Meet the Author: Sandra Dallas
Award-winning author Sandra Dallas was dubbed "a quintessential American voice" by Jane Smiley, in Vogue Magazine. Sandra’s novels with their themes of loyalty, friendship, and human dignity have been translated into a dozen foreign languages and have been optioned for films. Both Prayers for Sale and True Sisters have been on the New York Times best-seller list.
Q&A with Sandra Dallas
Q: One of our library book clubs, Steele Creek Readers Book Club, read True Sisters. They were all surprised by the unexpected appearance of "sister wives" when the Martin Company finally reached its destination. After all that the women had been through during the journey, was there any particular reason why this new dilemma was added? Did you find, during your research, that many of the women traveling to Utah faced this situation upon their arrival? What kind of research did you do for True Sister?
A: Polygamy was widespread in Utah by the time the handcarts arrived, and many of the European missionaries had multiple wives waiting for them in Utah. So it was not out of the question to think that some might have taken additional wives while on their missions. Many of the handcart men entered into polygamy after their arrival in Utah, too
I did extensive research, reading all the journals, narratives, and accounts of the handcarts that are available both in print and in the archives of the LDS Church library, along with many books on Mormonism. I also visited many of the sites in the book - Iowa City, Fort Laramie, Martin’s Cove, and of course Salt Lake City
Q: You worked as a Bureau Chief for Business Week. How did you start writing novels?
A: Two friends and I decided as a lark to write a bodice-buster. That didn't work out, but I discovered that I loved writing fiction.
Q: Many of your novels ( The Chili Queen, The Diary of Mattie Spenser, New Mercies) are set in the nineteenth century, about women migrating from East to West (often from Iowa to Colorado) and center around quilting. What fascinates you about this time period and their journeys? How did you get interested in quilting?
A: Growing up in Denver, I loved western history, and I loved the trail accounts written by women. In fact, when I got the idea or Mattie Spenser, I wondered if the novel would work because there were so many good nonfiction accounts available.
I tried quilting when my children were young—I was self-taught and considered pretty good, but that’s because nobody else quilted back then. Later, I realized how mediocre I was and gave it up. I love quilts as art, especially as women’s art. Women were not encouraged in the 19th century to become fine artists, so they put their creativity into everyday activities, such as quilting. In addition, friendship develops around a quilting frame as it does in no other fabric art. A quilting circle is a wonderful device for a novelist.
Q: Who inspired the story of The Persian Pickle Club?
A: In 1933, my parents were married and promptly lost their jobs, so they moved to my grandparents’ farm in Harveyville, Kansas. That summer, a man offered my dad and his brother a day’s work in the fields and said he’d pay a dollar. The two flipped a coin, Dad won, and he worked so hard that he finished by noon and made just fifty cents. That was the only money he earned that summer.
Q: Please tell us about your Victorian home that inspired The Bride’s House.
A: We’d loved the house for years and would say we should buy it if it ever came on the market. The owners died, and we toured the house, appalled at the awful remodeling, disrepair, and raccoons in the attic. But a preservation architect in Georgetown said he thought the house could be restored, so we started on the most foolish and most expensive venture of our lives. Remodeling was a nightmare and took three years, but now that it’s done, we love the house, which has become a showplace in Georgetown. We’ve held charity fundraisers there, and people often come by and take pictures. For us, it’s no longer an historic house; it’s home.
Q: Please tell us about the library your mom established in memory of your sister, Donna.
A: My sister, Donna Kay Dallas, died when she was 13. She had been spending the summer with our grandparents in Illinois when she contracted polio. My parents rushed back to be with her, arriving only an hour before she died. On the train coming back to Denver, Mom tried to think of a way to memorialize Donna and decided to found a library at our church, Montview Blvd. Presbyterian Church. She named it the Memorial Library, not the Donna Dallas Library, because she wanted people to donate books in memory of their own oved ones. The library, started with my sister’s books, now has hundreds of volumes, many on religion (especially liberal religious books because Mom and Dad were forward thinking.) Just a few weeks before her sudden death in 2001, Mom, 88, received an award from the church and synagogue library association for her work in pioneering off-the-books (meaning donation-funded) church libraries.
Interview Date: November 2012
Profile and questions compiled by Susanne W., Steele Creek Branch Library and Megan M., Main Library