What Dianne says about the book:Charlotte Mailliard, my husband’s great-great grandmother and inspiration for this novel, was raised and educated with Napoleon’s nephews. But when Charlotte was fourteen, her father Eloi Mailliard made the irrevocable decision to leave France forever and move to America, specifically Illinois, the western frontier. Although gifts from the Bonapartes certainly facilitated their journey, the Mailliards escaped the intrigue of France only to be exposed to not only the harshness of frontier life, but a new nation that faced the cancer of slavery which ultimately embroiled all of its citizens.
Interview with Dianne KirtleyHow long have you been writing, and how did you start?
I have been writing shorter pieces for many years (short stories, poetry, remembrances) as examples for my classes. However, Point of Departure, is my first novel and the research, writing, and rewriting took a period of seven years.
What do you like best about writing? What’s your least favorite thing?
I loved the research I did for this book and would often become so interested in the history that my story would be put on a back burner. Make no mistake, however, writing is hard work and requires discipline and passion. One quote that I love about writing came from one of my Journalism books: “You just stare at the paper (now we would say screen) until blood comes out of your forehead.” My students loved that quote.
How did you come up with the title Point of Departure?
The title comes from an excerpt of Alexis deTocqueville, who wrote his book Democracy in America in 1832, an incredibly insightful perspective on American life.
How did you create the plot for this book?
The plot developed from the Mailliard family’s papers, letters, books, obituaries which I found in my father-in-law’s “stuff” when he left his home and moved to a retirement community in 2004.
Do you outline, write by the seat of your pants, or let your characters tell you what to write?
I had a very informal outline, and it grew and changed as I became more enmeshed in the characters and the story expanded.
Did you have any say in your cover art? Tell us about the artist.
I love the cover art and worked on creating it with a graphic artist Jesse Saenz, who works for Midwest Outdoors Publishing in Burr Ridge Illinois.
What books have you read more than once or want to read again?
My all time favorites are Beloved, The Great Gatsby, A Tale of Two Cities, Obasan, Pride and Prejudice (in no particular order). I could reread these at any time and enjoy them.
What’s your favorite line from a book?
I love the opening line to Pride and Prejudice:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
What do you do to market your book?
I’m not afraid to tell friends, acquaintances, or people on the street about my book. I always carry my postcards and bookmarks. I’ve also given copies to two local libraries and independent book stores.
How do you get to know your characters?
Reading Charlotte’s letters, obits, walking in the cemetery where Charlotte, her husband, parents, children, siblings were buried, made them seem very real.
Sophie’s choice: Do you have a favorite of your characters?
It is the protagonist, Charlotte, of course, but I also love the zest of her younger sister Zenaide.
When you start a new book, do you know what the entire cast will be?
Not all. Characters develop to complement the main character(s) as needed.
Which character did you most enjoy writing?
I really felt I could identify with Charlotte in many ways.
How do you name your characters?
Names are tremendously important and convey ideas innately just by their sounds, level of sophistication, etc. I think about character’s names while I’m out for walks. I like to let my mind fill with ideas during that time.
What would your main character say about you?
I hope she would say that I told her story well.
Are any of your characters inspired by real people?
Charlotte Mailiard and her family were real of course. But Abe Lincoln, I think he was quite real also.
Are you like any of your characters? How so?
I like the courage and independence of Charlotte and Zenaide. I hope I have some of that.
I like writing characters who do and say things I never would, as well as characters who do and say things I wish I could. Do you have characters who fit into one of those categories? Who, and in what category do they fall?
I think Charlotte’s incredibly naïve but wonderful gesture at the slave market was something we would like to have the courage to do. She was a person who saw an injustice and tried to correct it.
If you could be one of your characters, which one would you choose?
I really don’t think I would want to live in the 19th century when these characters lived. Life would so incredibly tenuous. The ironic fact, however, is that both Charlotte and Zenaide lived to be 94!
With which of your characters would you most like to be stuck on a deserted island?
Henry Moreau, of course. Okay, he’s good looking, but he’s also a great hunter and one tends to get a bit hungry.
Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.
I love the scene where Charlotte meets Henry Moreau, Swift Eagle, for the first time in the general store in Woodsville. Her breath is taken away by his appearance, but she also feels the sensitivity he has for her younger, somewhat awkward sister. It is his tenderness that she perceives, but, of course, he is also incredibly handsome.
Which author would you most like to invite to dinner, and what would you fix him?
I would love to meet Benjamin Franklin. For dinner, I think Ben would enjoy a nice beef roast, some mashed potatoes, fresh beans and definitely apple pie.
What book are you currently reading and in what format (e-book/paperback/hardcover)?
American Dervish in paperback.
How do you handle criticism of your work?
It is difficult, of course, because through your art, you have laid your soul bare. But there is always something to be learned, not only about your work but also about the one who is doing the critique.
Where and when do you prefer to do your writing?
I am lucky enough to have a sun porch which is comfortable even in the winter. It is bright and, I believe, conducive to clear thinking.
Where’s home for you?
Western Springs, Illinois.
Is there anything in particular that you do to help the writing flow?
I need a sunny day. I feel much more creative when the day is bright.
What’s one of your favorite quotes?
It is Edmund Burke’s, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. "
What three books have you read recently and would recommend?
Killing Lincoln, Driftless, and Last Girls.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to play golf, take long walks, and go out to dinner. My own cooking stinks.
If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go? (Don’t worry about the money. Your publisher is paying.)
Now that I have finished writing this book which contains French history, I would love to revisit France and actually stay long enough to learn French. If my publisher is really feeling flushed, I would also like to visit Russia since I have never been there and studied Russian for five years in college.
What are you working on now?
No novel currently on paper, but a strong idea is taking shape on a darker tale set in North Carolina. I am working on a shorter remembrance of my mother.
Character interview with
Charlotte Louise Josephine Mailliard Simmons
About this character:Charlotte Mailliard, educated and raised with Napoleon’s nephews, led a privileged life in France in the 19th century, but in 1841 her father made the irrevocable decision to move to the new world, specifically Illinois, the western frontier. Here, as Charlotte matures, she learns the meaning of love and loss and the evil that is slavery, a cancer on the new nation that involves her and her family in the specter of the Civil War.
Charlotte, how did you first meet Dianne?
I met Dianne Kowal Kirtley as she stood at my graveside in Avon, Illinois. I heard her words as she hoped she would tell my story well.
Did you ever think that your life would end up being in a book?
No, I feel my life was no different from many who came to the new world and had to forsake so much of the traditions of their previous lives.
Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.
I love the scene where I meet Henry Moreau, but there is something so comforting and unifying about our neighbors joining with us as we walk to the graveside of our daughters and our brother-in-law Alexander begins to sing “Amazing Grace.”
Did you have a hard time convincing your author to write any particular scenes for you?
The scene of the murders/suicide in the Tripp household was definitely upsetting, but I felt it needed to be included as an example of the harshness of life and specifically abuse that often occurs within families. The Tripp family contrasts sharply the support and love which I was so blessed to receive from my own family. The other scene that still haunts me is the death of my sister Amanda. I know I was not responsible for her loss, yet I was the last one to speak to her, and I was not patient and forgiving as I should have been.
What do you like to do when you are not being actively read somewhere?
I do quiet reading, often from the books my cousin Antoine has sent me.
If you could rewrite anything in your book, what would it be?
I would have liked just for one daughter to survive.
Tell the truth. What do you think of your fellow characters?
My husband George is a good, strong man, but I wish he would not have had such baggage from his early life. My mother is also tremendously single-focused on making sure all her daughters are married.
Do have any secret aspirations that your author doesn’t know about?
Someday I would love to travel to the grave site of Henry and truly say good-bye.
If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?
I would just love to sit quietly and enjoy a beautiful spring day and draw some of the lovely flowers in my garden.
What impression do you make on people when they first meet you? How about after they've known you for a while?
My family and friends think I’m very serious, and that is true, but I do love to dance and sing and enjoy the humor in Benjamin Franklin’s writing. When I feel comfortable with people, I let that lighter side surface.
What's the worst thing that's happened in your life? What did you learn from it?
The worse thing that happened occurred when Henry was forced to leave our town because many thought he had stolen some money. He was the love of my life. I learned how prejudice can surface at any time. The terrible loss of my daughters, however, made me realize the fragile quality of life, especially young lives.
Tell us about your best friend.
My best friend is my younger sister Zenaide, even though I am much older than she. We have always been very close. She has all the zest I seem to have lost as I have become older.
What are you most afraid of?
I am afraid that I will outlive my children.
What’s the best trait your author has given you? What’s the worst?
She has given me courage, a passion for life. The worse quality, hmm, I think it would be that I am often too quick in my judgment of others.
What do you like best about Zenaide?
My sister Zenaide is so forthright and often wears her feelings “on her sleeve.”
Her honesty is definitely to be admired.
How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?
My life with George and the boys is very comfortable because George and I understand each other, I believe. I would love to have that one daughter in my life.
What aspect of Dianne’s writing style do you like best?
I think she tried to portray my family and me honestly showing both our strengths and our weaknesses.
If your story were a movie, who would play you?
In my teenage years, I believe a young Dakota Fanning could portray me quite well. As I became older, Mamie Gummer would be a nice choice. (That’s Meryl Streep’s daughter from Emily Owens, if you’re not sure.)
Describe the town where you live.
Avon is a sleepy, little town in central Illinois, and with the expansion of the railroads in the mid nineteenth century, the population grew.
Describe an average day in your life.
With each day, I think first about securing the water which I will need for the preparing of meals, washing clothes and cleaning my home. During the winter we will spend our days mending or sewing clothes and often, just trying to stay warm.
During the spring I would be planting my large garden, then harvesting fruits and vegetables in the summer and fall. Our root cellar is filled with dried foods which keep our families fed. I might also spend time visiting the general store for my staples such as flour and sugar. If a new bolt of fabric or ribbon catches my eye, I might think of making a purchase for a new dress for my nieces or a new decoration on my bonnet.
Will you encourage your author to write a sequel?
No, I think the high drama of my life is over, at least I hope so. I cannot imagine our town, family or myself surviving another war.
About the author:For 25 years Dianne taught Creative Writing, Journalism and English at Nazareth Academy in LaGrange Park, Ill. She is a graduate of Loyola University and the University of Illinois, Chicago, but also feels a strong connection to Beloit College in Wisconsin, which she attended for two years.
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