How interviews enriched The Only Thing to Fear
Published: December 2, 2005
|In the January 2006 issue of The Writer, novelist David Poyer described how he has used real-life interviews to add color, fact and authenticity to his fiction. Here is another example from his work.|
The Only Thing to Fear is a historical novel of mine built around an attempted assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. The scene below came directly from an interview with the woman who was FDR's physiotherapist in the 1930s, and who saw him many times after that when he visited Warm Springs, Ga. She was still living at Warm Springs when I interviewed her, and she gave me exquisite and lengthy details about the town then, and how the "physios" lived during the war.
Below I've highlighted [in bold] passages in the novel that were drawn from interview material.
It was a pleasant walk through the evening, across the tracks, then along the road. I passed an old Negro leading a donkey, and a boy riding a Victory bike. That was all the traffic, in this fourth year of gas and rubber rationing. The good part was you got to walk on the pavement, not on the dirt. I hate to show up with dirty shoes.
When I got to the physio cottage it was nearly dark. A two-story, white clapboard sprawler with red trim, and a big porch fronted and arched with white-painted fieldstone. I knocked and waited, listening to Bing's casual raspy voice drawling out "Montmartre Rose."
Veronica opened the door. "Hi."
"Hi. Here I am."
She looked me up and down. "You look different out of uniform."
"Different. Come on in. We're about to cut the cake."
Three or four callow-looking guys were drinking Cokes in the living room. The girls were circulating. It all looked pretty clean-cut. Nobody was even smoking. Veronica introduced me around, then gave me a tour of the house. The first floor, anyway. A kitchen in back. Pantry. Steep stairs led upward from the central hall. "What's up there?" I said.
"Where we live. Showers and bedrooms."
"Want to show me? I'm thinking of a career in interior design, after the war."
"Oh, we can't go up there. I mean, you can't."
"But I'd like to see where you live."
"Miz Mahoney wouldn't like that. Sylvia, remember the lieutenant we met at supper? He's here for some cake and ice cream. Doesn't he look different now?"
"Oh my," she said. "Where did you come from? Are you my present?"
That worked. Veronica snagged my hand and yanked me back into the sitting room.
Somebody had taken Crosby off and put on "Night and Day." We got a corner of one of the sofas and ate ice cream while Swoonatra sang. I talked to the other guys. The older one was Army, a tanker, with a reconstructed arm he was learning to use again. The others were male physios.
Somebody turned the lights off after a while and I concentrated on Veronica. She didn't mind tangling tonsils but when I started exploring she fended my hands off. I joked about getting another back massage upstairs, but she said we couldn't go up.
"Jim and Mamie just did."
"I don't think so. I think they're out back sneaking a smoke."
"Oh my God. What will Miz Mahoney think?"
"I know what you'd like. Would you like to see some pictures?"
"Pictures of what?"
"Pictures of us. And other stuff. The first girls to come here started it."
She pulled the chain on the lamp beside us. It didn't seem to bother the writhing couple on the other sofa. When I saw the album I almost walked out. I decided to give her ten more minutes, then it was Sylvia's turn at bat.
"This is when it started ... in 1926, I think. This was the old hotel that was here then. They used to have stagecoaches coming in to White Sulphur from Columbus.
"This is Miss Mahoney. She came down from New York with Dr. Hubbard--"
"Yeah, she told me about that."
"Oh, she did? Wait a minute--let me up, I have to change the record--do you like Martha Tilton? Now this was at Thanksgiving. Every Thanksgiving is Founder's Day, and Mr. Roosevelt comes down, unless of course there's a war. These children, they draw to see who sits with him at the head table."
"This is really fascinating," I said.
The picture was of the house we were in. Girls stood in front in matching calf-length dresses. Veronica said, "They started wearing them because when people first came here they'd already spent so much time in hospitals, who wanted to see a uniform."
"How many girls are there here now?"
"Eleven. Some of them are over on night duty and we're two short."
"And there's probably a house mother--"
"Oh, we don't need one. Miss Mahoney lives down on the other side, but what she doesn't already know she'll find out pretty quick."
"You'd be surprised," I said.
"I know you think I'm Elsie Dinsmore, but it's not like we have a lot of free time to date and that. We work in the mornings, and then there's rest hour, and walking. We play badminton and tennis and of course we swim every day after work. Do you play bridge?"
"Only if someone holds a large-caliber handgun to my head."
She kept plowing through the album. "This doctor was from Atlanta. This is Mr. Roosevelt ... this is me giving exercises to the patients in the pool."