She’s is TSPA’s first historical-fiction author – and while we didn’t know anything about the area or disaster she details in her book, Whitney Vandiver’s spark and passion make us want to walk the streets of Galveston with her.
1) If you had to summarize Orleanders in June in three sentences to impress a movie producer, what would you say?
Alfred Ridgeway, a weather assistant from Indian Territory and fresh out of training, arrives in Galveston ready to make his way in one of the wealthiest cities on the gulf. But it’s not long before he falls in love and becomes entangled in politics, unexpectedly finding himself at odds with the island’s most powerful families. When the Weather Bureau cuts all ties with Cuba, relying solely on their own instruments to forecast storms at sea, the warning signs for a massive storm in the gulf are missed, and Alfred must fight against nature to save those he loves from the deadliest natural disaster to ever hit American shores.
2) When writing this book, what came easier to you – the location or the characters?
The location, by far, because it was the impetus behind my writing the book. Galveston Island has a rich cultural history that includes the Karankawa tribe, Spanish settlers who named the island, pirates, a key stronghold in the Civil War, and a port infamous for exporting the South’s cotton supply and offering European immigrants passage to a new life. It was one of the wealthiest cities in the U.S. in 1900 with more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the country. Its rise, however, culminated with a single event that came to define the island’s future.
My novel began to form around the Great Storm of 1900 and the understanding that Galveston likely would have shaped the shipping industry of the Gulf of Mexico in a completely different light if such a deadly hurricane had not made landfall when it did. The impact on the island was felt even more strongly due to misbeliefs at the time about hurricane behavior and the political environment of the U.S. Weather Bureau, both of which came together in capturing how some of the wealthiest businessmen and climatologists of that time completely missed their greatest weakness despite it being right in front of their noses.
Even as I researched, read books, and visited fascinating and beautiful structures on the island, the setting was always at the forefront of every story I weaved into the novel–from the new climatologist fresh out of training to the eccentric birdwatcher who protests the expansion of the shipping channel. The setting is what makes the characters come alive.
3) For authors who like the idea of writing historical fiction, but are hesitant because of the about the amount of research they have to do, what advice would you give them?
Find something that fascinates you, something you can read about for weeks on end–and make that the center of your story. If you’re obsessed with it, the research just becomes like any other reading. You get lost in the world of that setting or character or event, and suddenly you have all this information in which to soak your story without realizing how much work you’ve already put into it.
It also helps to know that you’re never going to know everything about your characters’ lives and how they lived in their time–you’ll always learn something else, one more thing that would have made the scene perfect, after you say you’re “finished” writing. That’s just how it goes. You have to be comfortable saying you’ve done enough research for that story and let the book out into the world!
4) Now that your book is on to the editing stage if you could go back and give yourself any piece of advice when you started your first draft, what would you say?
Just write. Stop worrying about getting it perfect the first time, and just get it down on paper. I struggle some days to believe I worked on this novel for two and a half years, but part of that time was interspersed with doubtful weeks or months where I didn’t think I would ever finish. And that didn’t do me any good at all. No matter the genre, the research that’s left to do, the plot point you changed–get it written down so you have something to work with. It’s amazing the confidence that comes with having a completed first draft, no matter how much work is left to get it into shape! Once that first draft is finished, you can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel much more clearly.
I don’t get writer’s block in the way many writers describe it, but my mind does wander and have affairs with other potential novels from time to time. That’s usually a sign that I need to step away from the work in progress and let my mind breath. When that happens, I read others’ works, go outside, binge on Netflix. I do whatever my mind wants to do until it refreshes and says it’s time to take another go. Sometimes that’s a few days; other times it’s several weeks. With this novel, there were weeks or months at a time when doubt crept in or I let myself get distracted, but I always came back knowing what to write.
OK – one more! – 6) If someone read this blog who could help or support your book in any way, what help or support would you ask for?
Share. My. Book. It is mind-blowing how quickly things catch on with social media nowadays, and sometimes all it takes is one person making a recommendation for a book to burn up a platform. But getting the word out and gaining that traction can be complicated, especially for a new indie author. The best support anyone can give is sharing an author’s book–through social media, in conversation, as a gift. Whatever the method, having people talk about my book helps me get one step closer to gaining another reader. And readers are my favorite people!