Novelist Dorothy M. Place joins me today to chat about her literary fiction, The Heart to Kill.
Dorothy M. Place lives and works in Davis, California. Since submitting her first short story in 2008, she has had eleven stories accepted for publication in literary journals; three have been awarded prizes and one, a fellowship. Her debut, literary fiction novel, The Heart to Kill, has been published by SFA Press (2016). A collection of fifteen short stories has been compiled and being prepared for marketing to agents/publishers this spring. Her second novel, “The Search for Yetta,” is in process.
Welcome, Dorothy. Please tell us a little bit about your book.
The Heart to Kill, a literary fiction novel released by SFA Press November 2016, is a story of a horrible crime, an enduring friendship, and personal illumination. Sarah, a student at Northwestern University Law School, returns to her apartment one evening to find two telephone messages. The first is that she has not been chosen for a coveted internship for which her father has arranged an interview; the second is that Sarah’s best friend in high school, JoBeth Ruland, has murdered her two children. To mislead her father about her failure to obtain the internship, Sarah secures a position on JoBeth’s defense team and, against her father’s wishes, returns to her family home in Eight Mile Junction, South Carolina. She sets out to become a vital member of her friend’s defense team and to regain favor with her father only to find that she is not well-prepared for working in a community rife with chauvinism, malice, duplicity, and betrayal. Her efforts are met with the benevolent amusement of the senior law partner, the resentment of the expert trial attorney, the rush to judgement by the folks of Eight Mile Junction, and the discovery of the role of several individuals in the degradation of JoBeth.
The Hungry Monster Book Reviews awarded The Heart to Kill its gold award (February 2017).
What inspired you to write this book?
This story was influenced by Euripides play, Medea (a barbarian princess of Colchis), who gave up everything to help Jason, who has married her, find the Golden Fleece. When they return to Greece with the prize, Jason leaves Medea for a Grecian princess. In revenge, she murders their two sons and his intended bride. It was that play (seen back when I was in graduate school) as well as the stories of several women who have murdered their children that inspired Sarah’s journey. The book’s name comes directly from Euripides where he has the Greek chorus ask, “How does she have the heart to kill her flesh and blood?”
Excerpt from The Heart to Kill:
She looked to the sky, searching for the moon. Now a small sliver, it seemed to be hanging precariously from the branch of a nearby tree, like an ornament, belonging more to the tree than the sky. Then, after taking a few steps back, Sarah watched the moon fall off the branch and return to its proper place among the evening stars. Funny thing about perspective, how a small change in one direction can dramatically affect everything else.
What exciting story are you working on next?
In my next novel, Sarah returns to Search for Yetta. The new book has parallel stories. The search for her great aunt, whose name has been expunged from the family’s history, takes Sarah through the early twentieth century migration to New York City, the disastrous Triangle Shirtwaist fire, the growing women’s participation in the labor movement, and the secret surrounding Yetta’s disappearance. At the same time, she is working at Walton and Robards law firm on a class action law suit for women janitors and maintenance workers that reveals many of the abuses against female workers suffered by the women her firm is defending have amazing similarities to the experiences of her great aunt, all of which leads Sarah to make some life changing decisions.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In her writing class, Ellen Sussman told us to call ourselves writers. She assured us that if we said it often enough, we would begin to believe it. But that was difficult. As research director in the College of Continuing Education, Sacramento State College, I worked with numbers and wrote reports—all of which the clients hammered out anything that even hinted at creativity.
As I approached retirement, I decided to write stories about my childhood. I wanted my children to see what life back then was like, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that they would never read that crap. So, I wrote a short story (based on a fictionalized travel experience) and it got published—in a small, now defunct, regional journal—but, as they say, it was better than a poke in the eye with a hot stick. And it certainly galvanized me into believing that I could write. Several short stories later, I started on Sarah’s journey and have not stopped.
Do you write full time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Before Sarah was published, I wrote full time. Now, because my publisher is a small, independent university press and I do not have an agent, I have become a book hawker. So, I divide by time between selling my book, writing, preparing my short story collection for another publisher’s eyes, and spending time searching for Yetta with Sarah.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Perhaps everyone who writes has this experience, but I find myself walking in Sarah’s shoes. She has become so real that, even when I am watching the news on television, I am wondering how she would respond to what is going on. She is like that little wispy, humanized gastronomical pain on television ads: always butting in, always listening, always giving me her opinion. Sounds nuts, doesn’t it?
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a child, I wanted to go out west and be a cowgirl. Once my hormones started rampaging, I wanted to be a wife. It never occurred to me to be a writer. After all, how could one earn a living doing that? (At least I was right about that part.) Anyway, now that I have publications under my belt, I do feel like a writer. But it is still difficult. Raised in the working class, sitting around thinking and typing all day still doesn’t seem like REAL work.
Anything additional you’d like to share with the readers?
It continues to amaze me that, after spending so much time alone, writing a story that you believe in, that there are people out there who will buy the book and read it. I am humbled by this. Thank you.
Thanks for being here today, Dorothy.