose not to.

Is The Turning of Nick Torok a sequel to The Immortal Twin? Will CamCat be publishing it in the future? Will there be additional books in the series?

The Immortal Twin is a revised, longer version of The Turning of Nick Torok. I am hard at work on the sequel to The Immortal Twin, with the hope it will find a home with CamCat Books later next year with a series to follow.

Tell me something that your readers would be surprised to hear about you.

During hunting season, I persuade countless deer within the safe confines of our property, enticing them with bags of corn and oats.

D B Woodling, author of The Immortal Twin

Purchase The Immortal Twin

Learn more about D B Woodling


Reflections on The Saint’s Mistress (part two)

Part two of a story wherein a very amateur writer who is already too busy feels compelled to write a novel about Saint Augustine and his mistress…. (Read part one HERE)

The Writing Process for The Saint’s Mistress

I had an opening scene in a pear orchard, based on an experience Augustine describes in the Confessions. Other than that, all I had was an irrational passion to tell this ghost-woman’s story.  I borrowed more books from the library, and stayed up late doing internet research.  In our crowded household, there was no quiet place to write. So, I got up at 5 a.m., was in Bruegger’s or Au Bon Pain with my laptop the minute they opened, and wrote for an hour in coffee shops before work.  Every day.  For two years. I did eventually tackle the Confessions, and had to read it twice to understand it.  My husband and I travelled to Milan, where Augustine and Leona lived for several years, and to Ostia, where his mother, Saint Monnica, died.

Then came a year of editing, rewriting, and harsh-but-loving criticism from my two beloved writing groups.  I slashed whole chapters that led nowhere, and changed confusing character names.  Hundreds of dead-weight adverbs and adjectives lost their lives.  Characters disappeared.

The Search for a Publisher for The Saint’s Mistress

And that was easy compared to the five years that it took to find an agent or publisher. 

Try being a first-time novelist with zero contacts, trying to sell a novel in the middle of the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, and while the publishing industry is in the process of the biggest transformation since the printing press.  Or, on second thought, don’t try it.  It isn’t fun.

The Saint’s Mistress was finally accepted by a very small publisher, SynergeBooks. It came out in 2014 as an e-book, and then in print in 2016. When your publisher is small, you do most of your own marketing, similar to self-publishing. I bought Goodreads ads, and offered author talks at local libraries. I ended up making a little money on the book, but not much. In 2019, Synerge was bought by CamCat, larger publisher with more resources. They asked me to revise my first chapter, gave the book a re-edit and a new cover, and re-released it in September 2020. The staff and other authors at CamCat have been helpful and generous, and I’m very excited about the re-release.

Worth It?

My book project has certainly been a long journey, and a hard, discouraging one at times. But, overall, I have loved it.  With every page I wrote, both Saint Augustine, whom the world knows, and Leona, a mere ghost, felt more real to me.  Sometimes I forgot that I was making it all up, and felt like I was telling the story the way I knew, absolutely knew somehow, that it had really happened.  I loved them.  I still do. A trail of books led me to them, and I hope that my own finished book accurately expresses their time, their love and their spirits.


The John Frew House

An 1883 depiction of the Frew House

One of the great pleasures of being a writer is the unexpected connections that I make. One of my Irish dancing friends – who didn’t know that I blog  – accidentally came across my recent post about pre-1800 buildings in Pittsburgh. As she read, she was excited to realize that, not only did she know the author, but she knew the owners of one of the houses. She asked if I’d like to see the inside of the John Frew House. Would I ever!

Mona and I spent a delightful morning touring the house and learning a little about its history from the current owners, David Majka and Connie Eads. The view from the street is deceptive. The house sits almost directly on the street and the front, with its two distinct wings and added-on garage, isn’t especially graceful. But step inside, or walk into the back yard, and you are in a different world.

First, a little history

The springhouse and the original three-story section of the Frew House were built in 1790 of locally-quarried cut sandstone. The Greek Revival addition was added in 1840. John Frew originally owned ninety-four acres between present-day Crafton Boulevard and Noblestown Road, on a Revolutionary War land claim. Frew planted an orchard on the property, and built a cider mill directly across the street from where his house still stands. Their barn stood on the present-day site of the Poplar Apartments.

John Frew and his wife had nine children. Over the course of the nineteenth century successive Frews, Sterretts and Chesses owned, subdivided and lived on the original Frew farm. After 1900, the house was rented and fell into disrepair. The farm was subdivided one last time in 1941, leaving the poor, dilapidated house on a mere eight-tenths of an acre.

The house was in pretty sad condition by the time this photo was taken around 1935

In the 1940s, Robert Goron, a horticulturist at the Phipps Conservatory, and his friend, Clifford McFall, bought the Frew house and spent the next decades restoring the house and gardens. It deteriorated again towards the end of Mr. Goron’s life, and was greatly in need of love when Dave and Connie bought it in 1996.

Our tour of the Frew House

We entered the house on the bottom floor of the 1790 section. The cozy room features a large stone fireplace and original ceiling beams of pit-sawn white oak.

The magnificent original fireplace in the bottom floor of the 1790 wing

Ascending a set of steep, narrow stairs, we found ourselves in the living room which is dominated by Connie’s grand piano and by mid-nineteenth-century paintings of a riverboat captain and his wife, painted by David Gilmour Blythe. David Majka has a fascination with Blythe and has published a collection of his poetry and other writings.

The Blythe paintings

Other than the sleek 1990s kitchen and two enviable bathrooms, Dave and Connie have lovingly decorated the house in nineteenth-century style, and have made every effort to maintain the integrity of their home. Old family photos and early-era paintings and photographs of the house hang on the walls. Early nineteenth century tiles decorate a bedroom fireplace. The original wood-plank flooring has been refinished. Original iron latches adorn the outside shutters. Even the windows sashes are original six-over-sixes. All of the seven fireplaces except one still work. Closets and cupboards are ingeniously built into walls and between dormers, so that they are completely unobtrusive. Dave and Connie installed floor and ceiling heating and air conditioning, so that the walls remain undisturbed by ductwork.

The 19th-century tiles surrounding the bedroom fireplace depict Bible scenes.

Oh, and the yard!

After touring the house, the owners showed us the .8-acre grounds. You’d never guess that their house stands within the Pittsburgh city limits, a mere ten-minute drive from downtown. Their boundaries are wooded, so the back yard feels very secluded, with a porch and large lawn.

We also saw Robert Goron’s legacy in the back yard. He had planted several geometric exhibition gardens on the property. Dave and Connie have let most of them go fallow, but the structures survive. The property also boasts a large, mysterious pool, now empty. Dave and Connie aren’t sure what its original purpose was. They don’t think it was a swimming pool, because it lacks a drain. But it still has all the plumbing for a fountain and a waterfall, so they think it was just a beautiful water feature at one time.

The lovely wooded yard, showing part of the mysterious pool.

I so enjoyed seeing this beautifully maintained piece of Pittsburgh history. Think of all the lives lived there! The sharp, fruity smell of cooking cider. Sledding on the hills of Greentree during crisp Pittsburgh winters. Backyard parties beside the fountain on summer nights in the 1950s. When we preserve old places, we also preserve the memory of Pittsburghers who lived, loved, worked, laughed and cried before us.

Restoring a 200-year–old house is all fun and games until you have to scrape off 7 layers of wallpaper!


Reflections on The Saint’s Mistress

The new cover. The original cover was different.

Six years later…

SynergEbooks, a very small publisher, published my first novel in in 2014 as an e-book. The publication and marketing journey was rough and winding, with many twists and turns. I had lots of fun giving author talks in various local libraries, and meeting with reading groups who had selected my novel. In 2016, the book came out in print, and, last year, CamCat publishing bought SynergE. CamCat is re-releasing The Saint’s Mistress later this month with a new cover, improved editing, and some nice art work.

As part of the marketing effort for the re-release, I’m re-blogging some posts from 2014-15. I’ll develop some new material, too. Here’s Part One of a two-part post, describing how I wrote the book. These posts became the basis for my author talks at libraries.

How I got the idea for my first novel

I came to write The Saint’s Mistress via a trail of books.

At the library one April night in 2006, a book called The Well-Educated Mind caught my eye.  The Well-Educated Mind recommended Saint Augustine’s Confessions as the first example of a modern autobiography.  That intrigued me, but I was a little daunted by the prospect of a book written in the 5th century by an early Father of the Church.

A few months later, again at the library, I noticed a short biography of Augustine by Garry Wills.  I remembered my interest in the Confessions and thought this short, modern book might be a way to ease myself into Augustine.  In the Wills book, I first discovered Leona – or, more accurately, the faint, ancient scent of her.

Wills wrote a little of Augustine’s beloved, whom he mentions briefly, but never names, in his Confessions.  I learned that this unnamed woman had been Augustine’s mistress of many years, and that they had had a child together who died as a young man.  Wow, I thought, what must her life have been like?  Then:  Hmmmm, what WOULD it have been like?  And so a flame was lit.

So many reasons NOT to write this book…

The wonderful thing about Leona is that history knows nothing about her, other than what little I learned from Wills.  She was Augustine’s mistress.  They are believed to have met in Carthage.  They had a son.  The son died.  After that, history is absolutely silent.  I could make up anything I wanted, including her name.  My only constraints were the historically established facts of Augustine’s life and 4th-5th century Christianity.

I was an amateur, sporadically published, writer of short stories, travel articles and essays.  I had finished one novel that I wasn’t quite satisfied with and had no idea how to submit for publication anyway.  And I had no experience with historical research.  My life also included a demanding full-time job, a husband, a son in college, and a daughter and baby grandson who had just moved back in with us.  So, of course, I had to write this book….TO BE CONTINUED

Here are some images from some of my author talks and book festivals. One of the best parts of being an author is meeting other people who love books!


Whiskey Rebellion (part two)

The Whiskey Rebellion Flag

In my previous post on the Whiskey Rebellion, we left the Rebels gathering near John Neville‘s stately home, Bower Hill, intending to tar and feather the U.S. marshal they believed was staying there, and possibly to do harm to Neville himself . . .

The Burning of Bower Hill

Neville didn’t get to own 10,000 acres of prime frontier real estate by being a fool.  He knew the rebels would be back.  But by the time they returned the next day, July 17, Neville was still defending his house with the help of only his slaves (wonder how they felt about that?) and a small detachment of federal troops led by Abraham Kirkpatrick, another veteran of the Revolution, who also happened to be Neville’s brother-in-law.

Captain McFarlane was killed in the brief ensuing gun battle, and became a martyr to the rebel cause.  He was given a hero’s funeral and is buried at Mingo Creek Cemetery, near Finleyville, PA. 

Neville escaped his house before it was breached by the approaching rebel militia, and hid in the nearby woods.  Kirkpatrick was taken prisoner but later released.  History is silent on what became of the enslaved people who had been conscripted to defend their master. 

Bower Hill was burned to the ground. 

David Bradford and the U.S. Mail

It took only a day for word of the uprising to reach David Bradford in Washington, PA.  Bradford was a militant Washington whiskey rebel (see my previous blog post on Bradford), and saw the fighting at Bower Hill as the signal for a larger battle.  By July 18, he had gathered Washington County rebels at Mingo Creek Meeting House near present-day Finleyville.  There, they made plans to intercept the mail between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, to determine who was a friend to the rebellion, versus who might betray them. They also began planning a march on Pittsburgh. 

Bradford’s men accomplished the mail theft on July 26.  Bradford, a former assemblyman of both Virginia and Pennsylvania, was now a federal criminal. And the rebels’ fears were confirmed.  Among the stolen mail were letters from several prominent Pittsburghers urging that the rebellion be put down forcefully. 

And Bradford wasn’t the only person who was galvanized to action by the burning of Bower Hill.  The Whiskey Rebellion now had the full attention of President George Washington. 

A Small Segue:  Pittsburgh in 1794

Pittsburgh 10 years after the Whiskey Rebellion
Pittsburgh in 1804

While Bradford, Washington and our old friend Hamilton wait in the wings, let’s pause and consider the position of the growing city of Pittsburgh at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion. 

Pittsburgh’s population in 1794 was only about 376.  The city consisted of about 200 buildings of brick, frame and log, and a warren of muddy, unpaved streets, stretching from the Point only as far as present-day Grant Street.

But this modest town was what passed for The Big City on the 18th-century frontier.  By 1794, the city boasted a post office, a newspaper (The Pittsburgh Gazette), at least one iron furnace, and several smithies and boat works.  Already, the air was smoky and dusty from the coal burnt in homes and new small manufactories.  The rivers swarmed with commerce.

And commerce makes money.  Money makes gentlemen.  And gentlemen usually like to maintain the status quo. 

To the whiskey rebels, ramshackle little Pittsburgh was the seat of the moneyed elites who kept them from making a decent living. 

Men like Hugh Henry Brackenridge, founder of The Pittsburgh Gazette and prominent Pittsburgh citizen, sympathized with the Whiskey Rebellion.  He called it “a stand of the democratic, poverty-ridden West against the encroachments of the aristocratic Money Bags of the East, a people who feel themselves taxed in order to fasten the yoke of Plutocrats about their necks.”  But Brackenridge was also a businessman and business thrives on law-abiding order.  Doubtless, most Pittsburghers felt the same, even in the working class.  Their city was prosperous and growing and the future looked bright. 

Now an angry mob of rye farmers with guns threatened that.

Meanwhile in Braddock…

Braddocks Field a key site in the Whiskey Rebellion
Stereopticon image of Braddock’s Field as it looked about 100 years after the Whiskey Rebellion

Bradford had mustered as many as 7000 rebels at Braddock’s field, intending to march on Pittsburgh and burn it.  Brackenridge, playing both sides, urged them to merely march through the city as a show of force.  Meantime, he had also advised the Pittsburghers to welcome the rebels, and offer them food and drink. 

It worked.  Bradford and his militia completed their march, enjoyed the hospitality of the young city and left it unharmed. 

The Whiskey Rebellion falls apart

On August 14, 1794, Brackenridge and Albert Gallatin met with the rebels again at Parkinson’s Ferry in Monongahela, PA, and convinced them to allow time for negotiation with the federal government.  Brackenridge and Gallatin must have been persuasive, because Braford and his men stood down – for a while. 

But negotiations failed.  The federals were willing to reduce the tax further, but would not guarantee amnesty to the rebels.  On September 19, President Washington personally led a 13,000-man army out of Philadelphia, on their way to the west to crush the rebellion. 

George Washington on his way to crush the Whiskey Rebellion 1794
Washington personally led 13,000 federal troops west to crush the Whiskey Rebellion

Washington turned back at Bedford, PA, leaving his army in the hands of Hamilton and “Light Horse Harry” Lee.  Hamilton and Lee continued west, arriving in Washington County on October 24. 

Anyone smart enough to survive on the frontier is also smart enough to know that a rabble of 7000 farmers doesn’t stand much of a chance against 13,000 trained federal troops. 

David Bradford escaped down the Ohio River, eventually resettling in Spanish Louisiana (see my previous blog post on Bradford).  An estimated 2000 of the rebels left western Pennsylvania for parts further west, primarily Kentucky.  Most of the rest laid low. 

On November 19, Hamilton and Lee arrested and imprisoned about 150 rebels on a cold, sleety night known as “The Dreadful Night.”  In the end, they released most of the prisoners, transporting only twenty of them to Philadelphia for trial.  All were ultimately pardoned.

By 1799, even Bradford, the leader of the 7000-man militia, had been pardoned.  And on April 6, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson repealed the whiskey tax.  Turns out it was hard to enforce. 

but it lives on

The new U.S. federal government had prevailed in the first test of its sovereignty.  But Pennsylvania became, and still is, a microcosm of one of the most stubborn fault lines in American politics: rural, working-class, anti-taxers who mistrust the distant federal government versus elites in the big cities who favor big business and big government and tend to be the ones making the rules.  The little guys suspect that the elites are looking down on them and making rules to favor themselves.  Our nation’s two-party system owes its existence to the internal conflicts exposed by a few thousand struggling farmers in southwestern Pennsylvania who didn’t want to pay their taxes. 

Sources

Bradford House Historical Association; The Bradford House: A National Historic Landmark; Washington, PA; 2015

Lorant, Stefan; Pittsburgh, The Story of an American City; Lenox, MA, Authors Edition, Inc.; Fourth Edition, 1988

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whiskey_Rebellion

http://www.maptherebellion.com/neatline/show/the-whiskey-rebellion#records/10

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bradford_(lawyer)


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