Where were you when 9/11 happened? Most of us can answer that painful question without blinking, but if you were asked if you remember the flood of ’37 – chances are that you weren’t even born yet. This week marks the 81st anniversary of what has been called the Great Flood. On Jan. 9, 1937, heavy rain began to fall across the Ohio River Valley – and didn’t stop falling until Jan. 23. By the time the Ohio River crested (at some 27 ft above flood stage), 60 percent of Louisville, KY was underwater, 175,000 residents had been forced from their homes, and 90 people had lost their lives.
The clean up and recovery took months, yet for some, the level of devastation, both emotional and physical, was, at best, catastrophic, and lasted for years.
In an exclusive interview, Historical Romance author Linda Ellen shares her mother’s insight regarding that hardship in the novel, Once in a While.
Hello, Linda and welcome! Can you tell us why you decided to write Once in a While?
All my life I’d heard the stories of my mother and father’s tempestuous romance, and I’d heard tales about the monumental 1937 flood—that affected all 981 miles of the Ohio River and held the record as the worst natural disaster in the US until Hurricane Katrina—and that my father was one of many who helped rescue stranded victims. So after I had written four full-length novels and 28 short stories in Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman fan fiction, I looked around for a story that I could write as a ‘real’ book. Something that hadn’t been done and done again, lol. I started thinking about Mom and Dad’s story and figuring how I could make it work as a novel. Plus, at the time, I’d never seen the ’37 flood used as a backstory in a fiction novel. I thought that would make it unique.
What did your mother think when you told her you were going to write a novel based on her early life?
Mom used to say all the time that somebody could write a book about all of the crazy things that have happened to her. When I put the idea to her, she had mixed reactions. She was 88 at the time we started talking about it. We jotted down some plot points that we could use, and she was hesitant at first. But the more we worked on it, the more excited she got. We did change or alter the names of the real people in the story, to protect the innocent, haha.
What kind of research regarding the flood went into writing Once in a While?
Oh my gosh, tons. I researched for three solid months before I wrote word one. Believe me, it’s a fascinating event. That may sound mean, since so many lives were affected, but truthfully considering the magnitude of the damage and financial loss, there were very few lives lost. Most of those were due to exposure to the cold or water, or loss of power and heat. My best source of info that provided the kind of thing I needed—personal insights from the people who lived it—came from a book by Rick Bell called, The Great Flood of 1937—Rising Waters—Soaring Spirits. It’s an amazing work and chock-full of photographs and personal, eyewitness accounts. I checked it out so much and copied pages and pictures, etc, that I wore it out and ended up buying the library’s copy! (For which they charged me full price, lol.) Besides books, I also talked to anyone and everyone I could find who was either old enough to remember it, or had heard their own family stories about it, and found several gems that I used in the book. The best feedback of all, however, was from my mom. Her memories of her early years were amazing and she really helped with the small details so that I felt I was there and could write the scenes.
What was your hardest scene to write?
Oh my, there were several that took literal weeks to craft, and the emotion involved took a toll. Those had to do with a huge argument they had and the result of a misunderstanding that ripped them apart for a number of years. For those, I had to ‘live’ the scene and let myself feel the heartbreak to be able to write it—her heartbreak as well as his. Several times after working on a poignant scene, I had to walk away from the computer for a while and get my mind on something else. I want to say here, however, that I made sure the book isn’t a ‘downer’, has a great many funny scenes, and is for the most part upbeat. It’s divided into four parts, the first being the flood, the second their summer of dating and having fun, the third the period of being apart, and the fourth how they find their way back together.
What do you want readers to come away with after reading Once in a While?
Oh, I’d say several things. One aspect of Mom and Dad’s story was how keeping a secret, or in essence, allowing a lie to continue on, can backfire and cause nearly irreparable damage. Another is the power of faith and believing that God is a good God and that if we ask forgiveness, He forgives and doesn’t keep hitting us over the head with our mistakes. The devil tries to cram that lie down our throats, causing us to believe every bad thing that he orchestrates has come from God as a punishment. Rather, I’ve come to realize that God has good planned for us. Another is the belief in true soul mates. Finally, I want the reader to come away with that coveted ahh feeling once they read that last page and see that no matter how bad things may look, they can always turn around with a little help.
Would you mind sharing an excerpt from the book?
Certainly! This is from chapter 3—their first meeting. A head’s up: Vic’s best friend Alec has arranged a blind double date for him with a girl named Edna. Louise is her younger sister. An aside is that Alec has set Vic up on blind dates before (Alec is somewhat of a player, lol) that did not go well. Vic has just arrived at the apartment house to pick up his date:
Rain was coming down steadily, with no end in sight, and it made Vic grateful that Earl’s father had allowed him to borrow his car for his date. Turning off the motor, he glanced around at the black and chrome interior of the vehicle, with its extended back end, long side windows, and low roof. Hope Edna’s got a sense of humor…and don’t mind ridin’ in an old hearse… he mused with a grin as he turned in the seat and laid a hand on the backrest of the worn and faded horsehair seat cover. Spying the torn places in the headliner and knowing the damage had occurred from the sharp edges of wooden coffins sliding in and out, he emitted a tiny chuckle. I think this car’s nifty, with its big round headlights, old-fashioned running boards and spare tire on the side…
Reaching up to tilt the small, mottled rear view mirror to the left to check his appearance one more time, Vic attempted to quell the butterflies flapping their wings in his stomach. Cursing the incessant rain and mumbling of his aversion to blind dates, Vic flipped up the collar of his worn leather aviator jacket and slipped out of the vehicle. Sprinting to the door of the building, he quickly ducked inside the main entrance. There, in the dim light from a single bare bulb high up in the ceiling, he checked the paper again to make sure it was apartment number two, before making his way down the shadowy hall to the large door.
Through its scratched, dark walnut surface, he could hear music and people talking, though he couldn’t determine how many were inside. The thought made him, for a moment, somewhat uneasy, as it was always a little unnerving to approach the unknown. At his knock, he heard scuffling noises and what sounded like urgent whispered instructions. When no one immediately came, his brow furrowed as he cocked his head to one side, trying to decide whether he should knock again.
Man I hate blind dates…who knows who’s gonna open this door… If Alec has fixed me up with another dog…I’ll have his hide, he smirked, shaking his head at his own thoughts. Mentally, he prepared himself to maintain a neutral expression no matter what the girl’s appearance might be, not wishing to hurt the poor thing’s feelings…
Just as he raised his fist to give the door another rap, he heard the lock being turned and the entry opened about a foot.
The delicious aroma of fried potatoes and onions, still permeating the warm abode, came floating out to tickle his senses. His mouth instantly watered, reminding him he’d only downed a quick bologna sandwich when he returned home from work, since Liz had not saved him any supper.
Then his eyes widened and a slow smile made his handsome face beam with charm.
There in the opening stood a lovely young woman in a tea length dress of embroidered netting over champagne satin. Rich sable hair softly floated around her shoulders…creamy smooth skin on a heart shaped face made it seem as if an ever-present light shone in her countenance, like the flame of a candle…lips like the wispy curve of a butterfly’s wings stretched slightly over a perfect line of pearly white teeth…and beautiful hazel eyes twinkled behind gently curling black lashes as she stared up at him enraptured. Vic’s breath caught as he stared back, momentarily stunned. He felt his pulse speed up as he took in the girl’s radiance.
Finally, he cleared his throat and unconsciously ran a hand back through his hair, which had been made slightly wavier by the rain and the damp evening air.
“Umm…Edna?” he murmured, the damp weather making his warm baritone sound husky. The words served to break the spell into which the two had been plunged.
The young woman blinked several times as if trying to gather her thoughts. Then one delicate hand unconsciously moved to the neck of her dress as she slowly shook her head.
“No…I’m Louise…Edna’s my sister. Are you Vic?” she managed. Unconsciously, she moistened her suddenly dry lips; slightly afraid he could hear the thunderous thumping of her heart.
Vic nodded and chuckled self-consciously, feeling like a fool for not introducing himself at once.
“Yeah, sorry. I’m Vic Matthews…I’m here to pick up Edna…she ready?” he added, silently hoping the sister was as much a looker as this one.
Glancing back over her shoulder at someone Vic couldn’t see from the doorway, Louise turned back to him apologetically, “Oh…I’m sorry. She’s…not feeling good tonight,” she murmured. She seemed to be hedging, as if scrambling for a reason other than the truth. “She won’t be able to go on the date with you. She’s sorry you made the trip for nothing…she didn’t have a way to reach you.” Her voice was kind and gentle, and seemed to glide into his ears and take up residence in the center of his chest.
Vic digested this for a moment. He was being stood up by a blind date. Great, he silently fumed, wondering if she truly ‘didn’t feel good.’ He thought for a moment that maybe the lovely Louise might want to go in her sister’s place, but negated that idea, figuring she already had a date for the evening – since she appeared to be dressed for it.
Vic had no way of knowing that Edna had borrowed the dress for their date; however, now that she couldn’t go, Louise had tried it on… and it fit her perfectly. Just before Vic had arrived, Louise had been modeling the lovely dress for her father and brother.
The two at the door heard a muffled voice from the other room and Louise nodded in answer, relaying to him, “She asked if she could take a rain-check.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she realized the unintended pun. Biting her lip, she attempted to stop herself from chuckling. Vic caught the joke and nodded, his lips pulling into a half grin. His eyes dropped to her mouth as her lips rounded into a smile that seemed somehow, in his unconscious opinion, to fend off the gloom of the rainy night.
Glancing back up to meet her eyes again, he murmured with a shrug. “Yeah, sure.” He waited a few beats more, staring at the girl as she returned his gaze. “Well…goodnight then,” he finally added, nodding to her as he turned to retrace his steps back down the hall. So much for a hot date to ‘keep me warm on a rainy night,’ he mused wryly.
Louise watched him until he disappeared out the front door and into the rain, then slowly stepped back into the cozy apartment and shut the door. Leaning her forehead against the cool hard wood, she could still smell the heady scent of Old Spice aftershave that had emanated from him…could still see the twinkle in his eyes, and hear his smooth voice intoning, “Goodnight.” Her knees felt weak.
My gosh! That has got to be the most gorgeous man I’ve ever seen in my life! She reflected as she turned to rest her back against the hard surface of the door. Staring straight ahead as though in an enchanted stupor, she allowed every second of the encounter to replay in her mind. Pressing a hand unconsciously to her chest, she felt her heart still pounding fast.
Those eyes…that wavy hair…those dimples…his voice was so smooth and deep…it was like living a scene from a movie…she dreamily contemplated, totally immersed in his enchanting memory.
“Louise, is he gone?” Edna’s edgy voice interrupted her reverie.
Distracted, Louise called back, “Yeah.”
“Well…what was he like?” her sister impatiently inquired as she came to the bedroom doorway. “Was he cute?”
Louise glanced at her sister, her gaze taking in the habitual sour expression, the brassy red hair, the cold blue eyes and the stubborn set to her chin. It occurred to her that Edna always seemed to get everything she wanted, while Louise ‘performed’ like Cinderella. Edna snuck around, drank beer, and did all kinds of things she never seemed to get in trouble for, while Louise was called on the carpet for ‘looking’ at someone wrong.
Louise’s eyes narrowed slightly as she made up her mind right then and there. If any Hoskins girl snags handsome Mr. Vic Matthews, its gonna be me.
Fibbing to her sister for the first time in her life, Louise shrugged nonchalantly and moved away from the door. Purposely, turning her back to her sister’s shrewd stare, she murmured, “He was…just okay.”
“Just okay, huh?” Edna snorted, decidedly unladylike. “Well good, then I’m glad I couldn’t go with him,” she added as she turned back into the room to recline on the bed with the hot water bottle and a well-worn copy of Hollywood magazine.
“Louise, come help me,” their mother instructed just then, beckoning the girl to come and assist with drying the dishes. “And you better take off that borrowed dress before you get something on it.”
Louise automatically obeyed, her mind only half on the task…the other half was firmly occupied with a pair of warm brown eyes and dark wavy hair.
Somehow she knew something significant had just happened…and she would never be the same.
This sounds like an awesome read! Where can we purchase it?
You can buy it on Amazon along with its sequels, The Bold Venture and Almost as Much, which cover my parents’ relationship from 1937 – 1957. These books are the Cherished Memories Series.
I’ve met your husband on several occasions. Is he your number one fan?
You bet! Steve is and has been so very supportive throughout the whole process and he truly loves my writing. I can’t put into words how good it feels to have a spouse like him that applauds my efforts and is truly proud of my achievements. He’s the first one I let read my chapters, and sometimes he has great insight into a scene or plot angle. I rely on him, especially for scenes from the man’s POV. And he has so much knowledge from different jobs he’s had and places he’s lived. He’s a treasure.
What are you working on now?
Oh, I’m very excited about my new project. It’s set in 1870, and the title is New Love at Honey Landing. I’m taking a local historical landmark’s location and house, and crafting new characters and storyline to go with it. It’s coming along great! I’m hoping to publish in the spring. It’s my first novel (other than my period pieces I did for Dr. Quinn) set that far back, and I’ve had to do a lot of research for it, as none of my knowledge and research from my 40’s novels could be used, lol.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t make so many stupid mistakes! Plan for the future—it will come and sooner than you think! Start a savings account. Beauty is only skin deep and many times people can be diamonds in the rough!
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Linda. It’s been a pleasure interviewing you! And btw, a little birdie told me that today is your anniversary. How awesome is it that it happens to be on the same day that the flood crested?! Happy Anniversary to you and Steve!
Thanks so much, Belinda, for inviting me to be on your blog. I enjoyed answering your questions. I hope your readers will enjoy my answers.
Linda Ellen’s other novels include, Her Blue-Eyed Sergeant, Her Blue-Eyed Corporal, and Her Blue-Eyed Lieutenant, which make up the Soldiers of Swing Series. To find out more about Linda, you can visit her website, or you can chat with her on facebook or twitter. Her books can be purchased on Amazon.
Do you have a question or comment for Linda Ellen? Do you have a story to share about the flood of 1937? Please feel free to leave it below, and thanks for stopping by!
Thank you, Linda for taking the time to let me interview you. I remember my mother telling me about the flood. She was born in Owensboro in 1934 and was living in the small town of Stanley, KY when the flood came. She said that the levy broke and the water came rushing towards their house. They fled to their second floor and men in boats came and rescued them from the second story window. When they were allowed to return, she said the water line on the wall was above the fireplace mantel, and everything they had was caked in mud. They’d pretty much lost everything. Her brother was born that March and my grandmother didn’t even have a safety pen for his diaper. The doctor gave her the one that was holding the button on his coat – which tells me, he probably lost a lot that winter too.
Wow That’s both awful and amazing Belinda! There are so many stories, I could have written a book only on the flood and not use them all. I met a woman who’s mother gave birth to twins–they barely got her out of the rescue boat beforehand! Thank you again for the interview. I enjoyed it tremendously. ❤
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I really enjoyed this interview, Belinda. I also enjoyed the excerpt! I’m going to share this on Twitter. 🙂
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Thanks Joe, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! 🙂
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I had never heard of those floods, great your mother’s story gets to be told.
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