Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Diane Noble and Irene Ziegler at the Poisoned Pen

I recently went to the Poisoned Pen to meet Irene Ziegler, and had the opportunity to meet Diane Noble as well.   In fact, I was fortunate to have the chance to talk one-on-one with Diane before the formal program.  I just wasn't as lucky with the pictures I took, so both pictures of the authors are from the web.

Noble started as a romance writer, writing inspirational romance under the name Amanda MacLean.  Then, under her own name, she wrote mainstream fiction.  Her Mormon historical, The Veil, was just republished last year.

Diane loves the history of the American West.  After spending ten years doing research on Mormonism for her novel, The Veil, she put that research to use again.  Her new book, The Sister Wife, is the first book in The Brides of Gabriel series.  She finds Mormonism fascinating.  It's the only homegrown American religion.

Before writing historical romances, Noble wrote romantic suspense.  Then, she wrote cozy mysteries for Guidepost's bookclub.  She was one of five authors writing the series, and every six weeks another title would come out.  So, Diane wrote two mysteries a year for three years, and then moved on.  The editing was getting hard, as she tried to keep track of past information in the series.  They did have a "bible" of characters and settings, so all the authors would be on the same page.

Noble was an English major, who wrote nonfiction before turning to fiction.  She worked for Worldvision International, reporting on their projects. 

Noble's current series, The Brides of Gabriel, is planned as a trilogy, with each book providing the perspective of a different wife.  All three wives are introduced in this first book, The Sister Wife.  The first wife, Mary Rose, is English nobility who was an immigrant to the United States.  The Mormons recruited heavily from England, Scotland and Wales at the beginning of the movement.  They suffered a great deal of persecution in this country.   The first book opens in Navoo, Illinois.  Book 2 opens in the Great Salt Lake Valley, in the Utah territory.  Brigham Young wanted out of the U.S., so he took his followers to Utah since it was part of Mexico at the time.  Two years later it became part of the U.S. 

When The Sister Wife opens, Gabriel is about to marry Bronwyn, his second wife.  Bronwyn, from Wales, was Mary's best friend.  Mary and Gabriel had married, and she loved him.  Their marriage was a love story, and then the polygamy edict came down, saying men should take second wives.  Mary was upset with Gabriel at the beginning of the novel. 

Noble quoted Sol Stein as saying, "Don't ever take the reader where the reader wants to go."  So, she tries to have unexpected twists in her stories.  The lives of the characters might not turn out as readers expect.  Since she loves research, Diane used first hand accounts, including writings of Joseph Smith, and dialogues written by Ema Smith.  Noble said her characters do take over her stories at times, taking her in unexpected directions.

However, in the course of the actual program, Irene Ziegler said just the opposite.  She knows where her characters are going.  Irene opened the program, saying she was originally from De Land, Florida, and both of her books are set there, on Lake Byron.   Her father was a fisherman who gave her her first tackle box at six.  He also taught her his rules of the lake, and insisted she obey them.  One of the rules was, "No rolling the canoe," which got her and her sister in trouble when the did it.  It was innocent, thrilling, and forbidden."

The water, and its darkness, was the wellspring of Ziegler's creativity.   At nine years old, she was molested.  She's fine.  He's dead.  But that laid dormant until 1982 when she trolled for that fish.  "Hooked" was her first story.  On the basis of that, Irene won a fellowship to the university of Virginia in Creative Writing.  Then she turned it into a play and won the Mary Roberts Rinehart award.  Her first book was a related collection of stories, Rules of the Lake.  It was named a Best Book for Young Adults by ALA. 

Ziegler's raw memories became raw moments.  Monsters make good stories.  Irene created her character, Annie Bartlett, and then dropped her into the setting of Ziegler's life.  That setting was central Florida, pre-Disney.  It was a setting of orange groves and wild wonders, such as the Blue Springs boil, and Weeki Wachee Springs, which was supposed to close, and received a reprieve in 2007.  When they had a mermaid reunion in 2007, the oldest mermaid to attend was 75.  Some of Florida's iconic images are still there, such as the glass bottom boats, the tall oaks draped with Spanish moss, and water.  Irene said she lived in Lake Byron, and her family knows her ashes are to end up there when she dies.

Ziegler wanted to tell us that fiction allowed her to even the score, but Annie's journey isn't Irene's.  Two of the three books in Irene's Lake Trilogy have been published.  In the first one, Rules of the Lake, Irene wanted to be a mermaid.  In Ashes to Water, Annie is twenty-eight, and goes home to bury her father.  When she encounters the woman accused of killing her father, Annie has reasons to fight for her innocence.  But, that pits her against her sister, whose very life might be dependant on the other woman being found guilty.  That becomes a thread in the book.

As a writer, Ziegler can chronicle her journeys.  She didn't start out to be a write a mystery.  In fact, there was lots of funny stuff in the book.  But, she's learned to ratchet up the tension and provide relief, so the book has a rollercoaster effect.   After Irene's lyrical presentation, she turned the stage over to Diane Noble.

Noble's book is called The Sister Wife.  Mormonism is popular right now, with HBO's series, Big Love.  In Utah, Warren Jeffs' conviction was overturned on a legal technicality.  And TLC even has a new reality show, Sister Wives USA

In April 2005, USA Today mentioned Noble's book.  Everyone there probably remembered the raid on a Texas ranch with hundreds of underage children.  One woman stood out to Diane, a woman in a 19th century ankle length dress.  That woman held a seven-year-old boy, with an expression seen too often on women's face - confusion. 

Spring 2009 found Noble with a seed of an idea.  Her agent asked her what she was going to talk about.  She suggested another historical novel about the American West, since she'd already spent time doing ten years of research, then releasing The Veil.   The Brides of Gabriel series is a book about relationships.  The storyline and characters come to life. 

In 1841, Diane's lead characters were told by Joseph Young that men were to marry more wives.  It was an edict.   In The Sister Wives, Mary Rose's husband is ordered to take her friend, Bronwyn, as his second wife.   Bronwyn is the main character in the  second book.  Book three focuses on Enid, Mary Rose's earlier love.

Noble said her books dig deeper into the early years of FLDS, without the hoopla.  According to Diane, "All religions, in my opinion, have skeletons in their closet."  It's the story of real women, trapped in communes.  Texas, Utah, Canada, and Arizona all have large populations.  These books present the story of real women and the beginning of Mormonism.

Asked if she came at writing through her acting, Diane said she'd always dabbled in and fantasized about writing.  But, acting stole her time, her heart, and her life.  She said the two disciplines inform each other.  She said, actors in plays get to say the best dialogue.  Writing informs her joy for writing dialogue.

Diane grew up near Yosemite, in an isolated area.  There were only 500 people.  Diane had lots of time to herself.  She would tell stories.  She and her brothers made up people for some of their writing.  Twenty-two books later, here she is.  She wanted to write one book.  She tells stories.  When she worked for Worldvision, she traveled and saw too much poverty.  She never saw such tragic projects.

Noble's novel, The Veil, was based on the Mountains Meadows Massacre.  Inspirational fiction was popular.  Noble switched from writing nonfiction to fiction, but did attend critique groups in the 80s.  She thought she'd write The Veil as a YA novel.  Her first assignment, though, was to find a topic.  She went to the library.  Her father was from northwest Arkansas.  Diane found files about eleven children who had returned there after the massacre of their families, when 120 people were killed.  She wanted to talk about where the kids came from.  Her assignment turned into a full-blown novel.

Noble dove into the research about the Mountains Meadows Massacre in 1857.  The Mormons had been persecuted.  Brigham Young saw Utah as "Our Zion."  He was territorial governor, and was powerful.  President Buchanan sent troops to depose him as governor.  At the same time, Young was teaching "Blood Atonement," that they could save their enemies by killing them.  So, there was an atmosphere of fear.

A hapless wagon train was too late to make it across the Sierras.  Everyone had heard of the Donner Party, so they went south across the Utah Territories.  There were some ruffians along, who were obnoxious to the Mormons' ranch wives.  The Mormons talked the Indians into attacking the wagon train, but, when the Indians didn't finish the job, seventy Mormons murdered the adults and all but eleven children.  Noble said in 1989-90, she attended the healing service for the descendants of the wagon train and the Mormons who massacred them.

Irene was asked about memory and fiction.  Does her family look for themselves in her writing?  She said her father is bothered by it, but he understands what art is, and doesn't try to discourage her.  However, her two youngers sisters were molested by the same man.  And, they have a problem with it.  Ziegler has worked it out, but they haven't.

She also said there is a relationship with her husband and his daughters that is similar to one in the book.  But, Annie is plucked into the setting of Irene's life.  Someone in the audience said that how we choose to tell our memories is the nexis between fiction and nonfiction.  Ziegler said our memories become stories with a beginning, middle, end and a climax.  We impose a structure on the story of our memories.

Asked if they knew how their stories end, Diane said she sets the direction for her characters and story to go, but they take sideroads.  Irene said she didn't know who had killed the father in Ashes to Water when she started it.  Tom Robbins once told her not to ever write a synopsis.  But, Ziegler found it was important to know where the story was going.  She did a fat outline, mapped it out.  She figured it out on paper.  Both authors said, though, that they don't stick with the original outline, but they know where they're going.

Ziegler said Ashes to Water wasn't intended as a mystery.  She started out to write the best book she could, and then while outlining it, realized it could be a mystery.  The writer needs to be in control, and be the one crafting the story.  Structure is important to Irene.  She likes stories with storng storylines.

Diane Noble, answering a question, said she had a difficult time writing about the massacre.  She cried her way through it, and it was difficult to get through.  Her characters came to life on the stage, and she found the massacre heart-breaking.  The story is told from different points of view, but they are very close third person points of view.  Noble said the site of the massacre is a barren field with wildflowers, and you can feel the energy.  She did get a lot of mail about Mormonism after she wrote The Veil.  The book wasn't one-sided.  There were sympathetic Mormon characters, too, in the book.  And, there weren't many records left about the wagon train, so Diane created those characters.  The Veil combines history and story.  The storyline sticks to the history.  But, Noble had great sympathy for the Mormons after researching, and learning what they had suffered in Kirtland, Ohio, and Navoo. 

As an actor, Irene said she learned discipline, and learned to take a scene apart.  So, she also learned to build one.  She also had a couple years of creative writing at the University of Virginia.  Her novels have a basic conflict, and she tries to resolve it.

Ziegler ended the program by discussing her trilogy.  All three books center around water.  The third one, tentatively called The Face of the Deep, will be set in Casa Dega, Florida, a spiritualist community in the late '80s.  Annie's sister sees a chance to make a quick buck.

Mormons and water.  It was an interesting combination for a program at the Poisoned Pen.

Diane Noble's website is http://www.dianenoble.com/.

Irene Ziegler's website is http://www.ireneziegler.com/

The Sister Wife by Diane Noble.  HarperCollins, ©2010. ISBN 9780061962226 (paperback), 343p.

Ashes to Water by Irene Ziegler.  Gale Group, ©2010. ISBN 9781594148606 (hardcover), 393p.


Kay said...

Very interesting. I have a blog tour for Irene Ziegler's book after I get home. I'm looking forward to reading her book.

I'll also put Diane Noble's books on my list. They sound compelling. Thanks, as always, for sharing, Lesa.

Lesa said...

Hi Kay!

I hope you're still enjoying your anniversary vacation. You'll probably be getting home just as I leave for Ohio. I'm going to get to meet Jen Forbus! Two weeks from yesterday, we're having lunch.

Kay said...

Lesa, that is so fun!! Say Hi to Jen and you guys try not to get into too much trouble!!

Lesa said...

Oh, we can't get into trouble, Kay. It's lunch, on a workday for Jen, and my mother is going, too. But, we're definitely going to have fun!

dining room table said...

You have posted a very long article but it is worth reading. I love what is inside that long article. It is very inspirational.

Lesa said...

Thank you, dining room table. Yes, sometimes the recaps from the Poisoned Pen can be long. But, many readers tell me they enjoy them, feeling as if they had attended the event.