My first book, “Don’t Be Give UP.” was about my family so I don’t dare pick a favorite.
Sarah is my favorite fictional character in my romance novel, Sarah Darlin’. I admire her spirit, independence and loyalty. She was raised by an Irish couple, Patrick and Katie, who suffered terribly during the potato famine in Ireland because of their English landlord. They insist that Sarah has nothing to do with the English aristocrat, Richard Moresby. Because of her loyalty to the O’Malleys, at first she denies her love for Richard.
Tell us about your current/upcoming release. What inspired this story?
I love to read romance novels and I’ve always been fascinated by San Francisco during the Gold Rush.
When in the day/night do you write? How long per day?
When in the day/night do you write? How long per day?
I have no set time to write. Some days I may work nine hours; other days I don’t write at all, but I think about what I’m going to write every day.
What is the hardest part of writing your books?
Having enough time and being satisfied with what I write. Finding a publisher was also difficult until I won first prize for Sarah Darlin’ in a romance novel writing contest conducted by Oak Tree Press. The staff is wonderful and my next book will be published by them soon.
What does your family think of your writing career?
When I wrote my first book about my family, my sisters told me to write the way I remembered our lives, and they would swear that’s exactly what happened. My husband, son, daughter-in-law and her mom read my work and give excellent comments. My relatives buy every book I write.
What do you think makes a good story?
Characters that capture the reader’s interest, a suspenseful plot, and vivid description.
How do you develop your plots and your characters? Do you use any set formula?
I have no set formula. I start with the two major characters, give them a history and create conflicts for them to overcome on their way to a happy ending.
Merging fact with fiction has created some of my characters. Tom McGuire, who gives Sarah and the O’Malleys’ employment in his Jenny Lind Theater, was a real person, so was Mayor Geary.
I invented Sean, to show how sailors were often robbed by their landladies. He appears on the street covered by only a blanket and asks the O’Malleys for help. Since he is a fellow Irishman, the O’Malleys bring him home and give him clothes. I had no intention of keeping him in the story, but he wouldn’t go away. He falls in love with Sarah and causes all sorts of trouble.
Sometimes, I use a factual incident and place my fictional character in it. France wanted to get rid of its excess prostitutes so they loaded them on a boat and shipped them to San Francisco. Lily is a fictional character, but I used this incident to show how she came to California.
What book are you reading now? Any favorite authors/books you want to do a shout out for?
I love everything Marilyn Meredith writes, especially her Rocky Bluff series. Raging Water is my favorite. I read about 35 to 50 books a year, literary, romance, biography, history
What do you do to unwind and relax?
Read, quilt, exercise, make Barbie doll clothes, listen to music, and be with my husband
Are you a morning person or night person?
Coffee, tea or other drink to get you moving in the morning?
I drink water most of the time.
What is coming up from you in 2013? Anything you want to tease us with?
Fall in Love with an Orange Tree or a Book explores the difficulties young illegal immigrants face and the shadow world they live in.
Elena Hernandez’s parents are suddenly taken away by uniformed men, and she believes they were deported to Mexico. Only seventeen, she is left to care for her younger brother, Miguel and sister, Lupe. Elena struggles to support her family while pursuing an education. When a mysterious caller demands money for her parents’ return, Elena must choose between helping her parents or going to the police and risking deportation.
What or who has helped you the most as a writer?
The Porterville Writers Workshop meets in my home every week. My fellow writers have helped me improve my writing, cheered my successes and become life-long friends.
About Sarah Darlin'
Oak Tree Press
English aristocrat, Richard Moresby, seeks his fortune in the California gold fields so he can reclaim his ancestral estate. But when he meets spirited Sarah O’Malley at the Jenny Lind Theater, his thoughts of England fade.
Accustomed to rebuffing male attentions in 1850s San Francisco, Sarah is surprised to find Richard intrigues and excites her, but she knows Moresby’s rakish reputation and fears damaging hers, so she rebuffs him.
Moresby persists, and continues to pursue her, but before they can declare their love, they must deal with prejudice, a murder trial, a lynching party, a fire at the Jenny Lind and a terrible secret from Sarah’s past.
Although it was still chilly, the sun had burned away the early morning fog in San Francisco Bay. Hundreds of clipper ships, abandoned by their crews for the gold fields rotted in the mud, their masts and riggings tangled like spiders’ webs. Seagulls landed on the wharf to peck at bits of food dropped by vendors and careless eaters.
Moist, salty air ticked Sarah O’Malley’s nose. She chuckled to herself, delighted to be nearly invisible in the bustling crowd.
Her disguise was working. In Patrick’s clothes she looked like a boy. It was wonderful to go wherever she wanted and not be stared at. She had enough of that when she sang at the Jenny Lind Theater.
San Francisco attracted men, but the few women who lived there were either married or prostitutes. Sarah had already received four marriage proposals from strangers, and one ardent admirer had thrown pebbles at her window every night until Patrick ran him off with a shotgun.
She was too small to pass for a grown man, but young boys from clipper ships were about her size and many of them wore castoff clothes.
Pleased with her freedom, Sarah watched as new ships carefully navigated through the graveyard of vessels to reach the Clay Street Wharf and deposit their passengers.
Suddenly, she felt her arm twisted behind her back. A man whispered, “Just do as I say an’ there’ll be no trouble.”
Sarah tired to escape, but the man held her fast.
“Come along!” the voice behind her threatened. “Don’t say nothin’ or I’ll shove this knife in your gut.”
Once more she tried to pull away, but pain shot though her arm. Jostled by the crowd, her abductor propelled her forward.
Dear God, couldn’t somebody see how frightened she was and help her?
“Sausages! Hot coffee! Get them here!” A man thrust a tray of bread, meat and a tin of scalding coffee in front of Sarah, but her abductor pushed the vendor away.
“Alta California! Alta California!” chanted a newsboy as he waved a copy of the paper.
Sarah mouthed the words, “Help me,” but the boy didn’t respond.
A runner for a sailors’ boarding house approached. “Come with me mates. I’ve a good house and food like your mother used to make.”
“Be off with you now,” growled her abductor.
Sarah shook her head slightly toward her captor, trying to get the runner’s attention, but he ignored her and moved on.
Images flashed before her. Was he going to take her to a deserted spot and rob her? Was he going to hold her for ransom?
Trembling with fear, Sarah could barely walk. “Please don’t hurt me,” she pleaded. “Let me go.”
“Now lad,” her tormentor replied. “There’s many a boy who’s fond of the sea. You’ll soon be getting’ the hang of it. You’re a scrawny thing, but the sea’ll make a man o’ you.”
Sarah’s mouth went dry with fear. She was being shanghaied! A new terror seized her. What would they do when they found out she was a woman?
SHIRLEY SKUFCA HICKMAN was brought up in a Colorado coal mining town and wrote about those early years in her first book.
She graduated with a B.A. from Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado and later earned two Master of Arts degrees. Her love of language led her to a career teaching English and to leadership roles on the state, regional and local levels. She received numerous awards including Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers.
She founded the Porterville Writer’s Workshop which has flourished for many years. She is also a published poet and her nonfiction has won awards. Her short story won an honorable mention in the Writer’s Digest Short Story Contest. She has also written a column for the local newspaper about educational issues.
Currently she operates a private tutoring business.