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article imageOp-Ed: 'Thieving Forest' author reveals new mystery-crime novel Special

By Jonathan Farrell     May 23, 2016 in Entertainment
San Francisco - The author of "Thieving Forest," Martha Conway has now released a third novel, entitled "Sugarland: A Jazz Age Mystery.” It is her second mystery. But her work as a historical novelist is growing.
'Sugarland' has propelled Conway in a direction she did not expect. It looks as if she has found her niche. This reporter was pleased to have a few moments to ask Conway some questions about her return to mystery writing. And, why the historical novel aspect has taken on such a profound dynamic for her writing.
So, I was curious right away. Is 'Sugarland' a return of sorts to where you began with your very first novel, the mystery '12 Bliss Street'?
"'Sugarland' is my bridge between mystery and historical fiction - a historical mystery. I like to write novels with twists and surprises, whether or not there is a crime involved. However, “in the case of 'Sugarland' there are a few crimes that need to be solved: murder, smuggling, and bootlegging."
Immediately, Conway told me and everyone of her press contacts that ‘Sugarland’ was a labor of love. “The idea of the novel literally came to me through a song."
"One evening I was listening to the song, 'Si Tu Vois Ma Mere' (translated as 'If You See my Mother) with the great Sidney Bechet on saxophone,” she added. “I realized that in the back of my mind I was envisioning a scene: a woman was walking along a cold winter street, looking for someone or something. That's all I knew at the time; the rest came slowly. But to this day,” said Conway, “I can still see that woman: her back is to me, and she's wearing a hat like one that my grandmother used to wear."
Not surprised by the unexpected inner-vision, as writers and artists often have, still, I was curious. How is 'Sugarland' different from anything you have written before?
"This novel has two main protagonists," said Conway, "An African American jazz pianist named Eve Riser and a white nurse named Lena Hardy. I've never tried to write an African American point-of-view character before. That was challenging, interesting, and ultimately fulfilling."
I was not surprised when she said this because when I had interviewed Conway about "Thieving Forest" she had mentioned she had wanted to present a Native American viewpoint in Thieving Forest. I know that for writers, all story lines and the characters therein are a journey. It looks to me as if Conway took a journey this time around to an exciting but complicated time in American history.
Of course, this required a lot of homework, which is evident in the pages of 'Sugarland.'
"I always do a lot of research for my novels,” she said. “It's one way that I have of finding the story, and then pulling it along. When I was researching jazz music at its very earliest, I was surprised at how many women performed professionally. And not just as singers, but as pianists and horn players, too."
While historians in recent years have noted the pioneering women in music, NPR did a series on "Women in Jazz" and mentioned that women were an important part of Jazz since its inception. Yet, they have been little-known. Many were known for their singing, such as Bessie Smith. But many during the Jazz Age and just before WWII were musicians and songwriters. Those such as Lovie Austin, who played piano and Dolly Jones Hutchinson, who played the trumpet was considered the equivalent to Louis Armstrong.
"Later, as jazz became more mainstreamed,” said Conway, the number of professional women jazz musicians decreased." Some historians noted this was partly due to the end of WWII, and the returning home of servicemen which resulted in the increased competition of male musicians.
It is clear to see that Jazz in its early years, like any pioneering profession or field was wide open. When World War I emerged, the opportunities for women began to change. And, at the end of 'the Great War' as the 1920's unfolded, women had greater freedom than before. Jazz was a part of that experience.
So, I asked Conway, since 'Sugarland's' main character is an African American musician, what is it about that character that speaks of to you?
 Sugarland  is author Martha Conway s third book and second mystery novel.
"Sugarland" is author Martha Conway's third book and second mystery novel.
Courtesy of Martha Conway
"I wrote the first draft of Sugarland using Lena, a white woman, as the main character,” said Conway. “But it was Eve who always moved me the most, and who was the strongest character. At first I was resistant to making her the main character,” said Conway. “Because I was nervous about being a white woman writing about a black woman. But I asked myself, was the gap in understanding really too large, I wondered? I wanted to try, at least, because I felt very moved by her story, and I felt closer to her than any other character in the book."
"Writing from a viewpoint that wasn’t familiar to me was definitely challenging,” said Conway. “I immersed myself in the memoirs and interviews of black musicians of that time period - especially interviews that were recorded verbatim. One of the reasons we read novels is to 'walk in another person’s shoes,' so to speak. And researchers now say that for this reason, reading helps children develop empathy. Part of why I write what I write,” said Conway, is because I want to understand something or someone; and writing from another viewpoint goes a long way towards that.”
Now available through Amazon.com, 'Sugarland' has been receiving highly praising reviews. To learn more about author Martha Conway or to order the book directly through her, visit the Martha’s Conway web site.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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