Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Interview with Jay Curry, author of Nixon and Dovey

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Jay Curry to Flashlight Commentary to discuss his latest release, Nixon and Dovey. 

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Jay. Great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Nixon and Dovey.
Erin, your passion for books and your support for both readers and writers alike, makes this a real delight for me.  When you ask about Nixon and Dovey, you are asking about my passion.  Nixon and Dovey is the accumulation of hundreds and hundreds of hours of genealogical research, planning and plotting, and, of course, writing.  It’s the accumulation of 25 years of work.  You see, Nixon and Dovey is more than historical fiction; it is biographical fiction meaning about a real person.  It is about Nixon Curry who was arguably the most notorious and wildly publicized criminal in America’s first forty years.  It is also about his passion and unrelenting love for Dovey Caldwell.

Fascinating! Do you mind if I ask exactly how you found Nixon's story?
I first found James Curry’s 1805 will in the North Carolina archives.  He was Nixon’s father and my great-great-great-great uncle. Ten years later two of James’ children, Nixon and James Jr. were still elusive. Then in the Oklahoma archives I found a 150-year-old memoir about the history around Iredell County including the chapter, The Murder of Ben Wilson. The article said Nixon Curry “surely killed him but the law could never prove it.” I turned to court records and I found Nixon frequently.  Then, wandering through the Kansas archives I discovered Blum’s Centennial Almanac of 1876.  The widely popular almanac highlighted stories touted as the most remarkable and strange stories in America’s first hundred years.  The saga of Nixon Curry was one of those stories.  The story exploded and became a national phenomenon as Blum made Nixon Curry the Jesse James of his day. I refocused on newspaper articles written after the almanac exposure and found that there were bursts of articles about every 25 years until the Great Depression (1930s).  The story faded into obscurity and was lost.

How did you approach writing about a relative? Was it difficult? Did you feel pressure in balancing history against a familial legend?
Before I uncovered the Nixon’s saga I studied both fiction and nonfiction writing, co-authored three internationally successful nonfiction books and won awards for my short fiction.  Once I discovered Blum’s Centennial Almanac, I was driven to make Nixon and Dovey my first full-length novel.  I’ll admit, at first there was the temptation to make Nixon a superhuman hero but I had an outstanding fiction writing teacher and joined a serious critique group and, believe me, any bias in the story was severely dealt with by my cohorts.  Three years ago when I sat down to perfect and finalize the story, I was well disciplined to focus only on the legendary feats of this remarkable man.

The antebellum era is a fascinating period of American history. What did you enjoy most about writing a story set in this period? 
In America the definition of antebellum is the period between the end of the War of 1812 (1815) and the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln (1861). Nixon and Dovey is set in the early antebellum years (1814 – 1824). The people and stories that emerge from the antebellum era are fascinating. The Nixon Curry story is only one of thousands. This period saw emergence of the women’s movement, which exploded after the Civil War, the culture clash between the economics and the moral inhumanity of slavery, which failing a political consensus required our nation’s bloodiest war. We have the industrial North and the slave-powered plantation life of the South.  Crafting a story about real people who lived and experienced the dichotomies and conflicts of life in the antebellum South was pure joy.

Mac is an interesting character and my personal favorite of those in who make up the cast in your novel. Where did his character come from? Is he historical or a product of your imagination? 
Mac was a particularly fun character to write.  Is he historical? Yes!  Is he a product of my imagination? Yes!  You see in the real life saga Latta McConnell was the cousin of Ben Wilson, one of our villains. When the Wilson aristocracy threatened Ben Wilson and Latta McConnell to either be charged for the crime or testify against Nixon, Ben agreed to testify but Latta refused.  Even with all Nixon’s legal problems, Latta McConnell never turned on him.  So when I had to separate the heroes from the villains, I made Latta, Nixon’s good friend and confidant, and I paired Ben Wilson with John Stimson who also testified against him.  As to Mac’s being Scottish, I was looking to add more color, so I played with Latta’s Scottish name, gave him the nickname “Mac”, and made him a Scotsman.  His entire personality and role was my imagination. We don’t know anything about his personality but we know he chose Nixon over his own cousin.  So his characterization came very much from my imagination based upon what little we knew of the real Latta McConnell.

Nixon finds himself caught between two women over the course of the novel. What does he see in Morning Sun and how does that compare to his interest in Dovey?  
Although Nixon first sees Dovey at the plantation fire, he doesn’t meet her until after his encounter with Morning Sun. The two women represent the two stages in a man’s development: first, the onset of puberty where physical attraction is a strong driver, and second after maturity when a deep, more emotional bond is sought.  As a youth, Nixon responds to his strict religious upbringing by making a promise to himself to not drink, gamble, and especially not to allow a woman to change him like they changed his married brothers.  An important element of my writing is to show the main character’s development.  I needed a caring but evocative woman, like Morning Sun, who could, in a special situation, overcome Nixon’s resistance and show him the ways of adulthood.  Nixon’s interest in her started as a simple effort to rescue her from a mob and then, as he hides her, he discovers her beauty. She excites him for the first time and he breaks his promise.  I used Morning Sun to display Nixon’s emergence from childhood and his caring, softhearted soul. She also was a vehicle to bring the Indian connection into the story.  Later, Mac urges Nixon to make a choice, which opens the plot to a deeper, more emotional and romantic relationship. Morning Sun was entirely a character from my imagination.

Dovey, on the other hand, was Nixon’s actual love interest and partner, so she was critical to the story.  Newspaper reports at the time often mentioned Nixon’s devotion to Dovey as the only reason he wouldn’t leave the state after his many jailbreaks.  We also know that she helped him in his most challenging escape.  To me, that was enough to give her equal billing to Nixon.  Their love was recognized in articles written decades later as a deep and passionate love. 

Both romances played important roles and were particularly fun to create and write.

Horse culture plays a prominent role in the early part of the book. In terms of research, what went into developing this aspect of story? 
We know from several Wanted Ads that Nixon was a popular jockey. Horseracing became an important element to the story from the very first plotline.  My daughter owned a horse most of her high school years so we had frequent discussions of stable activities, training techniques, and competition; but I can’t say that was a major source.  Also, I live in Texas and grew up in Oklahoma where one can’t help but be exposed to horses.  Still, I have to say that most of the details in the book came from talking to people who actually train horses, reading books of the time period, which is a passion for me, and from pure bookish research.

Your narrative touches on many themes. Which is your favorite and why? 
Erin, you are correct.  There are several motifs but the theme I like to think applies across the entire work would be: Good people can be driven to do bad things.  I think it applies not only to Nixon’s era but is equally true today.  

What impression do you hope your characterization of Nixon leaves on your readers?
While being thoroughly entertained, I hope the readers will first become aware of this old legend and many of the myths behind it, and second come to understand how a good man can be driven to do bad things. 

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
In chapter three where Dovey is introduced during the plantation fire, Nixon catches a glimpse of her as she is hurried off to safety. But the scene I particularly enjoyed writing was the scene two chapters later when she becomes an active part of the story.  Dovey and Nixon’s nemesis, Ben Wilson, are walking down the boardwalk at the state capital enjoying the pre-race festivities for the season’s climatic race. Here I introduce Dovey as the beautiful daughter of the state’s wealthiest senator.  I wanted the reader see her as a naive, somewhat headstrong, cocky yet kind young lady who is animated about the festivities and is eager to mingle with the aristocracy. I also needed to show Ben as a shallow, ego-centric jerk. Crafting their intertwined contrasts was fun.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?  
The most difficult challenge in the entire writing process was to create characters and plot lines that would allow the hero to commit murder without losing the support of the reader. The scene had to be realistic and believable, and, at the same time, provide an airtight alibi for Nixon that would drive the plot to a grand climatic scene. I would compare it to performing a magic trick.  The cast of characters, e.g. the judge, jury, and gallery, needed to believe what Nixon did was impossible.  On the other hand the reader, knowing how he pulled it off, needs to see it as plausible.  Numerous props and elements had to come together.  It was for this scene that I created Nixon’s relationship with the local Catawba Indian tribe, and it was peaking Nixon’s emotional state to the level needed and putting the escape elements together that was the most difficult to write.

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time with or expanded on?
Actually, there were several.  The book is full-length at about 370 pages but I initially wrote well over four times as many pages.  While I wanted the toughness and closeness of the pioneering Curry clan to play out more, I settled for giving Nixon’s youngest sister, Jenny, a minor but critical role that foreshadowed the closeness of the family and the caring, loving side of Nixon as a youth.  I also had a chapter that highlighted Dovey’s upbringing on an often brutal, slave-dependent plantation.  Here again I settled for one scene of slave brutality that can make the readers cringe as they experience how little some plantation bosses valued slaves, especially the woman. The actual saga of Nixon Curry was centered on a real slave named Cyrus Johnson and his death. I wanted to develop his personality and life situation, which would demonstrate the inhumanity of slavery from a true story.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjustment facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Nixon and Dovey and if so, what did you alter? 
You are so right about adjusting the facts.  The story of Nixon Curry’s life was regaled in the late 1800s.“… there has never been a more tragic foundation for thrilling romance …”, “Where truth is stranger than fiction … ,” “One of America’s strangest sagas … ,” etc.  All the elements for an inspiring love story and action thriller are there, but they cover a lifetime, and the characters and events are too numerous to smoothly craft a story without fudging on the timeline, the characters’ roles, personalities, etc.  The life story of Nixon Curry will make a riveting biography where plots and subplots, and hooks and continuity are not a requirement.  As a novel, though, considerable license was necessary to weave a coherent plot with exciting and diverse characters.  In the case of Nixon and Dovey the biggest alteration was taking the four actual characters from the real events of 1818 and dividing them into two opposing camps.  Thus we have Nixon Curry and his Scottish sidekick, Latta ‘Mac’ McConnell, as our protagonists, and Ben Wilson and John Stimson as our antagonists.  In reality one could cast them in totally different roles.  The truth is, other than Nixon who was frequently written about, we know nothing of their personalities or motives. We don’t know the real villains or the actual good guys. You could argue that none of them were heroes. But that would not make for a very interesting, engrossing novel! And without adjusting the facts the novel wouldn’t have been very interesting.

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
From a purely personal point of view, Nixon’s father, James Curry, was my great-great-great-great grandfather.  Who wouldn’t want to spend time with an ancestor born 250 years ago?  But from an author’s point of view, I would enjoy a casual evening with retired judge Archibald ‘Baldy’ Henderson.  Baldy played a major role as Nixon’s crusty lawyer in both real life and in the novel.  Turns out Baldy Henderson actually presented several cases to the US Supreme Court, and the famous Chief Justice John Marshall called Henderson the finest attorney to emerge from North Carolina.  Oh, how exciting it would be to enjoy one of Mac McConnell’s mugs of ale with Nixon’s lawyer Baldy Henderson.

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast of actors to play the leads in a screen adaptation of Nixon and Dovey, who would you hire? 
Wow!  Now you are in an area where I am not comfortable.  Like most people, I love movies, but I’m not a “movie star” fanatic.  I did have a book club president tell me that it wouldn’t make any difference who played the leading roles because any older, experience actor would steal the show as Baldy Henderson.  I could see Anthony Hopkins playing that role, but otherwise I’ll pass on casting roles. 

And finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
Like most serious authors I’m working on several projects. But for the next six months I plan to focus on getting the word out about Nixon and Dovey.  When I co-authored three successful non-fiction books twenty years ago, the publishers had the skills and contacts to get the books noticed. Today that’s up to the author.

In the meantime I’m outlining the biography of Nixon Curry and have a preliminary plot scheme for a book about Nixon’s second life.  I also have pieces of a memoir titled Love’s Fate and Other Stories Growing Up in Small Town America.  Life’s good!

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"The depth of these characters and the way they are developed throughout the novel is one of the real strengths of this work. I felt I could identify with all of the characters, even the villains whom I didn't want to enjoy reading about but somehow captured my interest." - Julie Palm, Amazon Reviewer

"In reading history or historical novels I like to get a sense of what it was like to live in the period of the narrative, in this case the immediate post-revolutionary period. Curry has delivered while creating colorful and memorable characters and a truly interesting story." - Robert Hughes, Amazon Reviewer

"Witnessing Dovey evolve from the demure, naive, compliant daughter of a U. S. Senator into a strong and fiercely devoted young woman as she struggles to discern the truth about the sacred and the sacrilege, is a journey you will not want to miss!" - Susan Palm, Amazon Reviewer

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Jay W Curry is a former Big-4 consulting partner, business coach, and award-winning author. When he is not coaching, fly-fishing or writing he facilitates a Vistage CEO roundtable in Houston. Jay has co-authored three internationally successful books and has won honors for both his short fiction and non-fiction work. When the heat of Texas summer arrives, Jay and his wife, Nancy, head to their Colorado home (http:/ or visit their three children and seven grandchildren. Nixon and Dovey is the first of a three-book passion to bring the 200-year-old story of Jay’s relative, Nixon Curry, back to light.

Website ❧  Facebook   Twitter ❧  LinkedIn

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Format: eBook
Publication Date: November 14, 2014
Released by: Smashwords
Length: 362 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
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Check Out All the Stops on Jay W. Curry's Nixon and Dovey Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, December 1
Spotlight at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, December 5
Spotlight at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More
Monday, December 8
Guest Post at What Is That Book About
Wednesday, December 10
Spotlight at Caroline Wilson Writes
Monday, December 15
Guest Post at Mina’s Bookshelf
Tuesday, December 16
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, December 17
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, December 18
Spotlight at Boom Baby Reviews
Tuesday, December 23
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Saturday, December 27
Spotlight at Layered Pages
Monday, December 29
Review at Forever Ashley
Tuesday, December 30
Review at Book Nerd
Wednesday, December 31
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

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