Author Interview: Jill Hurley Caugherty
Hey Readers! It's Tuesday and that means it time for another great author interview. Today we are talking with Jill Caugherty, who recently released her novel, A Waltz in Swing Time. I reviewed this book earlier this year and without giving anything away, it's great. So let's jump on in, the water's warm and Jill has some great answers for us.
JMR- Hi Jill, tell us a little about yourself. Who are you, where do you live? What do you do for fun? What does the perfect day look like?
JC- Hi! I’m a Product Manager in the high tech/IT industry, where I’ve held positions ranging from Software Engineering to Marketing and Proposal Management for nearly thirty years. I live in Raleigh, North Carolina with my husband and twelve-year-old daughter. Although I’m a Product Manager by day, I’ve harbored a passion for creative writing since I was a child; and I enjoy writing on weekend mornings and weekday evenings. I also enjoy playing piano, hiking, reading, and cooking. My perfect day includes a leisurely breakfast with coffee on the screened porch, followed by two or three hours of writing. After that, I might take a hike with my family, play the piano, then curl up with a good book.
JMR- Sounds great!
JMR- Your debut novel, Waltz in Swing Time, is a work of historical / contemporary fiction. When most people hear the words ‘historical fiction’ they think of castles, kings and civil wars, but your book is partially set during the 1930s. What drew you to that time period?
JC- Strangely, few works of historical fiction take place during the Great Depression. So not only did I choose this setting because it's underrepresented in literature, I chose it because I see striking parallels between the economic inequality of the thirties and our current economic climate.
In the thirties, farmers and everyday Americans suffered as a result of the reckless speculation made by the wealthy bankers and Wall Street investors. Today, we see huge disparities in wealth between the upper one percent (not surprisingly, many of whom are Wall Street investors and bankers) and the remaining ninety nine percent of American citizens. This disparity continues to widen.
In Waltz In Swing Time, Irene Larsen and her family struggle on their Utah farm to make ends meet. They watch close neighbors lose farms to bank foreclosures. Unfortunately, this was an all too common reality in the thirties. I think modern day readers may be interested to read about the hardships that many people suffered during the thirties, and draw comparisons with our own times.
JMR- Do you like castles, kings and civil wars? What’s your favorite historical era to research or just read about for fun?
JC- I tend to read historical fiction that takes place mainly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, so regrettably I do not typically read about castles, kings, and civil wars. That said, Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy is on my to read list. My favorite historical era to research has been the nineteen thirties. In fact, my next novel takes place during that same era.
JMR- I highly recommend Hillary Mantels books. I've read all three and her writing is brilliant. What a storyteller.
JMR- Who is your favorite historical female? Why?
JC- I greatly admire First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman who was ahead of her time in her advocacy for civil rights, human rights, and women’s rights. Her courage to think and speak independently for disadvantaged people is truly inspiring. I especially like her quote: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
JMR- Tell us about Waltz in Swing Time. What’s it about?
JC- The book alternates between 2006, when eighty-nine year old protagonist Irene Larsen is a resident at an assisted living home, and the nineteen-thirties, when she comes of age and makes a momentous decision that ultimately changes the course of her life.
During the Great Depression, Irene grows up in a strict Utah farm family, and copes with her family’s hardship by playing piano. Even after an unthinkable tragedy strikes, Irene clings to her dream of becoming a musician. When a neighbor's farm is foreclosed, Irene's brother marries the neighbor's daughter, who moves in with the Larsens and coaches Irene into winning leading roles in musicals. After clashing with her mother, who dismisses her ambition as a waste of time and urges her to become a farmer's wife, Irene leaves home.
During a summer gig at Zion National Park, where Irene sings in a variety show for Depression-weary tourists, she meets professional dancer Spike, a maverick who might be her ticket to a musical career. But ultimately she must decide whether pursuing her dream justifies its steep price: losing her home and family.
In 2006, at her upscale assisted living home, Irene struggles with declining health and memory and observes a conflict between her daughter and granddaughter that reminds her of her own clashes with her mother. Music connects her with her past.
JMR- The book is more than just a historical novel, it’s a coming of age /end of life story as well. Did you enjoy the process of creating a character, watching her grow and then writing about her in her ‘old age’?
JC- Yes, absolutely. Creating a three-dimensional character, warts and all, is a rewarding process. During the nineteen-thirties, Irene changes from a stifled girl living under her mother’s thumb into an independent, passionate young woman who does everything in her power to pursue her love of music. As an old woman in 2006, she retains her independence and strong will, along with some of the pain from her past. She is able to share her wisdom and experiences with her granddaughter, who faces similar challenges to the ones Irene experienced as a young woman.
JMR- There are some major themes running through this book. Tell us about them.
JC- A primary theme is the challenge of breaking free from traditions and rules to pursue an independent path that honors an individual’s authentic self. Another theme is coping with the complications of old age and its limitations on freedom. Music and opportunity/hope are motifs that run through the novel.
JMR- It's often the most painful choices that lead to the greatest happiness. I really enjoyed Irene's struggle to live the life of her choosing.
JMR- The Great Depression affected the entire country. You chose to set your book in Utah? Why?
JC- My grandmother grew up in Utah during the thirties. As a result, I had several good sources of information about life in Utah during the Depression, which established an excellent starting point for my research for the book.
JMR- Most authors have multiple books simmering in the background. What’s next for you?
JC- I’m in the process of revising my second historical novel, which also takes place during the Depression. It’s another coming-of-age story, which features a secondary character, historic ranger-naturalist and feminist Enid Michael, and appearances by legendary photographer Ansel Adams. Coincidentally, the novel features another beautiful national park, Yosemite.
JMR- Sound wonderful, can't wait to read it.
JMR- How can readers find and follow you on social media and the web?
JC- Please see my website and social media links below:
JMR- What question were you hoping I’d ask but didn’t?
JC- Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers! I’ll leave aspiring writers with a few short tips below that I learned over the ten plus years it took me to write and publish Waltz in Swing Time:
- Read as much as you can, and note the techniques and elements that work well in the books by authors whom you admire.
- Raise the stakes by ratcheting up the tension and giving your main character a difficult decision that tests her moral code. An agent gave me this advice, and I used it to re-write sections of the novel and even turned the protagonist’s primary decision into a high-stakes choice.
- Finally, be persistent, and don't get discouraged. This applies both to setting aside time to write and submitting work to publications and agents. Always accept feedback, reflect on it, and if you ultimately agree with it, decide how you can use it. And then - keep applying yourself by writing and re-submitting!
JMR- Awesome tips, Jill. Thanks for sharing and thank you for participating. Good luck to you and stay safe!
Well Readers, I hoped you enjoyed getting to know more about Jill. Her book is really terrific. Click on the Amazon button to find out more about it.
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Zion National Park: By Diliff - taken by Diliff, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=305224
Yosemite National Park: By Diliff - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26413820