When Pamina Campbell learns of a murder committed over two hundred years ago in her Connecticut farmhouse in order to avenge an unforgivable crime, she accepts that she has no idea how the universe works, except that it requires acquiescence at every point. Two plot threads twine in Acquiescence, as one woman calls to another across three centuries. One story, featuring Susannah Mathews, takes place in the late 1700s, while Pamina’s story is set in modern day. Pamina learns that disaster – the sort of disaster that leaves you numb on a park bench or aching for your husband to come back to you – can be a freaky thing of beauty. As Pamina and her family try to piece their lives back together in their 1770 home, little do they know that secrecy, homophobia, and a ghastly confession await.
Is there a message in your novel you want readers to grasp?
The message in Acquiescence is that even though a person may have no desire to re-live a challenging or difficult time in their life, the obstacle can play a role in shaping who you become. If you allow adversity to become an opportunity for growth, you may become a different person.
Do you have a favorite snack food or favorite beverage that you enjoy while you write?
While I don’t have any particular type of snack or drink at my side as I write, I did have a food-incentive-as-reward for when I received my first Offer of Representation for Acquiescence. Although I don’t eat them (because years ago I gave up corn syrup, GMOs, and wheat), I’m crazy about Vienna Fingers cookies. A year ago, when I started sending out query letters, I decided to buy a package of Vienna Fingers and keep them on top of an exposed hand-hewn beam in our kitchen. I promised myself that on the day I got my offer, I would welcome “corn syrup coma” and gobble down the entire twenty-four pack, along with a cold glass of raw milk. The enticing red and yellow package stared down at me every time I walked under the beam. With every rejection letter, the rounded-end finger-shaped cookies taunted me. I could almost hear them sneer, “Ha! Ha! We’re safe up here. You’re never gonna eat us!” And then, came my Offer of Representation from Second Wind Publishing. As I triumphantly dunked each crème-filled vanilla cookie, every “unfortunately, this manuscript does not fit our needs at this time” rejection drowned in the glass of milk.
What advice you would give to an aspiring author?
The best advice I would give an aspiring author is a quote by literary agent, Dan Lazar: “The best rule of thumb is always to start the story where the story starts.” This was one of the stumbling blocks in my first drafts. Where does the story start? Until you, the author, have that straight in your mind, the story’s flow won’t be right. Also, although it’s difficult, being able to summarize your book in one sentence clarifies its goal.
If you could have lunch with one person, real or fictitious, who would it be?
If I could have lunch with one person, it would probably be Alva Vanderbilt. Ever since my first trip to Newport, Rhode Island as a little kid, I have been fascinated by the Gilded Age. I was never envious of Alva’s life, just intrigued by her drive. I love the fact that she went from a seen-better-days Southern belle, to an unconventional multi-millionaire American socialite, and then became a major figure in the women’s suffrage movement. For our twentieth-fifth wedding anniversary, my husband bought me a set of her “Votes for Women” china.
Which is more important to your story, character or plot?
Character is the heart of story. Readers relate to stories through character. Plot frames the conflict and action. Why would we want to pick one over the other when we can – and should – have both?
What is a talent you have that no one knows?
– As a hands-on science teacher, I can identify any bone that comes out of a regurgitated owl pellet.
– Although I’m an atheist, I can recite the books of the Bible – Old and New Testament – in order.
– From hours of quizzing my pre-teen son, I still know all 100 answers to the 4-H Poultry Showmanship questions.
Why will readers relate to your characters?
Every family has a moment that changes everything. Things happen – things you can’t even imagine – and in a minute the world is changed. Readers will relate to my characters because, just as in real life, they’ll like some and despise others. In my novel, Acquiescence, the Campbell family finds the courage to overcome adversity, realize that love never dies, and accept that there are bigger forces out there that know no limit. They learn that it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you deal with what happens to you, and that the best revenge is living a happy life.
What famous literary character is most like you?
Although I look like Liza Minnelli, I think my personality is similar to Ma Joad’s in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I’ve never decapitated a chicken, but, like ‘Ma,’ I’m the backbone of my family.
When we first meet Ma Joad, she is a strong woman. When we see her in the very last chapter, she is a strong woman. Her strength only grows throughout the course of the novel. In fact, her initial strength transforms into a different kind of strength – one that it is dead set on survival – the survival of her family. As her family meets obstacle after obstacle, Ma Joad keeps it together. She is the strongest supporter of family and togetherness. Ma expresses this best when she directs Rosasharn to breast-feed the starving man at the novel’s conclusion. Both Ma Joad and I know that even the most horrible circumstances can be surmounted with grace and dignity.
Did you do any research for the book?
Moving into a 1770 Connecticut farmhouse ignited my interest in the colonial era. Behind the walls of our house, surprises and secrets waited to be exposed, and this became the spark for my novel, Acquiescence. While researching my novel, I became obsessed (in a good way) with colonial women. I wanted to find out what life was really like for them – the stuff we’ve always been curious about. How did they deal with menstruation at a time when women didn’t wear underwear? How about sex and birth control, childbirth, sickness and medicine? I put together an entertainingly- informative presentation called Colonial Goodwife: The Not-So-Good Life of the Colonial Goodwife (www.colonialgoodwife.com) to help promote my novel, as well as to let today’s women see that although we have a long way to go, it’s amazing how far we’ve come.
3 words that describe your writing style
Breezy, honest, unpretentious
What’s next for you?
I have a hands-on science children’s fiction series under contract. As a hands-on science teacher, (www.howcoolisthat.name) I know that the new importance placed on standardized testing doesn’t leave enough time in a school day for hands-on activities. Standardized tests don’t encourage a love of learning. A kid is more than a test score. I offer inquiry-based, hands-on/minds-on science activities like Dissecting Owl Pellets, Making Chicken Mummies, Grossology, Shampoo Analysis Lab and Gotta Brain/ Getta Helmet!. Not every child can participate in one of my classes, but soon they will be able to take part through my book/science kits with the summer 2015 launch of One Lucky Mealworm! and Whooo Eats What?
I’m also cooking up a follow-up to Pamina’s story titled Woman on the Rock.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your work-in-progress?
Working title: The Woman on the Rock
For forty years, Chuck Ehrismann stared at a black and white photo of an unknown stunning woman – the only clue was ‘1949 Keansberg, New Jersey’ penciled on the back, but Chuck suspected she was family and held the key to his own identity.
Where can we learn more about you and your book?
Acquiescence is available from Second Wind Publishing: http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/#!product/prd15/3391685311/acquiescence
Velya Jancz-Urban, and her Acquiescence protagonist Pamina Campbell, have a lot in common. Both are teachers and hoodwinked Brazilian dairy farm owners, and both share a 1770 Connecticut farmhouse with a spirit woman. Velya has been married for 32 years, and is the mother of two grown children. She has a few too many rescue dogs and cats, is happiest with a fresh stack of library books, loves thrift shops, and is passionate about alternative medicine. Velya is the creator/owner of How Cool Is That?!” (Hands-On Science) (www.howcoolisthat.name), as well as the East Coast Facilitator for Earth Adventure’s Earth Balloon. She teaches throughout NY/NJ/CT/MA. Her entertainingly informative presentation, The Not-So-Good Life of the Colonial Goodwife is a result of the research completed for this novel.