Mae Berry is a self proclaimed renaissance woman having midwifed goats, programmed a computer with punch cards, and infiltrated a foreign culture. A true logophile, Mae’s delight is stumbling across obscure historic events, researching them, then filling in the details from her imagination. She is a mid-west transplant living on a bayou in the deep south (a.k.a. the foreign culture) with numbers 3, 5 and 6 of her of children, a neurotic dog, blind cat and ninja kitten. She is blessed with a husband who is still puzzled how his life took such a turn. When she asked do you want to get married, he thought she said are you feeling harried– his life to this day. And the rest as they say is history.
Welcome to The Engrafted Word Mae! I am so excited to introduce you to our readers and to share your new book with them. Friends, don’t forget to enter the book giveaway at the end of this interview—there will be two lucky book winners! Thank you so much for your generosity, Mae!
Congratulations on your debut novel! What an amazing accomplishment to write and publish a book—what was your inspiration behind this story?
I am a self-proclaimed historiphile (yes, I made up the word – I’m also a logophile). I’m the one who always wants to know why? What is the story behind the story and if I can’t find a complete answer, I’m prone to play “what if” around the facts I can find. I first ran across the story behind The Last Legal Hanging in a town history book for Archie, Missouri. It was a compilation for a centennial anniversary and contained family histories going back to the town’s founding. Among the articles was one that started with “Sometimes a town can have too much history, too many noteworthy events.” After an opening like that, I was intrigued. I started researching and stumbled across an article that began “The second and last legal hanging to occur in Cass County…” and I was hooked, as well as having a really great title. The more I researched, the more puzzling the pieces became. The man my antagonist is based on left a letter “explaining” why he murdered his entire family by writing “…man reaches a point beyond which there is no redemption. He cannot repent if he would. This is my condition. Tell me then, is life worth living?” He then went on to quote a hymn I have referenced in my story. As a Christian, this fascinated me even more. How does a person reach that point? What could possibly happen that makes you believe you are beyond the redemptive work of Christ?
Have you always known you wanted to write a book? What other writing endeavors have you enjoyed?
I have always been in love with reading (yep, I need to include bibliophile in my list of self-description). I had a mom who had to keep saying “Get your nose out of that book and go outside.” In the seventh grade, I remember my creative writing teacher saying my writing was verbose – I thought it was a compliment. Looking back over my life I can see the path that led to writing a novel: homeschooling my children fed my love of history, teaching high school classes (creative writing no less) in a co-operative helped me develop my style, writing devotions and short stories fed the fire, not to mention the three (or is it four?) partially completed novels I have laying around. I’m also in the process of turning my creative writing class materials into a curriculum for publication. As well as working on Samantha Lawton’s next investigation.
Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, but it can be so hard to pick which era to read or research. How did you decide to explore the late 1800’s?
Actually, that was determined by the real-life murders on which my book is based. I also needed to place it historically close-ish to the Civil War. I try to keep the historical facts as true as possible and then weave my story around them. Once I started exploring the 1890’s, I unearthed a wealth of fascinating facts. It was a time of complex changes for our nation, society, and national identity. The decades after the ravages of the Civil War paradoxically caused our country to unite as one entity yet be bitterly divided along past ideological differences. Some of those roots still “sprout” in our society today.
Along with history, mystery stories are another favorite of mine. I watch so many British mystery shows, and it is so interesting to learn what individuals did throughout the decades. So many people played such vital roles to protect or to defend others—what led to your interest in the Pinkerton agency?
My protagonist’s mother is a former Pinkerton agent. This came about as I was doing research and ran across the story of Hattie Lawton. She was a fascinating figure in the earlier days of Pinkerton’s spying efforts during the Civil War. She and Kate Warne worked Pinkerton’s women’s division. One of the interesting things about Hattie is she disappeared from history after being released in a prisoner exchange during the Civil War. The reason most likely, is her records were destroyed during the Chicago fire, but for me this left a blank sheet of paper on which to write. I’m hoping to write my interpretation of Hattie’s story after I finish with Sam’s. In The Last Legal Hanging, Samantha (Sam), has grown up in the agency and worked as an agent before being let go. Historically, I did this because I found a reference to Pinkerton’s sons laying off several of the women agents after Alan Pinkerton died.
As a writer, I know it is so important to read on a consistent basis. Who are some of your favorite authors, and what books do you enjoy reading?
Surprise! I’m what you’d call an eclectic reader. I love the classics, Jane Austin, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Recently, I’ve enjoyed Charlie Holmberg – her Paper Magician series is the one I most often recommend (yes, I realize it’s written for young adults). Jennifer Nielsen’s The False Prince trilogy (yes, another young adult series). I was a librarian for a few years and got hooked on well written young adult novels in an effort to get the kids coming into the library and do more than look at magazines. As far as “adult” books go, I recently enjoyed Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate and The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker. I throw in a historical romance now and then to round things out. I tend to still have that “nose stuck in a book” syndrome going.
Do you have any advice for new writers in regards to writing a book?
I did some research for my creative writing class that was disheartening–80% of all Americans want to be authors–600,000 to 1 million books are published (through traditional means) a year. Those published represent fewer than 1% of those submitted. That being said, Amazon supporting the indie business is probably the best and worst thing to happen to potential authors. The best in that there are fewer impediments to getting your work published and the worst in that there are a lot of books vying for a reader’s attention.
If you are serious about writing, the best thing you can do is find someone who will encourage you. That is my primary goal when I teach. I always want to show my students the potential in their writing. The second thing you need to do if you want to be a writer is to write—Every Day. I have to treat my writing as my job. I even have a sign I hang on my office door that says “Do Not Disturb, Writer at Work.” Third, and this maybe the most important, you HAVE to love it. Writing requires too much work to be half-hearted about it. You have to be willing to do what it takes.
Thanks for joining us, Mae! Wishing you (and all you readers) a blessed day!
Mae has graciously offered to give away two paperback copies of her new book to two lucky winners. Enter below and it could be YOU! 😉
Thanks for entering! Contest ends July 16, 2019. (US residents only, please.) The winner will be notified by email. Happy Reading, everybody!
I’ve just discovered Jacqueline Winspear. She writes the Maisie Dobbs series. Savanna, you introduce me to new -to-me authors on a regular basis.
Thanks for checking out my post! I’m happy to hear you discovered a new author–good luck in the giveaway!
It’s always fun to find out about new authors! I too love history and finding the story behind the details. Thank you for sharing this book & for the giveaway!
You’re welcome Trisha! Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read. Good luck in the giveaway!
I also love history and the backstories can be fascinating. Thank you for sharing a new author to me.
My pleasure Lucy! It’s always wonderful to discover new authors–good luck in the giveaway!
I am reading a book by Julie Yip-Williams.
Happy reading Mel and good luck in the giveaway!
I enjoyed reading Abigail Wilson and Rachel Fordham’s debut novels. I like historical Christian fiction a lot. It’s fun to find new authors!
I agree Karen! Good luck in the giveaway!
Apparently I have not been reading new authors recently! Naomi Stephens was the most recent new to me author that I read.
When you find an author you love, it’s hard to read other books. 🙂 I’m glad you could discover a new author though Joan! Good luck in the giveaway!
I recently read a book by Melanie Dobson. It was the first book I’ve read by her and I loved it. It was an historical novel and also a mystery. It was so good, I will definitely be reading more books by her!
Thanks so much for the chance to win your book!
That sounds like a wonderful book Faith! Good luck in the giveaway!
I have seen several new authors lately but unfortunately I haven’t had a lot of time to read their stories but am really looking forward to getting the books.
wfnren at aol dot com
I know Wendy–there are so many wonderful books coming out this year! Good luck in the giveaway!
I read my first book by Elizabeth Gaskell: “Wives and Daughters”.
Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my favorite authors–great choice Marilyn! Good luck in the giveaway!
Alice Feeney is a new debut author. It’s fun to discover new authors or old ones we never knew about. 🙂
I agree Nancy! Good luck in the giveaway!