The 1920s were intoxicating – Interview with Margaret Verble

Maud’s Line isn’t your average 1920s novel. You won’t find flappers and bootleggers, speakeasies and gangsters. This is Prohibition Era away from the big cities, where the echo of jazz music and parties reach, faint and almost alien, but still strong enough to ignite young people’s desire.

This is the story of a young, ambitious woman, born in the countryside, but made to live in the big, comfortable city.
Maud is willing to go a long way (even too long a way, in my opinion) to attain the life she wants and leave behind her family and her land, neither of which seem to have as high a value as city life for her.

Maud is a very strong-willed character, though it may be argued that not always does she use her strength in a constructive way, but whatever you think about her, she will give you plenty of food for thoughts.

I’m delighted to host Margaret Verble, author of Maud’s Line, on my blog today. I hope our chat will help understanding Maud, her situation, her desires and the history of all her generation a bit better.

 

Pawnee Bill trading post, Oklahoma Territory, ca. 1920s

Pawnee Bill trading post, Oklahoma Territory, ca. 1920s

1. You say in your acknowledgements page that your family lived on and around Maud’s section line in the time the story is set. So, this is a story that never was, but might have been?

If you are asking if Maud is based on a real person, unlike several other characters in the novel, she isn’t. She’s completely fictional. But she embodies the decisions a whole generation of my family had to make.

2. The way the setting jumps off the page, even with sparse description, is uncanny. Does this come from your intimate familiarity with this place?

I suppose it does. I know those bottoms down to the anthills. Sometimes I feel like I was born with them encoded in my DNA.

3. One of the things I enjoyed most in the novel is the tight bonds inside Maud’s extended family. Does this come from your family memories?

Yes, it does. Even today, much of my closest family in Oklahoma still live on or around the same road. It’s not that section line, but they live close enough together that if a tornado comes through I’ll be family-less.

Pawnee Bill's advertising truck, Oklahoma Territory, ca. 1920s

Pawnee Bill’s advertising truck, Oklahoma Territory, ca. 1920s

4. When I first encountered Maud in the novel, I had the impression of a very strong-willed, determined, but also caring woman. Although she goes through terrible ordeals, I expected her to react in a different way. Maybe this is because I expect young people to naturally have the energy and push that allows them to overcome any difficulty. But maybe inexperience can crash them?

Well, it is certainly true that I have put Maud through the wringer. I feel a little guilty about that, but I’m not going to be writing fiction about which teacup to use. Life tests us, and sometimes it knocks us down and it takes us a while to get up. Maud is caught in some terrible dilemmas and she’s only eighteen. I would not expect her to jump right up. Staggering up is more realistic.

5. Maud is fascinated by the city life and she goes after it with determination. Although going after a dream is generally considered a good thing, isn’t her determination blinding her to what she might be losing in the process?

Certainly. And Maud’s dreams are representative of that entire generation. The desire to leave the farm was overwhelming and the actual demographic shift astounding. Rural folks, especially Indians, were living in real poverty. And the local newspapers, unlike ours now, carried front page news from all over the world. Lindberg and other aviators were breaking record after record, Rube Ruth was hitting balls out of the stands, the talkies were thrilling people. It was intoxicating. But, also, just getting indoor plumbing is fairly compelling.

Central Drugstore, Picher, Oklahoma

Central Drugstore, Picher, Oklahoma

6. I often think our times have a lot in common with the Twenties. Was that a factor in your decision to set the story in this period?

It was one of several factors. I do think there are real parallels between our times and those. But it wasn’t the only factor. I really wanted to write a book set earlier, to tell more of a tribal Indian story, but I was told repeatedly that a first novel, in particular, has to be about an individual. So, I set the story in a time period when tribal bonds were breaking down, and that happened to be the 1920s. But, really, the 1920s saw the rise of individualism for everybody in the U.S., not just the Cherokees. All this individualism that we celebrate now is really a relatively new thing, and in many places in the world it’s considered dysfunctional.

7. Continuing on the theme of the 1920s, you picked the end of the decade, 1928, and the start of 1929, a very ominous time. Is this a comment on Maud trying to pursue her dream?

You are right, it’s an ominous time, and I did that on purpose. But it isn’t a comment on Maud’s dreams, but rather on the fragility of all our dreams, no matter what they are. By 1931, it would be hard to say who had it worse in Oklahoma, people in the city or people in the country. By 1936, it was pure hell everywhere.

8. Are you writing a sequel?

Not yet. I think Maud is going to be a controversial character. And I don’t want to resolve her. One of the things that divides literary fiction from commercial fiction is that in literary fiction nothing is black or white and rational people can disagree about characters. If a writer is lucky that disagreement goes on for a long time.

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Maude's Line (Margaret Verble) Pulitzer

 

Excerpt

Maud sent Lovely off to round up their uncles, Blue and Early. The men came back with Blue driving Great-Uncle Ame’s 1920 Dodge sedan. He maneuvered it into the pasture as close to Betty as he could get, and the four of them strung her up to the sturdiest tree around. They set to butchering, talking about the meanness it took to ax a cow in the back. They gave Blue the hide to cure and packed Betty’s meat in old newspapers and feed sacks. They deposited those on the floor of the backseat and agreed they’d pay Hector Hempel, the dwarf who ran the icehouse, two rump roasts for storing the meat. The men drove off with the car loaded so heavy it didn’t rattle.

Maud walked to the house. She first tended her leg and then drew her dress and slip off over her head. At eighteen, she was fit, dark, and tall like the rest of her mother’s family and most of her tribe. She was more of a willow than an oak, and her figure and personality had grown pleasing to every male within a twenty-mile radius, to some of the women, too, and to most of the animals. Maud carried that admiration the way eggs are carried in a basket, carefully, with a little tenderness, but without minding too closely the individual. She drew on another slip and dress, tossed her and Lovely’s dirty clothes in a tub, and pumped cool water over them until they were completely covered. She left them to soak while she filled one of the front-yard kettles with water and lit a fire under it.

 

 

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03_Margaret VerbleMargaret Verble is an enrolled and voting citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a member of a large Cherokee family that has, through generations, made many contributions to the tribe’s history and survival. Although many of her family have remained in Oklahoma to this day, and some still own and farm the land on which the book is set, Margaret was raised in Nashville, Tennessee, and currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky, and Old Windsor, England.

Many of the characters of Maud’s Line are based on people Margaret knew as a child and the setting is land she roamed for many years of her life. In part, Margaret wrote this book to keep those people and that land alive in her heart.

Margaret has authored many academic publications and television scripts. Her short stories have appeared in various publications, including The Saturday Evening Post and the Arkansas Review.

Margaret Verble Website
Margret Verble on FaceBook

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It was a true pleasure to have Margaret her today. I enjoyed her book a lot and it sure gave me much to think about.
Do explore it through the rest of the Blog Tour and do give it a try. If you are like me, you won’t regret it!

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    • The author and I did quite a few of back and forth discussing the book and out different take on the story, before I wrote down my questions. It was a very, very intersting experience 🙂
      And she’s a very nce woman, it was a pleasure taking with her.