#AuthorInterview with Rosemary and Larry Mild, authors of On The Rails
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Rosemary and Larry Mild, authors of On the Rails: The Adventures of Boxcar Bertie.
FQ: There were many interesting characters in On the Rails. Do either of you identify with any particular personage in your book?
LARRY: It’s not so much my identifying with a specific character as it is my identifying with places and things: the sights, smells, and sounds of my own distant past—the impetus for writing On the Rails in the first place. Of course, like all dutiful authors, we assumed the role of each character as we wrote of them.
ROSEMARY: Not really, but I do have a feel for the struggles that go with poverty. I remember my mother telling me about her childhood in Milwaukee. In third grade she had only one dress, plaid with long sleeves. Every night Grandma Elizabeth would wash and iron the white collar and cuffs so Mother would have a fresh-looking dress to wear to school.
FQ: Bertie seems to be operating intuitively based on happenings around her – is that the way this book developed?
LARRY: On the Rails was, from the get-go, designed as a character-driven book. There was no outline; just an eight-page, statement of work revealing what we wanted to accomplish. We created a strong, honest, intelligent, and quick-minded Bertie and then put her to the test against all kinds of conflict, antagonists, and worries. We watched her reactions and responses. She did not disappoint us.
FQ: Do you have a special sense of connection with the Great Depression era as depicted in Boxcar Bertie?
LARRY: Absolutely. As I approach the age of ninety-one, fortunately, a vivid memory of my youth remains with me. Having lived through much of the 1930s put me in contact with Bertie’s environment and the kind of trials and tribulations she would have experienced. One of my talents is an ability to envision, in detail, where I’m going from where I’ve been. I have trouble with names, but I can describe quite a lot from my past.
FQ: Has your own world travel and transplantation given your insight into the footloose life of your characters?
LARRY: I have sailed two major oceans and several seas—first in the U.S. Navy, and second as a civilian field engineer. I have been high-lined and helicopter-lifted at sea. Rosemary and I have traveled together to five of the seven continents. We have experienced dozens of cultures—the people, their food, laws, art, and music. Every step of the way was a new adventure. Some of the time we were together and other time we went solo. I do believe we captured the necessary insights to drive our characters across southern New England.
FQ: What sort of research did you do regarding hobo train travel? Any visits to the tracks or railway yards? Was it hard to find resources - what I’m thinking about in particular is getting first-hand accounts, even if told via books about the hobo life.
LARRY: I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. As a youth, I remember playing in an abandoned ice house next to the railroad tracks, where I saw hoboes hopping and riding boxcars. I also remember hungry hoboes coming to our back door for a handout. Mom had a measured soft touch. Although the boxcars are taking Bertie farther and farther from her ultimate goals, she becomes strong enough to reverse her fortunes. There are many movies, books, and TV presentations whose documentaries and dramas remain impressed in my mind’s recall. Oh yes, we still had to research a bunch of things. The Internet descriptions, definitions, and maps were most helpful.
FQ: Were there things about train travel and/or hobo life that you discovered while researching that surprised you?
LARRY: We were most surprised by the brutal attitude the railway enforcement cops had toward hoboes stealing a ride on one of their boxcars. Most hoboes sought empty boxcars going their way and had little or no intent to do any damage. I doubt that the railway officials were concerned with either hobo safety or equipment damage. It makes me wonder what drove their actual concern to hire such sadistic men.
FQ: Many people today seem to romanticize hobo life, and you did a good job in your book bringing some of the darker elements of this lifestyle to the forefront. Would you share one or two things that people may not know about living the life of a hobo?
LARRY: Many people try to equate yesterday’s hoboes with the homeless of today. While many outward appearances, such as their encampments, seem similar, there are differences. The Great Depression hobo existed in an era of a devastating economy, whereas, the homeless today exist in much stronger economies. Most of the hobo population in the 1930s was willing to do any work wherever they could find it That is true of a much smaller portion of the homeless population. Most Depression hoboes eventually survived their dire situations. We can only hope today’s homeless will survive in via one solution or another. I would hope for humane, but appropriate solutions for the disadvantaged, the sick, the mentally ill, and the lazy among them.
FQ: Is there a woman in current news or someone that you know personally who personifies your central character? Someone who doesn’t let social conventions that say you can’t “do that” stop them?
LARRY: Our daughter Jackie Mild Lau fits your description. Jackie is a professional bronze sculptor in Honolulu. When COVID-19 started early in 2020, the whole world seemed to shut down. The Downtown Art Center, an important nonprofit gallery in Honolulu's historic Chinatown Arts District, had been vacant for ten years. Jackie is a born leader, and also a board member of Hawaii Craftsmen; its members worked to help refurbish the DAC space. Jackie did the inaugural installation of the first exhibition in October of 2020, as everyplace else was still shut down. Jackie told us: "What I did that was notable was to gather 31 artists willing to take a chance twice and buy in for the next two shows so that the space would not be empty for the next three months since no other shows were booked until April. That kept the space in the art public’s eyes and helped to ensure its continuity as a popular venue to show, share, and sell art when all other options were closed. It remains a people’s community space for artists and the art-loving public."
FQ: I’m truly fascinated by the co-authoring that you do. Do you have plans to continue? Another co-authoring project? Please share!
LARRY: I’m more devious than Rosemary, so I conjure up our plots, cast the skeletal characters and scenes, and write the first two drafts before turning the work over to her.
ROSEMARY: Without gushing (well, yes, I’m gushing, but it’s justified!) I must tell you that Larry’s plots are always riveting, astute, and fun to work with. When I get my hands on his characters, I give them flesh and bones and distinct personalities. Good fiction requires conflict. Our mysteries specialize in that. In addition to actual crimes, I love creating arguments (I came out of the womb arguing) and other emotional scenes to get the reader involved. I also sharpen sentences and dialogue to increase suspense. Larry used to call my streamlining “slash and burn.” In our early years together, we “negotiated” with sleeves rolled up. Mostly, now, we respect each other’s decisions.
LARRY: We’ve developed a unified writing voice that makes it difficult to discern which of us wrote any given passage in the finished book.
ROSEMARY: We used to have moments like this: ME: “I’m so proud of that paragraph where they’re fighting.” LARRY: “I wrote that.” ME: “No, I wrote it.” LARRY: The partnership starts with a solid marriage. You have to like and respect one another. We each know we each have a certain job to do and what we can do to promote a better end product. We keep working at it.
My second draft of Kent and Katcha, a novel full of espionage, spycraft, and romance, is now in Rosemary’s hands. Currently, I’m working on the second draft of The Moaning Lisa, the fourth Paco & Molly murder mystery in the traditional cozy manner.
ROSEMARY: We’re not surfers, but we’re constantly riding the waves of new ideas and fresh surprises for our readers.