Hi, I'm Maida Tilchen, the author of "Land Beyond Maps. On this page I'll answer the questions I most often get about my book:
Wow -"Land Beyond Maps" received a lot awards! What's the final tally?
Winner, 2009 New Mexico Book Award, Gay/Lesbian
Winner, 2010 Arizona Book Publishing Award, Gay/Lesbian
Finalist, 2010 Lambda Literary Foundation, Lesbian Debut Fiction
Finalist, 2009 New Mexico Book Award, Historical Fiction
Finalist, 2010 Arizona Book Publishing Award, Multicultural
Finalist, 2010 Golden Crown Literary Society, Dramatic/General Fction
"Land Beyond Maps" was a Finalist for the 2010 Lambda Literary Award in the "Lesbian Debut Fiction" category. How does that feel?
Because this is the most prestigious lesbian book award, it has been a dream of mine ever since they started the Lammys. I was at the awards banquet in 2001 when "Land Beyond Maps" won the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Award for a not-yet-published lesbian/gay historical novel. That's when I set my sights on hopefully winning a Lammy for "Land Beyond Maps." It's a terrific honor to be a Lammy Finalist.
How does it feel for "Land Beyond Maps" to do so well?
I am totally thrilled. This has been beyond my dreams. These awards will help more bookstores, libraries, reviewers, and especially readers to find out about "Land Beyond Maps" and the wonderful real women such as Laura Gilpin, Betsy Forster and Erna Fergusson whose lives I portray in it.
Why do you write about New Mexico?
On my first visit to New Mexico in 1993, I fell in love with the place, its culture, and its history. I met a lot of very creative people, including musicians, writers, and artists. I felt so inspired and energized that I came home to Boston not wanting the trip to end, so I decided that if I wrote a novel set in New Mexico, it would be in my head and heart all the time. Just for fun but also in search of what to write about, I read everything I could find, but my favorite subject was the lives I learned about in memoirs, biographies, and histories of the writers and artists of Santa Fe and Taos before World War II.
How did you get the idea to write "Land Beyond Maps?"
I decided to write an historical novel set in the period between 1918 and 1939, which was the height of the artists and writers colony times for Santa Fe and Taos. I wanted it to be about creative white women who found their artistic vision in New Mexico. I wanted a lesbian central character. I didn't want it to be about anyone rich and famous. I wanted it to be about a "struggling" artist who had to work to pay the rent, because that's more like the people I know.
For a long time I was searching, but when I read a book review of the biography "Laura Gilpin: An Enduring Grace" by Martha Sandweiss, I knew instantly that I'd found my main character. The book review included a summary of the incident that starts "Land Beyond Maps": Laura and her partner Betsy Forster ran out of gas while driving to Earl Morris' excavation at Mummy Cave; Laura walked back to get fuel; Betsy stayed with the car and made friends with the Navajo Indian men. From the Sandweiss book, Gilpin's "Enduring Navajo," and Betsy's published letters in "Denizens of the Desert" I got plenty of ideas for incidents in their lives to dramatize.
Where did Jonnie, Ruth, and Morna come from? Were they real people?
Starting with Laura and Betsy's story, other characters popped into my head. They are all composites based on women I read about.
On a visit to the Cape Ann Historical Society in Gloucester, Massachusetts I saw an early 1900s photo of women in long dresses and rubber aprons processing fish. Suddenly Jonnie Bell was on the train, heading for New Mexico and into my story.
I became fascinated with the book "Women in the Field:America's Pioneering Women Naturalists" by Marcia M. Bonta. Many of these nineteenth and early twentieth century women were invalids who were "healed" when they discovered their passion for birds, plants, or bugs. Possibly, their disabilities were a response to the role of women being too limited in those days. Ruth's story is very typical. Many of the creative people of New Mexico first went there for the sanitoriums, so I knew just how Ruth's path would go. Sunmount Sanitorium was on Museum Mesa in Santa Fe, and is now the site of a photography school!
I got the idea for Morna from reading memoirs of trading post wives. Most were written by women who really enjoyed that life. I don't know why Morna popped into my head instead: she hates it and just wants to get back to Manhattan. It may have been from looking at the grim faces of ranch and pioneer women in many photos of the old West. Not everyone was glad they reached the end of the Santa Fe Trail.
Who is Maida Tilchen? What kind of person wrote "Land Beyond Maps?"
I said more about myself than I thought I would when I was interviewed by the Chicago Gay History project. To see the one-hour video interview, go to Maida's video
I'll be adding more answers. If you have questions, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org