It’s Wednesday and that means it’s time for What to Read Wednesday. Today we’re in for an amazing treat with an awesome author, friend and person. I’d like you to meet Myra Hargrave McIlvain. She’s here to share a little about herself and her latest release LEGACY.
Welcome to What to Read Wednesday Myra! I’m beyond excited to have you here. Let’s jump right in! Tell us a bit about yourself.
Thank you for having me. I’m excited about the opportunity. I am one of those women of a certain age with a husband, six grandchildren, and four greats, which I am absolutely too young to have. I started writing a family humor column, a made-up version of real life, while practicing parenthood on two unsuspecting children. Over the years I slipped into writing and lecturing about famous and infamous Texans, but I’ve always dabbled in the escape of fiction at every opportunity.
Now, let’s dig deeper! Share something about yourself that might surprise your readers. (and everyone, listen up, this was one of my favorite things to learn about Myra)
I wrote Texas Historical Markers, those road signs that travelers see along the highways, attached to historic buildings, and erected in cemeteries. As a free-lancer, I was sort of the stepchild so I did tons of cemetery markers. People are often surprised to learn that real people write those markers. As a great grandmother, perhaps it may surprise that I still jog two miles four or five mornings a week.
The more I get to know you Myra, the more you amaze me. Do you prefer to read fiction, non-fiction, or both?
It’s hard to choose. History is my true love, both fiction and biography. I must confess to being a political junkie, which gets me into reams of. . .sometimes I wonder if it’s fiction or nonfiction.
What genre or genres do you write?
Except for the family humor column that was mostly fiction, I’ve written primarily nonfiction. The historical markers opened the door for me to write longer articles about the marker stories. Then, I wrote five guidebooks that tell the Texas story and direct travelers to the sites. Writing travel articles for newspapers and mags took up several years. Along the way, I hungered for fiction that mainly took the form of short stories.
And I have to say that you always have an incredibly interesting blog. It’s one of my favorite weekly stops :) Describe your writing space.
Today, I feel really uptown. I share a room of books, desks, and computers with my very supportive husband. However, during the early years of family humor columns I wrote in my bathroom. The dressing table served as my desk; my typewriter was a family heirloom that required hand turning the ribbon when it reached the end of the spool. Honestly, I didn’t get as frustrated with that old portable as I do with my fancy iMac.
What’s the best part of the writing process for you?
I love getting inside my characters, immersing myself in the story. I also enjoy research, digging through all the information about people and events invariably turns up something I least expect that helps to shape my story.
The absolute worst is marketing. I avoid, delay, feel embarrassed—the killer approach to success. A close second to marketing is tech stuff. I waste lots of time swearing at my iMac.
It’s time for LUCKY SEVEN…Pick seven words to describe your book.
Pre-feminist era, coming-of-age, secrets, shame, loss of innocence, WWII home front. I hope phrases count.
Those 7 definitely have my interest. I purchased your book not long ago, and it’s next on my list to read. I have an out of control tbr pile, but I’ve really been looking forward to your book. Tell us about your latest release?
Legacy is set in 1945 as WWII is crashing to a close. I felt compelled to tell the story from the point of view of twelve-year-old Miranda Harrison. I believe that so often children carry great burdens because they can see the truth that adults have learned to hide.
The Harrison family maintains a public façade of success while all around them neighbors suffer with war loses and failed dreams. Miranda struggles to make sense of her changing body and the turmoil in her home life—a papa driven to destroy himself, a mama hiding her secret past in a cloak of piety, and a live-in grandmother who reigns over the household. Stirred into the family mix is a fifteen-year-old, out-of-control cousin who holds the adults and Miranda in guilty submission.
Share a favorite quote or sentence from your book.
“I taught you well. You clean fish as good as a man.” George nudged her with his shoulder.
She continued working, the fish scales flipping across the water like rounds of parchment, sticking to her face, making smelly whiskers. A wail want up inside her, gnawing at her stomach. This would be their last fishing trip. He tricked her into coming just to talk about Jo Beth.
What inspired you to write Legacy?
I’ve wondered that myself. I remember very little about 1945, which meant that I had to do a lot of research. What I do remember left a strong impression such as an uncle who stayed with us for a while and screamed at night when an ambulance passed. I knew of men who were 4-F, who experienced terrible shame for not serving, and then had trouble finding work after the war. I heard the family talking about a man like Barney Carson in Legacy who had been very public in fondling his bride only to return from the war as a twisted, terrified bundle of nerves who couldn’t stand to be touched. And, I saw the 1945 issue of Life Magazine’s photos of partially burned bodies stacked in concentration camp ovens, which burned an indelible picture of suffering in my mind. Legacy is a tale I needed to tell.
Is there a particular author who may have influenced you to become a writer?
Authors, like characters in the Bible, always seemed distant and different from me. My old maid aunt was the one person who encouraged me to follow my muse. She wrote, but never published.
Please tease us with an excerpt of your book!
Portside never had a dancing school until Barney Carson brought Kathryn Gary home from Houston two years ago. She made quite a stir. Barney couldn’t keep his hands off her.
Nellie walked with Miranda down to the Carson’s ice cream social they held to show off Kathryn.
“I don’t want you hanging around the Carson’s,” Nellie said on the way home.
“Why not? Maybe Kathryn will teach me to dance.”
“Barney’s gone haywire over that girl. It’s embarrassing the way he paws her in public.”
Barney squeezed around Kathryn’s shoulders. Everything she said in her little soft voice made him listen like she was FDR speaking or maybe even God. Every step she took, his hands trailed after her, touching her back or waist. When they sat down, he got right against her, clutching her hand with one hand and holding her tight around the shoulders with the other. It didn’t look like Barney ate a bite of that homemade ice cream.
As soon as Miranda could get away, she headed back to the Carson’s. Sure enough Barney was still hanging on Kathryn. That’s when she said everyone should start calling her “Kitty” because she’d soon be a Carson.
Barney loved her joke so much that he let his hand rub her butt. Miranda saw because she stood behind them. She got the window-peeking feeling and looked away.
“My cow, did you see that?” Gloria whispered right beside her.
“Gee, Gloria, you scared me silly. Where’d you come from?”
“The bushes. I’ve been watching them for two hours. He’s mad about her.”
Barney had gotten his draft notice. They hurried up the wedding in Houston. Nobody could go because of gas rationing. Gloria said she bet that kiss was something to behold.
Barney moved Kitty into his parents’ house the day he left. Gloria and Miranda offered to help unload the car, but Barney kept saying no thanks. He could hardly get anything done for kissing Kitty.
As soon as Barney left, the Carsons rented the big room over Hawthin’s Hardware, and Kitty opened her dancing school.
Gloria and Miranda were the first to sign up.
It wasn’t eight months until Barney got sent home. They called it “shell shock.” They kept him at the Carson’s for a while but it was no use. He didn’t know anybody, not even Kitty. He sat and stared and cried if they messed with him.
Miranda only went down once with Gloria. Nellie didn’t have to tell her to stay away after that. Even Gloria couldn’t look. He was so skinny, his cheeks caved in. His fingers looked like white chicken feet, scrawny and curled into rigid claws.
They took him to a Veteran’s Hospital and Kitty went on teaching dance.
What are you working on now?
I recently completed my second historic fiction, Stein House. Helga Heinrich is suddenly widowed in 1853 when her drunken husband drowns as their emigrant ship pulls away from the dock in Germany. Helga and her four children settle in Indianola where her sister’s husband set up a boarding house for Helga to operate.
Helga is a woman of passion and strong opinion, not a peasant as she is quick to remind her children. With an emigrant’s energy she sees that the Stein House thrives in this Gulf Coast seaport during its heyday that lasts until the 1886 hurricane reduces the place to a ghost town. This is the story of hope, promise, love, alcoholism, war, and loss—a family saga.
If you could ask our readers any question, what would you ask?
How do you promote your books?
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
Put your bottom on the chair and your fingers on the keyboard. Continue writing and rewriting until it sounds right.
And finally Myra, where can we find you and your book(s)?
You’ll find me in person in Austin, Texas
Blog: http://www.myrahmcilvain.wordpress.com (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND MYRA’S BLOG…CHECK IT OUT)
Scroll down from Legacy to view my other books on Amazon
Thanks so much, Christine, for honoring me with this interview. I have really enjoyed it. Your previous guests have taught me so much.
I want to THANK YOU Myra for joining us today. I’m so honored we’ve met and love talking to you via emails and on blogs. You are an incredible woman and I can’t wait to read my copy of Legacy