“Edielou Zingarella chose not to marry. Among the possible reasons for avoiding it, she cited neither lack of time nor interest. Indeed, she gave it a great deal of careful thought, sitting up nights for almost two weeks adding and subtracting the numbers, figuring the rate of interest and upkeep costs. She figured the capital lost to the bartenders and the local pool sharks, clothing for the mistress and flowers for the funeral following the discovery of his infidelity…and it just didn’t add up…all that waste was just too much for a well-ordered fiscal mind. In the end, every indication pointed to marriage as a financial tar pit, an endless abyss from which lost funds would likely never be recovered. And so, her pages of penciled calculations went into the wall safe along with every one of that year’s rejected loans…almost every application submitted. Edielou declined to visit those numbers ever again, and no suitor ever made it into her garden, much less down its path. Well, that’s not entirely true…Hank Wiessenschtanker almost made it, but Edielou’s Great Dane Henrietta headed him off at the swinging gate just short of the weeping willow. If this whining, poetry-spewing flower-bearer thought for a moment that he would ever gain the secrets to the wall safe, or that anyone in this house would deign to be paraded about as Edielou Wiessenschtanker, he was in immediate and dire need of correcting. That was as close a brush with the grim specter of shared wealth as Edielou ever had, but at least she stopped harumphing at every man she saw on the street after a month or two. Her resolve buttressed the flagging matriarchal creed, and not a solitary woman in Simpering would change her name out of matrimonial necessity for another thirty years…and even that occurred in a weak moment for the sake of a departing soldier. Why, no sooner did he set foot on French soil than she headed straight for the courthouse and changed it right back…Edielou Wiessenschtanker, indeed!”
I absolutely love this book. The heroine reminds me so much of Kitty from the old Gunsmoke series (am I showing my age, lol?).
This is an excerpt from G.F. Skipworth’s new historical fiction/humor novel, The Simpering, North Dakota Literary Society (Rosslare Press). The Simpering, North Dakota Literary Society centers on card shark and ex-nun Farika Zingarella who won the town of Simpering, North Dakota in the greatest card game ever played at The Huffy Hussy Casino & Billiards Parlor. Gathering five female geniuses to her side, she assembled a sisterhood so powerful that even the United States government had to watch its step. There wasn’t much to laugh about in 1919 – World War I had ended, fascism was already rising in Italy and American women took up the suffrage question. Then along came The Literary Society.
Edielou Zingarella sounds like quite a character; no pun intended! We interviewed G.F. (who likes to be called George) to talk about his new book. Enjoy!
Thank you for this interview, George. Can we begin by having you tell us more about this wonderful group of women who formed this literary society in your new book, The Simpering, North Dakota Literary Society?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about Simpering with you today. Everything starts with one outrageous and self-confident teenage girl, Farika Zingarella, who wins the whole town in a card game, then parlays it into a worldwide fortune. Of the women she gathers to her side, one has the ability to commit an entire library to memory, while another is a wizard with facts and figures. Yet another is a theater maven who began as a poor parson’s daughter, and the other two are part of Europe’s favorite show business family (polar opposites).
I would imagine your main character, Farika Zingarella, is quite a feisty woman! What do you believe made her that way?
We are never sure as to her precise lineage, but we believe that her family criss-crossed Europe as intellecutal nomads before coming to the new world. they loved good food, good philosophizing, music and, of course, gambling. By the time she arrived in America at the age of eleven, “a deck of cards was a Stradivarius in her hands, and her charm was pure poison to any adversary in a game of chance.” All the typical fears that we collectively have about life seem to be utterly absent in her, and no project is too outrageous for Farika Zingarella.
Why didn’t she choose to marry?
When she won the town of Simpering, she was a nun at St. Ursula’s Seminary for Displaced Women, and even though she saved the convent, they couldn’t keep her because she had done it through “the pernicious blight of gambling.” She finally did marry (Egbert Simperin, from which Simpering came about) and had a daughter Edielou, who became the leader of the “Mighty Five.” Edielou had terrible difficulties with the concept of marriage, and shelved the idea after calculating the financial consequences…”loan sharks, bartenders and the funeral parlor following the discovery of his infidelities.”
For some odd reason, Farika is bringing to mind Kitty on the old Gunsmoke series. Are there similarities?
At the core, yes. Petite as she is, she’ll still swing a shotgun barrel at anyone who misbehaves, but she is also cosmopolitan and refined when the situation calls for it. When she finally does decide to marry, she doesn’t court or accept suitors – just walks up to “Eg” and says, “you!”
Can you tell us more about the other four women who make up this literary society?
Mary Beth Tomes is the library genius with a phenomenal memory. A teacher, she is assumed to be past marrying condition since she’s a schoolmarm and only has four toes on one foot. However, “she has a sweet rotundity and divinity of voice that suggests, regardless of her actual words, that cherry pie is soon to follow.” Priscilla Thistlewaite arrives in Simpering on the run from her abusive father, but speaking in a nasal British accent, offends everyone in town on the first day. However, she saves the Lauderdale girl from the carnival’s escaped bear by brandishing a pitchfork and shouting Shakespeare at it, and so wins the heart of the prairie. Gillian Bolzner has sung and danced her way around the globe as the sunny child-star. Her sister Ida, on the other hand, “could extinguish the light of Tuscany at high noon.” She can also predict and shape the future, so everyone around has to watch their step. Finally Edielou, daughter of Farika – six feet tall and made of pure iron, she has the family confidence and is allergic to anything or anyone Italian – except opera.
How come there weren’t any men in the society?
In Simpering, historical gender roles are reversed. When the story begins, men have just won the vote and are being considered for credit and bank accounts. Otherwise, they do what men do on the frontier. They are treated with all due respect, but Simpering is a matriarchy, and there’s no getting around that. Several of the town’s men are followed at length, along with the all-male ambassadors from twenty seven countries.
You wrote the book with the year 1919 in mind. Any particular reason why you chose that year?
This year marks the height of the suffrage movement. Many Americans perceive this struggle as a mere debate that eventually won out, but not so. Many courageous people came to harm, and some did not survive. the 1920 ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment passed by one vote in Tennessee, the state that put it over the top – one measly vote, so don’t ever assume your vote doesn’t count! World War I had just ended, the world was a mess, and Mussolini was already becoming a presence in Italy. Of course, Edielou decides that he needs to be personally confronted.
What interesting things did you find out while doing research for the book?
I’ve always been interested in what people of that era were listening to, studying, wearing, driving, etc. I learned a great deal about the beginning of the communications age, various international governments and gender rules in society. Two side characters, American wit Dorothy Parker and Lady Astor (American ex-pat, the first woman to sit in the British Parliament) appear, but I had to escort Parker off the premises because it’s so difficult to write dialogue for someone that witty. Vesta Victoria, star of the British music halls makes an appearance as well.
If The Simpering, North Dakota Literary Society had a message as a whole, what would it be?
First of all, this is not just another “oppressed women make good against staggering male odds.” Everyone faces themselves and life gets everybody (hardly sounds like fiction, does it?). There is no anti-love theme whatsoever. It is a commentary, but not a judgment on men and women trying to work it out. In addition, there are places a male author simply can’t go in trying to treat women’s issues, and authors who try to provide answers are making a mistake…but we are all qualified and obligated to try asking each other the right questions. I’ve tried to ask them with light-heartedness while preserving the gravity of the issues in that year.
I understand this is your seventh book? Would you like to tell us about your other six?
The first four make up a fantasy series, Fables of the Carpailtin Campfire. It was supposed to be a fourth symphony, but that’s what came out, so you just say “thank you” and move on. I am still fond of those (Shindaheen, Fire and Iceland, Three Roads to Waitsburg and Airna of Karapin), but decided to try historical fiction with a book about Mark Twain’s final incomplete work. My “Twain” stories are entitled Stormfield – Tales from the Hereafter. Then along came Farika, upsetting the apple cart.
What’s next for you, George?
I’ve become so enamored of Simpering’s cast of characters, that I postponed two works in progress, The Madonna of Dunkirk and The World-Weary String Quartet of Alliance, Nebraska, to finish a prequel on Simpering. The working title is The Simpering, North Dakota Sharpshooters. Where the first book goes global, this one goes western, with a few detours. It involves a great deal of research on Annie Oakley, which has been a lot of fun. She has been so mischaracterized, and the Annie Oakley Foundation has been a huge help in correcting that. I recommend a visit.
Thank you so much for this interview and good luck to you and your wonderful book!
Many thanks for allowing me to speak with you. Additional info on Simpering can be found at rosslarebooks.com – I hope you’ll visit. Meanwhile, a wonderful summer to all authors and readers.