JEAN FLAHIVE - A MAINE AUTHOR, PASSIONATE FOR HISTORICAL FICTION

I’m here today to interview Maine author, Jean Flahive, to talk, among other things, about her novel, Railroad to the Moon. If you haven’t already read this book put it on your “To Read List” - it’s a must for anyone who loves stories relating to Maine history and the Civil War.

Hi Jean!

Hi Gerard.

Great to have you here. Let’s get right to the interview, shall we?


1)      Please tell us about your most recent release.

Railroad to the Moon is the story of a runaway slave living on a small farm in Maine. When the Civil War ends, he returns to his homeland to search for his pappy. His journey south, however, is bittersweet. While committed to returning to Maine, Elijah is filled with conflicting desires. In a chance meeting, Elijah befriends Oren Cheney, the founder of Bates College in Maine, who works tirelessly to solve his dilemma. Weaving historical realities into a work of fiction, this is a tale of friendship, loyalty, and a solemn promise. The novel sheds light on Cheney’s lifelong commitment to the abolition of slavery and his remarkable actions to create access to education for emancipated slaves.


2)     What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book, & how did you overcome it?

Over the years, people who read Billy Boy asked me to continue with Elijah’s story. Elijah was my creation, and while I was very ‘attached’ to Elijah and anxious to bring him back, I wanted a Maine historical figure to weave a plausible story around. I searched long and hard for such a person. I nearly gave up until I discovered the most remarkable man whose real story was a perfect fit for my runaway slave.

3)      What else are you working on?

A children’s book manuscript was recently picked up by a publisher and we are in the midst of fine-tuning and selecting an illustrator.
     
4)        What other novels have you written?

Billy Boy, The Sunday Soldier of the 17th Maine was my first novel. A historical fiction, the story is based on a true person, Billy Laird, a mentally challenged young farmer who mustered in the Civil War.

5)      Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

At the book launch with my first novel, a reviewer purchased a copy and it suddenly hit me that someone would actually read the book and publicly comment on it. I gasped as the realization hit me. The stranger looked at me and said, “What did you expect? You’ve just bared yourself to the world.” Fortunately he gave me a great review. So I guess it’s angst I go through whenever a book is released.

6)    What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing a novel?

I think it’s critical to achieving an authentic voice with the characters we create or write about. I searched for a long time to find the right voice for a Maine historical figure, a Freewill Baptist Minister. I knew I was on unfamiliar ground, but in time I met a wonderful pastor who thoroughly embraced this historical figure and gave me the authenticity I was seeking.


7)    What are you planning on writing in the near future?

I’m really enjoying writing children’s books that shed light on fascinating people or shedding light on lesser known pieces of history.

About your “other” life:

1)      Do you have another job outside of writing?

Although retired, I occasionally write grants for non-profits. I write grants pro bono for MacCanDo, a track and field club for inner city, at-risk youth in San Francisco. Over the years, many of these kids who never experienced after school programs, have gone on to compete in the National Junior Olympics.  How could I give up on them?


2)     Would you care to share something about your home life?

It’s nice to slow down after a long career in higher education. I still rise early but now I either write or read and ease into the day. I take a brisk walk or casual stroll on the beach. Our home life is peaceful except when I’m pushing my husband’s vintage Saabs around the yard or down the street. I wish he had smaller toys. But we like to celebrate the day’s end with a glass of wine and an all too often a fresh baguette.


3)     What motivates or inspires you (not necessarily as regards your writing)?

Even at my ‘senior’ age, I do not wish to stand still in life. I want to be engaged, productive.  I ask myself, “Did I do good today?”

4)     How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

It’s easy to become immobilized when you are experiencing great distress, but I learned the only way out is through. I worked hard to teach myself to critically think and to problem-solve as a way to get to ‘the other side.’

5)     What has been your greatest success in life?

This would be an easy answer if I had children, but since I’m ‘barren’ of my own, then my published works are my success. At least with my books, I like to think I’m leaving a small footprint behind.

6)     What do you consider your biggest failure?

I’m one of those individuals who needed a mentor at a tender age, but lacking that, it took me a long time to find my way. I feel as if I lost some productive years.


7)     Do you have any pet projects?

Beaches are a treasure drove for me. I use my ‘gatherings’ to make crafts. Our house is littered with driftwood trees, sea urchins, sea glass and wall-hangings made from shells and scraps of washed up fishermen’s netting.


8)    Who/what has been your greatest inspiration?

My mother was a natural writer, and she loved to wordsmith my high school essays. We used to argue over the best verbs or adjectives to use. She died too young, unaware that she had triggered in me the love of writing. Fortunately, my husband inspired me to write my first novel—he even gave me the story. He continues to ‘find’ stories for me.

Here are a few quick questions that will shed some light on the person behind the author persona:

1)      My best friend would tell you I’m a …  good listener, a little on the quiet side
2)      The one thing I cannot do without is:   bakeries
3)      The one thing I would change about my life:   They say youth is wasted on the young. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the wisdom that comes with age and be 30 again?
4)      My biggest peeve is:   The politics of ‘No

5)      The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is:  My loving husband, of course!

Thank you, Jean. Great interview!

Here’s a bonus: Jean has graciously sent us an excerpt from Railroad to the Moon.

“If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going.
 If there's shouting after you, keep going. Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want
 a taste of freedom, keep going.”
                                                           Harriet Tubman
September 1863
          The bloodhounds were close, their hoarse-ringing bays shattering the quiet stillness
of the forest. They would overtake him soon. He shot a glance in either direction and ran deeper into the woods, toward the nearby ridge. Branches lashed his face and arms. He stumbled, catching a bare foot on a protruding tree root. He fell hard onto the ground, but fear drove him to his feet.  He fled down the steep embankment weaving his way through the jagged outcroppings. When he reached the bottom, his eyes panned the narrow ravine for a place to hide.  Then he spotted the hounds running along the ridge. They found his trail down the rocky embankment. A rifle cracked the air, its bullet splintering into a tree only inches from his head. No time to hide. He scrambled up the ledge to the other side.
Sweat trickled down his back and he winced in pain, his wounds from the last whipping splitting open from the unrelenting chase. Water, he must find water to lose his scent and the bloodhounds. 
          He reached the top of the ridge, gasping, inhaling huge gulps of air. A deer spooked in front of him and disappeared into a narrow opening through dense thicket.  He followed the small doe, hoping the deer path would lead him to her watering hole. 
          The path opened onto a clearing, leaving him exposed to the slave catchers and the dogs. Frantic, he ran along the clearing’s edge, eager for the cover of the woods. 
Bear scat.
He leaned over and touched it. Warm.
The bloodhounds bayed behind him. They had reached his side of the ravine, and soon would break through the woods. Too close.
He pushed his bare feet into the bear scat and using his hands, smeared it up and down his legs.  He ran into the copse of trees and then stopped, fearful the hounds would hear him crashing through the woods.  He hid behind a thick oak, hoping the scat would disguise his scent.   The hounds entered the clearing.  Massive, powerful beasts with long heads and wrinkled skin.  Two slave catchers came into view.  Then a third man emerged from the thicket, his broad chest heaving, his shirt soaked with sweat.  Buckra!  No!  The brutal overseer who had lashed him repeatedly since he first arrived at the Fowler plantation. 
The bloodhounds reached the scat. Black noses feverishly sniffed at the ground.
Shouts.
“It’s scat!  They’re sniffing the dang bear scat!”
“Confound it!  Git ‘em moving!”
The handler urged his dogs forward. But they continued to circle the scat, noses to the ground. 
“Why them hounds circling this here scat?”
          The handler glanced down. The bear scat had been disturbed. “Your darkie stepped in it is why. Thought he might lose the dogs. Confused ‘em for a moment, but their heads are up. Picked up his scent again.” 
          Stories of runaways torn to pieces by bloodhounds unleashed his adrenaline. Panicked, he ran wildly, his arms and body snagging branches, the dried limbs snapping noisily like cracks from a rifle.      
The dogs breached the forest. It was over.
Purposefully he dropped to the ground, curled into a ball, his arms protecting his face. Terror welled in his throat.
Howling, the hounds circled him.
          Then a voice, familiar, frightening. He opened his eyes. It was him.
Buckra. A horrifying grin wormed across his face. “Bet you thinking them hound dogs was going to tear you to pieces.”
A long, sharp blade flickered in his outstretched hand. “That’s for me to do.” 
          “No, suh! No! No!”     
          His body shook; his arms flailing at the air.
“Elijah!  Elijah, it’s me, Jamie. Wake up!  It’s only a nightmare.” 

Here's Jean's Bio and links to where you can find her book:

Jean Flahive, who lives in South Portland, Maine, has had a lifelong interest in the Civil War and Maine history. Following a long career in higher education as a dean of students and adjunct instructor, Jean worked as a grant writer for numerous non-profits. She's the author of two Maine historical fictions, Billy Boy, The Sunday Soldier of the 17th Maine, and Railroad to the Moon, Elijah’s Story and co-author of two children’s books, Remember Me, Tomah Joseph's Gift to Franklin Roosevelt, which won the Moonbeam Gold Award for Best Multi-Cultural Children's Picture Book in 2009, and The Galloping Horses of Willowbrook, which was a finalist in the 2012 Maine Literary Awards. All of her works shed light on what she calls the ‘lesser known stories of Maine history.’

Latest Title: Railroad to the Moon, Elijah’s Story
Publication Date: 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction

Online sales links:

Website:  www.jeanflahive.com   

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