Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Amelia

JAN: Like every little girl growing up, I was fascinated by Amelia Earhart, not just because she was one of the few female historical figures we ever learned about in grade school, but because she was so unconventional, so in-your-face courageous, and of course, so tragic.

But what did I know really know about the first woman pilot to solo across the Atlantic? Not much. Not until I read the first draft of Rose Duncan’s novel-in-progress, Surviving Amelia, which is filled with surprising details about Amelia Earhart. Details that have nothing to do with aviation.

The book is still in the fine-tuning stage, but in the meantime, Rose Duncan has created a new blog which brings Amelia to life in a way that Hilary Swank just couldn’t. http://roseduncan.blogspot.com/

Rose Duncan is a pseudonym. Widely published under a different name, her alter ego is an award winning fiction writer who has written three well reviewed mysteries, short stories and lots of non fiction for national magazines and newspapers. She's here today at Jungle Red to tell us how Amelia became so much a part of her life.

JAN: When did you first become interested in Amelia? What is it about her that captivated you? What is it about Amelia that captivates all of us?

ROSE: I was a fan of Amelia Earhart in middle school. At that time, I was really most interested in how adventurous she was. Plus, I loved those outfits. The leather jacket and pants, hey it was modern. Obviously I think she’s one of those iconic women who represents what we might become for those of us who are ambitious. Is it still a man’s world? Not exactly, but being a successful woman is not a cakewalk. Her single minded devotion to her passion inspired women then, and I think it does now. Plus, no one really knows how she died. And everyone loves a good mystery.

JAN: Tell us a little bit about your new blog and what are you trying to accomplish with it?
ROSE: I’m basically searching for Amelia, or to be more specific my Amelia. Earhart is an iconic figure; we know about her exploits, but I wanted to discover a different part of Amelia. She kept so much control over her public image. I wanted to delve into her, warts and all. I think that people have a very sanitized version of who she is/was. My Amelia isn’t nearly as tidy as the one we know about.

JAN: Where does your Amelia come from?
ROSE: She is grounded in three year plus of research and fueled by my imagination. My Amelia goes against what most people have written about her, for example I focus a great deal on her relationship with her sister. Many people don’t know about it. She kept her private life quite private. It’s part of her fascination, not quite knowing who she is and being able to imagine her as better, sweeter, kinder, her image is purposely non-threatening. In reality, she couldn’t be that person and accomplish all she accomplished.

JAN: Who is your target audience?
ROSE: I’m not sure I have a specific one in mind. I would think anyone interested in Amelia and in how a writer deals with weaving a real historical public figure and her less famous but still quite real sister into a novel. In the blog, I write about questions I’m posing myself, and the answers I’ve come up with. It’s a progress report of sorts.

JAN: Share of the more interesting lesser known things about Amelia? Any myths you’d like to bust?
ROSE: I think the movie tried to touch on her decidedly utilitarian marriage. Amelia wasn’t faithful to her husband. She made that clear on her wedding day, the letter she wrote was basically a marriage contract. She had one well known affair, with Gene Vidal. I’m guessing there were others as well. She was ferociously independent. And incredibly careful about her public image. When you read her own writing, you have to work hard to figure out who she is. What I found interesting was comparing her story to the one her sister told. There’s a lot of hubris and a lot of self interest if you look at what she did, versus what was said. Not that she wasn’t generous . . . but it often seemed to come at a price. My book centers on the relationship between Amelia and her sister Muriel. One thing Muriel writes about, and biographers note, is how Amelia insisted on flying to get to her rehearsal dinner, then was grounded because of bad weather and ruined the moment. I thought that was kind of telling. She was fixed on the grand entrance.

JAN: Tell us about your book Surviving Amelia. How did you get the idea for the book?
ROSE: I wanted to write a book about friendship between women. And Amelia was there from the beginning. She popped into my head and I couldn’t rid myself of her. I began writing this novel several years ago and finally am getting close to the finish line.

JAN: Having read an early draft, I can honestly say, this is an Amelia you've never learned about in grade school. I can’t wait until the finished novel version is on the book shelves, but in the meantime, I’m getting my Amelia fix at: http://roseduncan.blogspot.com/

Tomorrow, I’ll be interviewing Misa Ramirez, author of a new mystery series featuring Latina sleuth Lola Cruz


  1. Thanks for the chance to talk about what has become a true obsession for me. It's been quite a journey and now you guys are part of it!

  2. It sounds like a fabulous book! I'm fascinated by Amelia, too. She was so self-centered, so hell bent on defying the odds, so apparently certain of her own immortality. About that she was right.

    I've been following your blog, Rose. So happy to have you here talking about it on Jungle Red.

    Do you think she died in a crash at sea or lived out a few more years on a tropical island?

  3. My current post goes over those theories . . .in my book they find evidence of her on a tropical island but then again, in my book she's also alive in 1980-81, authorial license. I guess I find it most convincing that she crash landed and managed to survive then died on an island . . . there were radio broadcasts that were heard after her plane disappeared asking for help. But each theory has its proponents and debunkers. Would we care about her as much if her death wasn't mysterious, evidently not. Humans apparently love mysteries, which is why you guys write them. . .

  4. I have also always been fascinated by Amelia and look forward to exploring your blog and reading your book, Rose. Remarkably, this morning when Jan posted a link on Facebook to today's Jungle Red post, at that exact moment I was listening to Joni Michell's "Amelia" (from the Hejira album, which came out in 1976). A beautiful song that stirs up deep feelings and memories for me.


  5. I'm going to see if I can find Amelia (Joni Mitchell's) on Youtube.

  6. Here's Joni singing Amelia with some cool Amelia footage.


  7. When the Challenger crashed, I had to go via helicopter to Concord NH to cover the Christa McAulifffe part of the story.

    It was misty, and cloudy, and murky weather, horrible for flying. I was terrified. The only waay I got myself onto the helicopter was to channel Amelia and Christa. I vowed if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Amelia McAuliffe.

    My mother was appalled. You can't name someone after two people who died in plane crashes, she said.

  8. You know, I played Amelia over and over for the last three years. I even have it on the MP3 I wear when I swim laps. I never grow tired of it. Moody and exquisite . . .

  9. I haven't seen the movie and I was never all that fascinated by Amelia, but after learning about this book, I'm riveted. Hurry and finish it!

  10. Hey Shannon, a belated thanks for your encouragement.