The year 1895 was filled with memorable historical events: the Dreyfus Affair divided France; Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta address; Richard Olney, United States Secretary of State, expanded the effects of
the Monroe Doctrine in settling a boundary dispute between the United Kingdom and Venezuela; and Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted for
gross indecency under Britain’s recently passed law that made sex between males a criminal offense. When news of Wilde’s conviction went out over telegraphs worldwide, it threw a small Nevada town into chaos. This is
the story of what happened when the lives of its citizens were impacted
by the news of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment. It is a chronicle of hatred and prejudice with all its unintended and devastating consequences, and how love and friendship bring strength and healing.
“Paulette Mahurin’s first novel is surefooted and unflinching in its portrayal of a singular and unique character and her compelling struggles. Compassionate and confident, Mahurin allows Mildred’s story to burn through onto the page with all its inherent outrage and tenacious, abiding love. Here is a character we can champion—flawed, striving, surviving— and fully embrace in her awkward, beautiful navigation of a world that resists her in every way.” Deb Norton, Playwrite/screenwriter of The Whole Banana
“If you need to question your values, read this book! The author captures the intolerance and hypocrisy of a 1895 Nevada town, and its transcendence in time through tolerance and understanding. The angst and pain that two women feel daily, living the ‘lie’ of
their lesbian relationship, and the prejudice they must endure, is unconscionable. I
was moved to tears by their struggle in the face of the conflicted values that continue
to dominate our ‘modern’ society.” William K. Fox, PhD, Professor of Zoology
“The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap” uses two well-known scandals of 1895 to start off and move along the plot of our protagonists. It is an interesting and skilfully executed set-up, followed by an equally brilliant illustration of how the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde and the anti-Semitism shown in the Dreyfus Affair in France could have been received in a remote and isolated location such as a small town in Nevada.
Each chapter is accompanied by a quotation from Oscar Wilde’s work. I am not usually a fan of poetry and themes used as headings, but the author has chosen them appropriately and very well.
The description of the setting succeeds effortlessly with just enough detail to make it easy for us to imagine we are there with the heroes, but without overloading us with description that gets in the way of the plot. The portrayal of the times seems also very authentic and the dialogue is also very realistic and flows easily.
The way the characters interact with each other is simply brilliantly done and gives the book a lively feeling. The story is much more complex and involved than the beginning and the book title seemed to imply to me – which made this an unpredictable and compulsice reading experience.
The book is an illustration of hate, intolerance and gossip in a small community and is kind and politically correct in its message. At a time when Gay Marriage proposals are being voted on all over the world and homophobia comes back into the spotlight of media attention this story is reminiscent of many of our current arguments.
At first I found it unbelievable and off-putting that some of the characters would – at that time in history – have the understanding and tolerance as the author attributes to them. Then I realised that the same ancient prejudiced views that haunt our Mildred in the book are still around in 2012.
The book is a great piece of work on human nature and I will be recommending it to my friends.
Paulette Mahurin Interview
Thank you Christoph Fischer for having me over to your great site. It’s such an honour and pleasure to be featured by an author whose work I love.
How did you come to writing in the first place?
It’s interesting because I feel as if writing came to me. I can never remember a time I didn’t write. I think we are gifted with things in life that we naturally gravitate to and so it was with writing and me. As back as I was ten years old, I was writing short stories and poems, keeping a diary of prose and things I wanted to communicate. Writing has always been a sanctuary for me, a safe place where I get to think out loud through written words, without worry or concern over what will others think.
What was your connection or special interest in the subject matter?
The main theme of my story is intolerance, bigotry, prejudice; the labelling of another using words of hatred designed to bully, put down, change, make wrong, not accept for who they fundamentally are, their natural self that can no more be changed than a bird from flying, a dog from wagging its tail, a heart from beating. The other prevailing theme is love, the love of friends, family and intimate connections and how it is this love that surmounts hostility and brings healing. I’ve been working with people in the closet professionally to help them feel good about being themselves and not feeling ashamed because of a preference. The work I had done with one particular individual weighed heavily on me. This person was molested and tortured; abuse emotionally and physically and feared coming out.
I am an advocate of tolerance, the granting of another to be who they are and do what they want, providing they are not harming another by their actions. I understand the human condition and have compassion for it, the emotions we all have in common, many we want to hide or escape. I understand how hard it is to be conditioned or programmed by ones parents with a belief or ideology that goes along with belonging to a family or group, “group think”, and how difficult it is to stand alone for what is right, what sits right in ones heart. I also understand why someone is in the closet and would want to stay there.
My special interest in writing this book was to give a voice to all those who have suffered intolerance, all those agonized cries in the night, alone in the dark for fear of persecution, imprisonment, being thrown into a mental institution, burned at the stake, put in a gas chamber, or simply not allowed to live a life as they chose. I wrote this story, not under the framework of hatred but love, the love of a partner, a friend for it is love that shines through the dark shadows of intolerance to help us see what we are otherwise blinded to.
When did you first have the idea for this book?
The first seed for the story came from a photo in a writing class. It was of two women huddled very close together with fearful looks on their faces wearing turn of the twentieth century garb. It screamed out to me “lesbian couple afraid of being found out.”
How long did it take you to write?
How do you research?
I started generally with the time period to see how to put some flesh on the basic story line and that’s when I hit pay dirt and found out that the photo that inspired me could very easily fit into the time when Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for “indecency.” Once I had that research, I got into a lot of minutiae about his imprisonment for homosexual activity which occurred in 1895 and other time appropriate things; such as what other news occurred around that time, what did people wear, what did houses look like, and specific to my location what was it like back then to live in a small Nevada ranching town. I constructed the geography of the town and researched everything I could about that general area logistically right down to time the sun rose, weather, foliage, etc. I got out a Sears & Roebuck Catalogue from the late 1800s and looked at articles advertised to give me a conceptual understanding of how to describe things in the story. I found an1895 New York Times article (Arpil 5th) that described the change in attitudes about homosexuality because of Wilde’s imprisonment and used that to help me feed the attitude of the people in the town who would have received the news to keep it realistic. I researched the time it would take the pony express to deliver mail and packages so that when I needed to incorporate time elements they were accurate. I studied the laws on The Homestead Act and other ways settlers claimed land as well as the politics of the day locally and internationally. For every new concept entered, I asked myself and looked up, “How did they do it then?” Although time consuming, I loved doing the research and learning so many new things but also felt good that I took the time to lend to the authenticity of the story.
How comfortable do you feel writing about history?
If I put the time in to fact check and get the data, I felt very comfortable. I think the problem some get into with writing history is not doing the homework, being lazy. A reader picks up on these things.
How do you write? What is your writing environment like?
I have a nice office that overlooks the property I live on with lots of trees, grass and a creek running through it. I usually start out in the morning and go for several hours unless on a roll then I stay with the process. Luckily I am able to put in the time to write and love writing.
How many rewrites did it take you?
Several and there were whole and part rewrites. I had three different editors and went through a different process with each along the way. The first editor was a read for flow and grammar structure. That went on a couple of years. The second one was a creative editor who read for how the story sat with her, was it believable, authentic? She is a professional screen/playwright and her input invaluable. She had me look at things like, “What does Mildred look like through Charley’s eyes?” She gave me pages of questions, suggestions, things that didn’t ring real for her and that rewrite took another year. The final one was with my publisher, again for flow and a line edit.
Who are your editors and how do you quality control your books?
I described the three above (the first one Christina Wilson, the second one Deb Norton and the final one Margaret Dodd). They do the read, mark things up, give pages of comments and it’s back to me and I do the rewrites. When I am finished it’s back to them and once in agreement I have a group of readers who I send the manuscript out to for their overall feedback, not editing but feedback on how does it read. Once through this entire process and it sits right inside of me I call it done.
Who are your favourite authors / influences?
There are so many it is too hard to pick one. Stand out among them are Steinbeck, Dickens, Harper Lee, the classic tried and true writers. I’ve read so many books by known and unknown authors that I love that it is difficult to narrow it down. Things that influence me are those things that move me emotionally and stay with me, which is probably why I want to write about them because they live inside of me for some unexplained reason and in writing sometimes the answers are revealed. In this particular story it was intolerance that influenced me. In another story I’m working on it was the heroics of an ordinary couple with an extraordinary situation that brought them together in love that influenced and motivated me to want to write about them. There isn’t one person, one author, that is my favourite or who influences me, rather situational things that land in my life and move me.
Who would play your characters in a movie?
I’ve been asked this before and my honest answer is unknown actors, great but unknown. I think it would be wonderful for the story to be the main feature and not have some big Hollywood figure distracting from the plot. Unknown actors but for one, Gus and I’d love to have Philip Seymour Hoffman do his part.
Paulette Mahurin, an award-winning best selling author, is a Nurse Practitioner who lives in Ojai, California with her husband Terry and their two dogs–Max and Bella. She practices women’s health in a rural clinic and writes in her spare time. She is an animal advocate and has been involved with dog rescue, along with her husband, for the past twenty-eight years. All profits from her book, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, are going to the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center (the first and only no-kill shelter in Ventura County, CA).
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