I’ve invited Jodie Toohey here today to tell us a little about Taming the Twisted.
Tell us about your novel.
JT: Taming the Twisted is written in a similar style to Laura Ingalls Wilders’ Little House books though updated for modern times. It might read as if she’d left in all of the juicy tidbits about things people didn’t talk about during the time when she was writing. Taming the Twisted is a story of destruction, romance, mystery, and deceit set against a back drop of an actual historical event.
In early June, 1860, Abigail enjoyed a peaceful home life with her parents, younger sister, and twin toddler brothers. Their home in Camanche, Iowa, where they’d emigrated from Pennsylvania, was almost complete and her beau, Joseph Sund, had recently proposed marriage.
That changes the evening of June 3rd when a tornado rips through town, killing her parents. At the mass funeral for the over two dozen people who perished in the storm, she learns Marty Cranson, with whom Abigail witnessed Joseph having a heated argument, died, but at the hands of a person rather than the tornado.
In addition to being faced with raising her young siblings, Joseph has disappeared without a trace and a stranger, Marshall Stevenson, appears, offering to help Abigail repair the families’ home and cultivate the newly planted farm crops.
Abigail, while developing romantic feelings for Marshall, tolerating the scorn of town woman Pamela Mackenrow, and working as a seamstress and storekeeper to support her siblings, becomes obsessed with finding out who killed Marty, hoping that, and not that he no longer loved her, was the reason Joseph left without saying goodbye.
What prompted you to write about this historical event?
JT: I grew up in Camanche, Iowa, and heard many times growing up how if it hadn’t been for the tornado, Camanche would’ve been bigger than Clinton, a town of about seven times higher population just north on the Mississippi River. I also always loved hearing the stories my grandmother, Betty (Sinkey) Shaw, told about growing up in Camanche, where she was born in an old train depot my high school friend actually lived in.
How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?
JT: I stuck to historical facts as much as I possibly could. The tornado was real, the stories of destruction were real, and the setting as far as town layout and street names were real; my character’s family and the murder were invented to create an interesting story. I basically used the real tornado as a backdrop and catalyst to create my fictional story.
What research did you do for this book?
JT: I spent a lot of time researching, including in several books, which are included in the book’s bibliography, and microfilm at the library. I researched the tornado as well as the look and feel of life in 1860, in Camanche in particular and in Iowa and the Midwest in general. I tried to verify every historical fact I could, down to the weather where I could get the information.
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?
JT: I used mostly invented characters in the novel. Some of the characters, such as the owner of the store Abigail frequents, were real people living in Camanche at the time. I haven’t tried to write a story from a real historical figure’s point of view, but I imagine it would be much more difficult. I would be afraid that I would get something wrong and offend someone. So far, for that reason, I prefer to write the most intimately about fictional characters.
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?
JT: I accomplished this (I hope) mostly through research and just the familiarity of growing up in Camanche. I spent a day walking the ground where my characters would’ve walked in Camanche, taking photos and notes, and then I used that to mentally put myself in those places back in 1860 as I was writing. The other part of it was including all of those details from my research and “walking the ground” into to the story to give it authenticity and make it feel alive.
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?
JT: I prefer to write from the female’s point of view, simply because, since I’m female, I feel like I understand more how they would think, feel, and behave. I’m always impressed when I read something from one gender’s point of view and find out the author was the opposite gender; that is evidence of a very skilled author. I’m not quite there. I wouldn’t say I’d never attempt writing something from a male perspective, but at this time, I have plenty of ideas for female-centered stories.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Jodie, and good luck with your novel.
About Jodie Toohey: She is the author of four additional books, two poetry collections – Crush and Other Love Poems for Girls (2008) and Other Side of Crazy (918studio, 2013) – as well as two novels, Missing Emily: Croatian Life Letters (2012) and Melody Madson – May It Please the Court? (2014).
When Jodie is not writing poetry or fiction, she is helping authors, soon-to-be-authors, and want-to-be authors from pre-idea to reader through her company, Wordsy Woman Author Services.