AMERICAN HISTORICAL NOVELS discussion

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Meet Ames Sheldon!

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message 1: by Rebecca, Champagne Widows, 2021 (new)

Rebecca Rosenberg (rebeccarosenberg) | 270 comments Mod
Don't Put the Boats Away by Ames Sheldon Don't Put the Boats AwayAmes Sheldon

WELCOME AMES SHELDON!

Rebecca: Hello Ames! Thank you for hosting this week! To start, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your novel?

Hello Rebecca! Thank you for inviting me to join this conversation with you and your readers. I’m very excited because my novel Don’t Put the Boats Away was just released at the end of August and I will be giving my first public reading later this week at a new independent bookstore called Storied Owl Books in St. Paul, Minnesota; it was opened in June by a sweet young husband/wife team.

I started as a writer when I was a child, and I’ve continued writing ever since. I worked as a reporter for two small-town newspapers in Minnesota and then I was very lucky to be hired as lead author and associate editor of the monumental reference book Women’s History Sources: A Guide to Archives and Manuscript Collections in the United States. This book was published in the late 1970s when women’s history was a brand-new discipline. Working on Women’s History Sources ignited my passion for studying and writing about the history of women in this country. My first novel Eleanor’s Wars, published in 2015, is a story about a woman who drove an ambulance in the Great War and the impact of her experiences on her and her family during World War II. My new novel Don’t Put the Boats Away, the sequel to Eleanor’s Wars, takes place in the aftermath of WWII. The members of the Sutton family are struggling to rebuild their lives after a tragic loss.

Rebecca: How were you inspired to write Don’t Put the Boats Away?

I was inspired by my mother, who would have made a superb executive or a formidable general, but those roles weren’t open to women in the late 1940s and ’50s. My mother had to sublimate all her energy into being a housewife and raising children. In this novel I wanted to explore a path she could have taken if she’d ignored the cultural expectations of women at that time. My character Harriet is much more of a rebel than my mother was. And actually, because Don’t Put the Boats Away is the sequel to my previous novel, the initial inspiration for both books goes back even further. I have more to say about inspiration but I’ll save that for a post tomorrow.

Rebecca: Can you give us insight into your writing process?

I write at the same time every weekday. I start around 8:30 a.m. by writing in my journal, thinking through whatever mundane matters are weighing on my mind. Then, still writing in my journal, I start asking myself questions about what comes next in the novel, what’s happening with the characters. As soon as I start to feel some spark of energy or excitement, I switch over to the manuscript. Usually I work on my novel for three hours ‘til noon. Occasionally I go back to it for a little while after lunch. And I follow Ernest Hemingway’s advice: “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.” I don’t interrupt my writing to look things up: I save my research for afternoons. That’s also when I do my planning and social media.

Rebecca: What type of research did you do for writing Don’t Put the Boats Away?

I do a lot of research because I hope to provide my readers with an immersive experience of the period I’m writing about. I try to get the slang right and I like to weave in some of the political and social issues of the day. I read Life magazines and copies of The New Yorker to get a detailed sense of what was going on. I read memoirs, histories, and novels from the era for information and timely idioms and a sense of the use of language. I read people’s first-hand accounts in oral history interviews, diaries, and letters from the period that I access though historical societies and other research libraries as well as the internet. I read course catalogs from the University of Wisconsin in Madison to understand what Harriet would be studying for her master’s degree in chemistry there. I read catalogs from the University of Minnesota to see what Nat would be studying for his undergraduate degree in biology and also the catalogs from Cornell University as background for Nat’s friend Peter’s degree in art history.

Rebecca: What was your favorite scene to write?

My favorite scene to write takes place during a hurricane that’s battering Cape Ann off Boston’s North Shore. Harriet and her mother Eleanor get into a dory and row out to bail their sailboat so it won’t sink to the bottom of the ocean. With the howling wind and huge waves threatening to dash them and their boat against the rocks, it’s exciting.

Rebecca: What was the most difficult scene to write?

The most difficult was the scene in which Eleanor’s family confront her about her drinking and ask her to go into treatment for alcoholism. That’s a tough one.

Rebecca: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I read Stuart Little by E.B. White when I was nine years old, and I loved it so much, I realized I wanted to become a writer myself.

Rebecca: Who are your writing inspirations?

Wallace Stegner and his Angle of Repose was a great inspiration for me. Atonement by Ian McEwan was another. Barbara Kingsolver and Ann Patchett inspire me as well.

Rebecca: What was the first historical novel you read?

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing was the first.

Rebecca: What is the last historical novel you read?

The most recent historical novel I read was Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. (I loved her Poisonwood Bible too.)

Rebecca: What are some things people may not know about you?

My first job out of college was working as a paralegal in the legal department of a multinational chemical company. I was so appalled by the environmental record of that corporation that I resolved to do something to help the environment. I took a job at an auto salvage company recycling cars – it was actually a junkyard! – and then I worked for an aluminum recycling business, and then I went to work raising money for the Sierra Club in San Francisco.

Rebecca: What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

I love learning about history by means of reading historical novels because I can get such a rich felt sense of the time period being depicted. I also love doing the research I need to undertake in order to write my historical novels.

Rebecca: What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

I am very drawn to books about World War I and World War II, to novels from the Progressive era (especially the 1910s), and to novels set during the women’s movement of the 1960s and ‘70s.

Rebecca: What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

I like reading, cooking, gardening, walking and hiking, cross-country skiing, listening to music, playing golf and cards with my husband.

Rebecca: Lastly, will you have more projects together in the future?

I am working on a historical novel about a graduate student in women’s history in 1977 who, on her way to her sister’s shotgun wedding, stops at Smith College and discovers in the library there diaries and letters and cartoons by her great-grandaunt, who founded the Birth Control League of Massachusetts in 1916.


message 2: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (drpowell) | 376 comments I love that you start your day journaling. A great stategy.


message 3: by Ames (new)

Ames Sheldon | 18 comments Amanda wrote: "I love that you start your day journaling. A great stategy."

Thank you, Amanda. It really works well for me. Do you journal too?
Ames


message 4: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (drpowell) | 376 comments Ames wrote: "Amanda wrote: "I love that you start your day journaling. A great stategy."

Thank you, Amanda. It really works well for me. Do you journal too?
Ames"


I do! And I have my students do it too as I think having an outlet for all the thoughts that get jumbled inside.


message 5: by Ames (new)

Ames Sheldon | 18 comments What a good idea to have your students journal! It's such a useful practice for figuring out what you think.


message 6: by Eileen (new)

Eileen Sanchez (eileenharrisonsanchez) | 59 comments I’m inspired by a regimen. At this point in my writing I’m focused on launching my first novel. I miss the creative part of writing.


message 7: by Dyana (new)

Dyana | 187 comments Sounds good!!


message 8: by Ames (new)

Ames Sheldon | 18 comments I can relate! Marketing a novel isn't nearly;y as much fun as writing!


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