This time I a had the pleasure to interview Author Sharon Poppen who was born in Chicago, Illinois and over the years has lived in New Mexico, California and now resides in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. In additional to her degree in English at Mohave Community College, Sharon likes to brag about her degrees from the University of Life (URL). She is grateful that through her experiences while attending the URL, she was blessed with a happy childhood, two marriages, two children, 3 stepchildren, 5 grandchildren and an interesting career as a communications technician. She is now enjoying retirement filled with travel and a second career, fiction writing. She writes everyday and has published three novels, with six more waiting to go into print. She’s won awards for many of her over three hundred short stories that are widely published in both print anthologies and on-line ezines.
Books & Writing: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
Sharon Poppen: I believe the first story I ever sat down to write turned into my first published novel, After the War, Before the Peace. I started it years ago and would work on it at night after the children were in bed. Once I retired, went back to college and joined a local and some on-line writing groups, I began to get serious about writing and began my regimen of daily writing.
Books & Writing: Were you inspired by someone or something?
Sharon Poppen: I have always been an avid reader. Reading, especially fiction, cannot help but stimulate the senses which usually puts one’s imagination in high gear. Also, without the array of TV programming and video games available to today’s youth, we children of the forties and fifties had to use our imagination for fun and games. My friends and I had a collection of paper dolls. We spent hours creating our own little soap operas to walk our paper dolls through.
Books & Writing: What do you love about writing a story?
Sharon Poppen: Creating the characters. Plot/story must be there, but I subscribe to the belief that most, maybe all, the stories have been told so it is the responsibility of the writer to populate their stories with memorable characters that impress the reader with both good and/or bad individuality. My objective is to entertain the reader to the point that they dread the end of the book when the characters will no longer be a part of their day.
Books & Writing: How do you overcome writer’s block(if you experience this of course)?
Sharon Poppen: I can’t ever remember having writer’s block. While in college, a professor asked me if I was a writer and I said yes. She then asked me if I wrote everyday and I had to say no. She said that true writers write everyday and gave me some suggestions on how to accomplish that. I don’t know if she’s correct about what writers do everyday, but her advice has certainly been a boon for me. I have designated a half-hour each day to writing. I start by reviewing what I wrote yesterday, then put myself in that frame of mind and move my story along. After about a half-hour, I force myself to stop and take care of things in my life – family, bills, cleaning, socializing, appointments. Most days I go back to writing and then I spend as much time writing as I want. There are days that what I write in that half-hour needs firm editing, and occasionally disposed of, but this regime has served me well in staying in tune with my characters and allowing me to do what I love each and every day without letting other aspects of my life fall apart.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us a bit about your book “After the War before the Peace”?
Sharon Poppen: This historical novel tells the story of a family of four Southern brothers after the U.S. Civil War. Two of the brothers and their father went off to fight for the South, while the younger two and their mother stayed at the plantation. Once the war ended, this family was forced to come to terms with the fact that they would have to adjust to a way of life vastly different than how they were raised. The war had ended, but the after effects – the burning of their plantation, the rape of their mother and a father who refused to accept the changes. The war was over, but peace was something that was not going to come easy.
Books & Writing: How did you come up with the story for that?
Sharon Poppen: Oh, my, where do you want me to start! I have always been fascinated about the U.S. Civil War due to the fact that it was brother against brother. As far back as I can remember, a Southern family of a four brothers began to fill my imagination. They became so vividly a part of my life/memories. I decided to record their saga as they grew from confused boys to purposeful men able to open themselves to adjustment, love and acceptance.
Books & Writing: Did you need to do lots of research for the book because I understand the story is post civil war?
Sharon Poppen: Yes, there was research. But, my focus was the development of the characters as they passed through the various stages of their lives. Items that required research were genuine historical facts that played a peripheral part in the lives of the brothers, like – U.S. Presidents, cities, mileages, appropriate clothing. I have one brother that whistles the song The Yellow Rose of Texas. I had forgotten to check the origin of the song until a day or two before the book was ready for final approval. Research confirmed that the song was written around the time of the battle for The Alamo in Texas in 1836. The brother who whistles it had served his time in the Confederate Army in the Texas area in the 1860s.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us something about the main characters?
Sharon Poppen: The two main characters are Michael Farrell, the third oldest brother, and Carmenalita, the woman in his life who is a young Mexican girl he finds in a border town. The other brothers and their actions are important, but the crux of the novel focuses on the adjustments Michael and Lita must surmount to form a life-long relationship – different cultural backgrounds, different religions, different languages. Michael has always felt the warmth and safety of a loving, supportive family, while Lita was sold into a bordello by her own father.
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Sharon Poppen: Words of wisdom for fellow writers: Just sit down and write. Don’t worry about what others think. Don’t worry about editing. Don’t worry about publishing. Just get into your characters – picture them, feel them, smell them, taste them, hear them talk. Don’t worry about plot. Make your characters so real that your reader will dread the last page of your book because they will no longer be able to travel along with the characters who have become friends/relatives/enemies. Don’t over think. You are never going to please everyone with your stories. These are your stories. You can’t imagine the pleasure experienced when the people who have appeared in your imagination are clearly defined and working their way through the twists and turns of your own creativity.
Books & Writing: Which author inspires you?
Sharon Poppen: My favorite author is Leon Uris. I read his Battle Cry as a young adult and fell in love with all his characters. I dreaded the end of all his books when these characters pass from active, vibrant movers and shakers to memories. I have similar feelings about writers like Gladys Malvern, James Michener, the very early works of Harold Robbins, Janet Evanovich and Ayn Rand
Books & Writing: Where can people go and read your work?
Sharon Poppen: All of my books are available in print and ebook format at Amazon.com or from my website www.sharonpoppen.com where they can obtain details on how to order them from the various publishers of my books – After the War, Before the Peace, Hannah and Abby-Finding More Than Gold.
Books & Writing: Where can people find you on internet?
Sharon Poppen: My website is www.sharonpoppen.com. A web search of Sharon Poppen will direct readers to the various on-line ezines that have published my short stories and poems.
Books & Writing: Is there anything else you want to share with the readers?
Sharon Poppen: I thank them for taking the time to ‘read’. With all the electronics available these days, I worry that reading is fading from popularity. Still, I want my readers to know that I write everyday, publish as often as possible, enjoy life every moment – and I hope my books bring joyful moments to my readers as they share the adventures of my characters.
Below is an excerpt from her book “After the War before the Peace”!
The light snoring of his brothers brought Michael’s thoughts back into this strange Mexican adobe. His brothers were sleeping soundly in the next room. Michael wished sleep would come to him. He yawned and thought about his brothers, especially Jim. He remembered what a relief it had been to everyone when Jim arrived home safe and sound that Christmas Eve. It had cheered everyone except Pa, who continued to brood. Michael yawned and stretched out in his bedroll as the memory of the struggle between Pa and Ma that changed all their lives came to mind.
He had just turned ten and Danny was two years his junior. They had been sleeping when the yelling began. They sat up and saw Pa, Ma and brothers Jim and Joe at the table.
Ma was saying, "It won't make things right. We have our boys back now. With hard work, we can make things better. Everyone is suffering the same hardships as we are. In fact, we're probably better off than a lot of folks".
"They stole everything we had." Pa snapped at her. "My father and grandfather worked hard to make this place what it was. I owe it to them to restore it. To get back what they took. Those cows and horses were direct descendents of the cattle they brought from Ireland. The confiscated jewelry and silver pieces are priceless family treasures. It's not right for those Yankees to be using them in their homes".
"You'll get yourself and the boys killed". She was pleading and seemed on the verge of tears.
"That could happen. But at least we'll be doing something about it. I couldn't face my ancestors when I die if I didn't try.” His voice softened. “Elizabeth, I'm not afraid of hard work, you know that. But I can't, I won't become a sharecropper with my family living day to day in hard labor with no guarantee of food, a roof over our heads or clothes for tomorrow. I don't care about the black folks. Our family hadn't bought or sold slaves since my grandfather’s time. I always thought of our black workers as family. So, they had a right to leave and I can only wish them well.” His voice was becoming louder and angrier. “But the money, the livestock, the jewels and the silver. I want them back! They belong to our sons. Those damn Yankees forced you and our sons to live in the marsh in hiding. Then they made you live in a slave cabin. No! I can't rest until I get back what is ours!"
"James, please listen to reason. The war changed everything. It can't be like it was."
Pa turned his attention to Jim and Joe. "What do you two think? Do you like the looks of this place now? Do you like the thought of your mother and brothers hiding in the marshes or in a slave cabin? What do you think of those Yankees using Grandpa Hugh's watch or Grandma Kate's silver?"
Eighteen-year-old Joe spoke hesitantly. "I hate all Yankees, Pa. But Ma's right. We do have it a lot better than some of our neighbors.”
"I hate them too," Twenty-year- old Jim added. "But, I'm tired of fighting. Working the land doesn't make me half as tired as fighting."
Pa looked from son to son. Each boy lowered his eyes to avoid their father’s silent accusations. The older man shook his head for a few seconds as if in disbelief. His eyes swept across the table and focused on his wife. Slowly, he got up and walked to her chair. His hand came to rest gently on her shoulder. In a voice just above a whisper, he continued. "Your Ma doesn't want me to tell you this, but you need to know that --"
"No!” Ma cried. She turned in her chair and stared up at him. “Please don't tell them.” She grabbed Pa's arm, her voice an anguished prayer, “Please, for God's sake. Don't tell this thing to my sons."
"Tell us what, Ma?" Jim asked, instantly alert and looking intently at his parents.
"Nothing.” She whispered, but never took her eyes off Pa.
"Elizabeth," Pa said quietly to Ma. "They are men. They need to know what happened."
Joe looked to Ma. His fists clenched. “Ma, did they hurt you. Did they hurt the boys?"
Michael would never forget the anguish in Jim’s voice that night. "Oh, Ma. No!” The words seemed to bounce off the cabin walls in a dreadful keen. His voice cracked. "When? Who?"
Pa answered. "The morning they burned the house. Three of them attacked her as she watched the house burn. Three of them!"
Michael and Danny had watched in terror as their mother, their rock, collapsed and lowered her head to the table. They heard her anguished sobs. They were afraid. They had never seen their mother like this. They looked at Jim.
His face was white. He made no attempt to wipe his tears away as he walked to her and knelt. "I love you, Ma. I love you so very much.” He paused and caressed the top of her lowered head. “But, those bastards have got to pay. Pa is right. Oh God, I don't want to see you hurting anymore than you've already been hurt, but I couldn't live with myself if I didn't help Pa.” He looked over at Joe who was studying the floor. "Joe?”
His brother looked up. His face, too, glistened with tears in the flickering lantern light. He looked at Ma, then Pa and finally met Jim’s determined stare.
“Joe, we have to do this. Pa’s right."
Joe’s words were barely audible. "I'm with you."
Ma raised her head. There was a tremble in voice as she pled with them. "Please? For God's sake, don't do this."
"Elizabeth, this is something a man has to do.” Pa stood beside her and stroked her hair. She looked up at him, then turned to Jim, who took her hand and folded it into his, and finally to Joe, who had resumed staring at the floor. She closed her eyes, let out a breath that was half sigh, half moan as she realized her pleas were not going to penetrate the hate that held her men in it's grip.
She was the first to speak. "What will you do?"
Pa answered with the most animation he’d shown since returning from the war. "We'll take care of it, the boys and I will. We'll sit down and figure out what each of us will need to do. This is going to affect all of us, even Michael and Danny."
At that point, Ma had looked over to the bunk where her gaze was returned by four little eyes all agog over what they had seen and heard. As she feared, her youngest sons had heard everything. She rose from her chair, looked from face to face, saw their determination and slowly walked out into the night.