Every month I’ll be interviewing an author who writes historically-influenced fiction, and introducing you to some fantastic new writing talent. Their genres vary, but all of them are writing stories set in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
This month’s featured author is Denitta Ward, who writes historical fiction set in the 1920s Prohibition era. Each of her novels also comes with a short, easy-to-read companion nonfiction book that captures the actual history of the novel’s era. Her debut novel is Somewhere Still, and its companion book is Prohibition Cocktails: 21 Secrets & Recipes, which features the history of Prohibition and the history and recipe of each of the most popular cocktails served in speakeasies. It also includes a Roaring ’20s party planner to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Prohibition. You can contact Denitta through her website, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, or follow her on BookBub.
How long have you been writing and what got you started?
I feel like a late-bloomer. I’m turning 55 and have just published my first two books! I’ve always been a writer, starting back in 3rd grade when Mrs. Mockerman didn’t quite know what to do with me and assigned me to write a class newspaper, which got me out of the classroom. I realized then that writing could open doors – literally. After law school I wrote more legal briefs and contracts than I can count – which is another form of storytelling. A very structured form. It wasn’t until I was 50 that I had the inspiration for my first novel and I got started on that after a conversation with my mother about what it might have been like for her grandmother in the Roaring ’20s. That simple question opened me to the whole story of Somewhere Still.
What are the best and worst things about being an author?
The best thing about being a writer is being able to stop time. When I write I really do feel like time stops. I can look up and hours have passed and I will not have realized it. The characters and stories take on a voice of their own and it’s a privilege to bring them forward into the written word. I end up feeling very passionate about the characters; they become so vivid.
The worst thing about being an author is balancing the urge to write and market with a day job. I really and truly adore talking with book clubs, doing book signings and going to conventions. The best thing ever is talking with a reader who shares how my books made her feel or remember things from her own family. I so appreciate the stories of the rules my readers grew up with and how those rules played out for them as they matured. If I could do bookclub talks everyday I would. I also love my full-time job at the University of Colorado, so I am always trying to juggle and balance. It means that I tend to get up early and stay up late because my job always comes first.
I love writing coming-of-age stories about young women in times of societal transition. The Roaring Twenties in the USA were a natural place to start. Social norms and rules were breaking and women were venturing out beyond traditional boundaries. That is an era rich for social, economic, gender, racial and social tension, and it’s that sense of tension that makes for a good story.
My next novel, Somewhere Else, is set in Havana in the weeks before Batista falls and Castro comes to power. It was another time in history where social norms were in flux. Traditional cultural and religious norms had changed Havana — it became a wild US tourist destination of gambling, drinking and dancing….and I started thinking…how would that have felt for a young Cuban woman coming to the city from the countryside? And what if a revolution were brewing?
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve researched in relation to your writing?
Old newspapers are rich with stories that lead to questions and more questions. One story that will always stick with me is the story of Vixen. It was woven into my first book, Somewhere Still, but ultimately didn’t make the final cut. Poor Vixen!
Vixen was a dairy cow who, in 1921, was marched into the lobby of Kansas City’s most luxurious hotel, called the Baltimore hotel , and milked in front of journalists. The Dairy Wars were raging in the city and the women’s Consumer League had declared war on dirty dairies that were, in their view, spreading Typhoid fever and killing children. Some dairymen got together and hired a man, Dr. North, to dispel their concern. Dr. North thought he’d prove his meddle and cement his credibility by milking a cow for Kansas City newspaper reporters as a publicity stunt. So he tried. In a hotel lobby. And it was harder than he thought. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
If you could travel anywhere in time and space, when and where would it be?
Truly, I would go back to when my two children were little and relive those days, and really, really cherish those moments. Time passed too quickly and I think as mothers we can be just so bone tired that it feels now that those years were over in a blink. Then, I would journey back to my grandma’s house during one of our family dinners when my great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins would all gather. And I would really listen and I would be grateful to have them all once again.
Where do you find creative inspiration?
When I’m unplugged from technology and well-rested, the stories just flow. Being away from technology is important to me which is why I write my books longhand in journals. After the bones of a chapter or two are written, I’ll go back and type it up – which is my first edit. Maybe someday I’ll learn how to compose on a keyboard or dictate the story, but so far this pen and paper thing is working for me.
What’s your favourite historical resource?
Newspapers first and foremost because you get the flavor of the issues and events of the day. It’s always good to read a few different ones so you can see the bias each paper had. The events reported on may be the same but how and what’s said can be very different. And, for the type of books I write -about young women coming of age- I go back to the Ladies Home Journal magazines of that year. You can learn so much about a mainstream society’s values by reading those magazines. Also the etiquette books and instruction materials of the time are rich with good content about what we try to teach our young women.
The best place in the world to write is…
Close to nature. When I get stuck, having written myself into a rabbit hole, or I need to crank through edits, I’ll take the RV and my dog and go up to a quiet little lake tucked into the mountains. It’s out of cell phone range and far, far, far away from email and my workaday world. I can edit during the morning, take an afternoon hike, and then sit by the campfire at night. Alone. It’s magical.
When you’re not writing, what do you get up to?
I have a wonderful job supporting the most brilliant researchers in the world. I’m Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Colorado Boulder, and Director of the Office of Contracts and Grants there. The University is a world-leader in aerospace, physics, environmental research, and more. We are so fortunate in the U.S. to have public research universities. They tackle issues of monumental concern with great independence and care.
In between work and writing, I love to travel. Last year my husband and I returned to Vietnam, where we’d gotten engaged decades ago. This year we’re going to Ajijic, Mexico – a new adventure.
What are you currently working on?
I just published Prohibition Cocktails on March 24th, National Cocktail Day, so I’m doing a sweep of marketing. It’s a companion to my debut novel, Somewhere Still, which is set in the Roaring ’20s in a city known as Paris on the Plains. I’m deep into edits on my next novel, Somewhere Else, and this [northern] winter I started a novella, Somewhere Safe.