Thursday, June 7, 2007

Blog Spotlight - Louise M. Gouge

1) When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer? Was there anything in your childhood that influenced you to become a writer?
Like most children, I always had my own imaginary little world. Then, when I was ten years old, Mary Martin appeared on black and white television playing Peter Pan. If you’ll forgive the pun, that’s when my fantasies really took flight because it was such a happy tale. I wanted to make up stories like that, too. I loved to write in school, often turning ordinary term papers into fiction that incorporated my research. There was always a story simmering in my imagination. But my children were all in school when I finally began to write seriously.

2) Although you have written several novels, what inspired you to specifically write a historical trilogy of the post Civil War era?
The Civil War was such an important turning point in United States history because it defined what we would become as a nation. In this series, I wanted to explore why Reconstruction failed and why we still suffer the consequences of that failure. As with my school term papers, I show my historical perspective and research best through fiction.

3) Knowing that you have several writing awards to your credit, please share with us which novelists and other writers have influenced your writing and in what ways?
Charlotte Brontë was my first strong influence. In my opinion, her Jane Eyre is not only a perfect romance novel but also an eloquent social and spiritual commentary. DiAnn Mills is a prolific and talented author whose “expect an adventure” style has shown me how to use just the right amount of research rather than doing an “information dump” on my readers. Francine Rivers has one of the most powerful spiritual voices in today’s Christian fiction. Every one of her novels deeply moves me and brings me closer to God. I hope to emulate these three authors so that God’s message can be clear, deep, and exciting in my stories.

4) Why did you write Then Came Hope rather than some other story?
In this trilogy, I wanted to tell the stories of three very different men who returned home after fighting in the Civil War. The first man is a southern naval officer. The second one is Ezra Johns, an educated Negro man from Boston who volunteered to fight in the first black Union regiment, the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Negro Regiment. The third story will be about a northern white man. Each had his own reasons for fighting in the war.

In Ezra’s case, he had a great deal to prove because the prevailing view of the day was that Negro men would not make good soldiers or good fighters. Ezra and his real-life counterparts put an end to such uninformed speculation. If not for their courageous service all over the South, the Union might not have been preserved. It is my goal to honor their remarkable legacy.

5) Your characters are distinctive, multi-faceted, and even endearing at times. What inspired the development of the plot and characters in your story? Are they based upon themes and people you already know?
Addressing the question of themes: because I was a child in the Civil Rights era, I’ve always wondered why things did not turn out better for this nation after the Civil War and why the Civil Rights movement was even necessary. I have come to understand that national identities are formed through the choices that individual people make. In this country, the generation after the Civil War failed to take up the torch and “fix” the racial divide, failed to bring African-Americans fully into American society, so that all of us could work together to build the greatest nation this world has ever known. We are still suffering because of that. We had a chance to become a beacon to a world where tribal and ethnic identities often wreak havoc and destruction. But we failed. By placing my characters in the post-Civil War, I show that many Americans had great hope for a better world, and there is still a chance we can overcome that failure.
With that in mind, I created a cast of characters for Then Came Hope that included a variety of southern former slaves and one northern freeman. Their interactions with white people and with other blacks, along with their ultimate decisions about where to begin their futures in freedom, propel this story forward through a hostile South and a not-so-perfect North.

6) You have a way of taking the reader right into your literary landscape – in this case the post Civil War era. How much research did you use to set the mood and ambiance of your story?
Once upon a time, before television, radio, and movies, people enjoyed novels that were filled with great historical and scenic details. They would sit around the hearth listening to the family patriarch reading a great novel such as Moby Dick or A Tale of Two Cities, from which they learned about a world they did not know. Today, we know all that stuff just by watching the Discovery or History channels. In today’s novels, we readers want an author to throw in just a few details of setting and history to give us the picture. Then tell us all about the people: their struggles, their hopes, their triumphs and tragedies. That’s what we’re concerned with because that’s what touches the core of our unchanging humanity. So I go to the heart of the human issues involved in my story and intersperse the history around it.

7) How would you describe your writing style – not your literary style – but the actual writing itself? What kind of techniques do you use?
I park myself in front of my computer and start putting words on the page. Sometimes I delete, and sometimes I save. But all of this comes after first imagining my characters, my basic plot line, and my themes, and then researching the novel’s time period extensively. Actually, the research continues as I write and all through the editing process.

8) Many novelists say ending the novel is the most difficult part of writing. Why do you think that is and how do you know when you have reached the end of your story?
I think this is all about feelings. If I’ve solved all the problems and my characters look forward to happily-ever-after, how do I end with a nice little punch line? I want my readers to feel satisfied, so once those two problems are solved, I usually put in a sweet little kiss to seal the romance. Or, in one case, I had my hero and heroine merely reaching out to hold hands. It just felt right. In the novel I just completed, I have three couples getting married, a celebration of life returning to “normal” at the end of the war.

9) There’s obviously more to a novel than just an entertaining read. What do you want readers to take away from Then Came Hope?
I believe God speaks to every believer’s heart about His truth. My prayer is that my readers will listen to God rather than to their all-too-human “conscience” or to whatever is popular or expedient in their time or their social group. I pray that they will be Christ’s representative in their sphere of influence, however large or small that may be. And I pray that they will look beyond race, politics, and religion to see the humanity of every person they meet. If I have created characters who live by these ideals, perhaps my readers will gain the courage to “go forth and do likewise.”

10) We’ve talked about the novelists that most influenced you as a writer, so now let us make the question a little more personal. Who is the one person most influential in your life today?
At the risk of sounding predictable or corny, I would say that my husband of 42 years is the most influential person in my life. He has worked very hard to make it possible for me to write. He comes home every day and asks to read what I’ve written, which means he holds me accountable. And he cooks! Not only when I have a deadline, but most of the time. What a guy! He sets me free to indulge in my art and fulfill my soul’s desires.

1 comment:

  1. Toni...I was directed here by gledwood and I'm glad that I was. Great blog - you have some important things to say.

    I look forward to exploring some of your work, as well as delving deeper into this blog (when time permits).