Author Interview: Alison McLennan

Today I am so excited to post a recent interview with author Alison McLennan!  Alison is the author of the amazing, “Ophelia’s War: The Secret Story of a Mormon Turned Madam,” which is released today.

 

  • Alison I know you live in Utah and apparently are a history buff, but what inspired you to write Ophelia’s War?
    • I read an anecdote about a Madam named Kate Flint who had an ongoing battle with Brigham Young on the subjects of polygamy and prostitution. One version of the story is that when Brigham’s 14th wife divorced him he had to put up his gilded carriage for auction. The legend is that Kate Flint purchased it and paraded around town to snub him. One day I found myself alone in a remote desert graveyard near the ghost town of Grafton. That’s where Ophelia was conceived. Spending time alone in haunted places makes me wonder about the nature of inspiration, and whether we choose the characters and stories or they choose us. 

 

  • Through your research did you find that many girls ended up like Ophelia if “ruined” for a husband?
    • Girls and women who were raped often killed themselves out of shame. Of course, they couldn’t tell anyone, so they’d try and hide it, or they’d run away and inevitably end up in the brothels. This is women’s secret history that is not on record. I’m shocked and saddened at how many girls feel the same way today. If you read about the LDS girl, Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and assaulted for over a year, you will see that she dealt with similar feelings of being damaged goods and those feeling may have kept her from being rescued sooner.  

 

  • Besides Ophelia, who was your favorite character in the novel and why?
    • I like Charlie (Chas) Siringo. He is based on a real man who wrote several books about his life, which provided me with a great primary resource. His undercover work living with outlaws makes him accepting of Ophelia, where most men would not be able to see past her profession. I also like Pearl and wrote a short story about her called Sisters of Grace and Mud. I hope it will be published some day.

 

  • You are considered an expert commentator regarding Whitey Bulger.  How did that come about?
    • The character, Johnny, in my first novel Falling for Johnny is based on James “Whitey” Bulger. About four years before the FBI apprehended him, I realized that he had once lived across the street from me in Quincy, MA. At the time, he’d been missing for sixteen years, and I thought he’d be a great character for a novel. I spent a ton of time researching him and reading about his life. I even listened to the FBI surveillance tapes to get a feeling for how he spoke. He was caught the day before my fortieth birthday. I had just finished Falling and was looking for an agent or publisher. I ended up corresponding with him in prison. And then I did a lot of news commentary during his trial. It was all very strange.

 

  • Think about your top 10 favorite books…  What is one of those favorites and why?
    • My favorite books are the ones that resonate, when long after I’ve stopped turning pages the story still inhabits a place in my mind. The Grapes of Wrath is woven into the fabric of my being. Even though I didn’t live through The Great Depression, I feel like I did because of this novel. I didn’t read it as a requirement for school. I first read it while I was living on the road following a similar route to the Joad’s. Steinbeck uses simple language to convey deep sentiments. I’ve since analyzed the novel and it’s really unique and intricate. I think it’s better not to analyze a book while you’re reading it though. It’s better to just enjoy it the first around. My MFA program helped my writing but it took some of the enjoyment out of reading because I’d find myself picking things apart instead of getting absorbed into the story.
  • As a teacher and a writer, what’s your most important piece of advice that you give aspiring writers?
    • Creative writing as an income producing profession is really difficult, especially in fiction and poetry. The YA (young adult) genre is probably a bit better. I once went to a pitch conference where they told us we were more likely to get struck by lightning than obtain a traditional publishing contract! It was terribly disheartening. But even if fiction writing doesn’t pay the bills, it is a journey into the subconscious and the imagination. This journey can deepen your life, your perspective, and your connection to places, people, and the past, or even the future. It’s kind of like reading, but a lot more work.

      Don’t get discouraged by rejections. Most writers have piles of rejections. All kinds of writing will help you become a better fiction writer. Grant writing, blogging, technical writing, travel writing, curriculum writing… are ways to earn a living as a writer that aren’t quite as difficult as being a novelist or a poet. But don’t forget what feeds your soul.  And read as much as you can.   

 

Thanks so much to Alison for allowing me to pick her brain a little and share with my readers!  Visit Alison’s website: Alison Stories to learn more about her and make sure that you get a copy of “Ophelia’s War: The Secret Story of a Mormon Turned Madam,” released today! If you missed my review of “Ophelia’s War,” check it out here Book Review: Ophelia’s War.

 

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