Vicki Righettini Interview – Characters, Herbal Remedies, & Advice for Writers

Did the author write about how Emily made her herbal remedies from her own knowledge or did she have to research how they are made? If she could choose to spend one hour with any person, dead or alive, whom would she choose? If she had the chance to have dinner with one of the characters from her book, which one would she choose?

Mary Todd Lincoln, simple wikipedia

In my opinion, Samuel Todd was not a likable character at all. Was there really a relative of Mary Todd Lincoln with this name? If so, was he just as terrible in real life?
Samuel is a completely fictional character. The name Todd came to me out of the blue when I was thinking about a married name for Emily. I realized if I could tie Samuel to the Todd family as a black sheep, it would ground the narrative in a familiar era and place. As an aside, I did once see a brocade vest in the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum that had once belonged to a Samuel Todd. That was a very cool moment, and it was a detail that made it into the book.

Which character was your favorite? Was there a character you just didn’t like?
I love Vina and Darwin. Both of them are so big-hearted and down to earth—people you can depend on. I’d happily have both of them as friends.

There isn’t a character I don’t like, even if, as in Samuel’s case, it’s a challenge to find any good in him. I guess because I had to put myself in his shoes in order to write him, I have a certain empathy for him. Also, he’s not the only man I’ve known who’s behaved badly. Writing Samuel allowed me to figure out what made them tick, and to see things from their point of view, however warped.

How completely did you develop your characters before beginning to write?
I always start with a basic idea of a character’s qualities, but probably because of my acting training, I tend to focus on how that character functions in the story. So, first I set up the circumstances: the proposal, the river crossing, the harvest, or whatever. Next, I bring in whoever needs to be in the scene, perhaps it’s someone already in the story or a new character I need to invent. Then I set things in motion and see how each character reacts to what’s happening. It’s like watching a movie playing out in my mind, and I write down what I see.

This sounds like I’m focused on plot rather than character, but I’m actually thinking about relationships. I want to know what my characters want, what they’re going to do in a specific situation, and how their actions affect the other players. As the story progresses and I continue to put them to the test, the characters develop more layers and become more real.

herbal remedies, flickr

Emily’s knowledge and skill to make all kinds of herbal home remedies/medicines to help cure whatever sickness they would encounter was fascinating. Did you write about how she made these from your own knowledge or did you have to study and find out how they were made?
I used to garden extensively, and at the time was interested in various herbs for healing and health (I still take a few, but I don’t grow them). So I had some basic knowledge to start with. When I decided Emily needed a skill that would make her stand out and allow her to support herself, herbalism seemed perfect. The practice connected her to the earth and made her different from the people she grew up with.

I kept a couple of manuals on herbalism by my writing desk which were invaluable in my research. When I was looking for a remedy for the story, I chose common plants that Emily would have known, and that a modern reader would probably also have heard of. I also made a point of staying away from anything currently trendy, like St. John’s Wort or Echinacea. I made sure I understood how each herb or flower worked, and how they differed from accepted medical remedies of the time. It was a fascinating study.

Riding on a train for the first time proved to Emily how much easier traveling from one place to another was than when she and Samuel took the Oregon Trail. If Emily were alive today, what do you believe she would think of automobiles and airplanes?
She’d probably be stunned at first by the speed of modern travel and terrified of even the thought of flying. But I suspect that with time she’d come to appreciate the convenience. Emily is, after all, a practical woman.

camping on the Oregon Trail, simple wikimedia

Which scene was your favorite?  Which scene was the most difficult for you to write?
I’m partial to the sequence of scenes where Emily is tending to Cole after his injury – the section that begins right after he’s finished the harvest, continues through his illness, when Emily realizes what a stubborn fool she’s been, then ends with his waking up. I also like the birthing scene on the trail.

As far as difficulty, it’s a tie between the opening paragraph and the scene where Samuel attacks Emily. The opening about killed me. I must have rewritten it at least fifty times until I was satisfied. But the scene where Samuel attacks Emily was probably the most difficult to write. It needed a certain rhythm and pacing – beyond the visceral horror of it – and it took several iterations to get it right.

blue hour, flickr

Were there any other titles you considered for your book? Will you explain what a blue hour is?
The working title—for years—was Emily’s Story. It’s still how I think of the book. After that, it became A Woman’s Place, which I loved (I still do) and which my editor said was too generic. She suggested The Blue Hour because she loved the image. I was unsure and spent quite a while thinking up other names, all of which are too embarrassing to mention. Finally, I realized she was right and the book officially became The Blue Hour.

I learned about the blue hour years ago while a friend and I were watching a sunset. I’d commented that this was my favorite moment of the day when the sun is down but the sky is still glowing, like in a Maxfield Parrish painting. He told me that the French called it the blue hour. I’ve since heard it called the magic hour, but I think the blue hour is more evocative.

coffee and writing, flickr

Do you ever become bored with what you are writing? If you do, how do you get past that point?
All the time! Boredom, for me, is the feeling of being trapped doing the same thing day after day. I need variety. So I cope by doing one of two things: I take a day off to do something that has nothing to do with writing, or I switch to a completely different writing project. I try to keep several projects going, so when one stalls, another one is usually perking along fine.

What is your favorite genre in which to write?
Definitely fiction, historical or otherwise. Writing non-fiction is excruciating for me! I find it almost impossible to relate an event exactly the way it happened – I always want to embellish or find a more entertaining way to tell it. Must be the storyteller in me. Writing The Blue Hour forced me to use straight facts to craft a fictional narrative. It was a challenge I embraced and enjoyed.


What kind of books do you like to read?
Again, I read primarily fiction, from a wide range of favorite authors—everything from sci-fi to murder mysteries to literary prose, old and new. The few non-fiction books I read are chosen because I love the authors’ storytelling style: Laura Hillenbrand and Erik Larson come to mind. I’d read anything of theirs.

How do you manage to balance your time between family, friends, and writing?
You’re probably asking the wrong person! I’ve spent my entire life since I was a teenager working in the arts, which means I rarely take a vacation. One of the reasons I married my husband (among other things) is because he doesn’t mind the amount of time I spend pursuing my passions (it helps that he’s similarly focused and obsessive).

That said, balance is vital. It’s never gone well for me when work took over my life. For me, setting – and maintaining – boundaries is the key. I’ve learned to say “No” to people and obligations, however worthy, that are time- and energy-suckers. I only write during the week; my weekends are reserved for activities that refresh and energize me, like theatre-going and time with friends. I’m constantly re-negotiating those limits, but that’s the gist of it.

If you could spend one hour with just one person, dead or alive, whom would you choose?  Why?
My first thought was Georgia O’Keeffe, because of the authentic way she lived her life in the midst of a culture that devalued female artists. Her story has always been an inspiration to me. But I also know she was notoriously anti-social, so I don’t think she’d appreciate my showing up uninvited!

So instead I’d choose Eleanor Roosevelt, for similar reasons. It would be difficult to think of a more fascinating, intelligent, society-altering woman. An hour with her would fly by!

If you had the chance to have dinner with one of the characters from your book, which one would it be? What would you talk about with this character?
Oh my, does it have to be one? Their lives are so intertwined that it’s hard to separate one out. What I’d really love is to be at a table large enough to seat Vina Norman and all her gang, along with Emily and Cole and their girls, and of course, Darwin Gentry. I never cared much for gatherings with my own family, but I’d be honored to sit down with these people. I guess in writing the book I created the family I’d always wanted.

I can imagine sharing news of what’s happening in the valley, the weather, the crops, who’s been sick, and who came to visit. There’d be sharing of recipes, and after the meal, storytelling over coffee. To sit in a warm circle of such good friends and just listen would be a joy.

Do you have any advice for writers who have yet to be published?
Keep at it. Nurture your talent. Protect your writing time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And learn patience – the hardest thing for me. We have a saying at our house: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Vicki Righettini

Where can your fans find you on the Internet?
I love hearing from readers, and I personally respond to every message I receive.

Thanks for asking such great questions, Lisa! I look forward to hearing from your readers soon!

Recommended Article : The Blue Hour – a Review

  2 comments for “Vicki Righettini Interview – Characters, Herbal Remedies, & Advice for Writers

  1. April 25, 2017 at 12:13 am

    Thanks for hosting Vicki!

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