My guest this week is Dave Tamanini, who at the age of 72, has spent a lifetime studying relationships. That is, relationships between races and genders as a civil rights enforcer, and relationships between family members as a lawyer working in family courts. After retirement, he found the perfect way to unite all these studies into one book about a slave during the Salem Witch trials. We'll talk about that book in a moment, but first a little more about Dave Tamanini.
Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.
A couple of highlights from our interview:
On his work as a civil rights investigator
It was basically law enforcement, investigating and enforcing violations of law in matters of gender discrimination and racial discrimination, principally. And that work opened my eyes to matters of race, as well as questions of law, and both of those factors were big factors in me deciding to go into law practice.
On becoming an author later in life
One of my favorite poets is Dylan Thomas and we all know his, do not go gentle into that good night. At a certain time in your old age, you should burn and rave at the close of day, and rage against the dying of the light. That's a message I have to seniors who think they want to express something that's important to them in a way that's entertaining. Don't hold back.
Listen to My Interview with Dave Tamanini
Subscribe to our Ask ALLi podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or Spotify.On Inspirational Indie Authors, @howard_lovy features @DavidFTamanini, who at the age of 72, has spent a lifetime studying relationships between races, genders, families. He combines all three in his book about the witch trials.… Click To Tweet
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript of My Interview with Dave Tamanini
Howard Lovy: I'm Howard Lovy and you're listening to Inspirational Indie Authors.
Every week, I feature a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors to find out what inspires them and how they are an inspiration to other authors.
My guest this week is Dave Tamanini, who at the age of 72 has spent a lifetime studying relationships; relationships between races and genders as a civil rights enforcer, and relationships between family members as a lawyer working in family courts,
After retirement, he found the perfect way to unite all these studies into one book about a slave during the Salem witch trials.
We'll talk about that book moment, but first, a little more about Dave Tamanini.
Dave Tamanini: Hello, Howard. Hi everybody. I'm Dave Tamanini and I'm living in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, now. I just released my debut novel, a historical fantasy titled, Tituba – The Intentional Witch of Salem.
I was born in the coal region of Pennsylvania. I grew up in a military family. One of the things that shaped my life really intensively, I think, is that in the first 16 years, my family moved 13 times. So, we had to make friends quick, but we never really were able to keep friends. I was in a lot of different schools and this nomadic form of life, which every military family, everyone who's grown up in a military family knows quite well, it doesn’t help you foster relationships.
This has been one of the guiding things that has driven my life is a special attention to relationships.
Howard Lovy: Dave went on to college at the university of Maryland, majoring in speech communications with a minor in sociology.
Dave Tamanini: And both of those fields of study contributed to my choice of going to law school.
But another factor that helped me decide I wanted to be an attorney was that, after the University of Maryland, I got a job as a civil rights investigator, and that was working for the state government, and it was basically law enforcement, investigating and enforcing violations of law in matters of gender discrimination and racial discrimination, principally.
And that work opened my eyes to matters of race, as well as questions of law, and both of those factors were big factors in me deciding to go into law practice.
Howard Lovy: But before law school, when he was a civil rights enforcer, his eyes were opened to racial disparities in the United States. Something he would call upon much later in life when it came to his writing.
For his civil rights enforcement job, did he meet with hostility?
Dave Tamanini: Well, I did. I mean, that's an insightful question, Howard. As a white, European American, people didn't talk about race, and when I was working in that field, there was no discussion among white folks about issues of, you know, how a whole lot of America didn't have the same privilege as we had.
As many folks understand, when you're white, you grow up with white folks. When you're a person of color in America, you generally grow up with black folks and it's two societies, but the irony is that the people are exactly the same inside; the same feelings, the same fears, the same aspirations, and unfortunately, white folks don't understand that really well.
It used to be a forbidden topic.
Howard Lovy: Dave chose to go to the University of Detroit Law School because it was a big city undergoing a great deal of change at the time. It was a white dominated city with a growing and vocal African American community. He wanted to, “go where the action was.”
He graduated from law school in 1978 and started his own law practice in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Dave Tamanini: Ultimately, I segued from the kind of things small town lawyers do. Harrisburg is the state capital, but it's basically a small town. And I ended up doing family law because I recognized that my clients were mostly ordinary folks, good people, in an awful time in their life. And what I could do for them make me feel good about my work.
I would say the last 10 years, the last third of my career, I did family law, helping people in that field. It was that you could get a tangible result. Sometimes when lawyers represent people in any kind of case you can name, it's hard to tell if there was a good result, right after you finish your work. With family law, you got good results, meaning that it was a concrete conclusion. It was awful getting through it but demonstrating to your clients that you feel confident that there's going to be an end, that the conflict is going to be over, it was satisfying.
Howard Lovy: Meanwhile, there was always another activity that was satisfying to Dave, but one that always had to take a back seat to his career.
Dave Tamanini: I was always a storyteller. I grew up with my grandmother who had been an immigrant from Northern Italy, Southern Germany, Austria, I should say. And she used to tell stories, Grimm’s fairytales types of stories that would scare the you-know-what out of us. I just liked hearing stories. I then had a period when I was really sick when I was a child and was bedridden for about four months, and I was old enough to read. So, I started reading then. Reading and storytelling then became fun things for me.
Eventually, actually, when I was in law school, I wasn't quite sure I was cut out to be an attorney, but I had a very supportive spouse and when I said, you know, I'd like to try to start writing fiction I got the okay. And I started my first novel when I was in law school, that was an adventure. One, because my thoughts of my skill were far greater than my actual skill. And like so many writers, the first novel you write is one that goes into a drawer, it comes out every few years, you kind of think, geez, where did I go wrong?
But there were too many ways that you did go wrong, but it was a learning experience. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t keep writing because, when I graduated from law school and opened my own law practice, I had a family and I shared responsibility for bringing home income for the family and helping to raise the kids.
I had to stop writing until I retired.
Howard Lovy: After retirement, Dave chose a topic for a novel that combined his lifetime interest in racial justice, relationships, and the law, and just a dash of magic.
Dave Tamanini: After I retired, I still stayed a member of the county bar association. I had so many former colleagues and friends and I, you know, I still hadn't totally decompressed from being an attorney. And I was already back to writing, I was trying some short stories.
I went to a continuing legal education class, lawyers in Pennsylvania have to take so many credits every year to maintain professional licensing. The director of the bar association had brought in a law school librarian who had done years of research on witch hunts and witchcraft. So, it was one of those continuing legal ed things that were both interesting, because it talked about due process and how people were convicted unjustly, and suffered the death penalty, as well as an interesting historical narrative. Because in colonial Massachusetts, of course, we have the worldwide, basically, known hysteria that paralyzed that part of the British colony in the 1690s, and really some years, even before that. But its epitome was during the 1692 Salem witch hunts.
So, I went to that seminar and I was bouncing around ideas, what can I write about? I had wanted to get into magical realism at first, but then I came across this story and then I visited Salem to do research. And then I learned about Tituba, the African slave of the village minister, who was actually accused of being a witch. Well, most people looking at that story realize none of the people that died or that were convicted of witchcraft were really witches, witches in the understanding of the Puritan religion belief, that they were tools of Satan.
Directed by Satan to help harm people and take souls from their salvation or stop people in their journey to salvation. So, this woman Tituba, a woman of color, just resonated with me. And the second point was, I wanted to understand the relationships she had with the people in her house. Two of the children in that house were among the first who were afflicted by witches in the true story of Salem. And I thought, let's take a look at this. And two of my interests of a lifetime, one – relationships, and two – the relationship of people that were different from the dominant culture. And so, Tituba became a focus of my interest.
I talked to a man in Nigeria then, when I was doing research, who was a Yoruba person, and I asked him if the name Tituba had any translation from Yoruba language to English. And he said, well, a rough translation of it is, one who appeases or to be an appeaser, and things just clicked with me. If her name was Tituba, and I want some magical realism, which then turned into just plain old magic later, and as the story finally ended, I thought, let's make her a person who was taught to appease. She was named by her mother that way, and let's see what happens if she's the slave of the minister and then is accused of witchcraft. What might make her, what might motivate her.
And in the real-life story of Salem, Tituba starts accusing other women of being, witches too. Well, that's never been dug into really deeply, why would she do that? And I was off to the races.
Howard Lovy: What Dave ended up with at the finish line is a story that touches upon many of the issues of race, power, and law that he's been thinking about his entire life.
And a memorable lead character who undergoes many transformations throughout the story.
Dave Tamanini: The basic story is that, in colonial New England, the settlers were Puritans. They had left England because they thought the Anglican church was becoming too much like the Roman Catholic church, and they set up this theocracy, essentially. In that theocracy people were always taught that if you look at over your shoulder, the devil is there. The Devil is there to take your soul.
Tituba is living in the minister's house, of all places. The minister is the slave master. in reality. Tituba lives a life of appeasement until the minister unjustly punishes her son. Tituba, who's been the appeaser during her entire lifetime, snaps. And now, suffering what only a mother can feel, she wants revenge. Tituba’s mother taught about the occult world and magical powers to those who wanted to achieve them.
And Tituba always searched for her inheritance from her mother to have those powers, and she never had them. But when her son was killed, she found those powers, and as one seeking revenge, she now had the tools to execute her powers on those that she felt had been her oppressors. And the story then morphs into the real story in Salem of women who were accused, but this time in Tituba – The Intentional Witch of Salem, Tituba is the one who starts the witchcraft hysteria. Like any human being, once she's been responsible for injuring individuals, children, innocent women, her conscience catches up with her. And once that happens, she has to deal with the conflict.
Howard Lovy: So, here you have a compelling story on its own, based on a real historical character.
Why does it need magic at all?
I suggested that many novels that are set in painful periods of history are employing magic to help tell the story, perhaps even to soften the blow of tragedy.
Dave Tamanini: I think your observation, Howard, is a good one, and in stories that deal with tragedy, oftentimes today, in modern literature, the writers are using magical realism or fantasy, kind of, as a way to explain the unexplainable.
Because people today, I think, are less reliant on traditional religions. Going right alongside that, that belief in witchcraft and Wicca and paganism, as an ancient religious belief, is growing in America. It's a movement of belief to try to explain the unexplainable, and that plays into this story of Tituba – The Intentional Witch of Salem, because you have the. Puritans who taught that there was predestination, but that you didn't know whether you were pretty destined to go to heaven or not. So, you had to kind of be good, even though God already made that decision and the devil's always trying to tempt you anyway. So, that was their explanation of when bad things happen, it's the devil. When bad things happen, sometimes it's God punishing you for being sinful. And here we have Tituba’s powers. It's not a story about occultism and religion, but it's a counterpoint to the traditional religious beliefs in the 17th century,
Howard Lovy: The novel is set in the 17th century, but there is renewed interest in historical African American characters, in addition to finding new ways to tell stories about historical and contemporary race relations.
As for the future, Dave doesn't have another book in mind. He feels like this is the story he needs to tell at the age of 72 and will focus on getting the word out.
Dave's advice to others his age, don't wait to tell the story that's within you.
Dave Tamanini: One of my favorite poets is Dylan Thomas and we all know his, do not go gentle into that good night. At a certain time in your old age, you should burn and rave at the close of day, and rage against the dying of the light. That's a message I have to seniors who think they want to express something that's important to them in a way that's entertaining.
Don't hold back.