Q&A with Indie Author Ralph Scott on Conversations With A Dead Girl
1. What got you into writing this book in the first place?
Easter Sunday, 2009, I was on working sabbatical in Hermosa Beach, California, more than 400 miles south of my four stepkids-in-training and my spouse-to-be. I was lonely. So I did the most natural thing – I wandered into a cemetery in Redondo Beach. Within 20 minutes, I must have stumbled into the children’s section. The litany of death around me pointed to an age before vaccines (many of the children had gone from crib to grave in less than two days) and produced a silent and sustained echo of tears from mothers and fathers long gone themselves and buried beside their progeny, but more often elsewhere, as spaces filled up quickly during the period between the 1870s and WWI. The majority of headstones were flat, horizontal slates punched into the overgrown grass.
One stone spoke to me. Approximately 18 inches high, the brown block, carved on the edges and mounted with a round brown top, looked like a miniature gas pump adorned with a globe from the 1920s. But the girl who rested beneath died in 1903. I looked at the name of the deceased engraved around the top arc of the globe: “Thelma M. Barnes 1890-1903.” My God, I thought, she’s only a year younger than my teen stepdaughter, Emily. I looked at the inscription on the rectangular block below the globe. She had suffered:
I immediately wanted to know everything about this girl – her hopes, her dreams, her fears, and, ultimately determine, if possible (and it would be possible), if she ever met my Emily and you stripped away the cell phones, the horseless carriages, the laptops, and the saddle soap, the earbuds, and the Gingham dresses, would teen girls then really be all that different than teen girls now?
Now two years, two genealogists, and more than 20 collaborators later, my intent is to create the first historical fiction project to … cast the protagonist. After six months of online auditions via Facebook and YouTube, we have identified one East Bay teen who will become Thelma and then, sitting graveside back at Pacific Crest Cemetery in Redondo Beach, answer questions on camera … as Thelma. The spontaneous answers will drive the dialogue for the book:
“Conversations With A Dead Girl.” TM
And Emily? She’ll be writing the Epilogue.
2. What was the most fun thing to do during the writing, producing or marketing of your book?
Auditioning the teens, one of whom will play Thelma, another who will play Thelma’s mother, Reita L. Barnes, and nine of whom will bring to life the other girls in Thelma’s life in the late 19th century.
3. What are readers saying about your book?
Pick one: “You’re nuts.” “Howz this gonna work?” “Really?!” “Wow. Cool. “What an incredibly enriching undertaking.”
4. Why did you decide to Indie publish?
That’s still up for grabs but I suspect the strongest reason to lean in that direction is the opportunity to protect the text from becoming a watered down, mass market ghost story. That is not this, not this at all.
5. What advice do you have to authors just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to walk into graveyards, no matter what form they take. And don’t resist what you find when you do, especially what you’ll discover about yourself. Oh, and keep copious notes, especially if you’re working in the historical fiction arena.
6. Anything else you’d like to share?!
Yes. The process, as you’re no doubt aware, can be very painful. Use this. You may have to step away from it from time to time, (indeed, at one point, I had to step away from the project for three months) but use what comes out of you. Oh, and hire an editor early in the process!
Thanks for joining us, Ralph, at the Writer’s Fun Zone, and best of luck with your very interesting and unusual project!
Ralph Scott is a developmental book editor and writer. His company Credit The Edit (credittheedit.com), located in the Northern California chicken and egg hamlet of Petaluma, is always on the prowl for a gritty read with each grain waiting to be finely polished into a best selling fiction or nonfiction contender.