Denise Devine is a USA Today bestselling author who has had a passion for books since the second grade when she discovered Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She wrote her first book, a mystery, at age thirteen and has been writing ever since. She has written twenty books, almost all set in Minnesota.
Tell us about the featured book. What is it about, and why did you choose to write this story?
The Bootlegger’s Wife is the journey of a young woman, Charlotte LeDoux, and her struggle for independence at a time when married women had very little. Char was born in Swede Hollow in 1900 to an invalid mother and an alcoholic father who works at the brewery on the edge of the Hollow. Every Friday, she waits outside the brewery for her father to get off work to beg for money to feed her mother and sister (before he spends his entire paycheck at the saloon). She eventually meets Gus LeDoux, the brewer’s son and, at sixteen, becomes his wife. Four years later, Prohibition begins and so does her husband’s career as a bootlegger. As Gus grows more successful, he becomes more powerful and ruthless as well. Char accepts her husband’s ambitions, but the day their nightclub is raided and Gus shoots a Federal Agent, everything changes.
Charlotte is now at a crossroads, and she knows she needs to follow her instincts rather than her heart. This was my moment to show how strong she was. She had no idea where she was going or how she’d take care of herself, but protecting her child from the perils of living with a fugitive is more important to her than her fear of Gus. She reminds me of both of my grandmothers. They were strong women who lived through perilous times. Both were born around the same time as Char. I named Char after my maternal grandmother, Charlotte Esther Smith Van Elsberg. The private investigator, Will Van Elsberg is named after my grandfather.
The setting for the story is a house that actually exists in St. Paul, and it belongs to a relative. Every time I visited that house, I found its beauty so fascinating that I knew I had to include it in a story. I grew up listening to my Grandma Esther talk about her life and found the prohibition era fascinating. Many of the facts about Charlotte were drawn from my grandmother’s life (such as her alcoholic father). Once I started writing about Char, she became so real to me that one book turned into three.
Tell us a little about your writing process. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
I wanted to know how Prohibition specifically affected Minnesota so nearly all of my research books are found on the Minnesota Historical Society’s bookstore. I went to the library’s online catalog and found all of the books I needed. The librarian at the Giese Library in Wyoming (the closest library to me) located them all online and ordered them from other libraries. I read them all and then purchased the ones I found to be the most useful to keep for future reference.
Research is an ongoing process, especially if you are writing a series. I use the Internet for information that I can’t get from my research books, such as when I needed detailed information about Swede Hollow. I found online a paper written by the Historical Society that provided exactly what I needed. In another case, I wanted Will to teach Char how to drive a Model T. I found a YouTube video that explained exactly how to start the car and drive it. I’ll never forget the night I searched the Internet until 2 A.M. trying to find a map of streetcar routes in St. Paul in 1925 and how much the fare was because Char was taking the streetcar from Selby and Dale to the East Side of St. Paul. I keep a document with all of the links to all of the information I find so I don’t have to repeat the process every time I need to verify a detail.
Are there any writers or authors who have influenced your writing? If not, who are some of your favorite writers?
Many writers have influenced my writing. Every time I read an excellent book I strive to be as good of a storyteller as the book’s author. I’ve wanted to be an author ever since I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Series in grade school. As a child, during the summer, I’d sit at my bedroom window (long after I should have been in bed) and read by moonlight. In seventh grade, I read Gone With the Wind and fell totally in love with Margaret Mitchell.
I have a lot of favorite authors, but one of my favorite Minnesota authors is John Sanford. I have read all of LaVyrle Spencer’s books and Kathleen Woodiwiss’ books as well. Actually, when I read Kathleen Woodiwiss’s first book, The Flame and the Flower, I knew I wanted to write a romance.
Has a library or librarian impacted your life or your writing life?
I have spent much of my adult life working in offices in both downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. I’d go to the library on my lunch hour and leave with an armful of books, always telling myself that next time I wouldn’t get so many because now I would have to put my life on hold to get them all read. I never listened to myself! When I went to take them back, I always left with another armful. When a writer walks into a room filled with books, that is what always happens.
Before Covid, my writing group used to meet once a month at the Giese Library in Wyoming, MN. Now we meet on Zoom.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
My husband is a travel agent and so we travel a lot during the year. I have just completed my 20th cruise. In the summer, I have a butterfly garden and raise monarchs (something I started during Covid). I also like to sew bookbags for kids and adults. I sell the bags along with my books at book signings when space permits. Last but not least, I have three cats and they insist on sleeping right next to my computer while I write.
Favorite place to visit in Minnesota?
As a kid, I spent a lot of summers camping in Minnesota State Parks. They are the best! Back when my kids were young, we took them to Itasca and many other parks around the state.
I have also been to a number of historic sites around the state, including the Twin Cities. When I worked for the City of Minneapolis on the Mississippi Mile riverfront activity committee, we used to have meetings at St. Anthony Main, Nicollet Island Inn, the James J. Hill House, Ard Godfrey House, Alexander Ramsey House and we even had a meeting once on the Jonathan Paddelford. I have set several of my books on Nicollet Island.