An excerpt from Paul Dimond’s in-depth interview with Jorie from Jorie Loves a Story: Conversations with the Bookish, June 8, 2017.
Q: What originally inspired you to become a novelist and did you know at that point in time you wanted to focus on the historic past rather than the contemporary world? What motivates you to write historical dramas in other words?
A: I majored in history at Amherst College and in my junior year began to research original sources in the musty archives of the old library for term papers and theses. When I returned to Michigan for law school, I began my study of the history and meaning of the Civil War Amendments, including the original debates of the framers in Congress and the recorded speeches, papers and pamphlets for and against ratification out in the country. For the better part of the next two decades, I continued this search — in the 1970s as a civil rights lawyer and director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law, including in four cases that challenged a divided Supreme Court; and in the 1980s as a Con Law Professor, and author of numerous articles and three books, including Beyond Busing (1985, reprinted in paperback with a new “Retrospect” and “Prospect,” winner of the 1986 Ralph Bunche Award of the American Political Science Association). After three more careers (as a partner in a real estate investment firm, Special Assistant to President Clinton for Economic Policy 1993–1997, and lawyer in private practice), I turned to writing fiction to see if I could imagine better endings. This historical novel proved a natural, as I found I still loved researching all the primary and secondary sources surrounding particular places (e.g., Sleeping Bear Dunes and Bay, Glen Arbor, Glen Haven, Empire and Omena up north and the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor, downstate) and people (D. H. Day, Beals, Burton, Osborn, Ederle, LeMaitre, Kraus, Frost, Roethke, Auden, Steger, Hayden and yes Emily Dickinson to name a few). And these real places and people had to be set in the historic context of the events and the time.
I also wanted to engage readers in Belle as much as great historical novelists had engaged me: for example, Wallace Stegner (The Angle of Repose), Patrick O’Brian (the 20-volume Aubrey-Maturin Novels), and Ivan Doig (The Montana Trilogy, Prairie Nocturne, and The Whistling Season). No small challenge starting so late in life, but I took my time, nearly a decade, to do my best to meet it.