A handful of historical authors brave the wilds of unusual settings and times to create distinctive, exciting novels just outside of the mainstream. Join us as we chronicle the trials and rewards of our quest--from research and writing to publication and establishing lasting careers.
Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Ona Russell on RULE OF CAPTURE
This week, we're pleased to welcome authorONA RUSSELLwith her latest historical mystery release, RULE OF CAPTURE. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Rule of Capture. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.
Los Angeles, 1928. Oil, oranges and site of the C. C. Julian Petroleum stock scandal, a Ponzi type scheme to rival any in American history and a foreshadowing of the decade's looming, economic crash. As one of the scheme's victims, Ohio probate officer Sarah Kaufman--still reeling from the KKK murders she helped solve in Tennessee--is in the city to attend the trial of the perpetrators, in particular of the ''friend'' who convinced her to invest. Sarah is eager for justice and committed to seeing the trial through. She's glad she's alone, that her lover Mitchell isn't there, that after court she'll have time to herself. But when a Mexican woman she barely knows winds up dead, Sarah's plans are thrown upside down. Suddenly she finds herself in a nightmarish trial by fire, one that takes her from the glamour of Hollywood to the Tijuana frontier, tests her deepest beliefs and leads her to discover not only a killer, but a part of Los Angeles built on a terrible secret. Includes Readers Guide.
**Q&A with Ona Russell**
of Capture is a legal mystery that takes place in Los Angeles in the 1920s.
What inspired you to write a historical novel set in that time and place?
the era, it really found me. I situated the story in the 1920s because I was
led there by the news clippings that formed the basis of my first book. After
becoming fascinated with the period in general, however, especially after
realizing how similar it was to our own time, I decided to stay there. Los
Angeles was another matter. In trying to figure out the setting of my next
book—I had initially planned a series that would include every state in the
Union!—I came across a little known but incredibly important court trial held
in L.A. in 1928. This led to other discoveries that I thought could provide
interesting plot twists. Plus, my grandfather owned a shoe store in L.A. that I
decided to weave into the narrative. Also, I was born in L.A, my daughter and
parents live in the city, and it was a relatively close place to do research.
So, voilà! Los Angeles!
Like Rule of Capture, your first two novels, O’Brien’s Desk and
The Natural Selection, feature a real person, juvenile social worker and
counselor Sarah Kaufman, as their heroine. What’s special about Sarah and how
did you come to choose her as the star sleuth for your mystery series?
introduced to Sarah while doing research for O’Brien’s Desk. O’Brien was
my husband’s grandfather and a prominent judge in 1920s Ohio. He frequently
appeared in newspapers of the day, accompanied by his court appointee, Sarah
Kaufman. I was immediately struck by Sarah, a Jewish woman who had made a name
for herself in a male-dominated and gentile environment. She was a working
professional at a time when few women left the home and a civic leader involved
in all sorts of Progressive causes. But she also lived with her siblings, never
married, and was an aspiring writer. This gave her a complexity that I thought
could be developed. The more I read and imagined, the more convinced I became
of her fictional possibilities. As a Jewish woman myself, I identified with
her, so much so that I laid flowers on her grave to thank her for inspiring me.
In life she was a crusader for justice; in fiction she’s the same. And I’m
proud to say that as a result of my first book, she (the real Sarah Kaufman)
was inducted into the Toledo Civic Hall of Fame.
are strong elements of feminism and civil rights, especially with regard to
religion and race, in all of your novels. What made you decide to pursue these
thematic issues in your historical series and in this new novel?
I’d have to say that it’s a combination of personal experience, education and
history. I come from a family that values diversity and human rights. I
approach the world from this perspective, and when I encounter opposition, I
react. With respect to religion in particular, I’ve experienced my fair share
of intolerance, and my reaction has taken many forms, including writing.
Writing is for me a way to work through these experiences, to lay them bare and
alter the narrative to my liking. Since the 1920s saw the rise of the KKK and
all manner of bigotries, it’s natural, given my bent, that I would be drawn to
these topics. My academic training was also a factor in my interest in such
themes as it both exposed me to the pervasiveness of intolerance and taught me
the importance of examining the context in which it occurs.
do you find the most fascinating about the historical genre?
Dickinson put it best: “Tell all the Truth but tell it Slant.” History is a
powerful form of knowledge, but it is often told dryly and with a limited
focus. I like the ability to bend history, to tell it “at a slant,” to be as
faithful as I can to the facts but even more so to truth. I like research and
getting the details right. But I love bringing unknown or underappreciated
people and events to life. To do that, you sometimes have to fill in the
missing pieces. Historical fiction gives you the permission to do so, as long
as what you construct is consistent with the character and the time. I really
believe that this kind of excavation and reimagining of the past is my calling.
I feel most alive when I’m involved in the process of resurrecting the dead.
The historical genre also allows me to teach about the past, to show its
correspondences to the present, for instance, while entertaining with
(hopefully) a compelling plot.
would you like readers to remember most about you and your books?
Hmm. I guess that
I take my writing seriously, that I work very hard to have the stories ring
true. I promise readers that I will present them with some historical facts
that they’ve probably never heard of before. Also, although I’m a mystery
writer and proud of it, I’m not a formulaic one. I want readers to remember
that there are no simple answers, and my books don’t offer any. But I value
readers’ opinions and am open to their criticism. Well, to a point. To be
absolutely honest, I want to be able to say, in the words of actress Sally
Field: “You like me!”
you working on a new Sarah Kaufman novel and, if so, what can you tell us about
and no. Sarah will be a character in the next book, but not the protagonist.
She’ll be older and act as a kind of adviser. The story will take place in the
1940s, during WWII. And that’s about all I can say without giving away a critical
piece of Rule of Capture.