Today I’m welcoming Monette Bebow-Reinhard to my series of author interviews. Monette is the author of two Bonanza books, Felling of the Sons and Mystic Fire; is marketing a major nonfiction, Civil War and Bloody Peace and a fiction series about a Greek vampire, a Vrykolakas; has just been offered a contract for Dancing with Cannibals; and is in final edit with Saving Boone: Legend of a Half-Breed.
Q: Can you give us a brief description of your most recent novel ?
A: Dancing with Cannibals is set in 1906 Africa to show the Belgium conquest of the Congo, when two Belgian prisoners are released to become colonists of African villages, to bring them Christianity and claim their resources. Simon sees the wrong in what he’s doing but enjoys the power, while Jean sees the wrong and becomes enamored of the cannibal culture, eventually marrying into it. Inevitably, however, neither man can control the destiny of a country when a more powerful one is determined to conquer it. I think the novel holds great lessons for the world today.
Q: What made you interested in this story?
A: Dicho did, actually. He’s my partner on the book and the instigator of the story and its history. He lives in South Africa but was born in the Congo. He is a French speaker with story ideas who was looking for help and contacted me and others through the website Authors Den to edit his stories and get them ready to market. He had six stories to offer, and I chose the one on cannibals because I’ve done a lot of research on the practice in this country and am interested in removing the stigma, from the point of view of the cannibal, as to the reason one would eat another human. Attitude, to me, is the most important thing in history, and something that’s often overlooked. We’re often judging other cultures through our own eyes. This book tries to change that.
Q: How much historical fact is woven into your story?
A: It’s amazing what he had when he sent the book to me to edit. He didn’t have a fiction novel. He had a series of historical events, two fiction scenes, and a number of fiction characters. I had to take what he had and turn it into a novel. First I asked him – do you want this as fiction or nonfiction? We went from there. I took his characters, and with a lot of back and forth asking him questions about their motives, the plot began to emerge. He had specific ideas of how this would go. But I told him, I don’t want to make this from the point of view that Christianity was a good thing to happen to them. Let’s go for a more balanced approach. I wanted to see us portray the culture as it was, and I depended on him to get the history and the culture right. I bought a number of books of Africa in this period, however, so that I could familiarize myself with it, and I also watched some videos—because Dicho wanted me to add the descriptive material. Even though I’ve never been there! He says he’s not good at it. So you will see more plot than description. But we did what we could. He gave me a lot of history I had to try and incorporate so that readers wouldn’t get lost or bored. It was a challenge to make this kind of book not preachy or what they call “an info dump.”
Q: How hard was marketing something like this?
A: Very hard. We couldn’t tell if publishers were turned off by the title, but didn’t see any reason to change it. We also didn’t know if publishers wanted to work with two authors. I have no experience with a co-authored submission and really didn’t know how to address these concerns. But we just kept at it. And really, we never received any kind of feedback from anyone about why they would reject it. We followed the right format, we found publishers who wanted historical, who wanted cultural, and who wanted controversial. But no luck. We did several rewrites, thinking that might help. I think adding the viewpoint of Betu, one of the cannibal women who eventually marries Jean, was the perfect move.
Now with Spartan, I saw the opportunity to try a new history publisher, and they scooped it up as though the best thing they’d ever seen. It’s exciting working with someone raw and eager, and we’ve already gotten comments on how to improve the material. So Dicho and I really appreciate having Dancing with Cannibals recognized for what it has to offer. Dicho has turned all the edits over to me, because I was mostly responsible for putting it in its current readable format.
But sometimes I wondered if I wasn’t more of a hindrance to him, than a help. I was reassured recently when a publisher who rejected Dancing (the only one who told us why) asked me to help Dicho get one of his other novels ready for her. She says she loves his story but it’s way too long, and needs to be edited before she can consider it. So Dicho’s hired me, not as a partner here, but as an editor. I charge a meager $1 a page, because I enjoy helping other writers. He’s very excited about this second opportunity, and this same publisher is willing to look at my Greek Vampire as well. She’s into romance and it’s called Adventures in Death and Romance.
I would love to see something out there about partnering on a fiction novel – the ins and outs. I still don’t feel I’ve learned enough to write this commentary myself. I wish more publishers and agents were more direct about why they won’t look at something. I know they’re busy, but they don’t realize the disservice they do to projects like this.
A: Oh, that would take too long! Seriously, I have an article at my website, “Becoming an authorized Bonanza novelist” on the Bonanza page there. In brief, I can say that I was in the right time at the right place, and got David Dortort’s attention as a fan who said all the right things. I finally got to meet him, and we worked on a couple of scripts together for television. With that association, retaining the friendship was easy enough as well as getting permission to sell Felling of the Sons, which I’d written first and used to begin the initial contact. I felt it was too good to get thrown into the fanfic pile. A few years later we talked Civil War together and David was impressed enough with my knowledge to give me permission for the second novel. He’s since died, and I miss him like crazy. No one else has managed to go through Bonanza Ventures with a novel for authorization, but I hear people are trying.
Back in 1992, after I began to see the series on the air again, and while also writing other historical material, I thought I’d try my hand at Bonanza fanfic. I couldn’t believe how easily these stories just poured out of me. For some reason—maybe the death of my sister during the show’s first season in 1959—the show just captivated me and even at the tender age of seven I began rewriting the stories on I saw on TV to make them ‘better.’ Pretty crazy, I know, but one of those episodes I rewrote was”The Crucible” with guest star Lee Marvin, an episode so intense it still frightens fans. My rewrite was so vivid to me, even years later, that I thought it was an actual episode. Imagine my surprise finding out that I wrote the whole story myself, because it wasn’t an episode. “Fork in the Road” is now one of the short stories in Cartwright Saga, which is a complete anthology novel I offer free to people who purchase both of these novels.
I think the best part about Bonanza was its use of history with fictional characters. I can still remember my surprise finding out Mark Twain really did work in Virginia City and Philip Deidesheimer really did create a series of honeycomb safety timbering for the mines. I did some follow-up research on this and learned that he never patented it and died a poor man. Things like this spurred my interest in history—oddly enough, my worst subject in high school was history. I now hold a master’s in history.
Q: Did you get your master’s in history to teach?
A: Nope – just to write. I have a major nonfiction, Civil War & Bloody Peace: following a soldier’s orders, that I’m desperate to get published. Well, maybe not desperate enough, I recently canceled a contract with Sunbury Press because they kept dragging their feet on it—after six months I still didn’t have an editor and then they said, well, maybe we could put it out in two volumes after assuring me it would make a good 450-page book. Well, yes, that’s the way it needs to be, which is why I signed with them. In its submission format it’s about 750 pages with maps and photos. And I think it’s a really good way to look at the pivotal period in our nation’s history, following the orders of one soldier to find out why he was sent where he was sent. The soldier is my grandfather’s great uncle, and he had the unique experience of being in the army for 22 years, as a private, non-com.
But my BA in history didn’t teach me enough about research to finish this book. So I went back to become a better historian. And I think the book will speak for itself, once I find a decent contract. I had Potomac interested but they weren’t sure how to market it. I’ve since created a marketing query letter and hope I addressed some of their concerns.
While getting the master’s and researching the Civil War I created the second Bonanza novel, Mystic Fire. Using the Cartwrights, and having the Civil War tear them apart with an understanding of who Lincoln was in 1862, I created what I call an ‘epic saga.’ It’s a bit more of a challenge to read than my first Bonanza novel because I tear the four Cartwrights into separate storylines—a fire, ghosts, Lincoln, cattle rustling, runaway slaves, the Civil War and an unusual assassination attempt—all combined to help assure me that I had the right title. Sadly, it hasn’t done as well as Felling of the Sons. I don’t feel I’ve yet found its market. The goal in part is to demonstrate what Lincoln was like in 1862, and I really enjoyed giving him a voice in this novel.
Q: Enough of your books—tell us about yourself.
A: Not much to tell. Normal life in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Two brothers and two sisters. My sister Diane died when I was six, and then my parents had two more girls. Diane probably would have been my best friend. We were two years apart. I was my father’s favorite, or so I’m told. He died when I was 14. My mother moved away when I was 18, taking everyone but me to Phoenix in 1971. I stayed in Wisconsin, where all I wanted was my own family. Married my husband Joe in 1975, and have three kids – Carrielynn, Adam and Bennett. All grown and into their own lives. My youngest has made me a grandmother, but sadly they live over in Seattle. I run the Green Bay Reading Writers Guild, and we have a Facebook page. I post a lot of writing related topics there and encourage writers to find readers before they seek publication. I worked in offices as secretary nearly all my life, while helping on my husband’s family’s golf course as manager (for a little while) and bartender. Going back to college was a dream that finally came true when my kids were older. I had one year of college in back in 1972, majoring in theater, and went back in 1994. I’ve been an actress practically all my life in local community groups, even helped form one. I was curator of a museum for three years until I got tired of no pay, no time and no appreciation. But I now run the Archaic Copper Newsletter in conjunction with that experience. I’m one of these persons who doesn’t sit still well! I like being busy. And I have a lot in my head that needs to come out.
Q: How difficult do you find balancing your writing career and your other jobs?
A: Very very. I remember back when all I had was a typewriter. I typed my first novel, and sure wish I’d kept it. It was every night, typing for an hour after the kids went to bed, with my peppermint schnapps (yeah, I’m German). I had to drink before bed because my husband snores! Then my mother sent me her old computer, and though I resisted at first, became very fond of the idea of changing the material before I printed it. I’ve been updating my computers ever since, giving my kids my old ones (Bennett now works for Microsoft). But always my writing took place late at night, and then once I started school, I’d write a couple of pages between classes or between assignments. I got little sleep in those days, and often credit my great kid with raising themselves. Plus doing theater? I sure hope they don’t look back on growing up and wonder where their mother was! I also put myself through my BA with jobs, part-time, temporary. One semester I worked three at the same time. Crazy stuff. I was fortunate that my first successes are Bonanza novels because they were so easy for me to write. Much harder has been my conception of a Greek vampire. I created him as my own original, but, through inspiration of Bonanza, put him into historical events.
We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:
Q: Coffee or tea?
A: Coffee! Actually both, but coffee first.
Q: Ocean or mountain?
A: I’d have to say ocean, but doggoneit, I like them both! I think we need water more than rocks, though.
Q: Hiking or shopping?
A: Hiking! Although shopping is a good substitute, especially on hot days.
Q: Violin or piano?
A: Piano. I wouldn’t know which end of a violin to hold, and the sound kind of irritates me.
Q: Mystery or fantasy?
A: Fantasy. I love to plot, but have never tried sheer mystery. On the other hand, in fantasy we can let our imagination run wild.
Q: Darcy or Heathcliff?
A: Darcy – to be honest, I don’t know Heathcliff. Maybe if I did, I’d like him better?
Q; Love scene or death scene?
A: Death – because it’s so final, or so some people think. And it’s so real, where love scenes can be phony. I’ve been criticized for having so much death in my writing, but I am fascinated by it.
Thanks to Monette for joining me today. To learn more about Monette, her writing and to order her stories, visit her websites: