I'm Not Mrs. Jesse James--But I AM Envious

Thursday, August 23, 2018
Pat Wahler's book, I am Mrs. Jesse James, is being released on August 28... and I'm a bit envious.

Oh, I'm extremely happy for Pat,  let's be clear about that. I'll be at one of her book signings to snap up a copy and I'll continue to sing her praises because of her writerly work ethic and her gift with words, but I've been working on a historical fiction project for almost two years. I've had an editor look at it, and now I'm doing some much-needed deconstruction and reconstruction...

... which made me curious. What did Pat learn along the way that might help me? Or you?

Fortunately, Pat was gracious enough to agree to answer my questions. Here is a bit of what motivated Pat Wahler and what she learned along the way as she wrote I am Mrs. Jesse James.

Why the wife of Jesse James? Why write a novel about her?

Jesse James is discussed almost as much today as he was during the time the Pinkertons chased him after the Civil War. There is an astonishing amount of information on him. I knew he had a wife but found little about her. This piqued my curiosity. What kind of woman was Zee Mimms James? The book came about when I asked myself that question. I felt she needed to be more than a footnote in Jesse's life.

Pat, that is a powerful lesson. You were curious as a writer and a researcher, which will inevitably lead to fueling the curiosity of readers. I'm curious about why historical fiction appeals to you, since you've written in different genres.

I've always had an interest in history, but often textbook-style material didn't appeal to me. I soon discovered that most historical novelists put every bit as much research into writing their book as historians put into theirs. Historical fiction brings the people and places of the past to life in an engaging way.

Yes, research can take us into exciting directions, but it isn't easy. What obstacles did you encounter as you dug into Zee's life?

Research was a challenge. As I mentioned earlier, there wasn't much primary material on Zee. However, as a novelist, this provided opportunity. I read everything I could find on her, Jesse, the James family, significant events in their lives, and the turbulent times in which they lived. From that, I got a feel for how she might think and react, which helped me shape her character.

I love the idea of you stepping into Zee James' shoes and getting a feel for what her life was like. I've been struggling with organizing my manuscript. How did you plan or map out your novel?

Biographical historical fiction provides a built-in basic outline. Census data gives factual information like birth dates, marriages and children. You generally know the places your characters went and why they went there. History tells what events happened around the characters that impacted their everyday lives. The novelist has the fun of filling in the other details.

Pat Wahler

Pat, I'm glad to know that after all the revising and critique was done, you still considered it a fun endeavor. I imagine your journey was paved with some great advice or suggestions. Would you mind sharing a tidbit or two?

Don't wait to start the story! I had to do an entire rewrite on the first three chapters because my editor said beginning with Zee's childhood wasn't necessary. She was right. Too often, backstory gets in the way of connecting the reader with the character. If they don't care about the character, they'll close the book.

You've written a lot of creative nonfiction (short memoir pieces), which take short bursts of persistence. However, writing a novel isn't a sprint, it's a marathon. Pat--what was your typical writing day like?

I'm freshest in the morning, but I can also say there were many times when I sat at my desk most of the day. Especially when deadlines loomed.

Is there any part of the day when I'm fresh? ;) I'll have to think on that. As I've been digging into the story I'm working on, I've encountered some surprises. What most surprised you about Jesse James' wife?

Her love and loyalty, and her willingness to provide a helping hand to others endeared her to me. I think Zee tried to do her best, despite the very difficult circumstances in which she lived.

Pat, so many writers set a project aside, and it ends up gathering dust. I'm sure most writers have at least one cobweb-covered manuscript. You persevered.  Was there ever a point where you almost put the manuscript aside--for good? If so, what made you pick it up again?

I toyed with the idea of writing about Zee more than ten years ago, and that's when I started the research process. During NaNoWriMo in 2009, I did more research and wrote in earnest. Then I discovered a romance writer had just published a novel about Zee. I figured there wasn't any point in continuing and put my book aside for a few years. But the muse nagged. I looked at the multitude of books on any single prominent historical figure and realized I could still tell my own story about Zee. I didn't read the other author's novel until I'd completed mine, and discovered we'd taken very different approaches. Never give up!

Pat, I'm so glad you didn't give up, and I'm looking forward to reading I am Mrs. Jesse James. (Pat's novel comes out on August 28.) You can pre-order it here. 

Do you feel lucky? You could be the winner of a free copy. I've preordered two copies of I am Mrs. Jesse James. Leave a comment here, and in early September, when they're delivered, I'll do it old school and draw a name from a bowl/basket/hat full of names.

Update: Joan Leotta won Pat's book. Joan, if you email me at sroslawski(a)yahoo.com and give me your mailing address, I will send you the book.

Sioux Roslawski has wanted to be a writer since she was 13. She's written lots of creative nonfiction but someday, she hopes to have her manuscript published. If you're wondering why Sioux always has bangs, check out that billboard-sized forehead, and if you're interested in reading more of her stuff, check out her blog.


loonyhiker said...

Loved this interview! Please enter me in the giveaway! I'd love to read this book.

Kim Lehnhoff said...

I know next to nothing about Jesse James, other than a vague reference to a brother, Frank. I am curious about his wife, and how she dealt with her husband's life, and death. Great interview!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Hi Sioux ~ I'm posting this comment for Joan Leotta since she had trouble posting with her iPad:

Love stories of the Wild West, like many, the story of Jessie james has long I trigued me. Very excited to see a book written from a woman’s POV.

Joan Leotta
Author, Story performer

Margo Dill said...

I am so excited for this book, too! And maybe I'll see you at one of Pat's book signings. :) This interview was very informative, Sioux and Pat. Thanks!

Pat Wahler said...

Thank you Pat, Kim, Angela, and Margo! I appreciate your comments and hope you enjoy the book. Sending good luck vibes to you all for the drawing. :-)

And many thanks to Sioux, for sending me such thought-provoking questions. I enjoyed answering them!

Linda O'Connell said...

This interview was informative and makes me curious about this genre. <y twelve year old grandson discovered am historical novel about a dog in WW II. He's 16, and that was his favorite book. Best if luck to Pat, and thank you for the interview.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Pat--Your name is in the hat. Knowing Pat's talent, if you win, I'm sure you'll enjoy the book.

Kim--Thanks for your catch of the typo (before it got too late in the morning). Yes, I thought Pat's answers were interesting AND illuminating.

Joan--You are so right. Women were certainly underrepresented when it comes to that era. Actually, every era, including the current phase of history.

Your name is in the hat. Thanks for stopping by. (You're a story performer? I'm intrigued. I'm going to have to check out your site later today...)

Margo--Thanks. Yes, we might see each other as we stand in line and wait for Pat to sign our book. I'm putting your name in the hat.

Pat--Thank YOU for agreeing to do this interview. I enjoyed learning about your journey to get this book published.

Linda--Yes, sometimes historical fiction will really capture the interest of readers. I'm putting your name in the hat.

Lynn said...

Loved hearing the process of Pat with her historical fiction piece. I too do not like text book history, so I'm so grateful for writers that capture my attention with historical fiction. I've preordered two books already, so if I'm lucky and you draw my name, pick another! Thanks for sharing!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Fantastic interview, ladies!

Pat, I didn't have time to comment yesterday except for posting Joan's comment, but I wanted to say that I love the way you came up with the idea to write about Zee James. I never would've thought of that, and I never would've considered writing historical fiction, but the way you describe the process is so intriguing to me. I like that there's already a built-in outline! Then you can get creative with how you tell the story. It's similar in that way to creative nonfiction (which I write), but allows more room to enhance the details of the story. I finally get why people love writing historical fiction. Your advice on jumping in to the story is great, and I'm glad you didn't give up on this story. Thanks for the inspiring interview! :)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Lynn--Thanks for stopping by.

Yes, Stalker Sioux knows you are getting two books. I think we're both going to enjoy reading Pat's book.

Angela--Thanks. Does that mean your next manuscript will be historical fiction? ;)

Mikey Sackman said...

Thanks for the interview, Sioux. I love history, especially anything to do U.S. history and the history of the west. I read just about every memoir I can get my hands on. I've dreamed about writing historical fiction based on some of the people I've read about, but worry about getting details right. So, I'm anxious to read Pat's book. She gave me encouragement as well as some great tips.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Mikey--You're welcome, and thanks for stopping by. I left a comment on your blog. Don't just dream... Do it. (And your name is now in the hat.)

Pat Wahler said...

Linda, I think it's wonderful your grandson enjoyed a book of historical fiction. And of course it had the bonus of also being about a dog! :-)

Lynn, I must admit to being addicted to historical fiction. It can be so compelling!

Angela, sounds to me like you ought to consider giving historical fiction a try. There are so many fabulous hist-fic authors: Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie, Paula McLain, Melanie Benjamin, just to name a few. They make history fascinating and fun!

Mikey, write that story!

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Great interview! I always love hearing about each author's process, and Pat offered some great advice as well. I'll be promoting her too!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Lisa--I will put your name into the hat.

I'm with you. I too enjoy hearing about authors' writing process.

Donna Volkenannt said...

Sioux and Pat,
Thanks for an informative and inspiring interview. I admire Pat's persistence in continuing to follow her curiosity and never giving up on a story. She is an inspiration to all writers!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Donna--You're welcome (I had the easy part--I just provided the questions) and thanks for stopping by. You're right. Pat is an inspiration! (I'll put your name in the hat.)

Cathy C. Hall said...

I cannot wait to read this book!I love historical fiction; I learn so much along with the story. And then I feel ever so much smarter. :-)

Also, this is a period that I find particularly interesting. So...what else can I say to win this book? Oh! I know! Great tips, Pat!

(Yeah, I know. It's a random drawing. I just needed a good excuse to say wonderful things about Pat and her book.)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--You know, you could have mailed me some chocolate, to bribe me.

Either that or some Rumchata would have done it.

Your name is in the hat.

Pat Wahler said...

Thanks, Lisa! Can't wait to visit your blog.

Donna, you inspire me all the time with your wonderful stories and keen eye.

Cathy, thanks so much! And I hope you enjoy the book.

Sioux, I loved doing this interview. Thanks for inviting me!

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