Thursday, November 26, 2015

Straight from the Mouth of 'Dolet' Florence Byham Weinberg

Florence’s latest book is Dolet, is revised from a rough draft written somewhere around 12 years ago. She was born in Alamogordo, New Mexico, before Holloman Air Force Base, before atomic testing in the White Sands.  For her first four years, she lived on a ranch and rode horses perched in front of her father on his saddle. Her second four years were spent in Cienega, a desert school just west of the Guadalupe Mountains. She could read and write at four. World War II broke out and her father volunteered and fought in France from the Normandy Invasion to Belgium, where he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. He retired from the army and bought a 365-acre farm in Arkansas, and Florence transferred from the best schools in the nation to the Ozarks. She graduated high school as valedictorian and attended Park College (now Park University) in Parkville, Missouri, then graduate school in philosophy at the University of Iowa. At age 21, she married Kurt Weinberg, a brilliant professor and writer and moved with him to British Columbia, Canada.  

Dolet completed an MA in Spanish history and literature there. She and Kurt moved to Rochester, NY, where she completed a Ph.D. in French literature and taught Spanish literature for four years at the U. of Rochester, then French and Spanish language and literature for 22 years, was Chair of Modern Languages and Classics and Director of International Studies at St. John Fisher College. Her husband retired meanwhile, and the couple moved to San Antonio, where she taught a further ten years and chaired the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures for six. During all this time, she traveled with her husband in Canada, France, Spain, Germany, Holland and Switzerland, and wrote four scholarly books. Her husband died of Parkinson’s disease in 1996. She retired in 1999 and began writing historical fiction. To date, she has written ten novels, nine of them historical fiction, including mystery and romance, and one fantasy novel. She is at work writing the eleventh novel at the moment. Her website is

Find out about her latest book, DOLET, on Amazon


Thanks for letting us interrogate you!  Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?

Wanted to be an author? I simply was one. As I said above, I learned to read and write at age four. That year, I wrote a four-line poem that my mother published in a national children’s magazine. At age six or seven, I wrote a “novel” about a kingdom of cats called “Ywain, King of All Cats.” (No, the king’s name was made up from the sound cats make, not from knowing about medieval French literature.) During my academic career, I wrote and published four scholarly books, many articles, reviews, encyclopedia articles etc., and my record since retirement needs no repeating (see above). My ambition always was to write fiction, and in retirement I finally got the chance.

Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be?  I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?

The demands far outweigh the perks, if you’re thinking materialistically. As a writer of historical fiction, I do tons of background research.      
For Dolet, I had researched the life of Etienne Dolet by reading everything old and new about him, consulting live experts, and established what the city of Lyon, France, looked like in the 16th century thanks to a huge map that gave every detail. I then traveled to Lyon and walked all over the city center—the old center—and toured houses built in the 15th and 16th centuries to become familiar with interior layouts. The Cathedral of St. Jean is still very much as it was at Dolet’s time, except for the damage inflicted on the façade during the wars of religion that started twenty years after his death.

For my earlier mystery series, I went to Arizona, Mexico, Spain and Germany to reconstruct the life of my detective-hero, Ignaz Pfefferkorn, S.J., who was a real 18th-century Jesuit missionary (1725 or ’26-1798). Those repeated trips didn’t come free, and I am far from making enough profit from sales to pay for them. But along the way, I met fantastic, wonderful people, many of whom are now my friends. I got to see and to know parts of France, Spain, Switzerland and Germany I would never otherwise have visited, and in Mexico, I visited all the former Jesuit missions in Sonora, many of which are now active parishes, and most of which are architecturally fascinating.

I worked with yellowed documents in archives and discovered enough unknown facts about Pfefferkorn, for example, that I was able to give lectures (in German) two years ago about him to audiences in Siegburg, where he is buried and in the Black Forest to an audience of students.

In short, I’m a wiser, happier, better traveled, better informed person thanks to my writing since I retired. This makes it all more than worthwhile.

Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?

I publish with Twilight Times Books, a small, traditional publisher that produces both e-books and trade paperbacks in very handsome format. The books are professionally edited and book-covers are beautiful creations by professional artists. The one thing small presses don’t do (and many large presses no longer do) is market your books. TTB does send out review copies to all the most prominent review mills, but otherwise, sales are up to you. I fear that I have limited talents in this regard… perhaps this blog will give me a boost? But much of the work is up to the writer. Which means, of course, that one’s time for writing is cut back.  

Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?

I’m a widow living alone, so have no problems in this regard. I’m the proverbial lone writer holed up in my study….

This is for pet lovers.  If you don’t own a pet, skip this question, but do your pets actually get their food on time or do they have to wait until you type just one more word?

I always have a cat or two around for company. At the moment, two adorable kittens. They see to it that they get their food on time. They have perfect built-in clocks. One feeding is at 8:00 AM when I get up, the other at 3:00 in the afternoon. If I happen not to hop up from the computer to lay out the goodies, they hop on my lap, on my shoulder, purr in my ear or rub cheeks. There’s no ignoring them, so they do get fed exactly when they should. I often don’t.

This is for plant lovers.  If you don’t own a plant, skip this question, but if you do, are they actually still alive?

Yes, even though the temperatures have been at 100+ degrees for a couple of weeks with a few days in the mid- and upper nineties. My library looks out through French doors on the patio, so I can’t avoid seeing those plants as I traipse through to get a sandwich or a beer. So I water them. The inside plants, philodendrons and African violets I inherited from my mother, don’t fare so well. They’re drooping right now as a matter of fact—but still alive.

In writing your book, how did you deal with the phone ringing, your family needing dinner or your boss calling you saying you’re late?

No family. Retired. So no problem there. The phone rings far too often, usually someone asking for money either political or charity. I simply check the number of the caller, and if I don’t recognize it, I don’t answer and turn off the ringer. I often forget to eat, though.

What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?

The oddest thing was this: At the time, I was researching the life and times of Ignaz Pfefferkorn, S. J. I knew he had been imprisoned in Spain by King Carlos III, supposedly for treason but undoubtedly under suspicion of having stolen or hoarded the gold of the Sonora (New Spain/Mexico) mines. At the time, I knew he had been in prison for a total of ten years: two under arrest in New Spain (1767-68).

He had landed at Puerto de Santa María near Cádiz, Spain, in 1769 and disembarked with a few other survivors from Sonora from a prison ship. I knew they were all in bad shape from starvation and other abuse. Where he went from there, I didn’t know. In his own book, A Description of the Province of Sonora (1794), the preface mentioned a monastery in Ciudad Rodrigo (Spain) as a place where he had been imprisoned.

I traveled to Spain and to Ciudad Rodrigo, and in handwritten records from the monastery (el Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad)—now in private hands—I found mention of “don Ygnacio Pferkon,” an “ex-Jesuit,” a prisoner of the king who had arrived at the monastery in 1755. Although the monastery was now property of a landlord living in Madrid, the caretaker took me through the huge complex consisting of large church with bell tower, and the monastery itself, its grounds, cloister, refectory, abbot’s quarters, monk’s cells on two floors, and outbuildings. I was able to complete the mystery novel with precise references to settings after that visit.

The book was published in 2005, and I sent the caretaker a copy. In January 2006, I received a letter from the owner’s son, an aspiring movie director. He had been looking for a theme worthy of a movie to be set in the monastery, had read my book, The Storks of La Caridad, and thought that the book and the theme was the very thing he had been seeking. After that, I was invited to his parents’ home in Madrid and treated royally. However, ten years have passed since I received that letter; the young man is now directing short films, and I wonder what has become of his pledge of long ago.

How about the social networks?  Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?

Facebook is probably the most popular and helpful. Twitter is also useful. So is Goodreads. I belong to LinkedIn, but find it of little use as a tool for spreading news about new publications. So far, I haven’t exploited any network adequately and so haven’t been involved enough to wish to avoid any.

Book sales.  Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)?  How are you making the sales happen for you?

For the last two books, I have hired a publicist who is connected with a number of blogs such as “Straight from the Author’s Mouth.” This has helped my sales more than my own efforts ever did. I do give lectures and sell books afterwards, have open houses when a new book comes out and sell books, have book signings and sell books, have done two book tours and have sold books that way. And of course have solicited reviews in order to sell books. I have had radio interviews and an occasional write-up in local newspapers. None of the above (perhaps with the exception of the publicist’s blitz campaigns) have sold a large number of books.

What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?

Perhaps I should scream in frustration at the difficulty of any novel of mine becoming known among the 100,000 other novels being published every which way in the USA these days. Perhaps I should scream in frustration at what happened to the great publishers in New York City, who once were on the lookout for talented or unusual authors whom they could mentor. No longer. They’re only on the lookout for profits from bestsellers. Perhaps I should mention that fiction (with the exception of romance) just doesn’t sell; only non-fiction gets a glance. But that’s already three things I’m screaming about and I’ll shut up.

Okay, too much sugar for you today!  Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in.  Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?

I need that Chamomile tea. And the cabana and the waves rolling in. What do I love about being a published author? Just that: I’m out there and somebody, somewhere is reading me. It has been a splendid ride. I’ve traveled around the U.S., Mexico, Spain, France, Germany and Switzerland, working in archives and making good friends I’d never have met otherwise. Writing is liberating and educational. So, my writer friends, there are rewards, even if you never become a best-seller. But, hope springs…, and I wish us all a lightning strike—that we go viral, I mean!

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