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Interview: November 9, 2007

November 9, 2007

Reading a Marie Bostwick novel is like treating yourself to a long, luxurious bubble bath --- restful and invigorating at the same time. In ON WINGS OF THE MORNING, Bostwick mixes romance, rich historical details and faith to offer an engaging story of male and female pilots in World War II. In this interview, she talks with’s Cindy Crosby about how Anne Frank inspired her as a young girl to investigate history, her early joyrides in her father’s small airplane, why faith is woven into her novels and a secret desire that might surprise you. What made you decide to pick up the storyline from your debut novel, FIELDS OF GOLD, and write the sequel ON WINGS OF THE MORNING?

Marie Bostwick: When FIELDS OF GOLD was turned in, my editor asked if I would consider doing a sequel and I declined. I’d left my main character, Eva Glennon, in the world of happily ever after --- which was where I wanted her to stay. But when the galleys for FIELDS showed up at my house and I read the story again, I realized I had unanswered questions about Eva’s son, Morgan. When the book was published, I got a lot of mail from readers who had similar questions. I began developing some thoughts about Morgan, but not enough for a book. It wasn’t until I picked up a book about the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) and a new character, Georgia Carter, formed in my mind that I knew I wanted to write WINGS.

BRC: RIVER’S EDGE was also a WWII novel. Why historical fiction instead of contemporary?

MB: It began early. Like many young girls, I first learned about the human cost of WWII through the eyes of Anne Frank. Reading her diary absolutely broke my heart and led me to search out many other books on the war. I kept trying to understand how it could have happened, how some people were willing to stand by and allow their Jewish friends and neighbors to be persecuted and murdered, while others were willing to risk their lives hiding and rescuing people they’d never even met. It’s the classic contrast between good and evil. I was never able to find adequate answers to my questions. I suppose that’s why I’m still writing about it; my search continues.

As far as why history instead of contemporary, I’ve never thought of it as one or the other. Until recently, I’ve concentrated on historical fiction, but I’m just finishing my first contemporary novel. I suspect I’ll keep going back and forth between the two. The idea of being stuck in a genre trap is petrifying to me. I think writers should keep exploring new styles, genres and periods. Otherwise, I don’t see how it is possible to keep your writing fresh, book after book.

BRC: You write so convincingly about the wonders of flying! What sort of research did you do to prepare to write about aviation?

MB: I did a fair amount of reading and visited a number of flight museums to get up to speed on the technical aspect of aviation, but my “hands-on” research was done years ago and quite inadvertently. My dad flew in the Korean War and when I was little he had a small plane. I have very clear memories of being belted into the back seat of his plane with my sisters, dad giving us each a lemon drop to suck on (I’m not sure if those were to ward off motion sickness or help the pressure in our ears, but they were always part of the ritual) and off we’d go! Dad would do all these dips and rolls and, of course, we loved it. I’m sure my mother would have thrown a fit if she’d seen him going through those acrobatic tricks with her babies on board, but we all lived to tell the tale.

The funny part is that, today, I really don’t care for flying. But then, flying in a big, generic commercial aircraft with all the entailing security hassles is very different from hopping into a Piper Cub with your dad for a joyride on a sunny Saturday.

BRC: Your settings range from Oklahoma to Chicago, yet you are a “Connecticut Yankee” who was born in Oregon. Do you have connections to Oklahoma or Chicago, or are they places you just wanted to explore through writing?

MB: I’ve lived in so many places; I’ve had 18 addresses during my 26-year marriage. One of those addresses was in suburban Chicago, so that was a natural choice for one of my settings.

Three of our moves were to Texas. During that time I had occasion to visit Oklahoma, but I never lived there. For FIELDS OF GOLD, I needed a location that was conducive to barnstorming and a natural landscape that was particularly rugged, where the land itself is almost a character in the story, driving the other characters to develop a toughness they might not have otherwise. The Oklahoma Panhandle during the Dust Bowl years immediately emerged as the ideal choice. Once my decision was made, I spent several weeks in the area doing research and trying to get a feel for the land and people.

BRC: After reading about the Lindberghs in your novel, I wondered: Are you a fan of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s writing? How did your interest in the Lindberghs develop?

MB: Like so many young women, I read and loved Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s A GIFT FROM THE SEA, but I never really thought about her in terms of her husband. As far as I was concerned, she was just a wonderful writer whose feelings I could identify with.

Before I began working on FIELDS OF GOLD, the only thing I knew about Charles Lindbergh was that he’d been the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic and that his child had been kidnapped and subsequently murdered. It wasn’t until I saw the old movie, The Spirit of St. Louis, starring Jimmy Stewart, that I began wondering about Lindbergh. He just seemed so impossibly perfect in the film, and I wondered if he could have been that way in real life. I started reading about him, not with any thought of including him in a book, just from personal curiosity. The Charles Lindbergh I discovered in my reading was more complex, more conflicted, more controversial and far more interesting than the movie version. As such, he was a perfect catalyst for the story I was ready to tell, a story that examined the nature of heroism in everyday life.

BRC: I loved the faith themes in your book. Are they personally relevant for you?

MB: Yes, very much so. From an early age, I had a deep curiosity about God, and the world, and humanity, and how they relate to one another. I still do. Over time, my curiosity led me to seek out answers and ultimately embrace the Christian faith. My personal faith is tightly woven into the fabric of my everyday life, and so it’s natural that my characters reflect that. That doesn’t mean that all my characters ultimately choose God, or live perfect, holy lives. They question, they seek, some find, some accept, all make mistakes, some forgive and some are forgiven --- that’s what makes them real to me and, hopefully, to my readers.

BRC: What books are on your nightstand?

MB: An enormous stack that is continually on the verge of toppling over. I’m only going to give the highlights. If I listed them all, you’d think I was making it up.

THE PREACHER AND THE PRESIDENTS by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, a nonfiction book about Reverend Billy Graham’s relationships with various modern presidents; THE GREAT DIVORCE by C.S. Lewis; FIGHTING CASTRO, a narrative nonfiction novel by Kay Abella; THE KOMMANDANT’S GIRL, WWII women’s fiction by Pam Jenoff; THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton (my third time reading this --- I love the classics); THE IRRESISTIBLE REVOLUTION: Living as an Ordinary Radical, a clarion call to evangelical Christians urging a return to the values of justice, simple living and community that were common in the early church by Shane Claiborne; and, recently arrived, Adriana Trigiani’s THE BIG STONE GAP TRILOGY. That’s the book I’ll be taking on my upcoming tour --- can’t wait to get started on it.

BRC: Morgan’s mother was an artistic quilter. Do you quilt, or is this just something you enjoyed writing about? What do you do to relax when you’re not writing?

MB: I do quilt but not with anything approaching the artistry of Eva, Morgan’s mother. I need a pattern and clear instructions whereas Eva can just envision a scene or idea and turn it into a quilt.

Writing is a full-time business and then some, but apart from reading, quilting is probably the hobby I spend most time on --- that and buying fabric. I have more fabric than I can use in two lifetimes, but I keep buying it anyway. I like cooking and gardening, too.

Also, I live in a very beautiful part of rural Connecticut, so whenever I can I like to get outside and hike in our local nature preserves and parks. That tends to be very productive time for me. If I run into a seemingly unsolvable problem in my writing, it always seems to work itself out during the course of a good long walk.

BRC: What’s a typical writing day like for you?

MB: In addition to a busy travel schedule, I have a husband, an 87-year-old mother-in-law, three children, one of whom is still living at home, a dog and a cat. In other words, the whole list of obligations and distractions that my mother always called “the full catastrophe.” So, like most people, my life is fairly unpredictable.

That being said, what I aim for is six hours of uninterrupted writing time per day. That means writing on a book, not keeping up with email, or doing interviews like this. Ideally, I’d like to write from 10 to 4, which is when I have to go pick my son up from school. Frequently, I’m back at my desk in the evening after my son goes to bed. Sometimes, if my schedule has gone too wrong for too long, I get my husband to take over the domestic stuff and sneak off to an inn in Massachusetts where I lock myself in a room and write about 15 hours a day, only emerging for meals.

BRC: What percentage of your time is spent researching compared to writing?

MB: It’s different depending on the type of book and the amount of knowledge I have on the subject to begin with, but for a full-length historical novel, probably 25 to 30 percent of my time is spent researching. The bulk of that happens before I ever write a word, but I also do research during the writing process as new questions arise.

BRC: You’ve done quite a few other things besides writing (bean field worker, singer, dancer, teacher to the deaf, television commercial actress, event planner, scheduler for a U.S. senator, women’s ministry director). If you could work as something besides a writer, what would you do?

MB: I’d love to be a singer in a New York City cabaret with lots of candles on the tables, where couples dressed for a night on the town sit in curved leather booths, drinking ruby colored cocktails and holding hands under the table while I sing standards from the Cole Porter songbook.

Sadly, I fear this is a ship that has sailed.

BRC: Which of these early jobs helped you most in your work as a writer, and why?

MB: It’s hard to pick just one. Working at the Senate helped me deal with pressure and deadlines, and working in ministry helped me understand more about the inner struggles of women, but probably the agricultural work I did as a girl was most important. It helped me develop the appreciation for the land and respect for rural communities that is a reoccurring theme in my books.

BRC: Tell us a little bit about your volunteer work.

MB: Right now, most of my ongoing volunteer work is through my church. I am a co-leader of our senior high youth group, which I love --- spending time with these idealistic, energetic teenagers kind of renews my faith in humanity. And, as a member of our church missions committee, I spend a lot of time helping to organize things like clothing, gifts and school supply drives for various community organizations. I’m also on the board of a non-profit called FutureLead, and I sing in the choir --- second soprano.

Additionally, I do a lot of project-type volunteer work, on an as-needed basis --- helping out at my son’s school at the book fair or annual auction or helping sew costumes for the play --- the usual mom stuff. When asked, I visit local public schools to talk to the kids about writing, speak at community fundraisers to promote literacy or other causes, or speak on issues of spiritual development at church or women’s groups. Sometimes our family volunteers together, sponsoring a needy family at Christmas, or helping to pack boxes at a food bank…that sort of thing.

This week, I’m decorating a tabletop Christmas tree with a quilting theme for our local library’s upcoming “Festival of Trees” fundraiser. It is turning out really well, but it’s going to be a photo finish to see if I can get it done before I leave on my tour to Texas, Oklahoma and Washington.

BRC: What’s next for you, writing-wise? Will there be a sequel to ON WINGS OF THE MORNING?

MB: No, there won’t be a sequel to ON WINGS OF THE MORNING. I’m all done writing about the Glennon family. I mean it this time! Unless I wake up with a good idea tomorrow.

I’m two chapters from finishing the first draft of my next novel, with the working title A SINGLE THREAD. This is my first full-length contemporary novel, and I’m very happy with how it is turning out. I have four strong female characters in this book, and they are just great fun for me to spend time with. So much so that I’m considering a series with these characters.

However, I am not done with historical fiction by any means. This winter I’ll begin researching the roots of country and bluegrass music during the ’20s and ’30s. If that research leads me where I hope it does, it should result in a novel on that subject in the next couple of years.