Happy Monday, dear readers! Today on the blog I am super excited to be kicking off Wayne Clark's Blog Tour for That Woman! I have a fabulous interview with Wayne that I hope you enjoy. It's so much fun learning more about the authors you admire and I had a lot of fun with this one. You can also read an excerpt from That Woman below, and check out the schedule of tour stops!
Hello, Wayne and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about That Woman!
To begin, tell us a little about yourself and That Woman.
I’ve spent my life working with words in one way or another. I made my living as a journalist for much of my career, then as an advertising copywriter, then as a translator from French to English. In the 1990s I spent several years researching a novel set in New France. I even sketched out a series of novels set there. However, in the end I realized I’d planned it in such detail that there would be nothing left to create while writing. I couldn’t breath under the weight of all my research and outlines. That said, I never lost the desire to write an historical novel, and finally, about 20 years later with That Woman, I’ve done so.
What inspired you to write That Woman?
As I said, I’ve always wanted to write a historical novel. For many years my favorite escape was reading books set in the Age of Sail, 17th and 18th Century naval adventures, and of course pirate tales from any era. I loved the idea of being captain of my own ship, free of any restraints, with the whole ocean to wander. So, after publishing my first novel, he & She, I toyed with the idea of indulging myself by writing a pirate novel just for the fun of it. However before a pirate story solidified in my head I found myself remembering a visit I once made to the waterfront in Bordeaux, France. In the 18th Century the city was booming and its port was the most important one economically in France. The French would trade with anyone and on its waterfront you would hear a babble of languages from seamen and merchants from around the world. For some reason, the character of Sarah started to rapidly take shape. I started seeing Sarah very clearly on those congested docks and that’s why in the book I gave her the gift of learning languages, which facilitated her father’s business..
I must admit that in the early days of planning the book, the idea behind having Sarah kidnapped and taken to New York as a virtual slave was primarily to give myself the chance to write about life at sea. Even though the story moves to New York, the focus remains connected to the sea, on the docks of the East River waterfront and the international trade that flowed in and out of the city. Sarah ends up doing what her father did in France. She becomes what in those days was often called a she-merchant.
What was the hardest scene to write?
The scene where Sarah and her brother are left in total darkness in the hold of a ship following the kidnapping in Bordeaux. Since they couldn’t see, I had to imagine what the heard, felt, smelled and so on.
What was your favorite scene to write?
I can’t really pick out one scene, but I had fun writing pretty well all the scenes with the Commodore, the flamboyant, eccentric old Dutchman.
What would you like readers to take away from reading That Woman?
Sarah, the main character, conquered incredible odds to survive in a man’s world. It still a man’s world now but in the 18th Century it was far more so. Sarah is small in stature but that’s the only thing that’s small about her. One of the most important themes in the book is that women can be as strong as men, as clever, as persistent, as brave and as noble. I think it’s necessary in life to believe that you can change what’s not right, to get rid of what’s not letting you be yourself, and be happy. There's an undersupply of novels with strong female protagonists.
Beyond that, for me an important message is the reminder of how omnipresent slavery was in America’s past.
I think is important today. Those who thought that racism in America was pretty much a thing of the past are finding out that this is far from the case. In the book, I highlight two kinds of slavery.
You can’t call Sarah and her brother immigrants because they were kidnapped and forced to come here. But like countless immigrants, they arrived as indentured servants. Such immigrants were owned by the men who bought their contracts. Their owner dictated every moment of their lives for years until the contract came to an end and the immigrants found themselves free but, more often than not, penniless and without work. The immigrants who ended up building this country faced horrible conditions at the outset.
The better known kind of slavery is, of course, race-based. In the book, at her lowest moment, Sarah is befriended by a free black who works the New York docks. He lives with the constant fear that he will be kidnapped and thrown back into slavery by any white man who wants to sell him as slave, or that he will be falsely accused of committing some sort of crime just because he was black and in the neighborhood when the crime was committed.
As you know, many people who live in the northeastern states today like to believe that slavery was a primarily a southern horror. We now know that was not at all true. Slavery in New York looked different because slaves didn’t work in fields, but they were still slaves. Slaves were bought and sold daily at the foot of Wall Street. Slave burial grounds are still being discovered in the city. At the time of my story, one fifth of the city’s population was made of up slaves, so many that the city’s leaders and their British governors wanted to stop the purchase of slaves not for moral reasons but because they feared there would soon be so many blacks that they would overrun the white population.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was a teenager. I also started writing quite young because I wanted to become a newspaperman like my father had been before the war, the war in this case being the Second World War. I didn’t try any fiction until I was in my early 20s. I started working at a newspaper at the age of 17.
My parents were readers and encouraged my brother and me to read. In fact one of my favorite stories about them was that my father courted my mother by going to her office at lunch time and reading novels to her. I wonder whether had he courted today he would have simply texted her at lunch. Far less romantic, I think.
What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?
In my 20s and 30s, I worked on four novels, if I remember correctly, and ended up hating them. They were stilted. They didn’t flow. It was hard to feel for my characters. It may not be every writer’s solution but I found mine when I started writing from scratch as an exercise. I asked myself only to sit in front of my keyboard for the first two hours of the day, or until the pot of coffee ran out. No plan, no outline of any kind, and no end in mind. I let my fingers take me where they wanted. Sometimes a whole day would go by and I would be astonished at the result. Some days I produced only garbage but other days my unconscious earned its keep. While writing this way one day I realized that what I’d just written off the top of my had would actually work as part of a few scenes I had written a couple of years earlier. I combined them, did some editing, and not long afterwards I realized I had the makings of a story. I suddenly had two characters to work with. For the next five months I continued writing at 6 a.m. seven days a week, telling myself still that I only had to put in those two hours. If nothing came to my fingers, fine. As time went by my sessions grew to many hours a day. Yes, I definitely ended up rejecting some of it, but the important thing was that I was writing without fluently and frequently feeling actually joyful about what had popped out onto the page. I tried to keep the writing process simple. I wouldn’t write a word until I could picture a scene and make somebody move in that scene. The deal with myself from the outset of my experiment was to write for myself only and to suspend all criticism. The end result was my first published novel, he & She, a piece of literary fiction. I applied much the same process in the writing of That Woman.
Who are your writing inspirations?
I’m 71 years of age. As you get older it’s harder and harder to say who the most important ones are. By that I mean the older you get the writers who once excited you are replaced by new ones. Another factor is that as we grow older we change, we look for different things in books. If I were to name a few of my favorite authors over time they would include Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel García Márquez. I was mesmerized by their writing. Also on the list would be Anaïs Nin and Annie Proulx. I loved some of Philip Roth’s work, and for quite some time Henry Miller held sway, along with Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov. When I was young, I couldn’t get enough of Fyodor Dostoevsky.
What was the first historical novel you read?
As a boy I read the Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane’s novel about the American Civil War.
What is the last historical novel you read?
City of Dreams by Beverly Swerling. The novel follows two families through generations in early New York.
What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?
The 18th Century.
What do you like to do when you aren't writing?
I play alto sax. I make a mess out of transcribed solos by the jazz greats from the 40s and 50s, but it makes me love the music even more when I listen.
Lastly, what are you working on next?
I’ve just finished a novel set in New York during the 1930s about a young man from the Lower East Side who tries to escape the hopelessness around him by inventing a persona with the guts to try to make a name for himself. At the moment, the title is Hollywood via Orchard Street.
Wow, I don't know about you but that was one fascinating interview! Thank you, Wayne! I look forward to reading That Woman!
That Woman by Wayne Clark
2017 Book Excellence Awards Finalist for Fiction
2017 Winner 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading
Kidnapped in France and brought to America as an indentured servant, a young woman takes on the brutal merchant king of New York's East River waterfront...
Illness suddenly deprives 17-year-old Sarah Da Silva and her older brother Jacob of a mother. Before Sarah has come to terms with that loss, her merchant father grows frail and increasingly desperate in the face of impending bankruptcy. On the rainy night their father scours the docks of Bordeaux, France, to make his final bid to save his family, his children are kidnapped and forced onto a ship bound for New York City where they’ll be separated and sold to the highest bidder as indentured labor.
Purchased by a grotesque merchant whose wealth, backed by a team of henchmen, allows him to dominate the chaotic East River docks, Sarah strikes back the only way she can. Vowing to never allow him to put his hands on her again, she presses a knife to his fat neck. She demands her freedom, a roof over her head and the means to start a business. Her leverage? Knowledge obtained on the voyage that would bring the big man to his knees forever. He yields to her demands but privately swears to become her worst nightmare.
Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound
Praise for That Woman"Historical tidbits about the city (Greenwich Village served as a "country retreat" for the upper class) enhance an action-packed plot that includes forgery (responsible for prodigious contributions to the supply of paper currency), thievery, immigrant fortitude, and the unbreakable bond of friendships that evolve into "family" in this new land. Clark's (he and She, 2014) prose is vivid. Describing a Frenchwoman who will become Sarah's friend and business partner, he writes: "Geneviève's story came out in pieces, as if well intentioned short phrases had come to her tongue and no further, only to be forgotten about for moments on end...the engrossing story offers plenty of skulduggery to keep the plot moving. Well-stocked with vibrant details about the merchant trade, this engaging Colonial tale delivers likable heroes, despicable villains, and a strong female protagonist." -Kirkus Reviews
"THAT WOMAN, Wayne Clark's tale of forced servitude and revenge in pre-Revolutionary War New York hums with injustice, and the reader thirsts for the violated character, in every sense of the word, getting even. Along the way, Clark makes New York City, already a money-drenched melting pot, as much a character as any of the participants. 4 stars." -Ron Capshaw for IndieReader
"Wayne Clark could be the new Jeffrey Archer, another master of the plot. His That Woman: Beating the Odds in Colonial New York is a story that held me in ways I never could have imagined when I started reading. The characters are very compelling, each with a solid background and each born from a powerful conflict. The duel between Sarah and her new lord raises the stakes of the conflict in this novel and the reader becomes very keen to watch how it ends. Here is a story that dramatically captures the spirit of colonialism and slavery, with a masterful handling of the theme of freedom. Readers are taken on a roller coaster ride to colonial New York to witness a drama that will take their breath away. It's utterly mesmerizing and tantalizing. 5 stars." -Romuald Dzemo for Readers' Favorite
ExcerptOctober 29, 1748
IT WAS the highlight of Sarah’s week when her father signaled for her and her older brother Jacob to prepare themselves to accompany him while he conducted business on the quays of Bordeaux. Preparation meant simply to spruce up, straighten up and, above all, look up. Show that you are someone, he would say.
Since his wife died two years earlier, Gabriel Da Silva had placed his children on the pedestal his wife used to occupy. His taciturnity at home still made the days long, but Sarah had her brother to chatter with as they worked in the shop, its little office upstairs and the warehouse on the third floor. When Jacob teased her, which he would find any excuse to do, she laughed. Since their mother had died their father no longer barked out their names when he caught them playing word games while supposedly doing his accounts, or playing hide and seek in the store room when they were supposed to be finding space for a new consignment of goods. Mostly it was wine from their father’s best client, a producer in Pessac, a short distance southwest of the city.
Gabriel Da Silva was not a major merchant, so he was particularly proud of acting on behalf of the prestigious winery that had been in production for hundreds of years on the order of Pope Clément, a former archbishop of Bordeaux. Da Silva never had a problem with Catholics. Jews no longer had to pretend to be Catholic to get married. The King liked Jews when he profited from their commerce and borrowed their money to finance his fantasies of glory, first for himself, then for France.
Like many businessmen in coastal ports, Da Silva bought and sold whatever was at a good price, from fine silk fabrics made in Lyon to furniture made by the world-renowned craftsmen of Paris. Trade with the New World had made Bordeaux France’s major port, and many a merchant and shipowner had made their fortunes. Compared to them, Gabriel was a small fish, like the sardines from his native Portugal. But, he told himself, “I am one of them.”
Gabriel Da Silva was thin. His back was slightly hunched so he could not stand tall as he asked his children to do. Sarah, the youngest, was only 17 but she was already taller than her father, and almost as tall as her brother, two years her elder.
Sarah loved the days she spent on the docks of the great city. Though she knew only her little neighborhood, the streets around their shop on the Ruelle des Fosses, near the new Porte Dijeaux, she believed everything worth seeing in Bordeaux could be seen from the harbor, like the Église St. Pierre and the newly erected stock exchange, the Place de la Bourse, designed by the King’s very own architect as a symbol of the city’s prosperity. And she could gaze all day long at the ships anchored along the Garonne River. Even the river had come from far away, in the mountains of Spain, they said.
She and Jacob were not allowed to walk the quays alone. Her father said the press of men on the docks comprised men like himself, men with goods to offer, arrangements to conclude, or men of the sea, who seemed forever bent under the weight of the cargo they loaded or offloaded, or, if not bent, at least crooked under the effects of wine. And, said her father, there were men whose purpose on the docks was not declared, men who moved little else but their eyes. That only increased Sarah’s excitement as she and her brother followed their father, watching as he nodded to people, stopping occasionally to converse, or occasionally even boarding one of the merchantmen, sometimes for an hour on end. When that happened she and Jacob would dutifully sit near the end of the pier, away from the crowded quays.
Though it was late fall, as reflected by the blue of the sky, which she found far richer than that of midsummer days, the heat was unseasonal. Men, masts, buildings and the waters of the harbor shimmered before Sarah’s eyes. For a moment it caused her to lose sight of her father. He had grown smaller after the death of her mother.
As she hurried to catch up, Sarah instinctively stepped aside to evade the stench of a toothless man who’d tripped and stumbled toward her. She shielded her eyes with her left hand. Her father’s long, thin grey hair lurched back into view. She hurried to catch up. Jacob was already at her father’s side. On the docks, Jacob was never supposed to let his sister out of his sight. She realized she’d been too absorbed by the routine of chaos to notice she was lagging behind.
As she neared her father she thought she saw alarm in his eyes. He had been in intense conversation with a man she knew to be an agent. As she drew alongside, she caught a few words of the discussion. Finally the agent shook his head slowly, as if with regret. The hands he held up before his chest confirmed some kind of refusal. Her father sank down, coming to rest on a bollard. The agent turned away. Sarah was at Jacob’s side. They waited for their father to speak.
For long moments he remained silent, and swallowed a lot.
About the AuthorAward-winning author Wayne Clark was born in 1946 in Ottawa, Ont., but has called Montreal home since 1968. Woven through that time frame in no particular order have been interludes in Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver, Germany, Holland and Mexico.
By far the biggest slice in a pie chart of his career would be labelled journalism, including newspapers and magazines, as a reporter, editor and freelance writer. The other, smaller slices of the pie would also represent words in one form or another, in advertising as a copywriter and as a freelance translator. However, unquantifiable in a pie chart would be the slivers and shreds of time stolen over the years to write fiction.
For more information, please visit Wayne Clark's website and blog. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
Blog Tour ScheduleMonday, January 29
Interview at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, January 30
Review at Pursuing Stacie
Wednesday, January 31
Feature at Let Them Read Books
Saturday, February 3
Review at Bookworms Anonymous
Thursday, February 8
Review at Donna's Book Blog
Friday, February 9
Feature at Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots
Monday, February 12
Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views
Tuesday, February 13
Review at Historical Fiction Reviews