When I was writing my story, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, I did a lot of research into the time period when Oscar Wilde was imprisoned, 1895, going off on tangents about the Donner Party debacle, France’s divide on the Dryefus Affair, Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta address turning racism on its head at that time, on down to the minutia of the landscape of Walker Lake and the Nevada terrain, where the story took place, etc. When it came time to incorporate my research into the story line, I wrote, and wrote, filling pages, that would make any grad school thesis chair proud.
It was such a happy time until I sat down to do my first read through. The first three chapters were fast paced and really got me into the story, but when I came to the fourth chapter, I was jerked, like whip lash, from the fast paced, interesting plot, into details about historical facts that were as boring as any college level text could get. My heart sank as I removed line after line, still wanting to keep in enough text in to show what a “smart” writer I was, all to the detriment of the flow of the story.
I battled with my insides, my head saying, You put in a lot of time, this is interesting and important history while my gut screamed at me, you idiot, any intelligent reader will see through this. People don’t want to read about your efforts they want to read a good story. Get that junk out of there. And, so I did get it out, every single thing that was about me showing off, about me in the way of the story, about how I wanted the attention, and I let the characters guide me in their voices for what to keep and what to let go of. I hated letting go, knew I had to do it, like exercising—don’t want to do it but when I do I feel better.
When the rewrite was finished and I sat down with the manuscript before me to do another read through. I went from chapter one through twelve, then stopped, not because I was bored or pulled off the story, but rather I was tired and it was late. There were no big chunks left to cut. That was my last creative rewrite. After that it was line editing and tightening up grammar, the structure so that the house of the story didn’t look unprofessional, which again would act as a distraction.
I learned that when I got out of the way, and let the story flow, when I gave up the struggle to want to show off, it bettered the story, and the characters came alive, as if to say it’s our story, not yours. Next time, stay out of the way!
Excellent advice, Pauline! I’ve found it always helps the story if you impose yourself on it as little as possible. And, I must admit that now I’m very curious about the book!
Paulette Mahurin, an award-winning author, is a Nurse Practitioner who lives in Ojai, California with her husband Terry and their two dogs–Max and Bella. She practices women’s health in a rural clinic and writes in her spare time. Her book, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, is about homophobia in the late nineteenth century, at the time that Oscar Wilde was so famously imprisoned for sodomy. All proceeds from the book are going to the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center (see, I used the American spelling!) in California, which is the first and only no-kill shelter in Verona County, where Paulette lives. This is a cause very close to her heart so please consider helping out by purchasing the novel.
To whet your appetite, here’s the blurb:
The year 1895 was filled with memorable historical events: the Dreyfus Affair divided France; Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta address; Richard Olney, United States Secretary of State, expanded the effects of the Monroe Doctrine in settling a boundary dispute between the United Kingdom and Venezuela; and Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted for gross indecency under Britain’s recently passed law that made sex between males a criminal offense. When news of Wilde’s conviction went out over telegraphs worldwide, it threw a small Nevada town into chaos. This is the story of what happened when the lives of its citizens were impacted by the news of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment. It is a chronicle of hatred and prejudice with all its unintended and devastating consequences, and how love and friendship bring strength and healing.
In Paulette’s words:
“The story was inspired by a combination of factors all coming together at once. I had been dealing with a friend in the closet when I took ill with Lyme Disease, and in that time there was little else I could do but write. When I felt better, I took a writing class in which the teacher presented with a stack of photos. We were to pick one and write a ten minute mystery from it. The photo I picked was of two women, standing very closer together, looking extremely sober, fearful, dressed in circa twentieth century garb. It screamed out lesbian couple afraid of being found out. When I started the research into the history of homosexuality and societal views documented on the net, I found interesting data to set the stage, for instance the news of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment, which did go out over telegraph wires and was in an article in The New York Times, April, 1895, which was a homophobic write up, disdaining not only Wilde but homosexuality in general as immoral. Attitudes toward same sex relationships changed from a civil tolerance to overt hatred and hostility toward gay men. I also found out what that time period was like for a lesbian couple, and again an instance is women could have friendships, even live together as spinsters if they could afford to, but were a woman labeled a lesbian she was considered (diagnosed) insane and thrown into a mental institution, her treatment (cure)was rape at the hands of her physician directly or indirectly, to help her enjoy a male. This research coupled with the photo and my personal experience in dealing with women through my profession as a Nurse Practitioner (that one person in the closet I was working with had been severely traumatized sexually and to this day, as an older adult is afraid to come out), culminated in the story, moved the story, and has given me the energy to continue to promote it, all in the name of tolerance.”
If you’re interested in knowing more, you can purchase the book at Amazon US and UK in paperback and e-book. You can read more about it here, or read the book blog here. Alternatively, Paulette can be found on Twitter (@MahurinPaulette), Facebook and Google Plus.
- Guest Author Wednesdays ♥ Paulette Mahurin (tempesteoriley.wordpress.com)
- FREEDOM AND INTOLERANCE: CAN THEY COEXIST – Guest Post (kerrydwyer.net)
- My Review of The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap by Paulette Mahurin (ameliacurzonblogger.wordpress.com)