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A Chat with Florence Byham Weinberg, Author of ‘Anselm, a Metamorphosis’

Born in the high desert country, in Alamogordo, New Mexico, Florence loved exploring the wilderness on foot and horseback. Those grandiose landscapes formed her sensibility. Hidden pockets of unexpected greenery tucked away near springs in folds of barren mountainsides spoke to her of gentleness and beauty in an otherwise harsh world. She published her first poem in a children’s magazine shortly after she learned to read at age four; wrote her first ‘novel’ at age six, entitled Ywain, King of All Cats. She illustrated the ‘book’ herself.

She traveled extensively with her military family during World War II. With her husband the brilliant scholar and teacher, Kurt Weinberg, she worked and traveled in Canada, Germany, France, and Spain. After earning her PhD, she taught for twenty-two years at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, and for ten at Trinity University in San Antonio. She published four scholarly books, many articles and book reviews, doing research in the U.S. and abroad. When, after retiring in 1999, she was freed from academia to devote herself to writing fiction, she produced ten novels, ranging from fantasy to historical romance and mystery. An avid researcher, she grounds most of her publications in historical fact. She spends hours combing through web sites, books and periodicals, and historical archives to enhance her writings with authenticity.

Eight of her ten books are now in printan historical romance about the French Renaissance, published in France in French translation by Editions Lyonnaises d’Art et d’Histoire, and two straight historical novels, Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross and Seven Cities of Mud. In addition, four historical mysteries starring the 18th-century Jesuit missionary, Father Ignaz (Ygnacio) Pfefferkorn. Two of these are set in the Sonora Desert, the third in an ancient monastery in Spain,and the fourthUnrest in Eden, follows Pfefferkorn’s fate after his release from Spanish prison. Five of the historical novels have received a total of ten awards. Unrest in Eden is now published in German translation by Dr. Renate Scharffenberg under title Unruhe im Paradies.

The most recent book, Anselm, a Metamorphosis: metaphysical suspenseweaves an aura of black magic and nightmare that should fascinate all levels and ages of readers.

Florence also serves as Lector at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas, as well as appearing as a guest lecturer to various groups throughout the country and abroad.

Her favorite animals are horses-an intense love affair over many years-and cats, her constant companions. She enjoys music, traveling, hiking, biking, gardening, and swimming.



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Purchase the book on AMAZON

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Anselm, a Metamorphosis. What was your inspiration for it?

A: It began as a dream. The more I thought about it, the more fascinated I became with its potential for—in the beginning—a short story. It grew from that into a full-length novel.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.

A: Eric Behrens is a cocky, oversexed young Assistant Professor at an Upstate New York university, Woodward State. He is slight in build, with a red-blond complexion, blue eyes. Fired for having seduced an undergraduate, he curses the world and wishes he were somebody, anybody, else. He wakes up in the body of a fiftyish, overweight, Benedictine monk with a potentially fatal heart ailment. The monk is erudite, arrogant, of Italian descent, powerfully built though now out of condition, black-haired, brown-eyed. He has planned the body-swap, using the ritus permutationis—a 12th-century ritual that enables one to usurp a new body under certain circumstances, including committing oneself to the Powers of Evil.

Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way? 

A: The book has a very long history. As I said, it began as a dream, in 1965. I began writing the dream as a short story, but soon found that I was almost obsessed by the story. Since I was supposed to write my doctoral dissertation, I hid the 50 pages or so at the bottom of the dresser drawer, under the drawer lining. I actually did forget about it, since my dissertation topic also fascinated me. In 1989, when we moved from Rochester, NY to San Antonio, TX, I found the 50 pages and decided to complete the story. It became a novella. I tried to publish it, but found that one novella alone is all but impossible to get accepted.Anselm landed in a drawer once again. Last January, I pulled the manuscript out and began editing, revising, and expanding. I completed it in three months. The setting remains “historical” with the technology of the 1960’s, since modern technology, cell phones, for example, would make the plot impossible.

Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel?

A: I try to have something significant, and if possible suspenseful, on every page—or a build-up to an important action or decision. Also, the reader must care about the protagonist and what is happening to him or her.

Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it? 

A: I experience excitement before I begin to write—and anticipation. Anxiety comes in when I’m searching for a plot for the next novel and not finding it! The only way to lessen the anxiety is to find the new plot and embark on writing it.

Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?

A: I start each day (after breakfast and often before, so I end up having brunch) by editing what I wrote the previous day. This inevitably leads to further writing. I break at noon, eat a bite, and do whatever chores and errands I find necessary. That takes me to dinner. Afterward, I begin writing again, and my best inspirations come in the evening. If I’m on a roll, I might stay up until 2:00 AM, but I always rise at 8:00 AM regardless.

I am a childless widow, retired, and therefore am working only on writing and on some editing projects for others and the occasional translation (I taught French and Spanish language and literature at The University of Rochester as a teaching assistant, at St. John Fisher College in Rochester as professor and chair of the department, and at Trinity University in San Antonio, also as professor and chair. I am proficient in French and Spanish, obviously, and also in German). As a writer, I am extremely lucky, since my time is my own to budget as I wish.

Q: How do you define success? 

A: Success is being read and appreciated—preferably by a wide public. Also getting feedback—preferably not hostile!

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?

A: I’d advise them to stick to their guns. Get marriage counselling if necessary; after all, writing is a calling that is just as valid as the husband’s/wife’s/partner’s job. Carve out a regular schedule that won’t conflict with other family duties and make that your “sacred” time. Don’t allow that time to be violated except in cases of extreme emergency.

Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree? 

A: To appease the Dark Phantom, it might be more entertaining to offer a hair-raising story about my devastating struggle to write. However, when I find a subject that I really enjoy, as in this case of Anselm, writing is an exultation, a paean of praise to the Almighty Muse of Creativity, an exquisite Joy. When I’m writing about a subject that doesn’t totally enthrall me, however, I can empathize with Orwell. Given the grim subjects he wrote about, and his approach to them, I quite understand his suffering.

Q: Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

A: Despite the suffering and confusion of my main character, this was a happy book to write. It incorporated much of my university study: philosophy and theology, and yoked them to a question mankind has still not answered. Is there a soul separate from the body? Science says it is an illusion, but religion, the spiritual outlet of all mankind from the beginning of recorded history, bravely maintains—in the face of all orthodox scientific doctrine—that there is. This question formed the genesis of this book.

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