Interview with author Flora Beach Burlingame
We are all ready for Path of Progress to come out. As much as we know you'd love it, we're not releasing it early. This week, in anticipation of her next novel, author Flora Beach Burlingame answers some questions about her life and writing process.
Flora began writing early in elementary school, that seed that grew remained dormant while she began her life, starting college, getting married, raising children, and doing everything under the sun including returning to college for a degree in Legal Assisting for work as a paralegal. "Some day" Flora often told herself, "I will write."
Once she turned fifty she realized that "Some Day" would soon pass if she didn't do something about it.
Flora began taking writing classes and went back to college for a third time, Majoring in journalism. When an acquaintance in a professional writing organization was given the editorship of a major California newspaper she hired Flora to write features and a column. This was what she wanted to do and she fell in love with it. Flora also did work for magazines and entered short stories in contests—wining several first prizes.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
When my mom died in 1997, I fell heir to boxes of family documents that had been hidden away in closets for 100 years. Among the papers were letters written to and from my great grandfather while as a young man he taught he freed slaves in Texas during Civil War reconstruction. I was awed by what I read and decided to write a book, Charcoal and Chalk, John Ogilvie and the Beginnings of Black Education in Texas, based on his experiences.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
No. I did add my maiden name Beach to my writing because my Dad, Allen Beach, was a writer and history teacher and I was influenced by him—thus my love of history.
What other authors are you friends with, and do they help you become a better writer?
I belonged to several writing groups, but the one in Fresno influenced me the most. We were seven women very dedicated to our writing and critiqued each other’s work. I also was invited to join a group led by a “book coach” when I began the book about my great grandfather. In addition, I led a group in Mariposa, California on writing for publication where we polished each other’s work before submitting it for publication.
How do you research for your books? How long did you spend doing research for the book?
For Charcoal and Chalk, I made two trips to Texas during the writing to get a feel for the land and to locate the two places where John Ogilvie (Stevenson) actually taught. I read every book I could get my hands on about Civil War reconstruction, especially in Texas. I checked out as many original sources as possible, including the National Archives. I spent a year doing this in order to be familiar with my subject. I decided to make the book a novel, adding dialogue and characters, but staying true to the facts, to bring the book alive. I felt the story was important enough the general public should read it. (I included author’s notes in the back to advise the readers of what was fact and what was fiction.) Because of the research and other things going on in my life it took me five years to complete the book. However, I pretty much adhered to a schedule—writing mostly in the evening 2 to 3 hours’ five days a week.
What drew your inspiration for Path of Progress?
When I finished the first book, an editor for my publishing company (Fireship Press—a small traditional press that publishes books on history) asked me what my next book would be about. I hadn’t really intended to write another book, but my readership kept asking too. And of course there were more documents to spur me on.
After reconstruction terminated, my great grandfather, John Ogilvie Stevenson (I used his full name in the second book) went to Yale, got a degree in divinity (his father had been a preacher in Scotland) and served churches in Connecticut and Iowa. Letters—two binders full, sermons—a huge box full that I have donated to the Yale Divinity School archives, and editorials (I have 80 editorials he wrote for the Waterloo Courier) all told of his belief that women should have equal rights to men.
In addition, when I learned he edited the Iowa Woman’s Suffrage newsletter, I was able to borrow the microfiche of those he edited (ten years worth). I traveled to Iowa, talked to church historians and joined the history museum in Waterloo. By the time the Rev. Stevenson was in Waterloo, my great grandmother had died and the Rev. remarried. We knew very little about this second wife so I hired a professional genealogist who found lots of good information. I had decided to make this book a novel, like the first one and Ella, the second wife was a strong women who made the perfect character for a man promoting woman’s suffrage.
What are you most grateful for in your writing?
Writing about history is a learning experience and I feel it adds substance to my work. I also learned more about writing as I worked through the manuscripts—a book is very different from journalism and short stores. I did a lot of book clubs for Charcoal and Chalk and have some waiting to read Path of Progress. Books club members love having authors come to their meetings and in the case of my books, they learn history also. It is satisfying for me and them.
What made you decide to work with Acorn Publishing? How do you like working with us?
I had decided not to approach my previous publishers because they had had a complete turnover in personnel. Plus, the process of finding a traditional press is long and arduous. I’m getting along in years and decided to self-publish to get it done. I was in the process of researching the self publishing market when my friend Lori Tierney met Holly and Jessica at the Southern California Writers' Conference and told me she was going to go with them for her book, TRUDGE. Self publishing is an education in itself! I have enjoyed learning the process—though it has been very frustrating at times. Jessica, Holly, Lacey, Molly, my editor, and Debbie, my formatter, have been a joy to work with—always there to answer my many, many questions!
Thank you Flora for your wonderful answers! We can't wait for the release of your book on February 15th!