Monday, April 1, 2019

New interview with Barbara Casey

A big welcome back to novelist Barbara Casey. Today we’re chatting about her non-fiction book, Velvalee Dickinson: The “Doll Woman” Spy.

During her virtual book tour, Barbara will be awarding a $20 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card to a lucky randomly drawn winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit her other tour stops and enter there, too!

Barbara Casey is the author of several award-winning novels for both adults and young adults, as well as book-length works of nonfiction, and numerous articles, poems, and short stories. Her nonfiction true crime book, Kathryn Kelly: The Moll behind Machine Gun Kelly, has been optioned for a major film and television series. Her nonfiction book, Assata Shakur: A 20th Century Escaped Slave, is under contract for a major film. In addition to her own writing, she is an editorial consultant and president of the Barbara Casey Agency. Established in 1995, she represents authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan.

In 2018 Barbara received the prestigious Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award and Top Professional Award for her extensive experience and notable accomplishments in the field of publishing and other areas. Barbara lives on a mountain in Georgia with her husband, and three pets who adopted her: Benton, a hound-mix; Reese, a black cat; and Earl Gray, a gray cat and Reese’s best friend.

Welcome back to Reviews and Interviews, Barbara!
Thank you, Lisa. It is so nice to visit with you and your readers again.

Please tell us about your newest release.
Once again I returned to nonfiction. Velvalee Dickinson: The “Doll Woman” Spy is a biographical “true crime” glimpse into the life of a woman who became the first American woman to face the death penalty on charges of spying for a wartime enemy. She was the highest paid American woman who spied for the Imperial Japanese Government during World War II.

What inspired you to write this book?
In doing research on another book I was writing, I came across some information about Velvalee. So little was known about her, and yet she made international news at the time she was suspected of spying for the Imperial Japanese Government. She was a diminutive woman, no taller than 4 feet 10 inches and weighing less than 100 pounds, who had made a name for herself around the world as an expert in antique, foreign, and domestic dolls. And yet, she became a spy. I was fascinated and wanted to uncover her story.

Excerpt from Velvalee Dickinson: The “Doll Woman” Spy:
As intrigued as Eunice (Kennedy) was of these three women—Iva Toguri D’Aquino, Mildred Elizabeth Gillars, and Lilly Stein—Eunice was especially drawn to Velvalee Dickinson, now 56 years old and 29 years her senior—the former owner of a prestigious collectable doll shop on Madison Avenue in Manhattan who had been convicted of spying for the Japanese during the war. By the time Eunice met Velvalee, the “Doll Woman” had already been at Alderson a little over four years, spending her time writing letters to her brother, Oswald, and asking him to send her things like “bobbie pins,” reading the publication Cathedral Bulletin, learning how to play the electric organ, writing magazine articles, and reading books such as Citidal by A.J. Cronin and The Razors Edge by Somerset Maughan. She also took care of a yellow male cat “which will soon be a father,” she wrote to her brother.

It is ironic that on the very day Velvalee was given the maximum sentence of ten years in prison at Alderson and a $10,000 fine for violation of the censorship laws, J.P. Kennedy, Jr., son of ex-ambassador Joseph Kennedy and Eunice’s brother, was killed when a Navy bomber he was piloting exploded in flight. And only a year earlier, in August 1943, another brother, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had been seriously injured by the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, an injury that caused him chronic back pain for the rest of his life.

Some speculate that Eunice felt sympathetic toward Velvalee because she, like Eunice, had graduated from Stanford University. In fact, by strange coincidence, Velvalee belatedly received her degree the same year that Eunice graduated from Stanford. Or maybe it was because she believed Velvalee’s story that it had been her husband, Lee, who spied for the Japanese and not her. So many of the women Eunice had met and counselled through her work in social services, after all, had gotten into trouble because of their controlling and manipulative husbands or boyfriends. Or it could have been that Velvalee had worked in social services for a time while living in San Francisco, an interest and passion that Eunice also shared.

What’s the next writing project?
I have been writing a young adult mystery series called THE F.I.G. MYSTERY SERIES. So far there are three books published in the series: The Cadence of Gypsies, The Wish Rider, and The Clock Flower. I am working on the fourth and final book in the series now.

What is your biggest challenge when writing a new book? (or the biggest challenge with this book)
The biggest challenge in writing Velvalee Dickinson: The “Doll Woman” Spy was the research. There have been no other books written about her, so my research involved going to the FBI Vault, FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), personal documents and letters, and newspapers from the time period. It was interesting, but intensive and extremely time-consuming.

If your novels require research – please talk about the process. Do you do the research first and then write, while you’re writing, after the novel is complete and you need to fill in the gaps?
When writing nonfiction, it is critical that the information be authentic and correct. I always do my research in advance before I actually start writing. There are times, as was in this case, when additional information will come in after I have started writing. Then it is a matter of working the information in where it best fits. I have to say, as much as I love writing fiction, I thoroughly enjoy doing research on the nonfiction I write.

What’s your writing space like? Do you have a particular spot to write where the muse is more active? Please tell us about it.
I have a home office where I work. I begin each day very early, first feeding Benton, Reese, and Earl Gray, getting myself together, then sitting down at the computer by 4 a.m. Early mornings are when I am the freshest, and my writing is unforced. My office has built-in, floor-to-ceiling bookcases lined with books, reference materials, and things of nature I have collected such as a hummingbird’s nest, a basket of acorns, personal photos and drawings, paintings on the walls, and other things. In my office is a large over-stuffed reading chair and floor lamp, a credenza where I keep a collection of antique ink wells, my late grandfather’s triangular-shaped measuring stick next to a wooden file cabinet, and, of course, my desk and chair where I write. There are large windows that look out over the woods and mountains where I live which are a constant source of inspiration.

What authors do you enjoy reading within or outside of your genre?
I tend to enjoy many of the British mystery authors.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers today?
If any of your readers get a chance to read my books, I hope they will let me know. I always enjoy hearing their comments.


Thank you for coming back to Reviews and Interviews!
Thank you for asking such wonderful questions! I have enjoyed it very much and hope to visit with you again soon.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thanks for hosting!

Barbara Casey said...

Lisa, I wanted to thank you again for hosting me and giving me the opportunity to talk about Velvalee. I will be following along, so if any of your bloggers have a question or comment, I will be sure to answer.

All best,

Barbara Casey said...

You are welcome, James. So few people know about Velvalee, and yet she made international news at the time she was spying for the Japanese. She was quite a character. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment.


Rita Wray said...

Sounds like a great book.

Victoria Alexander said...

Great post, I enjoyed reading it.

Barbara Casey said...

Rita, it is nice to hear from you. I hope you get a chance to read it.

Barbara Casey said...

Hi Victoria. Even with the seriousness of her crime, Velvalee was fun to write about. She was only about 4 feet 9 inches tall, and weighed less than 100 pounds; but she had a fighting spirit and wasn't afraid to use it against the FBI agents who arrested her. Thanks for your comment.

Bernie Wallace said...

Which book have you read the most times? Bernie Wallace BWallace1980(at)hotmail(d0t)com

Barbara Casey said...

What an interesting question! As a matter of fact, I have one "go to" book--actually it is a series--that I read when I have time and for pure pleasure, and that is MAKE WAY FOR LUCIA by British author EF Benson. Thank you for asking.

Cali W. said...

Thanks for the giveaway; I like the excerpt. :)

Dale Wilken said...

Sounds great.

Bea LaRocca said...

Thank you so much for the interview and giveaway. How much time do you usually spend on research for your non-fiction titles?

Barbara Casey said...

Carl, I am glad you like the excerpt. Thanks for stopping by.

Barbara Casey said...

Hi Dale. If you like interesting little-known historical happenings, you will like this. Thank you for leaving a comment.

Barbara Casey said...

Hi Bea. I love your question. In general, I spend a minimum of 6 months researching my topic. In addition, I access the FOIA through the FBI and the FBI vault, and that can take several months. Once I start to write, though, I already have the story outlined in my mind so the actual writing doesn't take that long. Thank you for your comment.

Bea LaRocca said...

Hi, Barbara! Thank you for your response. I confess that I've never heard of Velvalee Dickinson but I find her story intriguing as well as the other stories that were mentioned in your bio. I will definitely be checking them out.

Barbara Casey said...

Thank you, Bea. I appreciate that.

Danielle merkle said...

Sounds like a good read

Barbara Casey said...

I hope you get a chance to read it, Danielle. Thanks for stopping by.