Meet Elizabeth from We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels

Today we welcome Elizabeth Balsam who answered a few questions for curious readers!

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Parents: Bruce and Marjorie

Siblings: Grace

Places lived: Detroit, Michigan

Jobs: Journalist at the Detroit Free Press

Friends: Desiree? She’s the closest thing I have to a friend at the moment, busy as I am with work.

Enemies: Anyone who gets in the way of me getting the story. Often, that takes the form of one Roger Bristol, my own personal nemesis at the Free Presswho is always trying to undermine me and steal my stories.

Dating, marriage: I’m far too busy for such things.

Children: none

What person do you most admire? Nellie Bly, the great investigative journalist of the late 19thcentury, who went undercover as an inmate at an insane asylum for an exposé for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. She also circumnavigated the globe in 72 days to be the first person, man or woman, to turn the fiction of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Daysinto fact.

Overall outlook on life: My time as a journalist has me believing that we’re all just trying to survive as best we can in a corrupt and chaotic world.

Do you like yourself? I guess I like myself as well as anyone. But because I am always pushing toward the next goal, I can’t help but feel like I’m always falling a little short of my expectations of myself.

What, if anything, would you like to change about your life? Honestly, I wouldn’t mind being able to step back and take a breather once in a while, but if I did, who would pick up the slack?

How are you viewed by others? Driven, focused, go-getter.

Physical appearance: I’m a professional and I’m serious about being taken seriously. And that means slacks, blouses, and sensible shoes.

Eyes: Blue

Hair: Brown

Voice: Gets the job done.

Right- or left-handed? Right-handed.

How would you describe yourself? I’m a public servant. I’m passionate about my work and I feel that every article I turn in has the potential to improve the lives of my fellow Detroiters because I am exposing corruption, neglect, and injustice.

Strongest/weakest character traits: My greatest strength is my dogged determination to get the story. My greatest weakness is that I actively avoid creating personal connections with people, leaving me too often alone and lonely.

How much self-control do you have? My family prides itself on having mastery over our emotions, so the few times I haven’t succeeded in that are a source of embarrassment to me.

Fears: My greatest fear is being inconsequential.

Collections, talents: The only thing I collect is bylines. My talent is writing about the truth I’ve dug up.

What people like best about you: I think my readers appreciate the fact that I don’t hold back and that no one is off-limits when it comes to exposing injustice or corruption.

Interests and favorites: I’m always in the mood to watch All the President’s Men, The Post, or Spotlight.

Food, drink: Detroit style coney dogs, please and thank you

Books: I read a lot of nonfiction, looking for historical facts and connections to what’s going on in today’s world. Anything to build my knowledge base.

Best way to spend a weekend: In the library, digging up evidence.

What would a great gift for you be? A new laptop because I beat mine up so badly schlepping it around town.

When are you happy? Every time I see my name on the front page.

What makes you angry? When I interview people that have been taken advantage of or failed by the system.

What makes you sad? The fact that I can’t do more to help the people in my city.

What makes you laugh? Seeing the bad guys get what’s coming to them, which unfortunately seems to happen more in movies than in real life.

Hopes and dreams: Someday, I want to win a Pulitzer for my investigative journalism.

What’s the worst thing you have ever done to someone and why?

Greatest success: Raising enough awareness and outrage through my writing that Detroiters were able to pressure city officials to take action on 11,000 untested rape kits, leading to the identification and arrests of hundreds of serial rapists in Detroit.

Biggest trauma: My parents leaving Detroit to go back to the mission field in Brazil. Oh, and getting fired from my job…

What does you care about most in the world? Justice being done.

Do you have a secret? Outwardly I put on a good show of being self-sufficient, but inside I am starved for family and love.

If you could do one thing and succeed at it, what would it be: Right now, all of my energy is focused on getting the goods on Judge Ryan Sharpe’s time in the National Guard during the Detroit Riots of 1967. If I can prove his involvement in a particular shootout, I’ll be able to complete my investigative series on the riot and establish myself as the top investigative journalist at the Free Press. Oh, and being able to rub it in Roger Bristol’s face wouldn’t be half bad either.

Thank you, Elizabeth! It was great to meet you!

***

Erin Bartels has been a publishing professional for more than fifteen years. Her short story “This Elegant Ruin” was a finalist in the Saturday Evening Post 2014 Great American Fiction Contest. A freelance writer and editor, she is a member of Capital City Writers and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and is former features editor of WFWA’s Write On! magazine. She lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Zachary, and their son, Calvin, and can be found online at www.erinbartels.com. We Hope for Better Things is her first novel.Bartels_Erin

An Interview with CeeCee from Karen White’s Dreams of Falling

Thanks to Elise Cooper for providing this interview. You can find more from Elise here.

For those who do not know CeeCee Purnell she is a reflection of her times, growing up during the 1950s and 1960s in the South.  Her life is a plateau, with many ups and downs. Growing up and living in Georgetown, South Carolina, she raises her late friend’s daughter, Ivy, and her daughter, Larkin. CeeCee is grateful that Larkin has returned home after nine self-exiled years to help locate her missing mother, Ivy. Larkin finds out that in 1951 three best friends, Ceecee, Margaret and Bitty have just graduated from high school with all their dreams ahead of them.  CeeCee has agreed to open up about her experiences and what happened during those turbulent years.

It must be bittersweet for you to have your granddaughter returning home, while your daughter, her mom, is trying to survive a horrific accident. It must have brought back memories from 1951 when your life changed forever. Thank you for consenting to this interview because you can be an inspiration as someone who had hard knocks but survived.

 

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NPT: Do you see yourself as a product of the 1950s?

CeeCee:Definitely.  Especially Southern small-town 1950s.  Being the only daughter of a pastor, I was definitely sheltered from the realities of the world outside of Georgetown, South Carolina.

 

NPT: Do you regret going on the road trip after graduating high school?

CeeCee: No.  I wish I could go back and change a few things, but if I hadn’t gone, I never would have met the love of my life, Boyd.

 

NPT: Do you think writing on ribbons and sticking them in a tree is rather nerdy?

CeeCee: I’m not sure what you mean about the word ‘nerdy’?

 

NPT:  A geek?

CeeCee:If you mean fanciful or even a little far-fetched, then yes.  It’s like blowing on a dandelion and making wishes on the seeds—we know it’s not real, but we can’t help but believing there’s a small part of truth in the legend.

 

NPT: Were you, Bitty, and Margaret considered The Three Musketeers?

CeeCee:We were never called that, but I felt that way many times throughout our childhoods together.  We were rarely apart, and believed we really were “all for one, and one for all.”

 

NPT: How would you define friendship?

CeeCee:A good friendship can be defined as loving someone unconditionally—even when things in your own life are sliding into the ocean and all has been stripped away, you can still be loving, giving and kind to your friends.

 

NPT: How did it feel to be a surrogate mother to Margaret’s daughter Ivy and a surrogate grandmother to her daughter Larkin?

CeeCee:I don’t feel as if you need to be related by blood to feel a kinship with someone.  I was raised with two younger brothers, but always felt as if Margaret and Bitty were my blood sisters.  My mother was a wonderful example of how to mother, and I suppose that’s why when I saw two children who needed mothering, it was easy for me to step in.

 

 

NPT: Do you agree with your granddaughter’s friend, Bennett’s attitude about Carrowmore and developers?

CeeCee:Absolutely.  Few people seem to realize anymore that our history lives on in old buildings, and that once they are gone, along with the stories and memories that are contained within their walls, they are gone forever.

 

NPT: Do you wish Bennett and Larkin hooked up?

CeeCee:When, while back in high school?

 

NPT:  Yes?

CeeCee: No. They were friends first.  It’s only when they became adults and Larkin could see Bennett with adult eyes did it make sense for their relationship to move into something deeper.  And neither Larkin nor Bennett are the ‘hooking up’ kind of people—their relationships are meaningful.

 

NPT: Do you think it is good or bad to keep a secret?

CeeCee: It depends on the motive.  If it’s to protect a loved one, then it can be excused and/or forgiven.  If it’s used for subterfuge, or to keep hiding something that might help another person, then no.

 

NPT: Does Bitty still play an important role in your life?

CeeCee:I think it’s natural for people who’ve known each other for so long to get on each other’s nerves sometimes, just as it’s natural for your love to grow to something deeper.  There is something special about someone who’s known you your whole life, knows all your secrets and flaws, yet loves you anyway.

 

NPT: After the accident and Ivy unconscious, was it hard to see her physically there, but unable to communicate with her?

CeeCee:Of course—she’s always been like a daughter to me.  The one thing that got me through those early days was believing she would wake up and be able to answer all the questions we had for her.

 

NPT: Do you think dreams really do come true?

CeeCee:Only when hard work and determination are added to the dreaming!

 

NPT: Who taught Larkin how to shag dance?

CeeCee:I’m thinking probably her mother, or Bennett.  They used to have impromptu dance/ barbecue parties when they lived near each other.

 

NPT: What do you do for fun?

CeeCee:I love to work in my garden and of course I love to bake.  I always make sure I have something in the freezer waiting to be defrosted in case of unexpected company.

 

NPT: What are your interests besides baking and gardening?

CeeCee:I love keeping in touch with my friends and being an active member of my church and community.

 

NPT: Are you content with your life?

CeeCee:Absolutely.  I’m surrounded by family and loved ones.  I’ve had losses, but I’ve also had a great deal of love and blessings in my long life.

 

NPT: If you could put another ribbon in the tree what would it say?

CeeCee:I wish Larkin would stay in Georgetown forever!

 

NPT: Is there anything you want to add, if so please do?

CeeCee:Be kind to one another.  And honest. Those two things alone will guide you through life.

 

NPT:Thank you for your time and insight!

Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty previous books, including The Night the Lights Went OutFlight PatternsThe Sound of GlassA Long Time Gone, and The Time Between, and a coauthor, with Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig, of The Forgotten Room.

Karen White credit Marchet Butler
Karen White credit Marchet Butler

Meet Pete McLean of Glory, Alabama, from Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse

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Novel PASTimes: We’re talking today with Pete McLean, who lives in a little farming community not too far from Birmingham, Alabama, which we all saw on the news a few years back when Dr. King and civil rights marchers protested there. Welcome, Pete.

 

Pete: Thank you. I ’preciate you havin’ me.

 

Novel PASTimes: Tell us, Pete—how old are you?

 

Pete: I’m seventeen.

 

Novel PASTimes: But you were eleven when you met the field hand Isaac Reynolds?

 

Pete: No, ma’am, I was eleven when my Daddy passed. I’d always known Isaac.

 

Novel PASTimes: Before we talk about your friendship with him, tell us about his relationship with your father.

 

Pete: I’m not sure I can explain it. They just had something special between ’em, you  know? Like they understood one another. Respected each other. They liked to sing together when they worked—ol’ gospel quartet songs and spirituals—on accounta Daddy was a tenor, and he could harmonize real good with Isaac’s baritone.

 

Novel PASTimes: But your father was Isaac’s boss, correct?

 

Pete: Yes, ma’am, but they didn’t act like it. Daddy didn’t feel right bein’ nobody’s boss ’cause he didn’t come from money. But Mama did. And then when they got married, Daddy started workin’ her family farm with Daddy Ballard—that’s my Granddaddy. But I don’t know—sometimes I think Daddy was prob’ly more at home with Isaac than he was with Daddy Ballard. I saw him slip Isaac some extra money one time, and when I asked him how come, he said it was because he knew what it was like to want things you couldn’t have. I think about that a lot—and I try to do what Daddy woulda wanted me to—helpin’ other people that ain’t got as much as I do.

 

Novel PASTimes: So tell us about your friendship with Isaac Reynolds.

 

Pete: Well, he’ll always be my best friend—except for Dovey I mean. But that’s different. Isaac was like the best big brother you could ever imagine. ’Course when I was little, I didn’t understand how hard his life was or what it was like for somebody that dreamed o’ bigger things to be trapped on a cotton farm. I just loved spendin’ time with him. After Daddy passed, well . . . I don’t know how I woulda made it without Isaac. He taught me so much and took up so much time with me. Helped me get past the fear o’ bein’ without my Daddy. And he taught me how important it was to look after Mama. If I live to be a hundred, I won’t ever have another friend like Isaac.

 

Novel PASTimes: Tell us about Dovey.

 

Pete: (Smiling) She’s the most beautiful girl in the whole world. And I don’t just mean on the outside. Dovey’s beautiful on the inside, too. And she can see things—feel the currents in the river, you know? What’s so amazin’ is that you can walk from my house to hers, but if I hadn’a gone lookin’ for Isaac in the backwoods, I never woulda met her. And when I think about life without Dovey—well—I don’t wanna think about life without Dovey.

 

Novel PASTimes: So her father and your mother are both widowed?

 

Pete: Yes, ma’am.

 

Novel PASTimes: Any chance the two of them . . .?

 

Pete: Um, I reckon you’d need to ask them about that if you don’t mind.

 

Novel PASTimes: Do you feel like you learned anything from your search for Isaac?

 

Pete: In a way, I learned everything while I was lookin’ for him. I found Dovey. So I learned how to love somebody like I never loved anybody else. I saw how hard her fam’ly has to work for not much money and how that wears on people like her Daddy, who’s got a lotta pride and just wants to make a good life for her. And Dovey taught me that people like me and her and Isaac—we come from different worlds, and you gotta know something about somebody’s world if you wanna understand ’em.

 

Novel PASTimes: Pete thank you so much for your time.

 

Pete: Thank you for havin’ me. We got an all-day singin’ comin’ up at the church if y’all wanna come. There’s gonna be a ton o’ food, so come on by if you get the chance. Everybody’s welcome.

Novel PASTimes: Thank you for the invitation! That sounds delightful!

Luesse_Valerie -Valerie Fraser Luesse is an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently a senior travel editor. Her work has been anthologized in the audio collection Southern Voices and in A Glimpse of Heaven, an essay collection featuring works by C. S. Lewis, Randy Alcorn, John Wesley, and others. As a freelance writer and editor, she was the lead writer for Southern Living 50 Years: A Celebration of People, Places, and Culture. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s Acadian Prairie, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society.

Luesse earned her bachelor’s degree in English at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, and her master’s degree in English at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She grew up in Harpersville, Alabama, a rural community in Shelby County, and now lives in Birmingham.
Find Valerie here: https://www.facebook.com/valeriefraserluessebooks/, or www.MissingIsaac.com