Are you a Native Floridian? If so how many generations?
I am a 2nd generation Floridian. My mom was born in Brewster, Florida. Her dad worked as an engineer in the phosphate mines there. My husband is third generation. His people were from north Florida near the Alabama line and a little town called, Two Egg.
How did you get interested in writing?
I think I have always wanted to be a writer because I have always been a reader. My parents and my teachers instilled in me a love for words. My earliest memories involve books. I was so proud when I learned to write my name and could climb the steps to the book mobile to get my own library card. I started writing historical fiction in an effort to teach people that history is exciting and relevant and has something to teach us. People of history were just like us with similar emotions, fears and longings. That is why I write. To teach people that and because I love words!
How do you get your ideas for your books?
I try to write about real people so I chose women that I have come across in my research. I use their lives as the framework for the books but embellish the story using my imagination of why I think they did what they did. I love it when I plan for things to go one way and the characters take over the story and take it a different direction. The book I am working on now is about my grandmother and her mother. I expect they will have something to say about their story as well!
How has your profession impacted the type of books you write?
Historical fiction convinced me that history was worth learning (Not the way it was taught in school) so I have always tried to present history in creative ways such as drama or games. In that way, my profession was actually shaped by books. Because I am a historian, I spend a lot of time doing research to make sure I get the conversations, facts and settings right. I feel an obligation to the reader to give them a product that they can trust to be authentic and real.
Do you find yourself in part of your characters?
Yes, each character has part of me. Eliza with her doubts about God’s existence; Julia with her struggles for control; Caroline with her determination to be good and work in her own strength. Some of the other characters are based upon people I know as well. See if you find yourself in one of my books someday!
When will Cathy’s Story be published?
Oh, it is unfolding in each of the other stories. Or you can read my journal, where I talk about my life. I try to be real there and not sugarcoat life!
With all you do how do you find time to write?
I divide my life into BMS and AMS. Before I was diagnosed with MS in December of 2013, I was like a crazy woman, running from meeting to meeting, never stopping, always volunteering, breaking my long standing rule of only being gone from home one night per week and generally making myself and those around me exhausted. I would spend weekends crafting, standing on my feet all day making fused glass, riding my horse, dog training, sewing or a combination of those. Not to mention regular chores like housework, gardening and cooking. After MS, I was forced to make better choices about how I spend my time. I can no longer go 90 miles an hour all day. Rest is a top priority. I stopped serving on committees, stopped saying “yes” and started saying “no” more. I am learning that who I am is not dependent on what I do, but who God made me to be and Who I spend time with (God). While I still have an addictive personality and do things like trying to make a dress in one day, my body forces me to rest and slow down. That gives me more time to enjoy the things that I can do. I can either sew or write, train the dog or read, but I only do one at a time, no more multitasking for me. I still work 40 hours per week, but I love my job and enjoy the people I work with. Thankfully, Glen, my husband, is retired now, and our adult children have come back home to live so I have help with housework and cooking. We all have one night per week that we cook so I only have to cook on Sundays. I love preparing a meal when I have time to do so and don’t have to rush. Glen helps with housework and laundry, but get out of his way when he is cleaning and pick up your stuff or he will throw it away! That was the long answer to your question. The short answer is, I don’t do nearly what I used to do so I have time to write more. I have to make it a priority just like resting, but I love to write so it is not a chore.
Is your husband, Glen, your muse?
Believe it or not, Glen is my muse. The books would never have been published without his encouragement which borders on harassment some days. I read the first draft of Eliza’s Story aloud to him and he was a great cheerleader. He is the one who had the idea for Independent Publishing and continues to allow me time to write. He even takes me places that I need for settings in the books. We do have an agreement for every history museum we visit, we go to a motorcycle event or venue!
What gave you the idea to write about these 3 amazing woman?
As for choosing the women, I think they really chose me. When I was a senior in college, I had to chose a topic to write a senior thesis on. My parents had just relocated to Terra Ceia from St. Petersburg and on their property was a historical marker about the Atzeroth family. So, I decided to find out more about them. I was blessed to have my thesis published in a magazine called Tampa Bay History and other historians began to send me information that they found. (Atzeroth is not a common name!) By this time, I was also blessed to be hired to work for the Clerk’s Office and began finding out about other women whose stories were fascinating but untold because the men got more attention. For 25 years, I collected information on them and on the Atzeroths. Eventually, I decided to put it in a book.
What is the most relaxing to you in regards to writing, sewing, cooking, bible study, etc?
Of all my hobbies, I think sewing is more relaxing for several reasons. I have a finished project when done, something usable that makes me feel productive. I can’t think about anything else when I sew, I have to focus on the task at hand. When I was feeling bad in 2015, I did a lot of sewing as it took my mind off my troubles. Also, I like to sew because it makes me feel close to my grandmother, Florence Tichenor Pace. My grandmother sewed most of my clothes for me when I was a girl and taught me to sew. Sometimes, I wonder how she would handle a difficult task and usually, I get an answer. Whenever I finish a project, I feel her pride. She died over two decades ago, and I still miss her. With regards to writing, I find it is best to take a break when I get stuck. To go outside or do something else, clean or read. Usually, the answer I need comes to me in the shower or while I sleep. When I was writing Eliza’s Story, I often dreamed about her and the story would unfold so perfectly, I had to write it down right away before I forgot it!
Did you take classes in learning to write books?
I took an adult education creative writing class at the local community college about fifteen years ago. I also went to a weeklong class taught by Carol Crawford at John Campbell Folk School. However, I know very little about the formal process of writing like story arcs, character development and plot lines. I just write what I would enjoy reading and hope for the best. One of these days, I would like to take a grammar course and learn where those pesky commas should go.
How much of your books is true?
If I had to estimate a percentage, I would say about 65%. Most of the circumstances, hurricanes, wars, births and deaths are true. Almost all the characters are real though I have to add characters sometimes to advance the story. However, none of the people I write about left journals describing their feelings and why they made decisions that they did so those things are from my imagination. If the character is someone who was prominently known during their life, I try to use quotes from newspapers as part of their conversation to make their feelings known. The characters I most get asked about are Henry, Billy Bowlegs, Nihassi, and Margaret. Nihassi and Margaret are imagined. Henry and Billy Bowlegs were real people though I don’t know much about Henry other than the Bill of Sale when the Atzeroths initially purchased him. The story about Billy Bowlegs coming to eat with the Atzeroths and his friendship with them and with Colonel Belknap is true.
What kind of books do you like to read?
I read both nonfiction and fiction, but fiction is my favorite. Of course, my preferred genre is Historical Fiction. I enjoy the books written by Cathy Gohlke, B.J. Huff, Brock and Bodie Thoene, and Davis Bunn. My favorite author, though, is Jan Karon. I have read her Mitford books at least six times each. They are my go to for stressful times because I can pick any of them up in any place and instantly feel at peace and be absorbed in the story. My secret vice is Nora Roberts. I don’t always agree with her character’s choices, but when I start one of her books, I cannot put them down. I usually save them for a time when I can binge read. My family knows not to bother me when a new Nora Roberts’ book comes out! Periodically, I also read my old childhood favorites, particularly the ones set in Florida like The Pink Motel, Lion’s Paw and The Horse That Swam Away.
Speaking of horses, did you say you have a horse?
Yes, in 2002, I had a midlife crisis and bought a horse, a three year old Morgan gelding. His call name is Trucker and he is a bay (brown with black mane and tail) with a diamond on his forehead. I never had riding lessons as a child through my mother found a picture I drew when I was about 7 or 8 of a horse that looks just like Trucker. He was a young horse, I was an inexperienced rider, which is not a good combination, but we overcame our difficulties and have a great partnership now. He mostly gets ridden by a friend’s son now, but when I do ride, Trucker takes good care of me. We have two other horses at our house to keep Trucker company, our friends’ two Paso Finos.
You said that you have Multiple Sclerosis. Do you have any advice for people with MS?
The best advice I could give is to take care of yourself. Every case of MS is different. What helps one person may not help you. Find what relieves your symptoms and gives you joy and make time to do those things. Find a doctor who listens to you and understands that you are unique. For me, massage therapy, gentle stretching exercises like yoga, lots of rest, learning to say no and having a service dog are the best help. My service dog, Cory, assists me in walking and balance, but she also alerts others that I may need extra help. She is also much better than a cane! Oh, and stay off the websites that preach doom and gloom and make you feel bad about your circumstances. Stay positive. No matter what well intentioned people might tell you.