Interview with Paulette Mahurin—author of The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap
Paulette is my first author interview. I asked her questions that I thought potential readers would find interesting and those who had read would want to know without spoiling the novel for those who wish to read. She was friendly, encouraging and lightening fast with her response.
I’d like to thank Paulette for making this such a nice experience. I hope you find the interview fun and informative and if you haven’t read Paulette’s book are convinced to pick it up after you witness how delicately she treats the errors in my questions. Lesson one for Rabid Reader: Mark and go back to what you’d like answered. Enjoy.
Rabid Reader (RR): We’re both animal lovers, tell me why it’s important to you that money from sales of the novel go to Ventura’s first no-kill animal shelter?
Paulette Mahurin (PM): First let me say a huge thank you for your time in reading and reviewing my book, and having me over to your great blog site for this interview. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you.
Aside from writing, dogs are my passion. When my long time companion, Tazzie, died at the ripe old age of 15+ years, I was heartbroken. My husband and I went to a kill shelter to rescue more dogs but something was different this time, the heartache I felt over my Tazzie was still raw, perhaps too much for I wanted to take them all home.
I couldn’t bear to see those sad faces in their cages, on death row, for no reason other than they were born. I wanted to help more than just the ones we could take home, but how to do that. I became obsessed, we looked for a larger property, brainstormed with friends, but nothing worked. This was around the same time I finished my book which was also around the same time the first and only no-kill animal shelter in Ventura County, CA, where I live opened. It sprang out of me, that I could use the profits from the book to help the no-kill shelter. I knew it was right because it calmed the pain in my heart since Tazzie’s death.
RR: You’re a medically retired nurse practitioner. How did you make the leap to becoming a published author?
PM: I’ve always loved to write, so in some sense you could say writing preceded my professional Nurse Practitioner (NP) life. I’m still working part-time, specializing in women’s health. How I got into the writing full-time happened by chance, an illness. I got a tick bite and in six months was diagnosed with full blown Lyme Disease. I was down for the count and not able to do much of anything, so I wrote. It was during this time of illness, I wrote The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap.
RR: In your bio you say that the idea for the story grew from a classroom project wherein you wrote a 10 minute mystery based on a picture. What aspects—if any—of the novel did the original story involve? Will we see the 10 minute mystery released as a short story?
PM: Great question. The whole initial idea flowed into the entire story. The writing class exercise was the seed for the story that blossomed into an entire garden. There really wasn’t a short story, just the initial ten minute exercise in which I wrote about a photos, two women in circa turn of the twentieth century garb, standing very close together, it screamed lesbian couple afraid of being found out.
RR: The character of Gus had some great monologues within the story line about justice and equality. He explained to the reader why the story was written in the way it was and why Charley (and the reader) should think about the way they think about people and the rights of those people. How did you develop Gus as a character?
PM: I knew by the subject, homophobia, that intolerance would play a part, bullying & persecution. Gus’s voice flowed as a natural progression through the story, because without thinking of what we’re doing, what we’re saying, why we think the way we do, there’s really no depth to a story about hatred, against someone innocent, someone who could no further change than a dog can prevent its tail from wagging. I let the insides of my head, what I felt about the characters, their dilemmas, their problems, come out and be reflected through Gus, which I felt brought the reader in a little more intimately than making those parts just narrative. We can see in Gus the availability to change our thinking and grow. That was the mirror for Charley to do just that.
RR: The love story between Edra and Mildred was beautifully done. As we meet them, they’re a long-standing couple who look out for each other. Given that their relationship was fully formed within the story line and the Edra is raped at 9, why did you choose to sexualize them with each other so young? Edra at 12 and Mildred at 17.
PM: Their age span was actually only 4 years apart, Edra 12 and Mildred 16. Back then the life span was close to 30 years old, women came into bloom around the age of 12, some marrying soon after to help a husband on the farm. It is also the age of puberty, sexual awakenings, when the fantasies from earlier development stages (where a child experiments with their sexual parts) becomes actualized. To bring them to a life together that progressed slowly I started it then. The is also an innocence about Edra’s love for Mildred, the only person who she is comfortable to be spontaneous with, this speaks volumes about her love and trust for this woman, especially after being traumatized a few years earlier with the rape.
RR: In the novel you shine a harsh (but accurate) light on religion and church ladies. Does this come from your own experience?
PM: A harsh light is shined on gossips and mean spirited people that also happen to go to church. But there is also a benevolent light on church goers through Amos, the preacher, his family, Charley, and other good people in town in the back drop. The harsh light is on the group that gossips and hates, then uses their religion to put someone else down. Not everyone who goes to church does that. The church back then was homophobic so it was appropriate to factor that into the equation. It was also a central meeting place, outside of Gus’s store and the tea parties, a place of gathering where, all had in common.
It doesn’t come from my own experience, but rather my seeing the human condition for what it is. Place a group of mean spirited, hearts of hatred, in any group setting and take the label of the group off of it (in this case church) and it’s the same scenario, the mean girls in High School, the gay bashing bullies, really no difference except for the setting. I’ve know rejection from groups, and the pain of that, but it’s different from the story line and what you’re asking.
RR: In your bio, you mention that you have Lyme Disease. Within the story line Mildred suffers from a condition that is exacerbated by stress that shares some of the symptoms of Lyme Disease—this, of course, many years before it was classified—is Mildred suffering from Lyme Disease in the story line?
PM: No, she’s suffering internalization of her stress that manifests in her body with real and psychosomatic symptoms. Stress biochemically suppressed the immune system (literally, that’s what cortisone does, which is secreted at times of stress) which can predispose to all sorts of manifestations in the body.
RR: I love your use of history within the narrative and there was so much going on in the world within the time period that you have written. Are you a lover of history or did the setting come about within the period of the picture from which the story developed?
PM: Both. I love a good story, especially if it’s non-fiction, which is usually more unbelievable than fiction. History is ripe with incredible stories, and I hit pay dirt in finding some of them when researching this story: the Dreyfus Affair was one of France’s biggest historical scandals, Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Address drove racists nuts, and Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment was commentary on the homophobia existing in Britain at the time. 1895 was a good year for hatred.
RR: What is your writing process like? Do you have a favorite nook? Tony Morrison took weeks to write the first line of her novel, “Beloved.” Are you a labored writer or do the words flow.
PM: Both. The overall story line and ideas flow easily. The construct and piecing together the chapters so they make sense and the scenes flow, that’s hard and takes planning. Then the editing process, that gets into plotting and planning with less spontaneous flow. Overall though, I when I write it flows out, like now, and I don’t do too much changing it around. What works is if I stay out of the way, don’t let my thoughts, the critic in my head, stop me, then
I don’t need to worry about how it sounds or will be received. If it’s an authentic flow and sits well in my gut, then that’s good enough for me. You can drive yourself absolutely berserk with trying to second guess how something sounds or will be read by someone, and so I don’t do a lot of that.
RR: What was your goal in writing this book? Do you see it as a socially important work?
PM: At the time I was writing it, I didn’t even know if it would go to press. The story was inside of me, wanting to come out, to be told, and I was the fortunate vehicle for something that did get finished and that readers seem to be getting something from. I’m not a strong goal oriented writer, maybe because I was so seriously ill. For me a good day is today. I joke when someone asks me, how are you, to which I say, I’m alive and any day I can say that is a good day. No guarantees for tomorrow so in some sense what’s the point of a goal. But, like with everything else in life the paradox, the dichotomy of that is, goals are important–the light at the end of the tunnel, so I won’t knock them.
RR: What is your favorite genre? Who are you favorite authors?
PM: The one I’m reading that I’m enjoying. Too many to comment on. So much talent out there. If it holds my attention and I’m sorry it’s over than that’s a book that I love. A good story is a good story, regardless of genre, at least that’s how I feel.
Wow, great questions! I really enjoyed this time with you and thank you again for having me over.
RR: Thank you, Paulette Mahurin.
Paulette’s book, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap is available at amazon.com and amazon.uk and Paulette can be found at the links below. Thank you for taking the time to read my first author interview.
Read the press article VC STAR Sept. 9, 2012 Sunday Life Section.