Welcome Maureen. Let’s get started, shall we?
What prompted you to write about this historical event or era?
MW: NEAR THE WILD is taken from my family history, stories I’ve heard my entire life about how my ancestors came to America from Ireland to homestead in Kansas in the 1800s. The story is fiction, but it’s very much based on fact, or at least the stories I’ve heard from my mother’s and father’s generation of our family.
How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?
MW: Even though the various adventures of Maeve and her siblings come from true stories, the characters are fictionalized. My ancestors came from Ireland and started a homestead in Kansas. My great, great grandfather founded a town around his farm and built a stone cathedral out in the middle of the West to attract other Catholic immigrants to the area. The town and the cathedral exist today, although the population is not what it was during the period of homesteaders. Many of Maeve’s adventures actually happened to my ancestors, but not one single person. The MacKeighry’s sod house was based on the house my grandfather was born in, which I had the fortune to see when I was a child, before our relatives sold the land it stood on.
I deviated from the truth to incorporate a romantic triangle that propelled the main character to determine which path to choose in life. I also embellished a bit by adding a twist of magical faery dust. These are themes that interest me, so I can’t help but write them into my stories. But the adventures happened. Just not in the order I depict, or to any one person.
What research did you do for this book?
MW: I got the idea for my novel when I spent a summer researching my family tree on the internet and through family historical documents that had been given to me over the years. I’d grown up hearing about my mother’s large Irish family and how her grandparents had immigrated and then founded the town of Flush, Kansas. To my surprise, I learned more about my father’s side during this research and found his ancestors equally as interesting as my mother’s, so I incorporated both sets of stories into NEAR THE WILD.
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?
MW: I mostly take actual people and characterize them in my novel to the point that they become fictional characters. For example, through my research I discovered that my father had an ancestor who immigrated to America in the 1790s. He was an Austrian prince who was banished for marrying a commoner, so he and his wife started their own dynasty in New York. My character of Nikki Fuerst is loosely based on my ancestor, but Nikki is single and living in Kansas, but born of European royalty.
My characters always take on a life of their own. I might intend for them to be a certain way when I start writing a novel, but they soon reveal themselves to me in ways I’d never anticipated.
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?
MW: My novel takes place in an area I’ve visited and heard of since I was a girl, so it’s vivid in my mind. I hope I created it completely for my readers. The things you assume are fiction in NEAR THE WILD, might actually be true. And the details that seem to be fact probably come from my imagination. A good mixture of the two makes for a compelling, fun read.
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?
MW: My main characters are always women, mostly because I can get into their heads, and their hearts, more easily than a male character. Women are much more complex and emotional characters. With this novel, I wanted to create a strong young woman who has many adventures in the Old West with lots of men, good and bad. I enjoyed writing the men who vie for her attention, but it’s really Maeve who moves the story forward.
Thanks for answering my questions, Maureen, and good luck with your novel.
About Maureen Willett: She is a writer of fiction that pushes the boundaries of established genres. Her stories mostly come from her own family legends that have been passed down through generations, but then she tops them off with a twist of faery dust and angel wings. She is a former journalist, public relations professional, and media marketing specialist. Maureen lives in Hawaii with her family and walks the white-sand beaches of Oahu each day to get her inspiration for writing.