Mary Doria Russell Novelist

Mary Doria Russell
– By Kari Burkey of KD Guest Ranch –

I wanted to write about Doc Holliday because I am drawn to the unfairly maligned. John Henry Holliday deserves more respect and compassion than he’s been given, in life, fiction and film.

My take on the 30-second O.K. Corral gunfight is that it was a misdemeanor arrest gone wrong. The next six months, however, were a cross between a Sicilian vendetta and Greek tragedy.

Doc Holliday would be pleased that my readers and I have provided 88 cleft palate surgeries in his memory through the Doc Holliday Memorial Fund at Smile Train. I match donations dollar for dollar (contribute at MaryDoriaRussell.net).

The problem with Old West history is that pioneers, cattle drives and boomtowns are often taken out of context. The 1880s were the era of Tchaikovsky and Brahms, Tolstoy and Dickens, Cézanne and Degas, of Bell Telephone, Standard Oil and the Edison General Electric Company. The modern world had begun, but you’d think the Old West was on another planet—likely why the Fox series Firefly worked so well!

The most surprising tidbit I learned about Doc Holliday is that he and Margaret Mitchell shared the scandalous Catholic sides of their family trees, and that Gone with the Wind’s Melanie Wilkes was a portrait of Doc’s beloved cousin, Martha Anne Holliday.

A lesser-known site in Tombstone, Arizona, is the Good Enough Mine, south of Toughnut Street. Do take archaeologist Carey Granger’s underground tour. The mines are the reason for the town!

My next project is about the 1913 copper strike in Calumet, Michigan. On Christmas Eve that year, 59 children were killed because their parents were trying to unionize the mines.

My shameful secret: According to IMDb, I am the only one who thinks A Million Ways to Die in the West was funny.

Val Kilmer got me interested in Tombstone. And shut up about how he got fat. Who among us is thinner than we were in 1993?

Most people don’t know I have studied Spanish, Russian, Latin, French, Croatian, Hebrew, Italian and German languages, with varying degrees of seriousness and retention.

I wanted to grow up and be an anthropologist specializing in Arab culture. I saw Lawrence of Arabia too many times!

When I was a little kid, I watched The Cisco Kid and The Lone Ranger—early lessons in appreciation for diversity!

Three people I would invite to a dinner party: Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, on the eve of the 1921 Cairo Conference, where the borderlines of the Middle East would be drawn. I’d warn them that they were setting us up for another Hundred Years’ War.  (That is, by the way, the plot for my novel Dreamers of the Day.)

The secret to a good marriage is marrying someone who can say something so outrageous and funny, you shoot coffee out your nose at breakfast.

To be a perfect house guest, have a seat, have a drink and keep me company while I make Kosher Carbonara for you.

You’ll know I’ve made it when Terry Gross interviews me on NPR’s Fresh Air.

 

MARY DORIA RUSSELL, NOVELIST

Accused of having literary ADD, Mary Doria Russell has written two Science Fiction books, two 20th-century historical novels and two Westerns. Her latest, Epitaph, is a sequel to her first Western, Doc. When she is not writing, she is addicted to needlepoint. Born in Elmhurst, Illinois, Russell was raised by her Marine Corps drill instructor father and Navy nurse mother. She earned a doctorate in biological anthropology at the University of Michigan. Residing near Cleveland, Ohio, she has a son with husband Don.

 

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