Interview of Rosemary McKinley

By: Carol Smallwood

Rosemary McKinley

Rosemary McKinley’s interest in history is evident: she was a history and writing teacher before she retired. She has been published in several magazines and in included in anthologies. Her books include: 101 Glimpses of the North Fork and Islands; The Wampum Exchange. The first centers on the North Fork of Long Island in vintage photos. The second is a multicultural historical novella about the beginning of the first settlement in New York, Southold. She’s been doing book presentations, and talks, in costume, with artifacts in schools, libraries, historical societies.

What drew you to pursue writing after you retired?

Two reasons really.
Two summers in the 1990’s, I attended A twelve-day Writing Workshop @ Columbia U Teachers College to become a better writing teacher. There I learned how writers operate and I became fascinated with the process but never intended to become an author. I did start writing more creatively and I enjoyed the challenge, along with my students.
As a history teacher, I was always writing nonfiction so this class helped me use the writing process more creatively.
Then, in 2003, my mother died and that life changing event caused me to question what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Then and only then, did I think about pursuing a career as a published author.

What brought about your third newly published novel: Captain Henry Green, A Whaler?

At a book signing of The Wampum Exchange, my second book, two docents from the Hortons Point Lighthouse, told me they had the topic for my third book. Henry Green is highlighted there and they said he was a fascinating character and wanted to know more about him. So, after a few months, I got hooked on the quest of finding out about Henry Green’s life.
Whaling itself was an adventure and I have to say that researching this topic became one to me.

Did you have a certain audience in mind?

Well, since I am a history buff and the town I live in is the oldest English settlement in New York State, I thought people here would be interested. Henry grew up on the South Fork of Long Island and then moved to my town later in life. People are familiar with his name.
Also, whaling seems to attract interest.

What research did you do to write it? How long did it take?

That is a good question! It took two solid years of research to write this book precisely because Henry is not famous. I spent time in many libraries across the area. I even went back to his hometown to walk on the Wharf and go to the street where he lived. I met with an archivist from the Old Whaler’s Church, as well. It’s one thing to read about a place and another to physically see it. Even though Henry lived there back in the 1800’s, I did get a feel for the place.
Sag Harbor today is a very busy summer area and I can see why. The harbor, shops, and restaurants are the main attractions.

What are some of the topics you wrote about in magazines? Were they fiction or nonfiction?

I am an eclectic writer who likes to challenge myself. I have written many nonfiction articles about houses in my town and memoir pieces about growing up in the 1950’s. Yet, I have had fictional pieces and poetry published, as well.
My poetry usually is about the rural feel of this area.

What are some advantages and disadvantages of writing full time after retirement?
While I was teaching, I had little time to write except with my students. The advantage of retiring was to give me time to learn the craft of writing. I took classes and joined a writing group. Both were enormously helpful but I still had to write to improve.
In my case, I needed this challenge. I didn’t know it at the time, but the part that was the most discouraging was also the most important. All writers receive rejections, but it didn’t seem to stop. I did get discouraged in the beginning but then acceptances came in and that was all I needed to continue.

What authors influenced you the most?
Erma Bombeck is one of my favorites even though I am not funny. I like the way she weaves life’s lessons in her humorous writing. She entertains and informs at the same time.

I learn the use of language by reading Hemingway’s short stories. I love the legal thrillers of John Grisham and David Baldacci, as well.

David McCullough is another favorite. I enjoy his style of nonfiction writing. The reader learns so much history while enjoying the story.

What advice can you give beginning writers?

If you are a serious writer, you must persevere. This business is not for wimps. Yet, I also think from reading all those writing newsletters that it is an exciting time to be an author. Traditional publishing is still available but self-publishing is a wonderful alternative and still requires lots of work. When you strive for the best writing you can produce, you are in for a long process.

What plans do you have for your next publications?

I am taking a break from writing books but I never stop writing. It’s something I do every day.


Carol Smallwood’s 2017 books include In Hubble’s Shadow (Shanti Arts); Prisims, Particles, and Refractions (Finishing Line Press); Interweavings: Creative Nonfiction (Shanti Arts); Library Outreach to Writers and Poets: Interviews and Case Studies of Cooperation (McFarland).


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