Author Brigid Amos has a new release to celebrate!
Can a girl break free from her mother’s past?
Having a mother with a past is never easy. For Ruthie Conoboy it becomes the struggle of a lifetime in 1900, the year Tobias Mortlock arrives in the gold mining town of Bodie, California. Ruthie is suspicious of this stranger, but her trusting father gives him a job in the stamp mill. Soon, Ruthie suspects that her mother and Mortlock have become more than friends. Can Ruthie stop this man from destroying her family?
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What inspired you to write this book?
I’m almost hesitant to admit this, but a TV show was my initial inspiration for A Fence Around Her. Let me explain. Having just finished writing a novel about the California Gold Rush of 1849, I was desperately seeking an idea for my next book. Enter Huell Howser, host of “California’s Gold,” a program that highlighted the lesser known places of interest around the state. One evening, Mr. Howser visited the ghost town of Bodie, California. Bodie was a gold mining district that boomed in the early 1880s, declined rapidly, and was then devastated by fire in the 1930s. The minute those images appeared on my television screen, images of scattered ramshackle buildings abandoned in lonely, treeless hills, I was hooked on the place. In early June, I packed up my dog and camping equipment and headed for Bodie. A volunteer dressed in period costume and claiming to be the head machinist gave a fascinating tour of the Standard Stamp Mill, where ore was crushed into dust in the first step in extracting gold and silver. As I hung on his every word, the ghost of an idea began to take form in the back of my mind. That tour guide playing the role of head machinist became the basis for Mike Conoboy, the father of Ruthie Conoboy, my protagonist in A Fence Around Her. After my first visit, I read everything I could find on Bodie, and the rest of the story and characters arose from reading and visits to Bodie.
How long have you been writing?
A very, very long time. That isn’t helpful, is it? Ok, I got serious about writing twenty two years ago, but as my husband likes to say, “life intervened.” I got deadly serious about writing five years ago. Now, there’s no going back.
Are you an outliner or pantser?
Very much a panster, but I like to think there is always an outline hiding somewhere in my subconscious.
Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
At the risk of being cheeky, just sit down in front of a piece of paper with a pen in your hand, put pen to paper, and go. But seriously, I don’t believe in writer’s block per se. I only believe that sometimes you’re hot and sometimes you’re not. A lot of people stop writing when they don’t feel inspired. Write when you’re uninspired. That may be when inspiration sneaks in the back door.
What are your hobbies aside from writing?
I love to ski. Skiing combines so many of my loves: mountains, trees, snow, speed, and adventure. And I ski with the love of my life, my husband Bob. Oh yes, I have many other interests, hardly worth mentioning after SKIING! By the way, I sneaked a ski scene into A Fence Around Her. Just couldn’t help myself.
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?
Virginia City, Nevada. I actually worked Virginia City into the backstory of Lilly Conoboy, the mother of my main character Ruthie Conoboy. But I’ve never been there and would like to go someday.
You were just given an Island. What would you name it? And who would live there with you?
I would have an internet contest and let people submit names and then vote on them. It would be fun to see what kind of crazy names people might come up with, like Floaty McIsland, Shelley Long Island, or perhaps Dez Ertisland. Of course my husband would live there with me. And other people who are easy to get along with, because it’s hard to avoid people on an island.
Weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten.
I’m torn among goat, octopus, and frogs legs. Which one do you think is the weirdest? (By the way, I’m not advocating for any of them, and won’t eat them again!)
If you could bring one of your characters to life, who would it be?
In A Fence Around Her, I gave my main character a best friend by the name of Susanna Hunnewill. Susanna is kind, loyal, caring, wise, dependable, and even-tempered. In other words, she is the perfect best friend. I would totally bring her to life and keep her close by. Everyone needs a Susanna Hunnewill in their life!
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t fret over the first draft. No one else has to read it. In the first draft you can write anything you want, make all kinds of mistakes, and relax into the writing. Later you can edit it. So don’t labor over every word and sentence in a first draft. Have fun with it. Writing should be fun!
Brigid Amos’ young adult historical fiction has appeared in The MacGuffin, The Storyteller, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Words of Wisdom. A produced playwright, she co-founded the Angels Playwriting Collective and serves on the board of the Angels Theatre Company. She is also an active member of Women Writing the West and the Nebraska Writers Guild. Although Brigid left a nugget of her heart behind in the California Gold Country, most of it is in Lincoln, Nebraska where she currently lives with her husband.
Can you share an excerpt of your book with us?
When I left the house that day to go to the Sawdust Corner Saloon to fetch my father, the day we met Tobias Mortlock, my mother was still lying in bed moaning as if from a mortal wound and threatening to do herself harm. While I was gone, she had gotten up and tried to console herself by working on her latest landscape. But something had gone wrong, for when we came through the front door into the parlor, we found my mother slumped on the floor. Her silk dressing gown lay in folds around her and her blond curls stuck to her head in a multicolored array. Little pots of oil paint were scattered across the floor dribbling the last of sky blue, forest green, and yellow ochre onto the Persian rug.
“Lilly, what have you done?” My father reached down and lifted her to her feet, then walked over to where the easel lay collapsed on the floor and righted it also. He peeled the wet canvas from the rug and set it on the easel, then stepped back to have a look at it.
Somewhat distracted by the bits of red fuzz from the carpet embedded in the wet paint, I fixed my eyes on the canvas, trying to sort out the swirls of color into a cohesive image. My mother waited silently for our verdict. She seemed, in that moment, as fragile as a sparrow. I was relieved when my father broke the silence with his jovial critique.
“Why Lilly, it is the spitting image of Mono Lake. Yes, here are the islands in the center, and here the mountains rising up in the background. It is quite an impressive site, just as we saw it that day.” Two summers before, my father had taken us on a trip to the lake on the narrow gauge railroad that brought us firewood from the lumber mill on its southern shore. I remember how much my mother enjoyed that rare outing, saying over and over that the lake reminded her of the San Francisco Bay.
“It’s a fine painting, Mother,” I said. She moaned.
“What was that, Lilly?”
“No, Father, she didn’t say anything. She only made a sound.”
“Not good enough!” Mother wailed. Her sticky, colorful curls quivered like bunting in a light breeze.
“That’s not true, dear,” my father said. “You are a fine artist. It’s these fools in this town who don’t appreciate it. Look around at all the beauty in this parlor! Every day, I come home and think, who else has so many beautiful works of art on their walls? Maybe just Leland Stanford, Randal Hearst, and me.” He reached out to brush back her sticky hair. She slapped his arm away, smearing paint on the cuff of his sleeve.
“I’m not talking about the stupid painting,” she said. “It’s me. I’ll never be good enough, not in Bodie.”
“Of course you are. I married you, didn’t I?”
At this she let out a wild scream and shook her head as if fending off a swarm of bees. Oil droplets sprayed in all directions, and I looked out the window to see if anyone could have heard. Mortlock had long moved on, and the street was deserted.
My mother stopped shaking and screaming, but she was still furious. “I am so sick of hearing about how you did me this grand favor by marrying me. If you’d wanted to do something for me, you would have taken me away from this awful place. You would have taken me somewhere people didn’t know me, where I could have been a regular woman.”
My father looked at the paint-spattered rug. “Ruthie, why don’t you go in the kitchen and start boiling water. I think your mother needs a bath.”
As I lit the stove and poured water into pots, I could hear their voices in the parlor, still going back and forth as they always did. Hers was like a mournful violin, his like a jolly French horn hopelessly out of step with the violin. Together they made a dissonant sound like musicians trying to play a duet, but each playing a different piece of music. And it never mattered what they were playing since it was always a variation on the same theme.
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