Dot Ryan’s frank talk with Barbora Knobova


Interview with Dot Ryan, Author of Corrigan’s Pool

September 30, 2009 — Barbora Knobova

I’m very honored that Dot Ryan, author of Corrigan’s Pool, agreed to this interview. Dot is a great author and a wonderful lady. Her book, Corrigan’s Pool, is truly exceptional – just like the story of her life.

1. What inspired you to write Corrigans’ Pool and what made you choose the subject?

I learned at a very early age that my Irish paternal great-great grandparents came to Texas from Pennsylvania in 1819. Stories passed down from generation to generation about the hazards they and others faced piqued my interest in history even before I was old enough to read and write.  In time, my interests gravitated to novels, books with strong characters struggling to survive, in one way or another, through an era of American’s diverse history, especially the Civil War years and its aftermath. I grew up knowing that someday I would write such a novel.   Corrigans’ Pool popped into my head and into my dreams years before I actually wrote it.

2. How long did it take for you to write Corrigans’ Pool?

This is a truth that is very hard to tell, but, like my Irish grandmother always said, “Never fib about anything—the truth is easier to remember per chance you need to repeat yourself.”  I suppose one could say I wrote Corrigans’ Pool the hard way, discovering, as I went along that the desire to write a book is all well and good … but first, one must learn to write! I wrote bits and pieces of the novel in the 60s’ and 70s’, then put it away for months and years at a time while I struggled with the knowledge that I needed more knowledge. The two years of college business courses that I had completed earlier were not enough. Thereafter, I began a campaign of self-study, hours in libraries doing research, reading and re-reading dozens of books on writing, enrolling in every writer’s course available within reasonable driving distance from my rural home. And, of course, reading as many novels as I could. By the time I felt that I could truly call myself a writer, I had a son and daughter in high school and a third daughter just starting junior high.  It was not beneath me to study their English books late at night when they were asleep; I did so with a dedication that had been lacking when I was a student.  I finished my novel in 1982 … and lost every page of it in a fire a few months later, along with most of my research notes.  Devastated is not a strong enough word for what I felt.  After struggling against bouts of crippling self-pity (that surfaced periodically during the next few years) I started Corrigans’ Pool all over again. Six years later, with time off to run a business, my novel was a hefty tome of 1012 pages.  More work was ahead in that it had to be shortened by more than half. When a male relative discovered that a new Corrigans’ Pool had risen from the ashes of the old, he declared me a classic example of stubborn feminine fortitude. That’s a good enough description, as far as I’m concerned.

3. Did you encounter any difficulties when writing?

In addition to the problems mentioned above, the most difficult thing was finding the time to write while still maintaining a healthy life style.  Loss of sleep and failure to exercise takes its toll on many writers.  Most of us have outside jobs, after which we rush home to care for families.  I did that for years, and had to learn to pace myself.  The difficulty I now face is learning to market my published book effectively while finding time to write more books.  My retirement from the workplace makes the process easier.

4. What was the most difficult part to write and the easiest? The most difficult part was making certain of my historical facts and then working them into my story’s timeline.  Doing research and double-checking that research took many long hours. The easiest part was creating the characters, picking their brains, deciding their quirks and attitudes, and then discovering how they react to each other. Before I wrote the first word of Corrigans’ Pool, I had created most of the characters. I had even introduced myself to a few of the characters that would appear in the sequel to Corrigans’ Pool—which was only an incomplete though in my head at the time.

5. Would you change anything if you could?

No.  Like Corrigans’ Pool’s Gentry Garland said to the tenacious young Honor Corrigan, “Never ask why unless a why can change a what.”   In other words, if you can’t change it, don’t fret it.  I used to wish I could have pulled that first manuscript from the flames before it burned, but I’ve since learned that when your dreams go up in smoke … take a short nap and then dream again.

6. Tell us about your favorite character.

Besides the central character Ella Corrigan and her younger sister, Honor … I like their domineering grandmother, Beatrice Corrigan. She is a contradiction of her time, extremely old fashioned in many of her beliefs but scandalously modern in her views of divorce. A sample of this is when she said to Ella, “There is a part of me that says scandal is to be avoided no matter what—the part of me that taught you all those unbendable rules that apply only to females.” She grasped Ella’s chin and studied her face. “And there is a better part of me that argues a woman should not have to hinge her well-being, her happiness, her value, on the decree of a callous husband or a pitiless society.”  I don’t think Beatrice would have burned her bra in the 60s’ but she would have marched alongside the dissenters even as she tried to cover their bosoms with her cape. Another favorite character is Timon Pledger, a guilt-ridden young preacher—a character that readers have told me they find fascinating.  He fascinated me, too, as I wrote about him. I also like the twin slave girls, Moonbeam and Sunbeam, along with Ella’s protector, Meshach. (I’ll stop here before I tell you that I love all my characters, which I do … except maybe the horrible Victor Faircloth.)

7. According to your opinion, who is your book for?

When I first began writing Corrigans’ Pool, I thought I was writing for women of all ages, but as the story developed, I wondered if perhaps men would also like it.  This, because it is far from a “traditional romance” story of the type that most men shy away from.  The war, in conjunction with the male characters and what happens to them, along with the slaves whose story drives the mystery behind an important sub plot in the book are reasons for men to read Corrigans’ Pool.  My thoughts were reaffirmed by several reviews on barnesandnoble.com that were written by men who had high praise for Corrigans’ Pool.  So yes, I would say that Corrigans’ Pool is meant for men and women of all ages. 

8. What would you like to accomplish with your book? Can I regard this as a fun question and say that I would like to sell several million copies, and then get a call from Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, or Clint Eastwood wanting to make a movie of it?

Realistically though, I would like Corrigans’ Pool to establish me as a serious writer. I believe this can be accomplished only when, and if, I can get Corrigans’ Pool into the hands of the reading public.  I am perfectly willing to put my fate in their capable hands.

9.   What are you working on at the moment? What are your future plans?

Presently, I am working on the sequel to Corrigans’ Pool, which takes place in Texas immediately after the Civil War during the state’s dangerous Reconstruction era.  Many readers of Corrigans’ Pool have told me which characters they definitely want to see in the sequel, and I am paying close attention to everything my treasured readers say.  I will post Part One of the sequel (which I have tentatively named Leaving Corrigans’ Pool) on my website (dotryanbook.com) later this fall.  I hope to publish the entire book by the end of next year, hopefully before that.  Self-promoting Corrigans’ Pool may slow the finish of the sequel, but I will do my very best.

My future plans are to finish two additional novels that I started some time back.

Both take place in World War II America, in the South.  I am also working on a comic memoir about my and my husband’s seven-year adventure as entrepreneurs in the Texas Dance Hall business, during the dying throes of the Urban Cowboy days. I’ve got a lot to do, but writing is a joy that keeps me young at heart and mind.  I am a lucky woman, with the encouragement of a great husband and family who lovingly share me with my writing habits.

Thank you very much for the interview, Dot!

Dot’s Website

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