Author Pamela Nowak writes historical women’s fiction and award-winning historical romance set in the American West. Necessary Deceptions: The Women of Wyatt Earp (Five Star Publishing, 2022) is her second historical fiction release that explores the forgotten stories of real women. You’ll find Pam on her website at PamelaNowak.com and on Facebook. Read more about her writing in SWW’s 2022 interview, and look for Necessary Deceptions at Barnes & Noble and on her Amazon author page.
What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Necessary Deceptions?
I think what I want readers to know right up front is that this is the story of Mattie Blaylock and Josie Marcus rather than a story about Wyatt Earp. Certainly, how Wyatt impacted their lives is important (because he certainly did), but this is about the women forgotten by history and hidden behind Earp’s legend. Neither of these women have been given their own voice until recently and neither have been treated fairly in the books and movies about Wyatt. They were both complex women, dealing with the harsh realities of life and were so much more than the cardboard cut-out characters typically portrayed.
What sparked the story idea, and how did the book come together after that?
A few years ago, I read an excellent nonfiction book about all the Earp women, Mrs. Earp: The Wives And Lovers Of The Earp Brothers by Sherry Monahan. I instantly knew there was a novel there and I began researching several of the women…looking for story lines. I loved Virgil’s wife Allie, but Mattie and Josie had such complicated stories and overlapping stories. There wasn’t much information on Mattie, though. When I found Mattie by E.C. (Ted) Meyers, I realized there were enough threads for me to follow.
Tell us about your main characters. What was it about them that fascinated you so much that you wrote a novel about their lives?
Josie fascinated me in that she seemed to have spent her entire life crafting false narratives about her life. I wanted to dig into her motives for that and sifting through her personal narratives was a research challenge that appealed to me. Her lies contained small pieces of truth and once I found support in the historical record for those, I could pick apart the embellishments and alterations she created. Largely, the legend of Wyatt Earp was created by Josie. She buried almost all of his past lawlessness. Research into Mattie revealed arrest records, court documents, and threads that knit a whole different picture of his past. There were large holes in Mattie’s history but there were family “stories” that allowed me to fill those holes with plausible fiction.
How does the historical setting — that particular moment in history — impact the story and the characters?
The 1850s through 1880s in the West was a time of opportunity for many and some of that opportunity was based in manipulation of legal systems that were in their formative stages. For women, the West was a place of stark reality and few avenues of support. This collision often brought them together within the prostitution trade, whether working it from the inside or “on the payroll” as a lawman. Of course, this didn’t occur solely in the West but in this era, the West was rampant with it. The mix of prostitution, gambling, opportunity, and politics in that place at that time made for tons of conflict.
Is there a scene in your book you’d love to see play out in a movie?
Am I allowed to say “all of it?” I guess I’d love to see the early parts of both Josie and Mattie’s life make the big screen because the world has never really seen those parts of their stories…life before Wyatt. I guess I’m also particularly fond of the scenes when each woman makes the decision to pursue prostitution. Josie, for all her assumed worldliness, likely didn’t have a clue what that life was really like. Mattie, I think, took the only choice available in a time of desperation. I think the essences of who they were really comes through in those scenes.
What was the process like for choosing Necessary Deceptions as the book’s title?
The title was born from the theme which was evident from the start. My titles usually are representative of the theme of the book. From there it’s playing around with synonyms and looking at what’s intriguing, not an echo of anything currently popular, and what rolls off the tongue. I create multiple variations and let them rest, then settle on one as the writing progresses. I usually ask for input from critique partners as well. For this book, my early variations included deception, lies, manipulation, etc. “Necessary” was added late in the process as something that would make potential readers wonder about the motives for the deceptions.
What did you like most, and what did you like least, about putting this project together?
The hardest part of this novel was staying true to Josie’s lifelong deceit of people. Most people didn’t like her, but I had to craft her as a protagonist readers would like and sympathize with. I think I most enjoyed developing Mattie as someone who was so much more than the laudanum addict portrayed in the movies.
Do you feel your writing style has changed since you wrote your first novel?
Absolutely! My first books were historical romances and there is a certain expectation readers have of romances that limits the plot and character development. Writing historicals gives me more freedom to experiment. Then, there’s the fact that I’ve grown in my craft. Some of the elements of fiction I had to work so hard on during the writing of my first books are now easier, so I can work on more advanced techniques.
What are the challenges of writing for the historical fiction market?
I typically do not write to the market (i.e. what’s hot right now). I like to write about real people and real events. If those people and events are recognizable, the book has greater marketing potential. A novel about a small-town teacher will have a smaller audience than one about Lizzie Borden. There are sometimes stories out there that appeal to me but I know it’s a better strategy to focus on those that may have a broader audience.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kat has a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.