Maureen Esnard Gilmer loves a mystery. The day she decided to find out about the old missionary in a family photo began a twenty year treasure hunt for the reasons why he ended up in the Belgian Congo a hundred years ago. Already an established author of 18 books and a nationally syndicated columnist, her desire to find the answers required she trace all the Esnards of New Orleans back to the free people of color community unique to that ancient American city. “It’s as though they all spoke to me through the data, and helped me understand why there were so many secrets. I knew they wanted it to be written so that future generations would understand why they made certain very painful choices.” The revelations would threaten Maureen’s immediate family, but undaunted as always, she continued with the research that would bring ancestors out of the shadows and into the 21st century, inspiring future generations to stand up for their rights, beliefs and faith. Maureen lives outside Palm Springs in the California high desert with her husband Jim, two horses and a pair of rescued pit bulls. Learn more about Maureen at MoPlants.com
What inspires you to write?
I suppose I am at heart a teacher and sharer of information I personally find interesting and worthy of further definition to focus on specific factors that are of value to our contemporary world. With my latest book, Jumping the Fence, which tells the history of my father’s family from New Orleans, his rejection of my discovery of our mixed race ancestors drove me to write the book. I felt that even though Dad didn’t accept my work, I needed the rest of the world to do it for him. This is the kind of driving force that makes a writer write.
Tell us about your writing process.
My process begins with the big idea, then a basic outline to decide how I will tell the story or share the information in a way others will best understand it. Because my nonfiction horticultural books were sold by my agent, I wrote an extensive detailed proposal for each one from which we’d market the idea to publishers. The publisher makes an offer based on the proposal and once the contract is finalized I write the book. With Jumping The Fence, it was a more personal book that I wrote before the proposal. But that’s not my typical way because the process of writing a proposal and working with my agent, Jeanne Fredericks to make it more compelling takes care of the outline process up front. Once I have the green light I begin with the first chapter to the last, then the final task is the Introduction.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Though Jumping the Fence is part fiction in the vein of Capote’s book, In Cold Blood, I had to develop a strong set of traits for all the major family members in the book. This became deeply intuitive and often if felt like they spoke through me rather than creating the words from scratch. Yes, I had vintage photos of many but for those who lacked photos there was some character development required.
What advice would you give other writers?
Write and keep writing. Know what you’re trying to do before you start because inadequate or ill conceived ideas lose traction in the course of composing an entire book if they are not well defined and organized. I also write in the mornings so that becomes sacred time each day when my mind is programmed to get on the computer and talk to the world through my written words. If there’s other work to do I save it for afternoon.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I am skiddish about self publishing because there is no gate keeper to determine if your work is market worthy. There’s also the gravitas of a publisher that is essential to the marketing process. This is far more important with nonfiction than fiction.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
People want good stories which are becoming harder and harder to define. While paper books are likely going to lose traction gradually, the ability to have your book in both print and ebook form shows we are in transition that is sure to involve less and less paper and physical distribution over time. Paperless is the future.
What genres do you write?
What formats are your books in?
Both eBook and Print
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