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Historical Fiction Author Beverly Magid: Writing, Research, and John Lennon

This week my guest is historical fiction author Beverly Magid.  Before writing her first novel, Beverly was a journalist and an entertainment and celebrity PR executive. She interviewed many luminaries, including John Lennon, Jim Croce, and the Monty Python gang. As publicist, she represented clients in music, tv, and film, ranging from Whoopi Goldberg to John Denver and Dolly Parton to Tom Skerritt.

Beverly is a longtime west coast resident who still considers herself a New Yorker. She’s an advocate for social issues, including literacy, aid to victims of war atrocities, and stopping genocide. She’s also a voice for  many environmental, human, and animal rights issues.

Your first two novels were also historical fiction. What draws you to write such detailed stories from the past?

There is so much to learn from past times. And sometimes it’s easier to accept the problems and their answers when we have some distance between them and ourselves. Class conflicts, anti-semitism, female empowerment, moral questions: these are not new, but seeing them through a long lens can sometime help us to better understand them in today’s world. Women have always had to be brave, but they used different methods, depending on the era.

Tell us about your research process:

Libraries, books, old newspapers, internet: I love delving into the times, the people, their clothes, what they ate, how the world looked, sounded, smelled. When you’re trying to create a full world for your characters no detail is too small or insignificant. Who knew that Hersheys Kisses were introduced in the early 1900’s? As to how the people dressed, newspaper ads and Sears Catalog were very helpful. The trick is not to get so involved with research that you never come back to writing the story.

You work as a volunteer at the Los Angeles Zoo, tell us about what you do for them and how it connects to your support of environmental issues:

After a trip to Tanzania and especially Rwanda, (before their civil war) where I trekked the mountain gorillas, I wanted to stay connected with the animals I had just observed and become enchanted with. The Los Angeles Zoo offered a class in animal observations to better understand what motivates them and how the zoo can then make their surroundings and life more rewarding. Staying connected to the world is very important for writers, no matter what path they choose. I’ve done observations on chimps, chimp babies, mandrills, elephants, and it’s given me a deeper empathy towards other species deserving of our care and protection. Humans are the most dangerous predators and we have the biggest responsibilities towards preserving our world. (This is the first time I’ve ever had a guest on with a photo of herself interviewing John Lennon!)

Where Do I Go is a continuation from Sown in Tears. How different was it to write that compared to a standalone like Flying Out of Brooklyn? Will there be a third in the series?

Flying Out of Brooklyn developed from a short story. I loved the characters and felt the story short-changed them and wanted to go further. Sown in Tears  was inspired by an image I had after listening to a tape my father made about growing up in Russia. I could see a mother caring and worrying about her child, when he talked about my grandmother. The novel is not about her, but about that time and what would happen to a woman after an attack on her village and its aftermath. I didn’t plan on doing anything further on Leah, the heroine, but a reader asked, what happens to her after the end of the book. A simple question with a more complex answer. Thus, Where Do I Go was born.

All three required extensive research since the times were World War 2, then Russia in 1905 and finally America in 1908.   I never say never, but I’m not sure what the next project will be yet. I’m slow to make up my mind. Things have to percolate and stew a bit to mix my metaphors,  before I decide what I’m writing. Since I’m also a slow writer, that means a long commitment, so I’d best be in love with the idea. And I’m not one of those writers who know the end before they start the beginning.

What have you always wanted to be asked about being a writer?

I never have any set thoughts about what a reader or interviewer will ask. The fun questions are always when someone has discovered something about the character that I didn’t even think of myself, which means that the reader has been touched by something I wrote. You never know how a story or character is going to affect a reader and it’s wonderful when it’s unexpected.

What are you working on now?

Too soon for me to have anything set in mind. I’m still working on the promotion of Where Do I Go. As political junkie, I’m also very involved with the climate of current events in our country and the world. But no matter what, books can be our solace when things get rough.

Final words of wisdom:

Write, write, write. Keep that writing muscle working and flexible. Do it for yourself, don’t censor yourself, keep connected to other arts, painting, music, dance, keep up with the world and watch and listen to everything and everybody around you. You never know where inspiration is going to come from.

 

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