Today I am interviewing another Indie Eden Book Club author, Mary K. Tilghman. Her book, Divided Loyalties, is a historical fiction novel about a young woman who wants nothing more than to serve her country in the Civil War. Let’s see what Mary has to say about it, and about her writing process.
Hi Mary! First things first: What is the one question that you wish people would ask you about Divided Loyalties? (And what is the answer?)
Q—Who are the heroes of Divided Loyalties?
A—The nurses on the battlefield. Once I learned about the nurses who gave their time in the field hospitals after the Battle of Antietam —even though many of them were untrained — Divided Loyalties became a different book.
Originally, I wanted my book to be a story about a family rent by the war, heartbroken that their son was in the battle now known as the bloodiest day of battle in American history. But then I learned about Smoketown, the Pry House and other makeshift hospitals where women, some as young as Maureen but usually much older, did their best to keep suffering young men alive in the raging heat and the bitterest of winters. I even came across a reunion booklet for nurses who served during the Civil War complete with photos and short biographies of real Civil War nurses.
If I was going to write about strong women, and if I was going to write about ordinary people in extraordinary times, I had to revise my story and make Maureen want to be one of those amazing women. No matter the costs.
That is a very admirable goal! Now on the other hand, which typical author interview question do you hate the most?
I’ve been a reporter for 40 years. Every question is a good one and I’m happy to answer them as well as I can.
Can you give us a short description of your book?
Divided Loyalties is a Civil War story for girls. I don’t think women read about the Civil War the way men do. And yet here were all these women serving their country as battlefield nurses. I thought this was something women and girls would find interesting.
Maureen is an 18-year-old Irish immigrant fiercely loyal to her new country and determined to serve it when the Civil War breaks out. Her mother quietly supports her but her father is dead set against her going beyond their Sharpsburg farm. Though she may defy him, Maureen will find all kinds of hindrances in her way: the loss of her young man, disease and injury and a man with a gun.
Is there any famous author that inspires you, or that you admire?
I consider Jane Austen my novel-writing hero. She has wit and style and a keen eye for the way people think and act. And she really knows how to tell a story.
Good choice! Your own book is in the historical fiction genre. What drew you to this genre? Do you also like to read books in this genre?
I fell into it on a visit to Valley Forge. I was visiting with my family and as we walked around the battlefield I learned about women who lived alongside their men on that horrible cold winter during the Revolutionary War. I knew then I wanted to write about ordinary people in extraordinary times.
I read a lot of historical fiction. I love World War II fiction, including All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I recently read some terrific stories, including Year of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks, The Ruins of Lace by Irish Anthony and Call me Zelda by Erika Robuck. I met Erika at the book-signing with Nora Roberts — and discovered we are alumnae of the same high school.
Wow, that is so cool. That must be one great high school! :) Who is your target audience for this Divided Loyalties? What do you think will appeal to them about your book?
I wrote this book for mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters. I grew up discussing books my mother loved and wanted to share with me: Jane Eyre, Seventeenth Summer, everything Daphne du Maurier wrote. I want to write books women will share with their daughters, their grandmothers and other women who are important in their lives.
I hope Divided Loyalties will appeal across generations. It has a sweet love story but it is much more than that. It’s about a teenaged girl getting in over her head, defying the odds, building her own confidence and reaching out to help others even when it’s uncomfortable.
When you write a book, do you plan out everything beforehand, or do you let the story follow its own course?
I do a little of both. I have a general outline with some vague character sketches. Then I write by the seat of my pants. The end of the book shocked me; I had no idea it would end as it did. Although I do research as I write, I go back after I’m through a revision to thoroughly research and fact-check every detail so I can to make the history as real as possible.
That sounds like a good strategy. I know some authors (like me) can get bogged down with the details if they do TOO much research while they’re writing. I have always found it best to write first, fact-check later!
So, do you have any quirky writing habits?
I interview my characters. Aloud. I like to hear how they sound; let them argue with me; try out dialogue. Interviewing comes naturally after so many years of newspaper work. But stop by my house when I’m writing and I may be talking up a storm with my characters. We have some jolly conversations.
Haha I love that! Aside from conducting interviews, do you have any writing tips for other writers?
Write, write, write. Write what you feel. Write what is true. Trust yourself and your work. And then revise everything. Get a critique partner or group and share and discuss your work.
What would you say is the best way to market your book once it’s written? With which method have you had the most success so far?
This is my first book. Marketing has been a bigger challenge than writing the book. My best day was a great one, however. I was invited to join in a book signing with Nora Roberts when she released Year One at Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro, Md. These book-signings are very popular among Nora fans with long lines of readers waiting their turn to buy books and have them signed. I was the opening act, bringing my book and sitting at the first table. There were six or seven other authors between me and Nora. But I adored the opportunity to speak to all of her fans, tell them about my book and ask about what books they were buying. (And I sold out of my stack of books.)
That’s amazing, what a great opportunity! Going back to the beginning, though, how did your book come to be published? What was your journey to publication like? Did you get a lot of rejection letters before you finally saw your name in print?
I reached a point where I thought it was ready: revised, read and critiqued by my critique group, edited by a pro and revised again. Then I set a goal to send it to every publisher I could. I got rejection after rejection and then one day the publisher of Black Rose Writing sent me an offer.
Is being a published author everything you dreamed it would be? If not, how is it different? Is there anything you would change about it?
I have loved sharing Maureen’s story with so many readers. It’s been fun having people come up to me and ask about Eliza, Joe, Ernestine, Angela and Patricia. And I’ve been thrilled at the wonderful things people have said: “a balanced approach to the complexity of the time, ” “a wonderful job capturing historic details and realities of life in Maryland at that time,” “a romance is woven amidst the war story, making for a delightful read,” and, this was from a young man with a sly sense of humor: “a little like ‘Little House on the Prairie’ on steroids.”
I like that analogy! Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Maureen!
About the Author:
Mary K. Tilghman, a Baltimore native, published her first novel, DIVIDED LOYALTIES, in the summer of 2017. Four others, all historical fiction mostly based in Maryland, are in the works. One, a novella, recounts the days when two of the characters in Divided Loyalties met their husbands 30 years before the war.
Mary has been a journalist, travel writer and blogger for nearly 40 years. She has written for community newspapers in Baltimore, Baltimore County and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She also wrote six editions of Frommer’s Maryland and Delaware (2002-2012) and one edition of the Insider’s Guide to Baltimore.
About the Book:
When Union and Confederate soldiers march by eighteen-year-old Maureen’s Sharpsburg farm, she must choose where her loyalties lie. Will she stand with family or country?
After the Battle of Antietam, Maureen decides to listen to her heart and volunteer as a battlefield nurse. But her father forbids it and demands she stay home to help care for the farm. The young soldier who loves her fears for her safety. Danger and disease follow her every step of the way.
Illness and a tragic turn of events threaten to derail Maureen’s mission. When the young woman finds herself a patient in her own hospital, burning up with fever, she questions whether she can go on. In these, the darkest of days, Maureen struggles to summon the strength she needs for the work she is called to do.