Sunday, March 24, 2019

Q&A with Patricia Harman

Patricia Harman, photo by Bob Kosturko
Patricia Harman is the author of the new novel Once a Midwife, part of her Hope River series, which also includes The Midwife of Hope River and The Reluctant Midwife. She worked as a midwife for more than 30 years, and she lives in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Q: Why did you decide to return to your character Patience Hester and the community of Hope River in your new novel?

A: When I wrote my first novel featuring Patience Hester, I didn’t know it would become a series. I just wanted to write about a midwife set in the Great Depression because it was the beginning of the Great Recession we recently lived through. 

Interestingly, when I finished the book, I found I didn’t want to leave Patience or her fictional community. They had become real to me and I wanted to know what would happen to them next. 

Q: How do you think Patience has changed over the course of the time you've been writing about her?

A: Patience was a radical in her youth. She was a suffragette and worked for the woman’s right to vote; she passed out birth control information on the streets of Pittsburgh. She was a socialist and marched with the United Mine Workers. 

In the new book, Once a Midwife, she is a mother of four, a midwife who does home births, a wife. She has settled down, but she still cares passionately about the world.

Q: The novel focuses in part on World War II-era conscientious objectors. Why did you choose that as one of the themes in the book? 

A: Daniel Hester, Patience’s husband, fought in the First World War. In previous books he spoke of “war as hell.” My husband was a conscientious objector during the war in Vietnam. 

When I began the book, I thought to myself, what if Daniel refused to co-operate with the draft? What if he was an objector during World War II? This was a different war than the war in Vietnam. The USA and the Allies were fighting against Hitler. 

How would Dan’s objections be received by the community? How would they affect his marriage if he and Patience didn’t agree? The questions fascinated me…so I wrote the book. 

Q: What kind of research did you do to write the book, and did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?

A: All my historical fiction books are extensively researched. Fortunately, you can Google anything, and I did (on almost every page). 

One thing I didn’t realize is that up until the attack on Pearl Harbor most Americans felt it was Europe’s war, something we didn’t need to get involved in. I had never heard of the America First Committee, an organization with chapters in every state that lobbied the government to STAY OUT. It all changed after the attack on our naval base in Hawaii. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m back to writing about our friends in the Hope River Valley. The new novel, A Midwife’s Song, is set in 1956, as the civil rights struggle begins in the U.S. Patience and her friend and fellow midwife, Bitsy, are actively involved. 

Patience is having trouble with her grown kids. Bitsy’s adopted son, Willie, has returned from the Korean War with a terrible wound. 

Meanwhile, someone is leaving the journals of old Mrs. Potts, a former slave, on Patience’s porch. The journals tell her story of escape to Canada. Who’s leaving the journals on the porch and why? It’s a mystery. 

As usual the book follows the story line of many characters besides Patience, but I can’t tell you more. You have to read the book!

Q: Anything else we should know? 

A: Here’s a trailer for Once A Midwife. I had fun making it and you might enjoy it.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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