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Visiting with Wendy Voorsanger

by Claire Guyton

What’s your best “And that’s how I got the idea for that book” anecdote?

A newspaper advertisement for the press of Mrs. L. G. Richmond in San Francisco. From www.californiahistoricalsociety.org

Some years back I attended an exhibit at the California Historical Museum in San Francisco about women in printing and publishing. I was surprised to learn about the many California women running presses during the gold rush years, first as typesetters, then as prestigious publishers and writers. That exhibit sent me on a trail of research. I was determined to find out everything about women pioneers that was absent from my California public school education. I visited museums in the gold country and read dozens of books about California history.

This is one of the books I used in my research. The cover shows a businesswoman in the diggings offering baked goods.*

Lo and behold, I discovered that not all women who settled California were housewives or hookers. Indeed, the tropes about women in the West, ingrained into our American consciousness through John Ford films and dime-store pulp westerns, were not just sexist, but wholly inaccurate, for California anyway. Because Northern California grew so quickly during the gold rush, there were many opportunities for women to stake out a living without the help of men. My current novel-in-progress, Capturing the Eddy, was born out of that research, and shatters some of those old stereotypes about women in the west.

Tell us a little bit about your usual writing process.

I’m a planner by nature, so I circle around my stories, thinking, stewing, musing while in the shower, on a run, gardening. Just the other day I felt compelled to explain to my husband that I was actually writing, not napping, when he discovered me flat out on the couch, eyes closed, mouth open, midday. I typically begin with tons of research then plan out the plot and characters with outlines and note cards. Once I fully understand the purpose of a particular section I’m working on, I sit down and begin, but I’m careful to leave myself open to surprises. I’m always mesmerized at the unplanned that emerges, like there’s some other person inside of me, magically writing what I never intended. Then I go back and rework the note cards again.

All writers have favorite words we tend to over-use. What are yours?

Image from rafting.com

Currently, I’m in a phase of over-using water-related verbs like dribble, trickle, gushing, flow, bubble. The words seem clever in context at the first go around, but feel a bit much on the second read.

If you wrote a book on the craft of writing, what title would you use?

It would have to be Writing the Idiosyncratic or Finding the Left Behind in Historical Fiction. The title reflects my current state of mind and what I’m hoping to achieve in Capturing the Eddy.


*They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush by Jo Ann Levy, University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.

Read Wendy’s Craft Essay

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