Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sharyn McCrumb

From a Q & A with Sharyn McCrumb about her new novel, The Devil Amongst the Lawyers:

You did a ton of research for the book. How did you carry out that research? Did you have a particular event that happened during your research that struck you?

The first step in researching anything is to read background material. That way when you do have to question real people, you will have a basic understanding of the subject. I read accounts of the historical events mentioned in the novel. I visited the places where the book is set. I listened to the music and watched the films of that era to capture the mood, and I stayed in the Martha Washington Inn. I talked with people who had known the actual defendant in the trial on which "The Devil Amongst the Lawyers" is based, and with newspaper reporters who had covered southwest Virginia trials in that era.

The best adventure I had in researching the novel was the day that I spent in Wise County, with Wise County Tourism director H. William (Bill) Smith as my guide. We explored the Wise County courthouse, visited the old jail, explored every floor of the now-derelict Inn at Wise, and drove up Highway 23 to "The Pound" to see the place where the Maxwell house once stood. The current mayor of Pound is a cousin of Edith Maxwell, who was the model for Erma Morton, the young woman on trial in the novel. I took photographs of everything, so that I could describe it correctly. The room I gave to Henry Jernigan in the novel is on the top floor of the Inn, between the columns, and it has a fireplace and a large triangular window, just as described.

Part of the book is set in Japan. Have you been to Japan? What was the inspiration?

I have never been to Japan, although I wish someone would invite me. I reasoned that since I could not go to Japan in 1923, going there now wouldn't tell me much that I could not learn from reading travelers' accounts of Japan in that era. I read a number of books on early 20th century Japan, and I based Henry's roseate view of the country on the attitudes expressed by the Irish writer Lafcadio Hearn. Questions about language, customs, and folklore were answered for me by Ichiro and Yuka Wada of Osaka, and by Yoshihiro Iwai, who was a graduate student at Virginia Tech while I was researching the novel. I tried to learn some Japanese, but since I was a Spanish major, my accent is terrible. Listening to me trying to speak Japanese to a native speaker is a good game of Charades.

Are any characters in The Devil Amongst the Lawyers based on people you know?

Carl Jennings' background and education is based on...[read on]
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--Marshal Zeringue