Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Author Interview with Gifford MacShane

AUTHOR INTERVIEW with Gifford MacShane

Gifford MacShane is the author of historical fiction that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit. Her debut novel, WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, was released by Soul Mate Publishing in September 2019. (Just so you know, the Kindle edition is on sale for $0.99 from June 2 to June 8.)
First, tell us something about yourself:
Gifford MacShane is my pen name; it’s comprised of a family name and a loose translation of “descended from John.” There are three important men with that name in my family: my grandfather, John Patrick Sr; my uncle, John Patrick Jr.; and my father, John Francis.
I’m an #OwnVoices writer: I have migraines, and Fibromyalgia with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I always feel I should say “CFS has me”, because it otherwise infers that I could, if I wanted to, throw it away like an old pair of shoes.
Reading and watching classic black & white movies are my passions, especially anything starring Katherine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, or Vivien Leigh. I can’t pass up Lucille Ball in a dramatic role (check out The Dark Corner if you get a chance), but I don’t think much of slap-stick comedy or spoofs. And I come from a long line of New York Yankees fans—one of my earliest memories is sitting with my grandfather on his bed (he was disabled from black lung disease) watching Mickey Mantle on a black-and-white TV.
I’m currently living in northeast Pennsylvania with my husband Rich and a houseful of rescue cats.
Tell us about your debut novel, WHISPERS IN THE CANYON.
It’s historical fiction featuring a family of Irish immigrants who settled in the Arizona Territory, with some flashbacks to 1850s Ireland. It’s got romance and a hearty dollop of Celtic mysticism and folklore. This series, THE DONOVAN FAMILY SAGA, explores the inner workings of the clan led by John Patrick Donovan, whose oft-repeated mantra is, “You can live without your own, but not without your neighbor.”
WHISPERS IN THE CANYON is the first novel of the series, highlighting the romance between the eldest Donovan son, Adam, and Jesse Travers, a young woman who’s been abused and has inherited a bankrupt ranch. They meet when Adam arrives to tell her he’s killed her brother during a bank robbery.
I’ve completed two more novels (in various stages of editing), a “prequel” novella set in Ireland, and I have at least three more full-length novels planned.
These stories take place in a fictional, diverse village called “White’s Station”, named for a real river in Arizona. While WHISPERS IN THE CANYON is the love story between two white, able, heterosexual people, there are several citizens of other ethnicities and abilities with whom they interact. My later manuscripts feature some these villagers as MCs.
Why inspired you to chose that subject and time period?
There are three things that compelled me to combine the Old West with these Irish immigrants:
• My father’s family were Irish immigrants. Family legend has it that his Uncle Sean was chased out of Ireland by the Black & Tans, escaping by the skin of his teeth. Then, several years ago, I saw an article about a memorial sculpture being installed in County Cork that celebrated the aid the Choctaw Tribe in America gave to the Irish during the Irish Famine (An Gorta Mor). My mother has a smidgen of native blood, so the article caught my eye.

As I read it, I realized that my Irish ancestors had to have lived through that that famine. I did some research and learned that it was a totally avoidable disaster, which cut Ireland’s population by at least a third while food was being exported to England at astronomical rates.
I felt compelled to tell the stories of the survivors—the ones who somehow held body and soul together and found a way to prosper.
• I grew up on cowboy TV and I really, really wanted to grow up to be a cowboy. Not a cowgirl—they wore silly skirts and sat sideways on horses. I even had a cowboy name—it included “Junior”, as that was the only way I knew to prove I was a boy. When I was asked in school (I think I was 8) who the greatest hero in history was, I answered “Roy Rogers”.
• There were books that influenced me as well. My first library was a Book-Mobile. My grandmother lived in a tiny hamlet called Herbertsville (now part of Brick Township NJ, if you ever find yourself out that way), and my sister and I would visit her for 2 weeks every summer. The Book-Mobile came every week and parked at the village grocery store. Granny (pronounced “Grah-nee”) would bring us to pick up books for my bed-ridden grandfather, who read voraciously.
Tired of kids’ books by the time I was 10, I asked the librarian to recommend something, and thus became acquainted with The Virginian by Owen Wister. Slam! Bam!! hooked on Westerns as a literary form. As a result, I read through my father’s entire collection of Zane Grey novels by the end of that summer, and still have and read those wonderful books. (If you think all there is to Zane Grey is shoot-em-ups, let me recommend The Vanishing American, The Shepherd of Guadalupe, or Riders of the Purple Sage. Read one and experience the depth of characterization—I bet you get hooked, too!)
The hard-core Knight of the Range and the literature of that time, that place—both live deep inside me.
Is there anything else that influences your work?
Well, yes. I grew up in a large family, back when station wagons ruled the roads. There were no DVDs playing on the two-hour trips to see my grandparents, so we had to make our own fun. My father encouraged singing as it was the least physical activity—with 7 siblings crammed together, “Punch Bug” could soon become a fist-fight!
He taught us songs that were easy to remember and as a result, I’m addicted to traditional folk music, including Irish, American, Appalachian, cowboy songs, and African-American spirituals. I’m often singing or humming… anywhere, really, or any time… but if you were to ask me what the song is, I might not know. I might not even realize I was singing. There are many snippets of traditional music contained in my works: life without music would be just too hard to bear.
How would you characterize your style?
My style is on the literary side—some say lyrical (**blushes**). I write in the third person multiple POV.
I am definitely a grammar nerd. I have a love affair with the Oxford Comma (my husband understands there’s nothing he can do about that); I’m quite fond of the em-dash, the colon and the semi-colon, though I hate to see any of them used to do the comma’s job. I’ve also coached a couple of ESL novelists in English grammar and sentence construction.
I enjoy the judicious use of adverbs, adjectives and dialogue tags. I have a vast vocabulary, but know how to make my meaning clear. I believe that any word can be used as long as it fulfills the sentence’s needs; as a reader I’m always looking to expand my vocabulary, and I think most readers want that as well. But having said that, I like to use words in a way that enhances rather than disguises their meaning.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I call myself a “plantser”, which I think is the best combination of the two.
Pantser-me doesn’t create a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline. But unlike authors who work without any formal plan at all, I begin each manuscript with a theme, a concrete idea of who the characters are, and what their conflict will be. This planning stage, which is mostly a matter of the “little gray cells” (to borrow from Dame Christie), can take weeks or even months of effort before I write a single word of the manuscript.
As far as plot is concerned, I’m a “semi-plotter”. I always know the inciting incident before I start, as well as the end and perhaps half a dozen scenes that will help me get there. But I let the characters speak to me as I write, and sometimes that means great changes taking place and affecting the conclusion.
For instance, in order to complete my protagonist’s journey in WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, I realized about two-thirds of the way through that one of the other characters would have to die. I didn’t plan that from the start, and it still breaks my heart. In fact, that death had an impact on the second book in the series, THE WOODSMAN’S ROSE, and it drastically changed the plan I’d created for it. I hope to have that book out before the end of the summer.
Plotter-me takes over at the end of my first draft. I always create a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline to discover any plot holes or threads that might be dangling. The plot holes need to be filled, and the danglers have to be fleshed out or eliminated.
So being a “plantser” means I get the best of both worlds.
How do you deal with negative feedback or negative reviews?
I think all feedback is valid. There are very few people who write a critique or review to deliberately hurt the creator or the work. I don’t deny that I sometimes react badly to a negative review at first. But just like paintings and sculpture, not every novel will appeal to every person, and realizing that helps me keep it all in perspective.
I have several critique partners and beta readers, and it’s easy to name passages or even chapters that one praises while another finds fault. Sometimes it’s a matter of presentation, or how a character acts, or even how the theme threads though it. But as long as they provide an explanation for what they like or don’t like, I find their comments helpful. I might not agree and I might not change anything, or I might rewrite based on their feedback. I’m always willing to consider a well-thought-out critique.
Writers are known to be readers. What do you like to read?
I read every day, averaging 3 books a week. In addition to Historical Fiction and Historical Romance, I enjoy mysteries, especially vintage noir, Dick Francis, & J. D. Robb. There are over 2,000 books in my personal library.
I love books where the characters are so well-drawn that I feel I could meet them on the street in town. I’ll often stick with a book where the plotting is predictable if I can identify with the characters.
What’s one unusual or unforgettable thing that happened to you?
I won a puppy at the school fair when I was 11. I don’t know who was more surprised—me or my father! I do know who was happier.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
In all fairness, I have to mention these trigger warnings: rape; murder; physical abuse; incest.
All of these occur before the story opens and are presented without graphic violence, and are treated with respect and empathy for the victims and/or survivors, and no sympathy or excuses for the transgressor. Within the novel, there is a stillborn baby, and depression.
That being said, WHISPERS IN THE CANYON is essentially a story about healing, and there is most definitely an HEA (and no, not the kind that says, “See, he loves her—so now she’s okay.”) The novel explores the effects of abuse and murder not only for the victims, but for those have to deal with it, and those who try to help them. The plot is somewhat dark, but the overriding theme is the resilience of the human spirit.
Finally, how would your readers contact you?
There are several ways: through my blog at https://giffordmacshane.com, on Twitter as @AuthorGMacShane, and by my Goodreads author page. https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19574083.Gifford_MacShane They can also reach out directly to me at giffmacshane (at) gmail.com.
I always enjoy getting to know my readers and I look forward to their comments. I’m happy to answer any questions I can, whether about my book or publishing in general. And of course, I’m always up for a good critique session or a review.

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