Florence Byham Weinberg, born in Alamogordo, New Mexico, lived on a ranch, on a farm, and traveled with her military family. After earning a PhD, she taught for 36 years in three universities. She published four scholarly books. Since retiring, she has written seven historical novels and one philosophical fantasy/thriller. She lives in San Antonio, loves cats, dogs and horses, and great-souled friends with good conversation. Visit her website and connect with her on Facebook.
About the Book:
Dolet depicts the life and times of Etienne Dolet. Etienne, who told the bald truth to friend and foe alike, angered the city authorities in sixteenth-century Toulouse, fled to Lyon, and became a publisher of innovative works on language, history, and theology. His foes framed him; he was persecuted, imprisoned, and ultimately executed by the Inquisition for daring to publish the Bible in French translation.
What readers are saying:
“[Dolet] …I read it all with pleasure, and delighted to see names that I have known for some time coming alive as “characters,” albeit fictitious ones. I especially liked the way in which you brought out the sense of community, of being a band of brothers that so many of those amazing people shared.”
~ Kenneth Lloyd-Jones, Professor, Trinity College, Hartford, CT
Read Chapter One
What’s inside the mind of an author of historical fiction?
Two things. Her doctoral dissertation was on François Rabelais, a sixteenth-century comedic and satirical writer. In doing that, she became familiar with the dominant French literary and political figures of the century, their folkways and thought processes. She has written three historical novels, including the current novel, Dolet. The other branch of her historical novels concerns what we now call the Southwest—in other words her home territory, which she loves. She understands the people, knows the landscape, fauna and flora, and the psychology of her people. She has written about the founding of the five old Franciscan missions located in and around San Antonio (Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross), about the second expedition up the Rio Grande from Mexico (New Spain) in 1581 (Seven Cities of Mud), four mysteries starring a Jesuit missionary as detective (a historical person named Ignaz Pfefferkorn, S.J.) two set in the Sonora Desert, one in Spain and one in Germany. The outlier, Anselm, a Metamorphosis, is a fantasy set in upstate New York, where she lived and taught for 28 years. With Dolet, she returns to her beloved field as a scholar and professor, and attempts to reinstate Etienne Dolet among the great thinkers and writers of the 16th century in France.
What is so great about being an author?
The author is the god of his or her universe. This is truer if one is not bound by historical facts, but even if he or she is, the author still gets to imagine what happens in the gaps between those facts. Authorship transports the person—especially if the book is set in a foreign country at a different time—into another environment, with different folkways, politics, expectations, landscape, weather—in short, another universe. If, like author Weinberg, the writer aspires to write accurate historical fiction, it gives the opportunity to do research and to discover hitherto unknown facts. She has sorted through musty old documents in Mexico, in Spain: Madrid, Seville, Ciudad Rodrigo, and in Germany: Cologne, Unkel, Mannheim, Siegburg, Kiel and Düsseldorf. All her historical books (until this one) have appendices in which she clarifies what is fact and what fiction. The greatest thing about being an author is the joy of creation. The sense of elation when words are flowing effortlessly onto the page has no equal. This book calls itself a “nonfiction novel,” and since it endeavors to recreate true facts and situations, thre is no need for a historical appendix.
When do you hate it?
When words do not flow effortlessly onto the page. When the plot doesn’t work; the time sequences don’t match historical fact, but especially when interest in the chosen subject fades, and writing becomes a bore and a chore. This has happened rarely, but it has happened.
What is a regular writing day like for you?
If I’m lucky, I have long periods when I can devote myself to writing. If I am enjoying what I am working on, those periods are joyful. However, most days are interrupted by phone calls, visiting friends, doctor or other appointments, and other duties. Then, I have to fit my writing in and around an obstacle course. If I am particularly excited about what I’m writing, I will devote my late evening (say 10:30ff) to writing and continue into the wee hours, up to 2:00, rarely to 3:00 AM. I always rise at 8:00 AM and sometimes, when necessary, earlier, so a 2:00 or a 3:00 AM night causes hardship the next day.
Do you think authors have big egos? Do you?
Some do, some don’t. Egos vary with success, I think. I belong to a literary critique group, and we keep each other informed of our successes and our difficulties. We always help each other if possible, and we know each other quite well. But personalities and egos, obviously, differ. We have one member who has had to drop out of the group and move elsewhere, but who is quite successful, writing middle-school-age books. She has even had a TV film made based on one of them. She is still the same person—no inflated ego. One is writing creative nonfiction with much success. Maybe a flash of ego here and there, but mainly under control. Another is coming out with a new book this fall, her first, and still another has published with a small press about early 20th-century Texas. Two others are self-published with modest success, and I have published quite a bit with modest success. All in all, no inflated egos in sight.
How do you handle negative reviews?
My first reaction is hurt and disappointment. Then, if the reviewer has seen real flaws, I try to learn from it and avoid them in future. If the review was—objectively speaking—unjust, I feel anger. This is especially so if the negative reviewer has clearly not read the book, but publishes the negative review in a prominent journal or paper. I will grouse about it to my friends for a short time, and then let it go. Life’s too short to dwell on little bumps in the road.
What is the usual response when you tell a new acquaintance that you’re an author?
Usually they express enough interest that I can hand them a bookmark with a tiny reproduction of my cover illustration and a blurb with my URL. Once they have that in hand (or those—I carry bookmarks for all my books in my purse), they are willing to engage in conversation about my books. I have rarely met a person who brushes me off. It happens only very occasionally.
What do you do on those days you don’t feel like writing? Do you force it or take a break?
I take a break. I enjoy walking or hiking, and sometimes take day trips to interesting places near San Antonio. This doesn’t happen often, because I do work out for an hour in the Olympic Gym three times a week and walk for an hour on the other days. That normally keeps my writing juices flowing.
Any writing quirks?
Probably that I am willing to go to great lengths to research my topic before I write. I have delayed starting a novel for up to a year while building a firm foundation for my leap into prose. This has been especially true for the book I am now working on. I have spent weeks reading books on the subject and going through documents in the Alamo Historical Archive. Most authors probably don’t feel the obligation to go to such lengths.
Have you worked on your novel intoxicated? What was the result?
Yes. Never blind drunk, obviously. The effect is that inhibitions are gone and the imagination is often freed to take flights it might not when sober. On the whole, I found that good ideas and good writing can result. I don’t do this often, however, since I don’t want to tip over into alcoholism!
What would you do if people around you didn’t take your writing seriously or see it as a hobby?
I’m in constant fear that the IRS will see my writing career as a hobby! I have had recent experience of a colleague from my days as professor, who spoke slightingly of my pulp fiction. I engaged him in a conversation about the issues raised by some of my books, and by the end of that he apologized for not taking me seriously. I have no idea what he really says behind my back, however.
Some authors seem to have a love-hate relationship to writing. Can you relate?
Not really. If I hated it, I wouldn’t do it. I hear often about the “agony of writing” from authors with sterling reputations, but I have never found it so, and I thank God that my chosen occupation doesn’t make me suffer!
Do you think success as an author must be linked to money?
No, since writing is a joy in itself for me. On the other hand, a little cash beyond my retirement annuity would be most welcome!
Leave us with some words of wisdom.
Write every day if possible. Set up specific times and a designated place that you can devote entirely to your writing. Know roughly what your plot is, but don’t outline, since your characters need the freedom to tell you where to go next. Edit your writing the morning after, then continue writing. Show your writing to friends and take their suggestions seriously. Join a critique group if possible. Once you are finished, let a couple of friends read your book. You’ll be amazed at the typos, syntactical snarls, and perhaps logical snafus they will find. Then re-edit. Most of all, enjoy what you’re doing, else you won’t carry through to the end.