Thursday, August 4, 2011

Let's Do Some Interviews

I love interviewing people. As a historian I’ve interviewed war veterans, people who survived the Depression, Holocaust survivors and even the relatives of the famous WWII traitor, Axis Sally (Mildred Gillars). Now I enjoy interviewing authors, artists, folks in publishing, and just about anyone else who crosses my path! (Barbara Walters, move over sweetie!)
Now here's a dude I would really love to interview!
However, until now, I’ve never interviewed a character in a book. You may think it’s really weird to interview someone you believe is merely a figment of someone’s imagination but let me assure you it’s not weird at all: there’s no character in fiction that is truly fictive.
Ask Papa Hemingway: I think he went drinking, fishing or whorin' with all his marvelous characters!
Great characters live and breathe as surely as you and I. Authors give these wondrous individuals flesh and blood so that they can be introduced to you -- but I assure you they are wholly formed spirits before they ever enter an author’s heart and mind. As a matter of fact, I believe authors are like mediums or other paranormalists and they serve as mere conduits between these extraordinary spirits and you, the reader.

Through us they speak.

My next post will be an interview with Lt. Del Carter of the Chicago Police Department. Del is one of the main characters in “January Moon.” In fact, my entire series of books (well, soon to be a "series") has been named after him (the “Del Carter Calendar Series”). I'm also going to interview a few other personalities in this series and, if possible, may even branch out and interview the most important personalities in other books, as well. But for now I'm stickin' with the people I know and love best.

This is obviously Gary Sinise; he "kinda' sorta' almost" looks like Del Carter

And this of course is John Cusack; he also "kinda' sorta' almost"
looks like Del Carter...
I met Del when he and at least twenty other people pulled up in front of my house (in three huge motor homes) and pounded aggressively on the front door. It was 6 in the morning on a freezing January day and I’d only been up about ten minutes – the coffee was still brewing and it was still black as night outside. You can well imagine how startled I was by all the damn commotion at my front door. I was still in my nightgown, for God’s sakes.

I threw on the porch light and looked out the window and couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a crowd out there.

What the hell? Who were these people?

“Maureen, let us in,” one said. Another barked “Yeah, hurry up, we’re freezing our damn asses out here for Chri’sakes” (that person turned out to be Fred Wiley.) “Please, Maureen,” one of the women said, “I need to use the bathroom.”

Gypsies. I was being invaded by a tribe of gypsies. Who else? I’d never seen Jehovah’s Witnesses show up with half their church, especially pre-dawn!
Well they looked
better than this
but you get
the idea...

I started to explain I didn’t know them from Adam, it was 6 in the morning, I wasn’t dressed, and I didn’t want to be unfriendly but, well… go away! They could get hot coffee and use the washrooms down the road at the Mini Mart.

“No, look, you have to let us in…” several said more forcefully and when one of them started to open the front door (God! I was sure it had been double locked) I threw myself against the door and cried, “Stop it! Get the hell off my porch!” but the sheer weight and power of the guy pushing the door open (that proved to be Mack) overwhelmed me and in a panic I screamed “I’ll call the police!” and several men replied “We ARE the damn police…”

And then they just seemed to pour into the house!

One of the women who’d come into the house with the men snapped, “Oh stop it! You’re scaring her!” and another said “I’m an attorney and I can assure you will not be harmed” (she was a very impressive, statuesque looking black woman; she had a very take-charge attitude). Then another woman who reminded me of a very tired looking but still beautiful Susan Sarandon tried to soothe me; she put her arms around my astonished quivering body and said quite kindly “Maureen, honey, I told them this wasn’t the way to introduce ourselves but, I swear, no one has any manners any more…” (I think that was Louise, if memory serves) and then this horrible monster of a woman (she was bigger than most of the men and had a face that reminded me of a Rottweiler) pushed people aside and said something snide but one of the cops (or maybe it was one of the FBI agents, I forget) barked at her to sit down and shut up. The next thing I knew Del and a beautiful young woman he introduced as his fiancé, Jess, were pouring everyone coffee while Louise was dispensing jumbo slices of Sara Lee coffeecake that she hauled out of at least three shopping bags she brought with her (it soon became apparent she could feed an Army on 5 minutes' notice). In the meantime, several brawny guys struggled to jockey a wheelchair with a robust-appearing middle-aged man in it through the front doorway and into the living room. Jess called him "Dad" and he graciously introduced himself to me as Frank Farrell and quickly explained he'd once been a Chicago "copper" but took a bullet and that's how he ended up in the chair. He looked around the house and said rather generously "nice place you got here" and wheeled himself over near the fireplace where one of the largest dogs I have ever seen had already taken up residence close to the warmth of the fire. My own never-before-intimidated German shepherd stared at this other hound in mute and horrified silence -- and I understood the feeling.

It took almost 40 minutes for the motor homes to empty out and for everyone to get their coffee, accept a slice of coffee cake, make appropriate small talk, and find comfortable seats in the living room. They pulled chairs in from the kitchen and dining room and even grabbed my desk chair in my office and after allowing me a few minutes to change into some sweats, brush my teeth and throw some water on my face… and pour some Jameson’s into my coffee (which a few of them eagerly accepted and poured into their own cups too) I settled down and, not much knowing how to begin just asked “what the hell’s going on?” (I couldn’t think of any better entrée, I’m sorry. It’s my Chicago-style bluntness.)

I mean, honest to God, what the hell else could I say? 
Over the next four months those astonishing people came and went every day of the week, at all hours, and made themselves at home... they each, in his or her own way, had a story to tell about how their individual stories were intricately woven together into the most remarkable tale – a tale they had chosen me to memorialize. A tale they wanted titled “January Moon.”

They laughed and cried and argued among themselves and not everyone shared the exact same memory of the same event but, they explained to me, it was my job to sort it all out, work out the inconsistencies, and produce a cohesive story that left nothing out or unexplained. They had chosen me, they explained, because I’m a historian. They were of the opinion that only a person trained in history could process such a detailed story and make sense of it all. I suggested that a journalist should be able to do the same but this didn’t fly.

“I don’t like journalists,” Wiley stated bluntly. “I never read a damn story about a cop or perp in any paper anywhere that ever came near the truth.”

This is one of my favorite actors, Pat "Muse" Watson
The man is AMAZING
I told Wiley I think he looks like just like Pat but Wiley's difficult sometimes
(you'll see) and he said "that's bull..." but
Eliot and Jess agree with me
I'm not sure what Pat would think, maybe one day I'll ask him
That very impressive black women I already mentioned, who introduced herself as Eliot Ness, reminded Wiley “You always liked Walter Cronkite and Bill Moyers, honey” to which he replied “Well, Cronkite’s dead and I think Moyers retired and everyone else works for Murdock and with that I rest my case, babe.” I was immediately struck by how they clicked; it was obvious they were a pair. She rolled her eyes as if to say, "I can't take this man anywhere" and he winked at me as if to say "Ain't she somethin'?"

I know you think this is Queen Latifah... and it is;
but if her hair was shorter and had a few whisps of gorgeous silver gray
woven throughout, well I swear she'd be a dead ringer for the stunning Eliot Ness
So, with that little ice breaker we all settled down and began our remarkable collaboration.

These fascinating people honored me with their candid honesty and trust; to a person, they all had a remarkable ability to confront the truths and lies, graces and sins, of their own lives. In each of these people I found a courage and insight into life that I had not otherwise known – about them, as well as about myself.

I certainly tried my best to honor their trust and I’m very happy they were pleased with the outcome. They so liked how I helped them write “January Moon” that we’ve agreed many of us would work together again. They assured me “January Moon” was just the beginning of their story and, true to their word, we are now collaborating on “March Storm” – a continuation of the saga begun in “January Moon.”

Over the course of the next few posts, I’ll share with you interviews with a few of the main characters in “January Moon” and “March Storm.” I think you’re going to really like these people. I would find it rather remarkable if you don’t. In fact, my guess is you’re going to want to read “January Moon” immediately so you can begin to participate in these interviews and ask these characters your own questions. They have assured me they would welcome hearing from you.

And BTW: if any of you doubt the veracity of how these people showed up at my home on that frigid January morning – well shame on you! – and double damn shame on you if you fancy yourself a writer and don’t believe every word I’ve written here!

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