I first met Marlene Dotterer on the OWW when I was looking for critique partners for my first novel. Marlene responded to my inquiry, but we were out of sync. Novels are posted chapter by chapter. I had just posted my chapter 1, and she was on something like chapter 9.
I took a look at her chapter anyway, and the quality of the writing made me decide to go ahead with the partnership. I asked if she could send me the first 8 chapters of her novel so I could get caught up. She did so, and I printed them out and started reading, figuring I’d read a chapter a day and be caught up and ready to critique in a little over a week.
Guys, I could not put those chapters down. I read them all at one sitting!
The novel I am talking about is The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, about two people inadvertently sent 100 years into the past who find the Titanic under construction. Should they interfere with what they know is going to happen to that ship? Will it spoil their chances of returning home? Can they change what happens? In celebration of the release of this novel, which I greatly enjoyed, I’m interviewing Marlene on my blog today:
1. What inspired you to write Shipbuilder?
First, let me thank you, Amy, for hosting me today. I really appreciate the chance to crow!
I was inspired to write Shipbuilder after I found out who Thomas Andrews was. For some reason, I felt very attuned to him. Everything I read mentioned how good he was and how so many people loved him. I just had a very strong empathetic response to all those people, and the shock and heartbreak they felt when he died. The book is my tribute to him, really.
2. When I read Shipbuilder, what grabbed me in the early chapters was Casey’s plight when the time travel mishap sent her 100 years into the past. She’d been a college student and had some skills, but because of her sex and the time period in which she’d landed, they were almost entirely without economic value, and she had no friends or family to turn to. The period details you provided in those chapters made her situation feel absolutely real. What sort of research did you do to make this time period come to life?
Before my research, I had many misconceptions about the time period. In fact, I’ll admit that you couldn’t pick a time in human history that I was less interested in. I read some books about the era, such as The 1900s Lady, by Kate Caffrey, and Edwardian Life and Leisure by Ronald Pearsall . But all the books I found centered around life in England. The upper class of Ireland would have lived in the same way as the upper class in England, so these books were helpful with things like how a lady spent her days, or how much money it took to run a typical household for a year.
Some of it was hilarious. The Edwardians (like the Victorians before them) had stringent rules regarding female behavior. Girls under 18 were considered children, assigned to the nursery and schoolhouse, learning to read, write, and sew. At 18, they “came out” to society, and were considered eligible for courting. But they were never left alone – a chaperone followed them literally everywhere. Girls were not told a single thing about sex, not a peep. There a lots of stories about how terrified young brides were on their wedding nights (they did get “the talk” from their mothers the night before, but I’m sure it was minimal, at best). I must confess to a certain doubt about these stories – these girls were around animals all their lives. Dogs, cats, horses, cows… they could not have been entirely ignorant of the matter.
In most of the UK (and in America) girls married fairly young. But the Irish were different in this regard. People married later – most girls were in their late twenties, most men in their thirties. I hedge this a bit in my book, as Casey is only 22 when she marries Tom. The real Helen Andrews was 28 when they married.
Actually, it was reading about Thomas Andrews, and the extended Andrews family, that made the era come alive for me. It helped me see them as people with real lives and hopes, who cheered at sporting events and read the newspaper every day.
3. Later on, the novel centers around Thomas Andrews, the man who built the Titanic, who is also the story’s romantic hero. Can you tell us any little-known facts or anecdotes about him?
Oh, I’d love to! There is so much I couldn’t put into the book. For instance, he had a great affinity with children and animals. One of my favorite anecdotes is how he rescued a kitten when he was about 9 or maybe 12, years old. His church was having a fund-raiser, and someone was auctioning off kittens. One of the kittens got stuck in a hole somewhere and no one could get it out. “Tommie” spend several minutes speaking softly to the kitty to calm it down and finally coaxed it out. He got to keep the kitten in payment.
Another time, as a teenager, he helped lead a group of boys on a hiking trip. They traveled for several days, and once stopped at an inn for the night. The younger boys got a little rowdy, jumping on a bed, and eventually breaking it. Tom took responsibility for it, assuring the landlady he would pay to have it fixed. She told him that even repaired, the bed would not be fit for her guesthouse, so he needed to pay for a new bed. He agreed, but made her promise that he could dispose of the old bed as he saw fit.
So the next day, he and the boys took the repaired bed to the home of a woman who worked at the inn as a washer-woman. They set it up, and then lifted her disabled husband from his bed on the dirt floor onto his new, soft mattress. The couple said they felt like royalty with such a grand thing in their home.
There are dozens of stories like this. Thomas Andrews was simply a kind, compassionate human being. He was like that until the moment he died, as many people testified how he did all he could to save lives as the Titanic was sinking. He made no effort to save himself.
4. Shipbuilder is something of a genre-bender, combining elements of historical fiction, science fiction, and romance. What are some of your own favorite genres to read, and some of your favorite authors?
Science fiction is my absolute favorite. I’ve been reading it since I was eight! Fantasy, especially when it’s about witches or elves. I also read a lot of non-fiction: science, food, health, politics…
Favorite authors – that’s hard to pin down. I’ll list a few authors whose books I’ll pick up without hesitation:
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
5. What’s your writing process like? Are you an outliner or a pantser? Do you revise a lot or a little?
I’m mostly a pantser. I usually dive into a new story, with just a few scenes in mind. The scenes are in no particular order, so I have a mishmash. I figure out a path for the story, but it’s really just a thread at this point. About half-way through, I have to step back and make an outline. I find a timeline is most helpful for me. It really helps me see what the story’s about and where it’s going.
I revise a LOT. Oh, my head…
6. Give us one Cool Fact about yourself and one Quirky Fact.
I’m not sure I can differentiate. Aren’t my quirky facts also cool? Or is it vice versa? But let’s see:
I’m a Slow-Food, Real Food, crunchy-granola kind of person, who eats whole grains, and organic, local food as much as possible. There is no white flour in my house.
I’ve had at least six careers in my life. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
7. What’s your best advice for aspiring writers?
By “best” I hope you don’t mean just one thing. I have a list: finish the book and write another one. Don’t be afraid of rejection. Join a critique group. Believe in yourself, but never stop learning.