Marlene Urso, who writes under the name Paisley Kirkpatrick, possesses a ready smile and great sense of humor. Despite having endured some heart-wrenching losses, she faces life with zest.
Nothing keeps Marlene down for long, not even the broken arm she suffered last month, which left her with an eight-inch stainless steel rod and about six screws in her arm that will set off the alarm when she goes through airport security. Instead of moping, she’s been working hard on her physical therapy and putting a positive spin on things, signing her emails “Bionic Marlene.”
Marlene worked part-time in an art gallery for five years. She loved meeting the customers and soaking in the art. Creativity is something she appreciates and something she exudes. Not only does she write, but she also makes lovely quilts, which you’ll learn more about in her interview.
Marlene also did the books for her husband’s handyman business. She left her position at the gallery two years ago when Ken retired. In addition to writing and quilting, she’s been president of Kevin Sharp’s Friends Club for twelve and a half years, having just sent out their fiftieth newsletter in July.
I invite you to learn more about this generous woman with a heart of gold. And be sure to leave Marlene a comment, because all those who do will be entered in a drawing for one of the very special Paisley Pillows she makes. She’ll chose the winner of her crafty creations on 10/4.
•Your first manuscript is a historical set in California during the Gold Rush. When did you begin work on it, and why did you choose that setting and time period?
Hers to Forgive is my first novel. Set on a wagon train traveling west in 1849, I was able to use some of what my great, great grandfather experienced while traveling to the gold fields. His journal is considered five-star and is kept under glass in the Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley. I actually started the story years ago, but until I joined RWA and learned the craft of writing, it didn’t go far. I write historical because I love history. The journal drew me to the time period and, now that we live in gold country, research is easy.
•How wonderful to have such an incredible family heirloom and to be able to share portions of your ancestor’s stories in your own. Living so close to Coloma, where James Marshall found that first gold nugget, must provide you with research material aplenty. How much local history do you work into your stories?
We live up the road a short ways from the Gold Rush town of Placerville (called Old Hangtown because of the hanging judge). I used to work across the street from the Cary House Hotel, which was built in 1857. The manager let me explore the hotel and take photos. The building I worked in stood in 1849 and has a resident ghost. So many stories and my rather active imagination ran rampant. The hero in my third story owns a hotel similar to the Cary House. He uses the abandoned mining tunnels running under town as well.
•I see that you’re one of the authors of the Slip Into Something Victorian blog. How did you come to be part of that group, and what are your posts about?
Slip into Something Victorian was started 2/28/06 when Dee Eagan decided to put together people interested in the time period and who enjoyed doing research. The blogs are our way of sharing what we know with readers. My favorite topics center around the Gold Rush era and ghost legends in El Dorado County, California.
•Another place I’ve seen you blessing others via blogging is over at The Writers Playground. When did Writers at Play form, and how did you ladies get together? Besides finding puzzles of hunky fellows to play with—I drooled over Gerry Butler when I dropped by recently—what else do you offer your visitors?
Early in 2004, seventeen of us banded together in the spirit of fun and encouragement. Our motto: No rules, hunks encouraged and naughtiness guaranteed. It’s an amazing group of women spread across the country, plus one is now back in her native England. The support is phenomenal. In a business such as ours, we need the encouragement and extra hugs. Rejections are tough, illness needs healing hugs, and success is big and should be celebrated with friends, especially the friends who held your hand through the rough patches.
We take turns writing blogs, discussing topics that interest us, whether it be personal or about writing, including hobbies, cover models, our favorite hunks, conferences, etc. We encourage our guests who are brave enough to leave comments to join in on our topics. On occasion we give out prizes–books, book bags, gift cards and my Paisley pillows. Since I don’t have a book to give yet, I make pillows the size of the ones airlines used to hand out to passengers with a cover that reflects romance.
•You’re also an active board member of your online chapter, From the Heart Romance Writers, as well as our local chapter, the Sacramento Valley Rose. What do you see as the greatest benefits of actively participating in Romance Writers of America® chapters?
My job with FTH as Membership Chair has given me the opportunity to greet each new member and introduce her to the group when I put her online. At conferences it amazes me how many remember my name. I’ve been Publicity Coordinator and Vice President of Programs for SVR for several years and enjoy greeting the members and guests as they check in. It’s my way of giving back to the business I adore.
•You greeted me at the door with a warm smile when I attended my first SVR meeting. It’s easy to see how important people are to you. You talked that day about a very special group you call, “the daughters of my heart.” Would you please tell us about these women and what drew you together?
The children of my heart are my blessings. I love to mother, so it comes naturally when I fall in love with a young person and take her into my heart. I’ve lost count how many there are, but each of them is special to me in her own way, each adding her own talents and personality to enrich my life. I started this habit in 1959, and over the years I guess–to quote one of my kids–I’ve become the little old woman who lives in a shoe who had so many children she didn’t know what to do.
•The day we met you sported a t-shirt with the words “Rejection Builds Character” on it. I understand you have quite a collection of writing-related shirts. What are some of your favorites?
My red shirt says, “Smart Women Read Romance, I Write It.” The blue shirt says “WARNING: What you say may end up in my next novel.” I wore the blue shirt while traveling and was panicked when an airport employee asked me to meet him in the bar after work because he had a lot of stories to tell me.
•I understand you’re known for your quilts, having given away many, including those you’ve donated to Brenda Novak’s annual online auction for diabetes research. What led you to take up quilting? And what’s this I hear about Gerry B. and a quilt?
We lost our older daughter Kellie to cancer six years ago. To help with grieving, I started making brightly colored baby quilts to give as gifts. Then I started making what I call my hero hunk quilts. The most famous (and my favorite) is the one I made for daughter-of-my-heart Carla Capshaw. I loved the scream when she saw the twenty-four photos of Gerry Butler on the quilt. Since then I’ve made many more hero hunk quilts, memory quilts with photos of special events, and twenty-four book covers depicting an author’s career. In fact, each of my Play Pals from Writers At Play knows she will receive a quilt as soon as she can give me twenty-four book covers.
•Your email signature includes this catchy phrase, “When at first you do succeed, try to hide the astonishment.” I saw that you recently placed in a contest, taking second in the Hearts Through History Romance Through the Ages contest’s Colonial/Western/Civil War category. Congratulations! Of all your writing successes to date, which one has meant the most to you?
This second place win means the most to me because the story is my favorite. I know my skills are improving, and I’ve received so many great comments from judges and people who have read parts of it. I can’t wait to see it done.
•You’ve been writing and pursuing publication for a number of years and are a wonderful example of persistence and perseverance. I’m sure that, like most of us, you’ve battled discouragement and doubts. How do you deal with the hills and valleys of a writer’s life?
I love writing. The greatest lesson I’ve learned to date is never to give anyone the power to discourage me. I used to go into a tailspin when I received disparaging comments from contest judges, but my Play Pals encouraged me to let go of the bad comments and focus on the good. My critique partner allows three seconds of self-pity. I write for me (and to be honest, praise from my critique partner, whose opinion means the world to me). The voices in my head want to be heard (and read), so we play and a story is born.
•In closing, what encouragement would you offer others on the road to publication?
It’s the journey that matters to me. Put your thoughts on the page, start somewhere, and let your ideas grow. Be enthusiastic, love what you do, and have fun. Never listen to the doubters or let contest judges discourage you.
Leave a Comment for Marlene
All those who leave a comment for Marlene between now and Saturday, October 4 will be entered in a drawing for this beautiful Paisley Pillow she made.
Congratulations to Sue Dickinson, winner of the Paisley Pillow!
If you don’t see a comment form below, please use the link by the post title.
If you don’t wish to participate, note that in your comment, and your request will be honored.