I am pleased to have Bill Klaber, author of The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell, joining me today for a brief interview about his path to the finished book on Lucy’s decisions and how they affected her life and the lives of others. My earlier review of this incredible book can be read here.
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Please join me in welcoming Bill to Found Between the Covers.
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Your home is quite near the area where Lucy Ann Lobdell was born. You had lived there for about 20 years before meeting Jack Niflot. Could you share what you knew about Lucy before meeting Niflot, and what he revealed to you during that lunchtime meeting?
It must have surprised to you to see the papers and notebooks Lucy had kept still in existence. What was your first reaction to Niflot’s suggestion that you write Lucy’s story? And why did you undertake this project?
Bill: Sherrey, permit me to answer the first two questions together. First, I had lived in my house for 20 years before having breakfast with Jack Niflot and I had never heard of Lucy Lobdell, even though, as I was to find out, my house had a history with Lucy’s legend. So I didn’t know anything about Lucy when I sat down with Jack. Once I told him that I was completely in the dark he began patiently to tell me this amazing, fantastic tale of this woman who in the mid-nineteenth century cut her hair, changed her clothes and went off to live her life as a man. The very first thing he pulled out of his satchel was a copy of a huge obituary from the New York Times, Lucy Lobdell’s obituary, which confirmed many of the things that Jack just told me. My first reaction was, “How come this woman isn’t already famous?” The second thing Jack showed me was an equally long and impressive Lucy Lobdell obituary from the New York Sun. Similar story but with a few interesting details not included in the Times obit. Then I noticed that the NY Times obit was dated 1879, while the NY Sun obit was dated 1885. When I pointed this out to Jack, he just smiled and said, “Well, truth is, she wasn’t dead either time.” How many people have monster obituaries in major newpapers six years apart and they aren’t dead either time? So I was hooked from the get-go, and when Jack suggested that maybe I’d like to write a book about Lucy, I didn’t an ounce of reservation. I wanted to do it. I was privy to something pretty amazing, and I knew it. Now, to be accurate, what both Jack and I had in mind was a nonfiction book about Lucy. That’s what I knew how to do. I had never written fiction. A Lucy “memoir” written by me was not even on the radar then.
FBTC: On your web site, you write that you also were unable to find Lucy’s memoir. What do you mean by “the finding would have to be by way of echoes and dreams?”
FBTC: Research when writing biographical or historical fiction is all important to the success of the story. It must be accurate both before and after coming to life on the printed page. Where and how did you carry out much of your research into Lucy’s life?
FBTC: Lucy was indeed ahead of her time when she assumed the male persona and took the name “Joseph.” Desperate to make a life for herself and her young daughter, she did what she could by any means possible. Do you believe she had any idea the repercussions she might meet if her true identity were discovered?
FBTC: Your book includes a detailed description of the trial of Lucy Ann Lobdell. The charge against her was “wearing men’s clothes to falsely impersonate a man.” Today this wouldn’t stand up in a courtroom, but then, even without a law on the books against, this charge took Lucy to trial. In your research, did you find any information about why this was such a grievous act on Lucy’s part? What harm did they believe had been done?
FBTC: Today on social media I note your support of the gay and lesbian community. Did Lucy’s story bring about this commitment to this particular cause, or is it something you have long been involved in? And can you share more about your involvement and interest?
Bill, thank you so much for joining us today and for answering some questions. I have enjoyed working with you to bring this to my blog.
This was a terrific and fun interview. Thanks to all for your interest in Lucy.
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William Klaber is a part-time journalist. He lives in upstate New York on a hill overlooking Basket Creek, a short way upstream from where Lucy Lobdell lived 160 years ago.
The farmhouse he bought with his wife, Jean, in 1980 had a history with Lucy’s legend, but he didn’t know that till years later when he sat down for breakfast with a longtime local historian who told him Lucy’s story and showed him a leather satchel filled with recollections, newspaper articles, and letters about her, gathered over the years. In this collection was a copy of a self-written account of Lucy’s early life that the historian had found in an unmarked box in a library basement.
Despite his continued searching, the historian never found the memoir that Lucy had promised to write. Explaining that he had always thought to write a book of his own about Lucy but no longer felt up to it, the historian then handed the satchel to the author.
Website: The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell
The Rebellion of Lucy Ann Lobdell is available as a print and e-book at Amazon.