Today Elena Maria Vidal is visiting Ascroft, eh? to answer a few questions about her new novel, The Paradise Tree, a story of Irish immigrants who arrived in Canada during the late 1800s and built a new life in the province of Ontario. Since my ancestors arrived in Canada from Britain and Ireland a couple generations ago, it’s a topic that fascinates me and I’m looking forward to hearing more about her novel.
Welcome Elena. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel.
EMV: The Paradise Tree is a novel of beginnings and endings; it invokes the memory of Eden while simultaneously conjuring up the Apocalypse. This is because in most lives there is an era of innocence as well as moments in which death and judgment are encountered. I have taken the lives of one man and one woman, my great-great-great-grandparents, and looked at such eras and moments in the context of their experience as Irish immigrants in the harshness and beauty of 19th century Canada. I wanted to look at what elements, amid so many difficulties, built a strong marriage and a cohesive family unit. And what elements threatened to destroy them.
What prompted you to write about this historical event?
EMV: My cousin, Mary O’Connor Kaiser, the great-great-granddaughter of Daniel and Brigit O’Connor, suggested it to me once when I was visiting Lost Bay Lake, not far from the old family homestead of Long Point. She began to share her research about our ancestors with me and one day we drove all over the region exploring the historical sites.
How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?
EMV: I tried to stick to the chronology of the known events, such as births, deaths and weddings, as well as the building of houses. Anything for which I could find a scrap of recorded history in either a letter, a memoir, or a legal document, I included in the novel and built the story around it.
What research did you do for this book?
EMV: I consulted books of local history but mainly my research consisted in pulling together loose information from scattered family archives and legal records, whenever I had access to them. The bibliography in the back of the book lists my sources. I also relied on personal interviews with older relatives as well as visits to historic sites.
Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel. Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?
EMV: Almost every single character is historic, which is easier for me to write, because you usually have some tiny bit of evidence on which to build their persona.
In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?
EMV: I brought it to life by spending time in the area where the story takes place, and studying pictures of the way the area looked in the past. I also studied photos of the persons in the story, how they were dressed. And I read their letters.
There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?
EMV: I find it equally easy to write characters of either sex. It is not being male or female which makes the person a challenge to write but whether they are good or evil. I find it difficult to write from the point of view of characters who are sociopaths. It is a challenge for me not to make them into a caricature.
Thanks for answering my questions, Elena. Readers can learn more about Elena by visiting her website, blog and Goodreads page. The Paradise Tree is available on Amazon US & UK as well as other retail sites.
About Elena Maria Vidal: She grew up in the countryside outside of Frederick, Maryland, “fair as the garden of the Lord” as the poet Whittier said of it. As a child she read so many books that her mother had to put restrictions on her hours of reading. During her teenage years, she spent a great deal of her free time writing stories and short novels.
Elena graduated in 1984 from Hood College in Frederick with a BA in Psychology, and in 1985 from the State University of New York at Albany with an MA in Modern European History. In 1986, she joined the Secular Order of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Elena taught at the Frederick Visitation Academy and worked as a private tutor as well as teaching children’s etiquette classes. During a trip to Austria in 1995 she visited the tomb of Empress Maria Theresa in the Capuchin crypt in Vienna. Afterwords she decided to finish a novel about Marie-Antoinette she had started writing ten years before but had put aside. In 1997 her first historical novel TRIANON was published by St. Michaels Press. In 2000, the sequel MADAME ROYALE was published, as well as the second edition of TRIANON, by The Neumann Press. Both books quickly found an international following which continues to this day. In 2010, the third edition of TRIANON and the second edition of MADAME ROYALE were released.
In November 2009, THE NIGHT’S DARK SHADE: A NOVEL OF THE CATHARS was published by Mayapple Books. The new historical novel deals with the controversial Albigensian Crusade in thirteenth century France. Elena has been a contributor to Canticle Magazine, Touchstone Magazine, The National Observer, and The American Conservative. In April 2009 she was a speaker at the Eucharistic Convention in Auckland, New Zealand. In August 2010 Elena spoke at The Catholc Writers Conference in Valley Forge, PA. She is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and the Eastern Shore Writers Association. She currently lives in Maryland with her family.