~ Q & A with Marley Brant on her first Historic Novel, In the Shadow ~
Why did you decide to write a novel after eight non-fiction books?
The easy answer is that I was getting a little burned out on non-fiction’s need for interviews and research, but the reality of it is that this is a story I’ve wanted to tell, in this way, for quite a while. I wrote my first fiction when I was fourteen – a long, convoluted story about a group of teenage girls meeting The Beatles – and I had to trust that my storytelling had developed beyond that before I took on a more serious subject! I’m an avid reader of a variety of fiction and I felt I was finally in a place where I felt comfortable attempting to write a novel that people might actually want to read.
Was it hard to return to the outlaws after writing about rock musicians for so long?
Not at all. I’ve been in the music industry longer than I care to admit and there is a very fine line between musicians and outlaws. It’s all about an exceptional iconoclastic temperament and when you work around music artists, you come to understand that they see things differently from most people. And that is certainly the case with the Youngers.
Of all the Younger brothers, why did you choose to focus on Bob?
At first glance, Bob may appear to be the least interesting of the brothers because he is the youngest and least experienced but that isn’t necessarily so. Bob was thrown into the thick of the border activity when he was a very young child and he was very deeply involved in the war on the home front. He lived an extremely violent young life. Well into his early teens, Bob had to deal with the constant harassment by various groups of people because of the reputations of his brothers; things never let up for Bob. He lived a challenging, and responsible, life for such a young man. Without getting into the story, Bob had to make some very independent decisions. They weren’t always the right decisions, but Bob’s life was extremely complicated, as was his thought process. I found exploring the life of Bob Younger an intriguing character study.
How did you develop the individual character of Bob and the Younger brothers?
When you’re writing a novel, you’re free to let your characters take you where they want you to go. Historical fiction is somewhat different inasmuch as it’s based on real people and real events, so there’s at least an outline in place. Since I wrote a biography of the Youngers twenty years ago, (The Outlaw Youngers: A Confederate Brotherhood) which at the time was based on over ten years of research, I have been living with a deep knowledge of these men and the events of their lives for over thirty years. I feel I know their individual character pretty well. Their distinct voices have been in my mind for a long time. Perhaps the way I hear them or define their personality is or isn’t the way they were in life, but it’s the way they appear to me. I’m sure others don’t see them that way at all. We all look at people differently; that’s one of the challenges and delights of human nature.
Some of your plot points are going to raise some eyebrows. How did they come to you?
I know there are plot points that some people are going to find unlikely or unbelievable. I’m prepared for that. But again, it’s a novel. There are events in the story that are easily identifiable as incidents that really happened and they involved these men. Some of the elements of those events have been documented and some have not; where they have not, or the characters’ involvement in them has not been detailed, the particulars have needed to be created for my story. And, of course, thoughts and conversations had to be created. Writing dialog in the voice of each character was so much fun. And, I have to admit that most of the time it just flew off my fingers and I felt I had little, if nothing, to do with it. These are some strong personalities!
As to raising eyebrows, I know which plot points will be controversial. Back in the eighties I was privileged to see some unpublished dictation and correspondence from two of “the boys” because I was attempting to write the definitive history of the Younger brothers. These documents filled in parts of the Younger history in ways that absolutely amazed me. I was told that the source that held these documents could not be revealed, and though I strongly encouraged the holder of the material to change their mind, that remains the case to this day. I don’t understand why this should be so at this point in time, and I hope the situation changes because I know that there is even more than what I saw. Some of the elements of those documents are critical to Bob Younger’s life and the truth and fiber of the Younger story. To ignore them would be historical corruption. So, yes, they make an appearance in this novel and are a pivotal plot point. I’ll leave it at that.
Do you feel the need to defend your story?
When I’m writing non-fiction, I do my best to back my statements with documentation. I’m obligated to do that with biography. This is a historical fiction. I’m not obligated to document or defend anything. The readers of In the Shadow enter a real world, but the characters think thoughts, speak dialogue, and sometimes enter situations that I have created. Once in a while they might utter something that has been quoted in a non-fiction account, but for the most part it is created dialog. Their motivations are those that I give them; I may be correct in my assumptions, I may not be correct. I believe the reader fully understands that much of the content has been created; this isn’t a history book. It’s a story; this is the way it might have been.