Thank you, Writing Community on Twitter.
It was through you that I discovered Shirley Gilmore and then her book, Bucky and the Lukefahr Ladies: Walking the Labyrinth. It didn’t take long to know I wanted to devour the story to discover what was up with Simon Carter and his dogged determination to keep his daughter, Bucky, hidden away.
Over the weekend, I read the entire story and thoroughly enjoyed the novel. So much so that I asked Shirley to see if she’d agree to be interviewed. And she did!
I left her a MoogieMoo 5-star review on Amazon:
Can a child’s small act of kindness change a town, a community, a country? In this story, it does. Sometimes innocent, sometimes wise, and always compassionate, it is Bucky’s strong social nature and mysterious beginnings and a deep dark secret that drives this story. Bucky risk’s her father’s anger and finds the courage to make friends and leave the shelter of her pleasure palace. She follows a daring plan to walk the town’s labyrinth despite hostile opposition to bring healing and freedom and friendships that cross strong religious beliefs.
This is a wonderful novel with intriguing glimpses into single parenting and paleontology and past cultures.
I wanted to know more about what drove the story and what was next for Shirley’s protagonists, Bucky, Simon, and of course Bucky’s friends Maggie and Ian.
MJ – Shirley, thanks for taking time away from writing your third novel.
From what I understand you wrote several Sherlock Holmes fan fiction stories. Tell us how you moved from detective stories to fantasy.
Shirley – I came late to Sherlock, having only discovered the PBS/BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch in January 2015.
MJ – I’m a big fan of Cumberbatch and how he portrayed Sherlock.
Shirley – I immediately read all of the original Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and then decided to write my own fanfic based on the PBS/BBC series. I wrote one and posted it online, received some positive feedback, and then wrote another. In the second one, “Sherlock: The Case of the Changeling Child,” I created an original character, a 5-year-old girl named Chelsea who appears on Sherlock’s doorstep one morning. Chelsea can’t pronounce the letter “S,” and she also has a mysterious condition. Whenever she cries her back splits open, bleeding profusely and causing her excruciating pain. Moriarty is involved in that story. But Sherlock doesn’t solve her case—he is unable to discover the source of her condition. Sherlock couldn’t solve it because, at that time, I didn’t know what had caused it.
MJ – Love it.
Shirley – I used to write a lot—ever since I was five years old. I wrote several book-length stories and tried unsuccessfully to get published back in the 1980s and ‘90s. I was a history teacher for 25 years and had those wonderful three months off every summer, and that’s when I would write. After I retired from teaching in 1999, I worked at regular jobs where I only got one or two weeks off every year. I think my brain kept waiting for that long, uninterrupted vacation because I didn’t write any stories again before 2015-2016 when I wrote those two Sherlock fanfics. They are each around 35,000-38,000 words, so that got me back into the habit of writing.
MJ – You touch on something that seems simple but so true, the habit of writing.
Shirley – I had had an idea for a book for 17 years but never could get past the first chapter because I could not come up with the main character that I liked. But I liked Chelsea from the fanfic and was intrigued by her. And the fanfics showed me I had the discipline to sit down every evening after work and write. So I took Chelsea from the Sherlock fanfic, aged her to 10 years old, dropped her speech impediment, renamed her Bucky, and made her the title character of the book that up until that time was simply called “The Lukefahr Ladies.”
MJ – And that was the beginning of a star. Bucky’s enthusiasm for life is contagious.
Shirley – By the way, that Sherlock fanfic, “The Case of the Changeling Child,” has been translated into Russian by a Russian student who was only 15 at the time. Since I don’t speak Russian, I have no idea how good the translation is, but her English is amazing. I would like to know how she handled Chelsea’s speech problem.
MJ – If anyone knows Russian, leave a comment if you happen to get your hands on the translation.
You’re from Missouri. My dad grew up in Poplar Bluff, raised Baptist as was my mother. Bringing the Methodists and the Baptist’s together at Joe’s Café was one of the highlights of the novel for me. You have it so right from what I remember as a child.
I grew up hearing the joke that Baptist’s think they’re the only ones going to heaven, so God set aside a special room just for them. J
Religion plays an important role in your life. In the book’s dedication, you mention the Ladies of the Talley Bible Class. Religion and politics are dicey conversations these days. Can you talk about why it was important to bring in different Bible translations, beliefs, or non-belief?
Shirley – I taught the elderly ladies of the Talley Bible Class for 10 years, and they were the inspiration for the book. When I moved away after I retired from teaching, I wanted to memorialize them in a book. While none of the Lukefahr Ladies is based on any one person in real life, the way they speak and act comes from my experiences with the class. One of the themes in the book is change and how one person can change another or change a whole town. The women of the Talley Class, much like in the opening pages describing the Lukefahr Ladies, were content to sit there and listen but not participate much when I began teaching the class. But one of the nicest compliments I received was from a woman who lived to be 104. After I’d taught them for a few years, one Sunday morning she said, “You know, I’ve been sitting here in this class for over 50 years, and I never said a word until you became our teacher. And now I just talk all the time!” I made them be in a church talent show, too, where we wore old hats and sang. I put that in the book.
MJ – I enjoyed reading how the ladies prepared for the talent show. To know there’s a true thread from your life weaved into that evening explains that spark of excitement.
Shirley – But, as to your question about religion in the book, since the story involves the Sunday school class, there has to be religion in it, but as the way one of my beta readers described it, it’s not an “in-your-face” religion. I don’t think it’s preachy.
MJ – You showed multiple sides and angles, and I thought you handled the aspects of religion well.
Shirley – The Bible verses and the hymns during the prayer walks are more in the background than anything else. And as the weekly prayer walks grow in popularity throughout the summer, they begin to attract people of all faiths and no faith.
One of my beta readers is a college student in India. She is a Sikh, so I was especially interested in getting her feedback. She had no problems with the way religion was presented in the book. I was also interested in what she had to say since she is not only a different religion but a different culture and has only lived in huge cities, besides being 18 years old when she first read it. She loved the story.
I did have to use the term “Methodist” instead of “United Methodist” (as that denomination is known today) for the church in Turn Back since “United Methodist” is a trademark.
MJ – Good to know. I had no idea. Research is definitely an important part of any book, be it fantasy or non-fiction. I also noticed that you stated in the front of the book about what versions of the Bible were used in your writing.
Here’s a writing question. I created this blog to post the musings of this new author. I’ve had short stories, and novel chapters tore apart when I dipped into another character’s head in a scene. So, I have to ask about your choice of POV as you shift from one MC to another. Would you say you’re using more of an omniscient view?
Shirley – I’ve never taken a writing class, but have read articles over the years, and they talk about the dangers of head-hopping and whether you should separate a change of POV by chapters or scene breaks or whatever. When I’m writing, I see the story unfolding like a movie. Movies or television shows often follow several characters who are doing different things in different places at the same time or whatever. So when I’m writing, I don’t worry about it, but I think I’m clear as to who is thinking of what or whose POV I’m writing from in a particular scene.
My approach is more of an omniscient view. I think that is more in line with how I view myself as an oral storyteller who happens to write down my stories. But when I decided to publish, I did worry about POV because of the comments I read on the different writing groups I belong to on social media. However, none of the 10 beta readers for my first book nor the 11 for my second book even brought up the subject, and nobody has mentioned it to me personally or in the reviews. So I wonder if it’s done seamlessly if POV is something that writers obsess over more than readers.
MJ – You’re probably right. I do know it’s been driven into me by writing books, tips, and critique groups.
Shirley – In fact, you are the first person who has mentioned it. I read that you just recently had a class on Deep POV, so the subject was fresh on your mind when you read my book and is something you’ll probably take more notice of in the next several books you read.
MJ – As a member of the online writing group, Becoming Writer, I’ve critiqued weekly submissions for three plus years. I’ll note the change of POV, but I’m quick to point out the author gets the final say.
As to Bucky and the Lukefahr Ladies: Walking the Labyrinth, I got the feeling you enjoy science fiction and thought there were elements of that genre in this story. If you are a fan, who’s writing has influenced you? And does this theme progress into your second book, Bucky and the Lukefahr Ladies: Songs of Three?
Shirley – There were several reasons I decided to self-publish instead of trying to find an agent or publisher and one is I didn’t know how to categorize this book—what genre to stick it in. You’re right, it does have science fiction elements because it involves another dimension, but there are fantasy elements in it, too. Since it takes place in the present day on earth, I decided on the term “contemporary fantasy.” I read that urban fantasy can take place in a rural setting, but I think that would leave a false impression on someone if they opened my book and discovered it’s in the rural Ozark Mountains.
Yes, “Songs of Three” continues the sci-fi/fantasy mix, maybe even more so.
For science fiction, I have actually watched more science fiction movies, and TV shows, rather than have read books in that genre. Although I did read all the Star Trek novels up until the late 1990s. For fantasy, it’s just the opposite. I would rather read fantasy books than watch their movies. Fantasy authors I admire are Tolkien, of course, and Robert Jordan, Katherine Kurtz, Katherine Kerr, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Anne McCaffrey (her books are science fantasy), R. A. Salvatore, and more recently, Ransom Riggs, and one non-fantasy author, Alan Bradley with his Flavia de Luce mysteries.
MJ – You’ve named many of my favorites. It was Madeleine L’Engle who got me started reading fantasy.
Jane, my MC in The House on Moss Swamp Road, is the same age as Bucky. I worried about capturing the wonder and innocence of a 10-year-old. Thankfully, my granddaughters gave me great insight and inspiration. What helped you to get inside of Bucky’s and Ian’s heart and mind?
Shirley – I have no children or grandchildren nor am I ever around children that much, and I taught grades 7-12 and college classes. But I like to think I have never grown up. When I go for a hike in the woods behind my house, I often bring home a turtle shell or an interesting rock. I can see doorways in old, rotting trees and imagine they are portals. I will kneel to watch an unusual bug or follow an ant trail on the sidewalk. So Bucky is a mini-me and Ian’s collections are much like my own.
MJ – Then it must be true, you’ve never grown up. Like a Peter Pan in touch with your inner child.
Reading your bio on Amazon, it sounded familiar to something one of your character’s Sadie Jane said about teaching. Is Sadie Jane a cameo of you?
Shirley – I was at an archaeoastronomy teacher workshop years ago when I first heard someone say, “No matter what job I have, I will always be a teacher.” I thought that really describes me, too. I retired from public education 20 years ago, but since then I have presented numerous programs on mastodons and mammoths for ages 5 – 90+.
Soon after retirement, I was hired as a tour guide at a local cave, but quickly began assisting in the development of their education programs for school-aged children and was put in charge of training the guides on how to conduct the programs. Even after I no longer worked there, I wrote science articles for the cave’s bi-annual newsletter that goes out to thousands of 4th graders in area schools.
In my current position as a church secretary, people call and ask all kinds of questions on all kinds of subjects, including questions about their computers. I guess since they see me sitting at a computer all day, they think I must know my way around it. And I feel as if I’m imparting a little knowledge in my books. One reader told me recently she had never heard of the Hittites, so she did a little research on them. One reviewer wrote, “This may be the first fiction book that made me feel smarter for reading it. The author is a teacher and storyteller from her very soul.” What a compliment!
MJ – Yes, it is.
Shirley – Back to Sadie Jane Woods, though, she is the only character based on someone I knew in real life AND with the same name. The real Sadie Jane Woods lived across the road from me in a little stone cottage. She was a retired French teacher, having taught in the Middle East in the early 1900s. As a child, I loved to visit her for afternoon tea and listen to her stories and examine all the wonderful treasures she had collected from her travels. She was never married and had no children. She died many years ago, and putting her in the story was my way of paying homage to her.
MJ – As an author, isn’t it an awesome way of remembering the people who’ve touched your life? Now, their memory will live on as long as readers read.
Your love for history comes through with Bucky and Ian pretend-acting notable moments. What era are you most fond of?
Shirley – I love ancient history and prehistoric times.
MJ – I’ve got your second book, and I’m waiting for the weekend to read it. Please give us a description of the continuing adventures of Bucky.
Shirley – I wrote the first book as a standalone, but the first readers just assumed there was more. I thought I put everything I knew into that one. But before I published it, I wrote the epilogue which hinted at things to come, although at the time I had no idea what exactly would come. I’m a pantser, not an outliner. With the first book, early on, I knew what the ending scene would look like, but had no idea of what was going to happen to get there. So now I had to come up with a plot for Book 2. At the end of Book 1, there seems to be a new mass dream about a cave, so I knew I would have to address that. Many of the readers were also curious about Bucky’s mother and what happened to her and would she ever return so that would be something I needed to take into consideration.
Book 2 begins a month after the end of Book 1. School has started, so Bucky and Ian can’t play together every day. It’s getting dark earlier, and lighting in the park isn’t good, and colder weather is coming, plus the Baptists would like to return to their regular Wednesday night services, so a decision about the future of the weekly prayer walks has to be made. And the blow to Simon’s head by the Reverend Bergmann seems to have had some interesting consequences for Simon.
My older brother, who is my cheerleader and one of the first to read my writings, commented after he read Book 2 that he couldn’t believe I didn’t have the second book planned when I wrote the first one. I told him if I had, it would have been easier because I would have changed a couple of things in the first one. As it is, Book 1 was already published, so I had to work with what I had already written.
I also decided to include a map of Turn Back in the second book and a family tree and an index of the characters.
One of my readers asked if the kids were still going to be little in Book 3. I told her they were, that it begins shortly after the end of Book 2. She replied, “I’d like to know what happens when they grow up. That means you have another 20 books to write.”
MJ – There you go, an entire series with devoted readers waiting to find out what happens next!
Shirley – That same reader told me this week that one of her co-workers was currently reading Book 2 and had told her she had dreamed about Bucky. That was the first I’d heard that someone had dreamed about one of my characters.
The events in Book 1 take place in May, June, and July. Book 2 covers September and October, but Maggie’s epilogue describes some things that happened up through January. Book 3 that I am writing now starts in March.
MJ – Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about the first book in the series?
Shirley – So many of the things in the book come from real life. The Hollow Stone, with its enigmatic ancient inscriptions, is based on a stone that was discovered about 3 miles from my house in southwest Missouri in the early 1970s. Some “experts” claimed the markings on it were Minoan Linear A. I saw a photograph of it in 1972, when a student, whose family owned the land, brought it into a college class I was taking on the Ancient Near East. I have only found two references to it since then. I knew exactly where it was found and went looking for it just last year. But the property has changed hands at least three times since then, and the current owner knew nothing about it. The property owner at the time of its discovery is dead, and all of the experts he called in to examine it are dead. Its whereabouts today are unknown.
The Hollow itself, described as a natural amphitheater, comes from an area similar to that on the property that borders mine.
The Town of Turn Back began as a health resort town with healing springs. There was such a town bordering my property around the turn of the 20th Century. At one time it had a mill, a general store, a hotel, several houses, and two healing springs. By the time my family moved there in 1960, there was nothing left to even indicate a town was ever there. There were two stone foundations (today only one remains) and the stones built around one of the springs (I never have found the second spring).
The three-story brick building mentioned throughout the book (and the site of the future museum) is based on a two-story brick building in the town where I taught. It was severely damaged by a tornado and was slated to be torn down, but a group of interested citizens saved it. Today the first floor is a restaurant and winery and the second floor is a beautifully restored theater.
The Mastodon Site is based on the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs, South Dakota where the remains of 61 mammoths have been discovered. Such a site has not been found for mastodons.
I get most of my historical information through my own research, but I do call on experts occasionally. I have enjoyed my contacts with a Hittite scholar in France who provides me with the Hittite translations. I had a teacher archaeology workshop in Nevada 25 years ago and have corresponded for both the first and second books with an archaeologist who helped conduct that workshop. I have a second cousin who researches and writes and lectures on DNA genealogy. And I have called on the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for information. Most recently for the third book, I had a question for Harvard professor and author Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the host of “Finding Your Roots” on PBS. I really never expected a reply, but he shot back an email with an answer not even ten minutes after I sent mine.
MJ – It’s clear how much you enjoy learning, researching and writing. That love for knowledge shines through. Again, I’m so happy you decided to do this. I’ve enjoyed getting the ‘behind the scenes’ look at your writing process, what’s inspired you, and then, of course, how this fantastic fantasy/sci-fi story came to be.
Shirley – Thank you so much for asking me to participate in this interview for your blog.
MJ – Please go check out Shirley Gilmore and her books. Be sure to let her know how much you’ve enjoyed Bucky’s adventure. Check out these links.
Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0771VCT72
Social Media Links: https://www.facebook.com/buckyandthelukefahrladies/
My website where I also post updates under “Turn Back Tales” is https://shirleygilmore.com/
My author page on Amazon is https://www.amazon.com/Shirley-Gilmore/e/B078MLLZF9/
About Shirley Gilmore
Shirley Gilmore, the author of the “Bucky and the Lukefahr Ladies” series, is a teacher. “No matter what job I have, I will always be a teacher,” she says. “It’s in my DNA. If I had lived in Paleolithic times, I would have been the storyteller of the clan, preserving our people’s history and tales and passing them on to the next generation.” Shirley taught history and various social studies classes to students in grades 7-12 for twenty-five years at a small school in southeast Missouri. She later taught earth science for four years at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. Her interests in history, archaeology, geology, paleontology, genealogy, and religion are reflected in her writings. She wrote her first story when she was five years old, but it would be another sixty years before she finally published her first book which is set in the beautiful, remote, rugged Ozark Mountains of southeast Missouri. Shirley currently lives in the woods at a mystical place she calls Glendragon. She built her cottage there on the spot where she had been inexplicably drawn for many years. Whatever force resides there not only continues to attract her, but it also messes with a compass.