Author Interview: Tristi Pinkston, Season of Sacrifice
Today, I have a special guest on the Unending Journey of the Wandering Author. Tristi Pinkston, author of several thought-provoking historical novels, is touring the blogosphere to alert readers to her newest book, Season of Sacrifice. One of the things I personally find most intriguing about Tristi is the fact that she doesn't write historical fiction that seems taken from a third-grade textbook. Instead, she explores viewpoints and areas of history that are often ignored, even topics some people would prefer to forget. In the process, she provides a much richer and fuller view of history than the usual "one side is good, the other bad" treatment. Welcome to the Unending Journey..., Tristi.
As a writer myself, I'm interested in how you write. Do you plan an outline first, or do you just sit down with an idea and see where it takes you?
I do a little bit of both. I always have a historical timeline in front of me so I know what major event happened when and so I know when to move my character from place to place. From there, I let it flow and see where it takes me. I've tried writing with a tight outline and gave it up after about three days. I need more freedom and flexibility than that.
Do you follow a routine when you write? If so, what seems to work best for you?
I always check my e-mail first. For some reason, if I think someone might have e-mailed me, I can't just write and ignore it. My e-mail boxes must be cleaned out. Beyond that, I just dive in. Oh -- and I usually have a glass of ice water sitting next to me. I'm ashamed to say that yes, I do chew on the ice.
Do you have any favourite writing techniques, or any suggestions you think might be helpful to fellow writers?
I frequently recommend to new writers that they imagine they are in the scene they are writing and allow themselves to feel the emotions that are present. The very best writing comes from feeling the emotion, and so if you are terrified of the falling bombs or you have vertigo staring down the cliff, so much the better. You can write it more effectively.
What about tools? Do you have particular writing software you can't live without, or perhaps a favourite type of pen or ink? How do these things help you as you write?
Writing software is evil. No, I'm just kidding, but sometimes I feel that way. I use Word but only because it's industry standard. If I had my way, we'd do everything with Word Perfect.
I can't live without lip balm. Let's see, right now I have huckleberry on my desk. And I can't live without my yoga ball chair and my ergonomic keyboard. Everything else is flexible.
Who are the people, writers or not, who have influenced you most as a writer, and how has each one influenced you?
My grandparents on my dad's side were huge believers in me, and made me feel like I could do anything. My parents have also been supporters of my dreams. They put up with me when I went through my depressing poetry phase in my teens, and if you can live through that, you can live through anything.
Now, I really rely on my writers group, the LDStorymakers. We started out as an online support group for authors, and have become a family. Those folks teach me, uplift me, and keep me going.
Do you do all your research before you sit down to write a book, or do you find yourself needing to check details as particular points come up?
Both. I try to do all the research beforehand, but it's impossible. You never know what you're going to miss. I tend to immerse myself in research for a couple of months before I start writing, and then I hit the Internet for those missing details as I go along.
What techniques do you use to help you capture the feel of the times and places you want to write about?
When I pick a time or a place to write about, I spend about two months concentrating on it. I read all the books I can find, watch all the movies I can find, search the Internet for hours. I'm not focusing on just facts; I'll watch romantic movies set in that place, for instance. Whatever I need to do to get the feel. I don't read much else or watch much else for those two months. Then, when I sit down to write, I really feel like I've captured the flavor of the time and place, and I have had people compliment me on that as well. So I guess it works.
You clearly have sympathy for those who are persecuted, and a real inclination to use your writing to remind readers of the humanity that can be found in any group. What experiences taught you to see, for example, that a girl growing up in Nazi Germany could be a sympathetic character? What influences roused the need in you to highlight the forgotten aspects of history?
When I was a little girl, I had a deep desire to go to Russia. I wanted to go there like nothing else. When the opportunity came for me to go, I was fifteen, and it was right before the coup in 1991. My parents were freaked out about letting me go. They grew up in the era where it was believed that the Russians were nothing but evil. They were just sure that if I went, something bad was going to happen to me. I stood on my head to get them to let me go, and once I was over there, I discovered what I'd instinctivly known all along -- Russians aren't bad. Their government has been corrupt, but Russians aren't bad.
I've always hated blanket stereotyping. You can't take any group of people and label them. We are all individuals. I want to deal with
people on a case by case basis, not as a group.
When it came time to write about Nazi Germany, it really came as no surprise to me that the Germans weren't bad. Their government was corrupt. The German people as a whole were very good. What has surprised me is the reaction I get when I make that comment. Most of the Nazis were just people and were just doing what they had to do. Only a small percentage actually understood what they were doing and actually enjoyed doing it. Most of them had been pressured into service and didn't see a way out.
As far as my need to highlight those forgotten aspects of history, I really feel that as long as we only focus on the "popular" part of
history, we're only partially educated. To understand a war, we really have to look at both sides. And we can't say we understand humanity at all without recognizing that our enemies are humans too.
With your current book, Season of Sacrifice, was it inspired by family research you'd already done, that you felt outlined a story which needed to be told, or did you have an idea for a book based on an ancestor you had vaguely heard of, then set out to research his life in greater detail?
We'd had a family history book kicking around my house for most of my childhood and I'd never really paid any attention to it. But one day about five years ago, I picked it up, read it, and knew this was a story I had to tell. I called my dad, asked him for more information, and he gave me several more pieces of information and some books. I set to work and fleshed out the story that was outlined in the family history stories. I'd known the story, growing up, but I hadn't known the details. They were fascinating.
Your other books were set amidst real events, but featured fictional characters. How was writing Season of Sacrifice different, knowing you were portraying the lives of real people, your own ancestors?
It was stressful, because I wanted to get it "right." I didn't want to write anything that would embarrass my family. But at the same time, it was exhilarating. I felt that I was really doing something important. And, with the family history books and excerpts from my ancestors' journals, I felt as though I'd been given every tool I needed to succeed.
You chose to tackle an issue in Season of Sacrifice I think most writers would be afraid to explore. Were you able to draw on many contemporary documents that offered an insight into the views and struggles of individuals who dealt with polygamy as a reality in their own lives, or did you have to use your own insight and imagination to reconstruct their attitudes as best you could?
I was able to find something of my ancestors' feelings in the family documents that I have, but a lot of what I wrote was conjecture. I wrote it from the gut, and when it felt right, that's when I knew it was ready.
In learning more about polygamy and how it functioned in practice among the LDS settlers in Utah, and in struggling to write about it and portray it accurately, did you find your own opinions or feelings on the issue changed at all? Do you hope Season of Sacrifice will bring your readers to a better understanding of the people who were confronted with such difficult decisions?
I really did struggle with writing those aspects of the book because it's not a principle I've ever understood. My feelings have changed, though, in that I realized that these people wanted to be obedient at any cost. Once I realized that, I was able to move forward with writing those scenes in what I believe is a very realistic way. Polygamy, when practiced righteously, was a blessing to those who lived it. Those who lived it unrighteously weren't blessed for it.
I do hope my book will shed some light on that era of my church's history. I would love for them to understand a little more clearly the emotions that were involved and the depth to which these people felt the devotion to their cause. I'm not saying I expect people to really understand it, because it's tough and I don't think I even understand it. But I do admire and respect those persons to whom obedience was everything, and I would like the reader to understand that.
What scene or aspect of Season of Sacrifice do you hope will most capture readers' interest?
I love the scene where the pioneers go through the Hole in the Rock. I hope I wrote it in such a way that the reader can feel the terror of the scene, that they get a little bit sick as they contemplate it, and that they breathe a sigh of relief when everyone is at the bottom.
What would you like to say to anyone reading this interview to persuade them Season of Sacrifice is one book they don't want to miss?
This book is well-researched, compellingly written, and contains moments you will never forget, and they're all true. These pioneers faced challenges that modern engineers have said were impossible, and yet they conquered them with faith in God and with handfuls upon handfuls upon miracles. This book is by far my best, and I'm a pretty darned good writer, so that's saying a lot.
Are you working on a new project yet? If you are, what can you tell us about it?
I'm always working on a project -- I'm sort of compulsive that way. My current project is a comedy/mystery and is based on this: Everyone says that the women of the LDS Church are nosy and know everything that's going on in the ward. What if they really did? It's a Relief Society meets Miss Marple kind of story, and I'm totally enjoying it. It's a departure from anything else I've done.
Do you have a web site where anyone who is interested can go to learn more about you and your books?
You can find me in a couple of different places. My website is http://www.tristipinkston.com, I maintain a blog at http://www.tristipinkston.blogspot.com and I also write media reviews for Families.com. You can read those at http://members.families.com/tristipie/blog.
Thanks for coming, Tristi. It's been a pleasure having you here.
It's been a lot of fun for me. And I'll be checking in throughout the day, so if anyone would like to ask any questions, I'll be more than happy to answer them.
I hope many of you who read this will stop by Tristi's web site to pick up your own copy of Season of Sacrifice; as I set up this post, I noticed she is offering autographed copies at no extra charge. Season of Sacrifice sounds like a very interesting book, and it looks like a good deal to me!
Wandering Author's footnote: My regular readers know I utterly oppose the evil actions that overwhelming evidence shows were carried out at the orders of the Nazi government. Nevertheless, I agree with Tristi completely when she says not all Germans were evil. To believe all, or even most, Germans alive during World War Two were evil is to fall into the same trap the Nazis did - to blame an entire group for the actions of some. Yes, most of those in positions of great power in Nazi Germany were evil. Clearly, many Germans who were evil flocked to the Nazi party early, as a place to satisfy their darkest impulses. And, as evil people always do, after the war some men muddied the waters by pretending to be ordinary, innocent citizens. None of those things prove, or even suggest, that most Germans were inherently evil.
Some Germans actively conspired against their government, or risked their lives to hide Jews. Some refused to join the Nazi party. And even among those who did, many were reluctant members, who followed orders only because they truly felt they had no choice. There is ample historical evidence to support this. Frequent suicides among concentration camp guards are dramatic proof some could not bear the things they had done unwillingly. For another example, the story of the U-869, recounted in Shadow Divers, tells of a U-Boat crew composed mainly of men who hated Hitler and loathed all the Nazis stood for. The captain himself was no admirer of the Fuhrer. They were ordered to go on patrol near the end of the war - they were sure Germany was already defeated and theirs would be a useless gesture. They knew they would die. Yet they did not feel able to refuse; families and friends were hostage to their "good behaviour". They sat weeping the night before they sailed, yet they did sail - because they didn't feel they had any other choice. Men don't go to their deaths unless they really believe there is no other choice.