Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ten Questions from Tara: Interview with Mark Wiederanders

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Tara: Welcome. You’re here to promote Stevenson’s Treasure, a historical novel. Tell me, please, what was the inspiration behind this story? How did it come to you?

Mark: My inspiration began accidentally, during a weekend trip to my son’s house in the rugged hills above the Carmel Valley. I read in a guidebook that “Louis” Stevenson collapsed just above the house, and would have died were it not for two goat ranchers who took the comatose traveler to their cabin and nursed him to health. What was the young, as-yet unknown writer with lung problems doing in these rugged hills so far away from Scotland? I soon learned that Louis’s collapse was one of several near-fatal setbacks during his year-long quest to make an American, Fanny Osbourne, his wife despite the facts that she was already married, had children and was ten years his senior. Fanny, a fiercely protective mother who had fallen deeply in love with Louis, faced the realities of keeping her children fed while somehow ending a marriage to a domineering and philandering husband. As Louis wrote while riding a primitive rail car across the American plains, “No man is any use until he has dared everything; I feel just now as if I had, and so might become a man.” Both Louis and Fanny inspired me because they risked everything – and succeeded beyond their wildest imaginations.

Tara: We focus a lot on heroines here on Book Babe. Tell me what makes your heroine(s) strong.

Mark: When Fanny Osbourne met and fell in love with ten-years-younger Robert Louis Stevenson, she had already faced adversities that might have overwhelmed an ordinary person. She had raised three young children with little help from her husband, who moved the family from Indiana to a succession of harsh Nevada mining towns while he prospected for gold and silver. When she learned he was cheating on her, she moved with the children to Europe – and found a way to study painting with some of the best artists in the world. Within a few months, her four-year-old son became desperately ill. For several weeks she tried one cure after another in an exhausting and futile battle to save his life. His death sent her into a months’ long depression but she managed to get through it. Steeled by perhaps the worst that could happen to her, she found the courage to end her marriage and begin a new one with a man who respected and exalted her, Louis Stevenson. She became his fiercest protector, showing the door to both ordinary and famous visitors if they stayed too late; after her son’s death she had vowed never to lose a loved one to illness again.
Tara: Did any particular woman in your family or life help inspire some of her traits?

Mark: My mother shared some of the historical Fanny Osbourne’s strong, frontier traits. She was the oldest child of a large family who cared for and protected her brothers and sisters while her parents worked dawn to nightfall on their small, Texas farm. During the Great Depression, in her late teens she began teaching all grades in a one-room schoolhouse and her paycheck went to put food on table for the entire family. While her parents rested after the noontime meal, she played baseball with the boys in the pasture. When I got stumped in writing a scene about a woman rising above adversity, I close my eyes and try to imagine how Mom would act under similar circumstances.

Tara: Oh, I love that answer. Your mother sounds amazing!

Was there any particular part of this story that was the hardest for you to write? Tell me why.

Mark: A scene about the previously-mentioned death of Fanny Osbourne’s son died was especially hard to write. In a museum I held in my hand a letter she wrote to a friend in a small, neat hand, on black-edged stationery, about the boy’s illness and death. I also held short, chilling telegrams she had exchanged with her husband, Sam about the boy’s condition during the time when Sam was desperately trying to get from California to France to see his son before he died. I could feel their grief and helplessness. It was difficult to write a fictional scene about this tragedy without feeling like I was encroaching on someone’s privacy and suffering, even though the event happened almost 140 years ago.

Tara: I can imagine that. There is something about holding real letters and such...of wondering how they felt as they read it for the first time...

What kind of research did you do when you penned this novel? Did anything surprising come up in your search?

Mark: Besides reading eight volumes of published letters exchanged by RLS with his family and friends, I looked through old photographs of the historical characters, clothing and settings so that I could accurately capture the details of everyday life. I spent time at the locations where the story takes place – all of the California locations, the Stevenson family home in Edinburgh, and the cottage in Braemar in which Stevenson began writing Treasure Island. At the Silverado Museum in St. Helena, California I came across an odd item that did not make it into the novel but made me smile – a tan pair of gloves that belonged to the novelist, Henry James. When Louis and Fanny lived in Bournemouth, Mr. James was such a frequent house-guest that the couple referred to one of their chairs in the parlor as “the James Chair.” He left the gloves during one of these visits, and Mrs. Stevenson at first meant to return them, but later confessed that she decided to just keep them as a memento of their famous friend. There was a bit of the rascal in her!

Tara: How interesting! I love hearing little "bits" like that. I wonder if those gloves will ever appear on Mysteries at the Museum. You made me think of it.

What would you like readers to gain from reading your book? Is there a strong moral? Do you hope they will laugh, learn something about a particular subject/person, ponder a point?

Mark: I would first like readers to be entertained by a good and unusual love story in which the main characters were far from perfect and who made many mistakes, but were strong-willed and strong-loved enough to prevail. Secondly, I would like them to learn, painlessly I hope, about the literary development of a remarkable 19th century author who is not widely discussed anymore but whose most popular works, Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, have spawned more plays and movies than almost any other works of fiction from any era. Finally, I especially wanted to tell the true story of Stevenson’s inspiration for his first classic, Treasure Island. His motive was not to produce art, but to entertain two “boys,” his 10-year-old stepson and his middle-aged father.

Tara: Your book takes place in Northern California. If I were a tourist, what would you recommend I see in this town/country?
Mark: Monterey and San Francisco are fascinating sea coastal cities in which lots of the action of Stevenson’s Treasure takes place, with spectacular vistas and lots for tourists to do. But I would also recommend that tourists see the Napa Valley Wine Country, about an hour away from San Francisco. The towns of St. Helena and Calistoga, in the northern part of the valley still have lots of the quaint, sophisticated-yet-rural charm and “feel” that they had when Louis and Fanny honeymooned, for free, in an abandoned silver miner’s cabin. Then and now, as Stevenson described it, the wine country is “a pleasant place to dwell in; beautifully green, for it was then that favoured moment in the Californian year, when the rains are over and the dusty summer has not yet set in; often visited by fresh airs, now from the mountain, now across Sonoma from the sea….” You will have more than the handful of wineries to sample that Stevenson found; after he had joyfully “tasted every variety and shade of Schramberger wine in the cellar” he concluded that “wine in California is still in the experimental stage.” (The Schramsberg winery, by the way, thrives with some original buildings still standing.)

You can also visit one the best museums anywhere in the world for RLS fans, the Robert Louis Stevenson Silverado Museum, pictured here.

Tara: Moving on to personal things...if you could time travel to absolutely any time and place in history, where and when would you go and what is it that draws you to this time period? What would you do whilst there?

Mark: I would love to time-travel to anytime during the 1870s through the First World War. This must have been a wonderful time to be alive, at least for those with adequate means. Judging from the research I did on that era while writing Stevenson’s Treasure, I love the way people read lots of books, wrote long letters to each other, conversed, enjoyed live music, and travelled at a leisurely pace to the ends of the earth in grand style by railroad and steamship. They seemed to savor a connected, civilized kind of life that has mostly vanished today, at least in the urban United States.

Tara: I think that's one of the downsides of cell phones and the digital age. I know where you're coming from, Mark. 

What’s the one thing you hope to accomplish before you die? Your main goal?

Mark: What I hope to accomplish before I die has changed every few years. When I was in my 20s, I hoped to marry a loving wife and get a PhD in psychology. A few years later, I hoped to be a respected professor. Then I hoped to have children and form a loving family. And so forth until recently, reaching the age of 60, I hoped to get a first novel in print. I could say I hope to write a National Book Award winner or some such, but honestly, as the years go by I have fewer and fewer outward benchmarks that I “must” attain, and more and more inner ones. When I die I hope to have no regrets that I passed up trying to reach difficult goals. Perhaps the main goal that remains is to stay deeply connected to at least a small number of people including family and friends, so that I do not feel alone when it is time to leave the earth.

Tara: I’m a dog mom, so I always ask this. Do you have pets? If so, tell me about them and do provide pictures.
Mark: Our most beloved pet was an Australian shepherd mix named Jimi. My son adopted him as a puppy when he went to college, but his landlord banished pets so the dog moved to our house. At first we were leery of lodging a little beast that chewed things up and made messes, but Jimi quickly stole our hearts. A herder by instinct, he would race around the house, up and down a mountain trail, or anywhere else the family happened to be, trying to keep the kids together and safe. His bark was ferocious but he was gentle as a lamb. We loved him for 14 years until, not long ago, he died. When we get over him we’ll get a new dog. He was a good sport about letting our daughters dress him up for this photo shoot.

Tara: I love that picture!!!!!!!!! I'm sorry for your loss, but golly, it sure looks like he had a good time while he was here. And left behind some good memories. Thanks for joining us, today, Mark, and good luck with your books.


perf6.000x9.000.inddSTEVENSON’S TREASURE is a fictional but carefully researched story about the year Robert Louis Stevenson leaves all that is safe in Scotland and journeys to California on what has to be one of the most romantic, ill-advised but successful quests a literary figure has ever made. Unknown and in shaky health, the 29-year-old writer in the summer of 1879 crosses the Atlantic by steamer and the American continent by rail. His objective is scandalous: to make an American art student he met in France, Fanny Osbourne, his wife despite the facts that she is already married (unhappily), has children and is ten years older than him. Showing up on her Monterey doorstep half-dead from several ailments, “Louis” nonetheless proposes marriage. Although her heart longs to say “yes,” she turns him down for a variety of practical reasons. Louis finds cheap lodgings nearby and vows to stay as long as it takes to overcome her objections. In their year-long struggle to somehow have a future together, Louis and Fanny must contend not just with his abysmal health but his inability to sell his writing, her handsome but philandering husband, a contentious teenage daughter and a skeptical ten-year-old son. From this mixture, stirred on a palette of landscapes that include France, Monterey, San Francisco, Calistoga and the Highlands of Scotland comes a more complete triumph than Stevenson had hoped for…

Publication Date: February 23, 2014 | Fireship Press | Formats: eBook, Paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction

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About the Author

03_Mark WiederandersMark Wiederanders lives in Northern California and writes about the private lives of famous authors. His screenplay about William Shakespeare's family, "Taming Judith" was a finalist in the Academy of Motion Pictures' annual screenwriting competition and was optioned by a film company. The idea for his current novel, STEVENSON'S TREASURE hatched during a visit to Carmel, when Mark learned that Robert Louis Stevenson suffered a near-fatal collapse in 1879 while hiking nearby. What was the young, as-yet unknown Scottish writer doing so far from home?

To write the novel that resulted from this question, Mark studied hundreds of historical letters and visited sites near him in Monterey, San Francisco, and Calistoga. Then he followed Stevenson's footsteps to Europe, lodging at the Stevenson home in Edinburgh followed by a week in the Highlands cottage where RLS wrote TREASURE ISLAND. Mark is also a research psychologist (Ph.D, University of Colorado) who has studied treatment programs for delinquents and the criminally insane. His interests include acting in community theater (recently a Neil Simon play), downhill skiing, golf, and spending time with his wife and three grown children.

For more information please visit Mark Wiederander's website and blog. You can also find him on Facebook.

Stevenson's Treasure Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, September 15
Review & Interview at Back Porchervations
Tuesday, September 16
Review at The Writing Desk
Wednesday, September 17
Review at The Book Binder's Daughter
Review, Interview & Giveaway at Based on a True Story
Thursday, September 18
Review at Library Educated
Friday, September 19
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews
Monday, September 22
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, September 23
Interview at Book Babe
Wednesday, September 24
Spotlight at Princess of Eboli
Thursday, September 25
Review & Giveaway at Beth's Book Reviews
Spotlight & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Friday, September 26
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Wednesday, October 1
Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views

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