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Donnell Rubay is a former corporate lawyer and high school English and history teacher. Since becoming a writer, in addition to Liberty’s Call: A Story of the American Revolution, she’s written Stickeen: John Muir and the Brave Little Dog (a Scholastic Book Fair selection which has sold over 195,000 copies) and Emma and the Oyster Pirate, in which Jack London is a character. She collects doll houses, advocates for historic preservation, researches history for local museum exhibits and once ran for mayor of her city. She has one grown daughter and lives in Northern California with her husband.

More info at: Liberty's Call (Amazon.com)

The Questions (and Answers)
Question 1: Your novel is the retelling of Janice Meredith: A Story of the American Revolution by Paul Leicester Ford first published in 1899. How did you discover Ford’s novel?
Answer: Growing up my mother, who's name is Janice, told the story that she was named for a heroine in a novel—but she had no idea what novel. Since her mother was dead, I figured I would never know unless I came across a heroine named Janice in my novel reading. One day browsing in an antique store I discovered Ford's book with the name "Janice" in the title! I had to read it. After reading, I felt sure it was the novel my grandmother had read. For one thing it was a story about a heroine with several suitors whose life is disrupted by a sweeping war, making it similar to Gone With the Wind—which was a book I knew my grandmother had liked.
Question 2: What inspired you to write this book?
Answer: I loved the story and wanted to share it with others, but the original was so poorly written I really couldn't expect anyone else to read it.
Question 3: What were some of the problems with the original book?
Answer: To begin with, the language is awkward. For example Ford's book opens Chapter Four with:
"In the week following his advent the new servant was the cause of considerable discussion, and, regrettably, of not a little controversy, among the members of the household of Greenwood. "
I replaced the above with:
"During the following week Charles Fownes was the topic of much discussion, and not a little controversy."
Then there is the whole matter of the heroine, Janice, being weakly drawn; rarely do we know her thinking, for example. Also much of the dialogue is awkward ranging from illegible dialect to speeches laced with "thee" and "thou." Further—very important, passages in the original would be termed sexist and/or racist today.
Question 4: Isn't there a copyright issue if you are working with a previously published book?
Answer: Not if the material is in the public domain—then it belongs to everyone. Many older books, like Ford's book, were first published in America so long ago that the copyright has expired.
Question 5: Did you have to study the American Revolution to write Liberty's Call?
Answer: One of the interesting things I discovered while reading Ford's book is that his readers in 1899—which surely included many young women—probably had an extensive knowledge of the American Revolution. I believe this because, while Ford provides much helpful information about the Revolutionary battles the descriptions are incomplete, as if written in a shortened form because of knowledge he assumes his readers to know. Info such as: What was the context of a battle? Why was it important? Where did the characters go between one battle and the next? etc. So to the extent I needed to fill in this info, I had to research the war.
Question 6: What are your research methods?
Answer: I prefer books to the Internet so, of course, reading--from David MCullough's 1776, to complete histories of the War. Also, several extensive documentary productions have been done about the war such as Rebels & Redcoats: How Britain Lost America (PBS Home Video, 2003) which is great fun, by the way, because it is told from the British perspective. Most importantly, I visited practically every major place I mention—Yorktown, Trenton, Williamsburg, Brunswick, Germantown, Philadelphia. I even went to Saratoga—though that battle is only discussed. Being on site adds flavor and facts to writing, in infinite ways. For example, before the American Army reaches Valley Forge they camp at White Marsh where a brief skirmish takes place—yet this skirmish is significant to my story. By tracking down White Marsh (which was not so easy since its role in history is considered minor) I gained historical and descriptive info that allowed me to include a scene at White Marsh, rather than simply refer back to it in a later scene.
Question 7: You've mentioned that Liberty's Call is similar to Gone With the Wind—how are they similar?
Answer: Well, both begin with wealthy fifteen-year-old heroines who watch their families, and their homes, be impacted by a major war that sweeps the country. Both are raised by negro slaves to whom they are almost closer than to their own mothers. Both have several suitors—including the son of a neighboring estate and a mysterious stranger. There are also similarities in certain small details—both are laced into corsets, unhappily. Also, both have an intense scene with one man unaware that another is lying on a nearby couch and hears everything. I must emphasize here—that all similarities occur first in Janice Meredith, which was published thirty-seven years before Gone With the Wind.
Question 8: Did you work with a writer's group while writing Liberty's Call ?
Answer: I did not—but I had people reading various versions of the book,. Young adult writer Kathryn Reiss, for example, not only read the manuscript but also Ford's book as well. I don't think its possible to stress, enough, how important it is to have other eyes than your own look at your work. Some of the excellent advice I got included—limiting the battle scenes in the original book and adding descriptions—particularly of places—which the original pretty much lacked.
Question 9: What other books have you published?
Answer: Stickeen: John Muir and the Brave Little Dog (Dawn Publications, 1998), a picture book which is approaching 200,000 copies sold. Emma and the Oyster Pirate (James Stevenson Publisher, 2011) which is a middle grade time-travel novel with a 15 year-old Jack London as a character.
Question 10: What aspect of the colonial and revolutionary era, as a setting for your book, appealed to you the most?
Answer: I love the way everything has to happen in the "flesh"—for lack of a better word. If there is a message that must be conveyed someone must physically deliver it—no phones, no 24/7 news cycle, no Internet. Two things this does: a. it increases human interactions which add an extra dimension, in my view, to informational exchanges; and b. often there is down time between important items of information which allows life to proceed less frantically.


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