Sunday, January 22, 2017

Susan Rivers

Susan Rivers is the author of The Second Mrs. Hockaday. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that your novel was based on a real incident. Why did you decide to write a novel based on this incident, and how did you balance the historical and fictional aspects of the book?

A: This may sound far-fetched, but I don't actually "decide" that I'm going to write about a particular topic or event. I hear or see something or visit some place with intense atmosphere and -- wham -- the creative part of my brain, the part that spins stories, revs up and tells me to start writing or get left in the dust.

That's how it happened with the book I'm working on now, about a textile mill town at the turn of the century. I saw one of Lewis Hines' photos from his child labor series, taken when he went undercover in the early 1900s.

It shows a lint-covered child standing at the window of the spinning room where she was working 11 to 16 hours a day, in a mill only a few miles from my home.

I had to leave the slide show at UNC Chapel Hill and collect myself, because the slide caused me to spurt tears like a busted boiler. I knew I was going to tell that child's "story."

It was the same with The Second Mrs. Hockaday, my book that came out Jan. 10. Back in 2014 I was teaching summer school at the local college and had some time to revisit notes I'd made a year earlier on a possible story idea about the Civil War.

I went to the tiny library near my home to look through the jumble of historical material they have and I stumbled across the summary of an 1865 inquest. As soon as I read it, I knew this was a story begging to be told in novel-form.

A Confederate soldier who had been away from his teen-aged wife for four years arrived home at war's end to confront rumors that his bride had become pregnant while he was away. It was alleged that she had given birth to a son who had been killed and buried on their farm. The baby's remains were unearthed and the angry husband pushed to have his wife indicted for murder.

For her part the young woman refused to speak about the baby, to name the father, or to explain how he was conceived. She maintained this silence for the rest of her life, even though she and her husband eventually reconciled.

I was electrified by the plight of this young woman and by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue