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When high school teacher Coral Wood returns to her grandfather's ranch in Emerald Valley, California, the last thing she expected was to find herself involved in a heated public controversy, a sizzling romance and a dangerous mystery, all at once. Coral's political, romantic, and at times, sinister journey is the heart of Maryann Davenport's latest novel, "The Park." This is an exciting and educational book that raises the issue of land rights and demonstrates democracy in action, with an adventure-packed story of romance and intrigue.
Interview with Maryann Davenport
Reviewed by for Reader Views (8/07)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to be joined by Maryann Davenport, who is here to discuss her new novel “The Park.”
Maryann Davenport taught school in both cities and rural areas from Chicago to the West Coast, before having children of her own. When she returned to work, away from home, she went into production engineering. Seventeen years ago, she retired from Rockwell to write novels full-time with her husband, Joe. They live in a rural mountain area of California.
Tyler: Thank you, Maryann, for joining me today. To begin, would you tell us briefly what “The Park” is about?
Maryann: The main character, Coral Wood, returns to her grandfather’s ranch in Emerald Valley, California, where she spent her happy childhood summers. She is dismayed to find him worried about losing his ranch to a city club, on the coast, which wants to make Emerald Valley into a public park.
After accepting the job of social studies teacher at the local high school, she meets Mac Maclane, the fiery but very attractive biology teacher. After their stormy meeting, Coral finds herself drawn to Mac and the local landowners call on both of them to help them keep their ranches. While the passion flares between them, their students ask to join in the fight over the valley and the battle is on.
Mac, Coral, and her grandfather struggle to keep the landowners’ protests peaceful while a radical member of the Emerald Park Boosters stages protests which goad the landowners. When they attract the attention of a wealthy man, back East, who offers the ranchers a third option, violence flares and a college professor is killed on one of the ranches.
It takes all the efforts of Coral, Mac, their students, forest rangers, and the sheriff’s deputies to keep the violence from escalating. Meanwhile, Coral can feel a dark threat always one step behind them until she finds herself deep in its clutches and all alone.
Tyler: The conflict between the ranchers who are landowners and the environmentalist group in “The Park” opens questions regarding the U.S. Constitution and what the founding fathers intended in terms of property rights and preserving the environment. Why did you decide a novel, rather than a non-fiction book, was the vehicle for bringing these issues to the public’s attention?
Maryann: I chose the novel form as the best one for presenting landowners’ rights vs. environmentalist agendas because it gave me a chance to demonstrate the side issues. I could graphically show how young people feel about each point of view as well as some ideas the older generations overlooked. The novel also allows me to present the radical members, the moderates, and all those in between who inhabit each side of the issue. Basically, I prefer to show reality as I see it, using people I have known, instead of creating clever arguments to push my point of view, the way I would in non-fiction.
Tyler: The main character in “The Park” is Coral Wood. She is a teacher who helps the students explore the various viewpoints of the situation in the valley. But she is also the granddaughter of a ranch-owner. Would you say she is really impartial about the situation?
Maryann: I would say Coral struggles to remain impartial in the beginning of the book but soon admits to her bias in favor of the position held by Mac and her grandfather. I wanted to show each character’s bias. Most of them don’t admit to their biases.
Tyler: Do you think by showing the characters’ biases you made the story realistic? Is that the primary way you made the characters believable?
Maryann: Yes, I do. Private property rights connect to deep personal feelings of self-respect. Those who wish to take control of that land without making it a private purchase must deal with that reality. The Emerald Park Boosters, the environmentalist group, promotes its agenda by using emotionally charged phrases such as “for the enjoyment of poor children” or “to save all the animals from hunters.” Soon, both sides toss objectivity out the window and the discussions become shouting matches.
Even though I showed the bias caused by emotional issues, my primary device for making the characters more believable was to show the social standing of characters who moved the plot. As their social standing rises or falls, due to events in the land rights battle, we get a clearer picture of each person’s integrity, or lack of it.
Tyler: Is there a character on the environmentalist side of the issue who is a main character, and if so, how did you present his or her viewpoint?
Maryann: I presented Abby Grunbach, the chairwoman of the Emerald River Park Authority, as a woman who Coral describes as predatory and presumptuous. Abby presents her viewpoint when she shouts at the landowners’ meetings, is interviewed on television, and leads protester groups in public.
Tyler: Why did you decide Coral would be a teacher rather than a rancher or some other occupation?
Maryann: I made Coral a teacher because I write about what I have experienced firsthand or observed up close. I started out as a schoolteacher in a country school. I’ve never run a ranch, but I grew up on a couple of them. Also, a teacher in a rural community has a unique opportunity to influence her students and their parents, hopefully in a positive way.
Tyler: What was it like growing up on a ranch? Do you think it was conducive to your later becoming a writer?
Maryann: The ranches in Montana and Oregon, where I lived during my childhood and teen years, showed me a life of hard work, little money, and good-hearted neighbors. I spent most of my time, when not in school or working at the neighbors’, with the ranch dog. I only spoke when asked a direct question so I began writing my thoughts in the first grade. It was one of the only two avenues of expression for me, the other one being art. I kept my writing to myself, except for school assignments, until I met my husband at Rockwell. Our first bond was our love of books and our writing. When he retired from Rockwell, he asked me to join him and write novels full time. It’s the last of the four careers I have had. I enjoyed every one of them, but writing is a dream come true and my favorite.
Tyler: What perspective do you personally hold upon the issue in the book, or are you able to see both sides?
Maryann: Personally, I believe that the only way to solve a problem in a democracy is to have all the groups directly affected by a change, show up at the table. That is where the decisions should be made.
At the same time, I am a capitalist who grew up in farm and ranch areas and a staunch defender of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. The Fifth Amendment states that if private property is taken for a public cause then “just compensation” must be made to the landowner. There is nothing in the amendment about the government paying for the land when the legislature gets around to it, sometime in the future. There are also past precedents where the Supreme Court required a government body to pay a landowner if they took action that prevented him from selling his land or borrowing against it.
Tyler: Maryann, I understand the book is also a mystery. Would you tell us a little about the mystery plot?
Maryann: Throughout the book there is an obvious villain and a couple of minor ones. At the same time there is the hint that someone else might be manipulating both the villains and their intended victims. Coral finds herself looking over her shoulder but realizes, too late, that she has become the prime target.
Tyler: Besides being entertained, what do you hope readers will learn from reading “The Park”?
Maryann: I hope my readers will learn they can have a voice in what happens in their communities but it takes the majority to make good government. Unless most of the people speak up, a small group rules the rest of us and that is a kind of dictatorship, not democracy. We need someone from each group at the table.
Tyler: The American way of life has always been largely focused on individual rights. Do you feel those rights are being threatened more frequently today?
Maryann: Individuals have always had to stand up for their rights or lose them, even in America. However, today too many Americans believe what celebrities on television say. Television only represents what the power people in Hollywood think. Most of us have other points of view as is revealed on the Internet. Our rights are greatly threatened by narrow interest groups. At the same time, we have the opportunity to express ourselves in more ways and more places than ever before.
Tyler: What kinds of reactions have you received so far from readers of the book?
Maryann: Readers who have called or e-mailed me, so far, have been wonderful. Most of them say, “It’s about time somebody talked about what’s really happening all over this country. At last, rural people have a voice in a popular form.”
Tyler: Maryann, I visited your website www.Chimneystonebooks.com. There you state that Chimneystone’s philosophy is: “We believe there are many readers who hunger for unique fiction with bold ideas, earthy realism, and daring characters who defy convention with imagination and intelligence. These men and women are creators and doers, not tyrants or victims. Armed with their personal values, they follow no philosophy but their own. We feel this reflects the basic spirit of America and Americans.” What inspired you to write these books based upon this philosophy?
Maryann: I began to realize how few romantic books show American business people, schoolteachers, and engineers as the heroes most of them are. I wanted to avoid social class and economic class distinctions in favor of the middle class people in those occupations. There are plenty of books out there written about the poor and the rich.
Tyler: Ayn Rand, who was herself a great believer in the American way of life, stated that a writer needs to create his or her philosophy before writing fiction. Do you feel that is true ?
Maryann: I definitely agree with Ayn Rand that each writer needs to decide exactly what he or she believes and why, before sitting down to write for others. She did an excellent job of communicating what she believed. One of the greatest legacies an individual can leave future generations is a book that reveals what that author believed and the reasons for those beliefs. Each of us is a small universe and each time we are given a look into another such universe we learn something useful, sometimes even inspiring.
Tyler: Maryann, tell me a little bit about how Chimneystone books got started. I understand you are not the only author whose books are featured on the website.
Maryann: During the first ten years I wrote, I also pursued agents and publishers. I jumped through all the hoops and was disappointed in my first agent. While I pondered alternatives, we got on the Internet and were impressed with the iUniverse print-on-demand publisher. My husband, Joe, created a beautiful website with his graphics skills and we picked our huge, homemade chimney for the logo. After we were burned out in the firestorm in California, 2003, the chimney was all that was left. Now, it’s a symbol of both our books and the rebuilding of our place. Joe and I share the philosophy stated on our website. We simply write from different slants. I’m as proud of his books as I am of my own.
Tyler: What were your biggest influences in your decision to become a writer?
Maryann: Ayn Rand was an inspiration to me because she was the only author of her time who seemed to see American businessmen and engineers as heroes. I also appreciated non-fiction books about inventors and those who led great projects, but I wanted to carry it further by adding romance and a little humor. I believe it’s time to have fun again when we read novels, even heroic ones. There are plenty of novels that address tragedy, depression, and monsters.
Tyler: On your website, in introducing the purpose of Chimneystone books, it asks the visitor: “Remember when there were novels with a feeling of discovery and creativity—the sense that the characters were going to develop something or make it happen?” Maryann, would you tell us a little bit about those kinds of novels, which novels you’re referring to that had that effect on you and for which you are now trying to create equivalents?
Maryann: “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand and Ernest Gann’s “Band of Brothers” address the growth and excitement of great men daring to do the very difficult in spite of heavy obstacles and naysayers. I would also add the screenplay written by Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, entitled, “Baby Boom.” That one showed the courage of a woman building a company, on her own.
Tyler: Would you tell us a little bit about the other books you’ve written?
Maryann: My first novel, “McGarin’s AIR,” shows the trials and tribulations of a group of unorthodox high school teachers, led by Ken McGarin. They start a private high school named the “Academy of Individual Responsibility.”
The second one, “Bird Crazy,” tells of a woman who evaluates a helicopter kit company and a flight school for her investor boss. She finds herself studying and practicing to get her helicopter private pilot’s license and falls in love with her instructor. This one is based on my experience learning to fly the Rotorway helicopter my husband built.
Number three was “The Good Life: A Few Years in the Future.” It describes the life and changes for a small-time television star of a half-hour show called “The Good Life.” Ursula Mink demonstrates household robots at a time in the future when homes are run by talking computers that cook, clean, and screen your phone calls. Her guest stars are bizarre, her love life is turned upside down, and she decides to opt for a job with a lower profile. However, the new job also has a dangerous enemy as part of the package.
Tyler: And what are you planning to write next?
Maryann: The next novel I plan to publish is called “Flint.” Onri is a piano tuner and music teacher who moves in with her great aunt. The aunt lives in a farming community in the San Joaquin Valley of California. The aunt introduces Onri to her favorite neighbor, Gordon Flint, who has gradually bought all the farmland in three directions. He turned it into a thriving corporate farm that employs a lot of people. Flint and Onri find themselves drawn into a passionate relationship while a powerful and jealous woman harasses them for having the happiness she desires but cannot have.
Tyler: Maryann, before we go, do you have any final message you would like to give our readers?
Maryann: To anyone reading this I say, when you read a book you like, or even one you disliked, and you feel like sharing your point of view, do it. The Internet provides a brand new avenue for individual expression and this avenue can share your thoughts with the world.
Tyler: Thank you, Maryann. I think more and more readers are using the Internet to express their voice, and going there for opinions that are not necessarily main-stream. Thank you for joining me today, and for providing that opportunity to our readers of hearing an original and thought-provoking voice.