Category Archives: Interviews

Ruth Hull Chatlien

The Ambitious Madame BonaparteRuth Hull Chatlien is the author of the historical novel The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte. Here’s her take on writing historical fiction.

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

Ruth Hull Chatlien: I started my first novel when I was ten years old—so long ago that I don’t remember why I did it beyond a love of stories. That first novel was historical fiction about forbidden romance and patriotic spies during the American Revolution. I finally finished the 120-page manuscript when I was in high school. In college, I majored in literature, and influenced by that experience, I spent the next 30 years writing literary fiction. I managed to get a few poems and short stories published. Finally, a few years ago, I decided to go back to my first love: historical fiction.

M.A.: What inspired you to write The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte?

R.H.C.: My husband and I were great fans of the Horatio Hornblower television series in the late 1990s. Then in the 2000s, we discovered an additional four episodes that we had never seen because they were produced much later. The last of those featured Jerome and Betsy Bonaparte. Despite my familiarity with world history, I didn’t know that Napoleon’s brother had married an American. When I looked up the facts on the Internet, I discovered that Betsy’s real life was far more interesting than the snippet shown (and distorted) in the television show.

M.A.: Tell us about The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte. How would you describe it to potential readers?

R.H.C.: The book combines romance, action adventure, and a tale of family dysfunction. Betsy Bonaparte was a heroine as beautiful and headstrong as Scarlett O’Hara, but unlike Scarlett, she was a real woman. She led a tumultuous life because of her belief that a woman had as much right to exercise her talents as any man.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like? What can you tell us about the joys and the challenges of being an author?

R.H.C.: Originally, I sought traditional publication for the novel. I spent about six months shopping it around to agents without success. The original version of the book had two problems; it was longer than what publishers wanted to see from a first-time author, and because I had tried to keep it short, it wasn’t descriptive enough. Then in February 2013, through a mutual friend I met the man who had founded Amika Press in Chicago. He was excited about the concept of my book, so after taking some time to consider whether I was ready to give up on New York publication, I submitted the manuscript. The publisher and editor at Amika both read it, liked it, and agreed to take it on. My editor was fantastic and really helped me make it the book I dreamed it would be. To my surprise, he wanted me to make it even longer by adding the descriptive details I had left out. We went through one major revision and one copy edit, and then the novel came out in December 2013.

M.A.: For me, researching historical fiction is always the most challenging part. What is your research process? Do you travel for research? How do you incorporate the facts of the era with your fictional story?

R.H.C.: I researched the novel by reading several biographies of Betsy as well as books about Jerome, Napoleon, Dolley Madison, the War of 1812, Baltimore architecture, period clothing, and an early excursion to Niagara Falls. I also took a research trip to Baltimore to visit historic homes, Fort McHenry, a 19th century warship, and the Maryland Historical Society.

Even after gathering all those facts, I still had to deal with areas where details have been lost to the historical record. One of my favorite analogies for writing historical fiction is “hanging the swags.” I think of the known factual events as brackets extending at irregular intervals along a wall. As a novelist, I had to make up scenes and bits of dialogue to connect those known events—like draping material to connect the brackets.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

R.H.C.: I owe a tremendous debt to Graham Greene for showing me that it’s ok to write about deeply flawed characters. I very much admire historical novelists such as Tracy Chevalier, Hilary Mantel, and Sarah Dunant for the way they have made the past come alive in their work.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write and publish historical fiction?

R.H.C.: Tell a good story, but don’t neglect the history. I recently read a historical novel set in the same period as mine and dealing with some of the same people. The plot was fast-paced, and the characterization of the heroine was well conceived, but the book was riddled with anachronisms and inaccuracies. I had a very hard time remaining in the world of the book because the mistakes kept jarring me out of the story.

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

R.H.C.: I love hearing from readers. People can contact me at the following sites:

Blog 

Facebook 

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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Lynn Cullen

Mrs. PoeBy Meredith Allard

Lynn Cullen is the author of the new historical novel about Edgar Allan Poe, Mrs. Poe (Gallery Books/S & S).

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing? Did you always write historical fiction?

Lynn Cullen: When you’re the sixth of seven kids like I was, you need a niche in which to shine. The title of Smartest, Wittiest, Prettiest, Most Athletic, and Funniest had already been taken so I needed to find another handle. Not long after I had learned to spell, I wrote my first story, a tale of a bear that ate so much honey that he had to roll home in a barrel. The acclaim (mostly self-) from that made me realize who I could be: The Writer. I’ve been happy in the role ever since then.

Gluttonous bear story aside, I have favored historical fiction from the start. My first published novel, for adolescents, was about a girl who found the ghost of a Civil War bugle boy in her backyard. At the time, historical fiction for kids was out of style, so I snuck in my beloved historical content by having my heroine go back in time with the ghost. In a weird twist, the year after The Backyard Ghost (Clarion Books) came out, I actually found cannonballs from the Civil War in our backyard. My story, in a sense, came true. I have since become a believer in the power of coincidences, a philosophy that I worked into Mrs. Poe.

M.A.: What inspired you to write Mrs. Poe?

L.C.: In a word: desperation. Two years ago, a year after my husband had lost his job like so many others had during the Great Recession, my then-publisher turned down the manuscript I’d been working on for a year and a half. They wanted something with a more “feisty” heroine. Feisty heroines, it seems, sold in a market that was very shaky, as was about every kind of market around the world back then. The week I got this devastating news, my husband fell ill with a life-threatening case meningitis (or encephalitis—they never figured out which). When I brought him home from the hospital, I didn’t know how we were going to survive. He had sustained a debilitating brain injury from his illness and I had no book prospect. So there I was, pacing in my office, half delirious from fear and exhaustion, thinking, “Feisty heroine, feisty heroine.” Suddenly into my dazed mind came the word Poe. 

Not having read Poe’s work since high school, I raced to my computer to look him up. I saw that he was an orphan, very poor, and a lonely lost soul:  just my kind of guy to write about. But I wanted to write a novel from a woman’s point of view—and a feisty one, evidently, at that—so I kept looking. Poe’s wife, Virginia, was thirteen when he married her and didn’t seem so very feisty. Then I read about his alleged affair with poet Frances Osgood just after he’d written “The Raven.” I found that Frances had been abandoned by her portrait-painter husband and was trying to support her children with writing. So here was this desperate woman trying to survive by her writing. Oh, I could so relate. And she was plenty feisty, too. As my husband healed, I set about telling the story of Frances and Edgar from her point of view. If Frances’s desperation seems real to you, it’s because her creator was living it. But I’m grateful to have gotten a genuinely emotional book out of that traumatic time, and, happily, my husband has completely recovered.

M.A.: I learned a lot about Edgar Allan Poe from reading your novel. Mainly, what I learned is that a lot of what we think we know about Poe isn’t necessarily true. I had always thought of him as an opium-infused alcoholic who wrote these brilliant pieces and died in poverty and obscurity. What did you learn about Poe from your research for Mrs. Poe, and what surprised you the most?

L.C.: It came as a shock to me that Poe’s image as a drunken madman comes to us courtesy of his rival, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. They were enemies after Poe had criticized Griswold’s poetry collections and had taken some of Griswold’s literary criticism gigs. Griswold hadn’t been able to harm Poe’s reputation while Poe was alive—everyone knew that Griswold was a hothead and a bully. But once Poe died, Griswold got his revenge. In the most bizarre twist of fate in literary history, Poe’s aunt made Griswold Poe’s literary executor, even after Griswold had written a widely-published malicious obituary about Poe. Once he got his hands on Poe’s papers, he proceeded to doctor them as he saw fit. With Poe’s tampered letters in hand, he began to spread lies about Poe’s behavior and wrote a biography full of inventive slander. This biography stood alone for the next 25 years; subsequent biographers repeated all the falsehoods in it. Our image of Poe as an addicted psychopath, therefore, is the direct result of Griswold’s smear campaign. It doesn’t help Poe’s cause that his stories were so dark, but in real life, he was a very hard worker with little time or money to feed an addiction. The truth is, he wrote his scary stories because they sold. Like so many writers trying to support themselves by their writing in any era, the man was desperate for cash.

Another surprise was that in 1845, the year of “The Raven” and of Mrs. Poe, Poe was considered to be quite appealing and attractive. Reports from those days called him “elegant” and “handsome.” As one man said, “He had gentleman written all over him.”  Poe was not the morose and sketchy-looking specimen of the daguerreotypes which with we’re most familiar. Those photos were taken a few months before he died, when he was not well—not a good time for one’s close-up. Yet these photographs stand since they fit Griswold’s creepy image of the man. A more appropriate portrait has been done by Frances Osgood’s husband, who even though well aware of his wife’s close relationship with Poe, painted this winsome portrait of his wife’s alleged lover.

M.A.: I write historical fiction myself, and my main characters are always fictional while I keep the real-life people as secondary characters. What are the particular challenges of writing an historical novel where your main characters are real people, and not only real people but famous authors? After all, Edgar Allan Poe is a legend in American literature.

L.C.: The challenge of writing about Poe was different than it would be if I’d written about someone who had been at least somewhat fairly assessed throughout history. My challenge—and delight—was to bring to light the man who I think is the real Poe. Even though my Poe is a fictitious character in a novel, he has to be more accurately drawn than the fictitious product of Griswold’s lies. Yet I will be the first to admit that I’m a novelist, not a biographer. My Poe is my own interpretation of the man after I’d done my research. I shaped his character around my story. I saw him as being much like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights—an orphan whose unkind treatment in the hands of his foster family instilled in him debilitating self-loathing. Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff in the BBC Films version of Wuthering Heights provided a handy visual reference—sexy, brooding, and vulnerable beneath cool silence.

M.A.: Mrs. Poe definitely kept me turing pages because I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next for Poe. How would you describe Mrs. Poe to potential readers?

L.C.: It’s an interesting challenge to reduce to one sentence a story that is the result of two years of intense work, but here goes: Mrs. Poe traces Poe’s rise to prominence with “The Raven,” to his utter ruin within the space of one year, through the eyes of his alleged lover, poet Frances Osgood.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

L.C.: I started out by trying to write children’s books when my daughters were young. My three girls had been born within a four year span, so while they were growing up, the most I could manage was shorter fiction, especially since I always had to work at least part-time to contribute to the family finances. Later, I trained as a teacher but as soon as I was certified, gave myself a year to get published or throw my lot entirely with teaching. I had no idea how naïve a goal that was but miraculously, I made it. Twelve children’s books were a result of that hectic period.

Once my kids were older and I’d seen my father through his final illness, I was able to devote the longer hours necessary for writing historical fiction.  My young adult novel, I am Rembrandt’s Daughter (Bloomsbury), served as a bridge from children’s books, and then after publishing two more adult books about misunderstood figures in history, Reign of Madness and The Creation of Eve (both Putnam), I arrived at Mrs. Poe (Gallery Books/S & S). It has been an interesting trip, the best part of it being the people I’ve met along the way.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

L.C.: Penelope Lively is my go-to author when I’m stuck in my writing and simply to refresh my brain. I must have read her Heat Wave a dozen times. She also inspires me because she went from writing children’s books—all fabulous—to winning the Booker Prize. I am also inspired by Stephanie Cowell. Her Marrying Mozart is astonishing in its exuberance and veracity. As a historical novelist, I really respect what she achieved in that book.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

L.C.: Don’t let all your hard-won research blind you to your main goal: telling a believable story that sheds some light on the human condition. And have fun. Although historical fiction might be the most difficult genre to write, it’s also the most fascinating. Enjoy the people you meet on your trip back into time!

M.A.: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?

L.C.: When a door closes, a window opens.  Really—I thought my career was over during those dark days of 2011. Yet from that trauma, the book of my dreams was born. I was given the chance of a lifetime. I am so thankful.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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Justin Hoffman, Editor

By Carol Smallwood

Justin Hoffman is the editor of  FreightTrain Magazine.

Carol Smallwood: Please describe your work with FreightTrain Magazine.

Justin Hoffman: My work at FreightTrain Magazine consists of everything that needs to be done, from reading submissions to editing, from the web programming to story posting. It’s a small operation that I do in my spare time right now. The project is done out of love for reading and writing. It’s one way I can do something more for the author community.

C.S.: Tell us how FreightTrain Magazine came about.

J.H.: FreightTrain Magazine was something I wanted to do for a long time, so I took a small press publishing course in college. As you can imagine the point was to create a small press. I choose to create the fiction magazine I had been dreaming about for years. Ever since I have rarely been able to stop working on it.

C.S.: What writers have influenced you the most?

J.H.: Here’s a really short list: Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, George Orwell; I could go on forever, but I’ll stop there. The two that probably influenced me the most are Stephen King because he made me believe I could write, and F. Scott Fitzgerald because he’s the one I wish I could write like.

C.S.: What are the most common writing mistakes you see?

J.H.: Punctuation. I see a lot of novice author’s work. They mostly stick to commas and periods, which is a shame. Often a story can be improved with slight changes to the sentence structure, and all it needs are some colons or semicolons. The biggest problem is the comma. Writers tend to either overdo the comma or never use it, and most times, they flip back and forth in style during a story. Usually reading a story out loud will alert the author to the placement of commas. Tense consistency is another common issue. If the story is in past tense, don’t use present and so on. Those are technically mistakes; if I had to come up with a plot problem it would be: your story probably shouldn’t end with the main character dying. That’s the easy way out; a mistake I find myself making on too many short story first drafts. There’s usually a stronger ending.

C.S.: What classes have you taken that have helped you the most?

J.H.: I went to college for fiction writing, so I would have to say just about all of them. The key really isn’t what you write or who reads it that will help you the most. It’s simply writing constantly and consistently. The classes also helped in another way: by forcing me to read varied and new-to-me authors. It’s important because you might learn a new way to tackle a problem or find a style you might like to incorporate into your own.

C.S.: What advice would you give other writers?

J.H.: Don’t stop. Writing like anything else, takes a lot of practice. You need to read a lot to learn how to write, and to write a lot to learn how not to write, and to listen to a lot to learn from your mistakes.

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Carol Smallwood’s books include Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching, foreword by Molly Peacock (McFarland, 2012) on Poets & Writers Magazine list of Best Books for Writers; Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing (Key Publishing House, 2012); Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity, and Other Realms (Anaphora Literary Press, 2011). Carol supports humane societies.

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M. Louisa Locke

By Meredith Allard

M. Louisa Locke is the author of the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series and a trusted authority on independent publishing. The first book in the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series is Maids of Misfortune, and the sequel is Uneasy Spiritsboth bestsellers in the historical mystery category on Kindle. Maids of Misfortune is a 2012 B.R.A.G. MedallionTM Honoree.

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

M. Louisa Locke: I knew I wanted to write historical fiction by the time I reached high school. Books had played an enormously important role in my life growing up, and historical fiction was already my favorite. When I attended college in the late 1960s, however, I realized that if I had to have a day job (I assumed that writing wouldn’t support me) I would rather be a professional historian than a professor of English literature. I went ahead and got a doctorate in history, but while doing the research for my dissertation, I found myself daydreaming about writing a series of mysteries that would feature the different jobs women held in the late Victorian era.

In 1989, between teaching jobs, I decided to give writing a chance as a means of support, and I wrote the first draft of what was to become Maids of Misfortune. Annie Fuller, my protagonist, makes money by running a boarding house (a common occupation for widows like Annie), but she also supplements her income giving business advice as a pretend clairvoyant (again, a frequently held female occupation at the time.) In this first book, Annie also goes undercover to work as a domestic servant, the most prevalent job for women in the nineteenth century.

Soon after I completed this first draft, I not only received a series of rejections from publishers but I also got a full-time job as a history professor at San Diego Mesa College. Writing again took a back seat. Twenty years later, when I semi-retired from college teaching, I picked up the manuscript, rewrote it extensively, and published it as both a print and an ebook. The sales on Maids of Misfortune were so strong that I was able to retire completely to become a full-time writer, publishing Uneasy Spirits, the second book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, in 2011. I plan to publish the third book, Bloody Lessons, in the early Fall, 2013. It may have taken me 50 years, but I finally am realizing my childhood dream of writing historical fiction!

M.A.: On your website you mention that you did your Ph.D. dissertation on the late nineteenth century western working woman. Your historical mystery novels are also set around the same time. What brought about your fascination with the western working woman?

M.L.L.: I think that the late 19th century fascinated me because of the parallels I saw to my own generational experience (I was born in 1950 and grew up squarely in the middle of the sixties social movements.) The Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, and the demand for political reform that came out of Watergate all had their counterparts in the 19th century. In both eras, there were strong pressures to keep women confined to the role of wife and mother. Yet, in both time periods there were women who challenged those traditional ideals.

In the late 1970s, I was studying to become a history professor when less than 20% of all history professors were women, so I was surprised to learn in my research that women had held a higher proportion of professional jobs a hundred years earlier than they did when I was growing up. I wanted to know about these women and the choices they made, so I did a statistical analysis of women who held income-producing occupations based on the 1880 Federal manuscript census. I chose to study women in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland because I lived on the west coast and most of the research on working women had focused on eastern cities. Naturally, when I started to think about writing fiction, I turned to the women I had been studying. They had become very real to me, and I wanted to make them come alive to others.

M.A.:  I love to read mystery novels, but I have yet to try to write one. What are the particular challenges of writing mystery?

M.L.L.: As with most genre novels, there are certain conventions that you need to keep in mind when writing mysteries. Even if you disobey those conventions (for example, don’t have a body in the first chapter) it needs to be for a good reason. Otherwise, you can lose your reader. People who read mysteries expect that there be some sort of puzzle that is going to be solved. The puzzle can be a death or some other crime, and the person who solves the mystery can be a professional or an amateur. But as a mystery author, you need to know what that crime is (what was done), have developed some red herrings (people who might have done the crime, but didn’t), and eventually provide enough clues so that the reader has a chance to guess who actually committed the crime along side the detective. Then, depending on the sub-genre of mystery, you need to balance those basic mystery plot requirements with effective character development, detailed setting, believable romance, sufficient suspense, etc. I would say that achieving that balance is one of the most difficult tasks any mystery writer faces.

M.A.: You mention in your bio that your first historical mystery novel, Maids of Misfortune, was inspired by a diary entry from a domestic servant, and that you found that diary entry while researching your dissertation. How do you go about researching the history in your stories? Have you traveled for research purposes?

M.L.L.: Since I spent years doing research on San Francisco and the women who worked there in the 19th century, I don’t have to do a lot of new research for my novels. However, the internet has made the supplementary research I do for each story much easier. There are websites that tell you when the sun and moon rose on a given day in 1880, what words were in common usage then, and what a Victorian corset feels like. The main problem is not letting the research suck you in so that you don’t get the words onto the page.

Because the sections of San Francisco that I set my novels in were devastated by the Earthquake and Fire of 1906, I do have to spend a good deal of time looking at old maps and pouring over old photographs to make sure my descriptions are accurate. But I also visit San Francisco frequently, trying to come at the same time of year that the current book is set in to get a feel for the weather, where the sun hits buildings, and so forth. I love walking the streets between the different places in my books, imagining….

M.A.:  How would you describe your novels to potential readers? What makes your novels different from others about similar eras?

M.L.L.: Many of the other successful Victorian era mysteries tend to portray the violent and sexually exploitative aspects of 19th century urban culture. They are darker in tone than my books and often have more in common with contemporary thrillers. While my books don’t neglect some of the important issues of the day, for example the extreme anti-Chinese sentiment in the west at this time, my goal from the first was to write historical mysteries that were traditional cozies in style.

Annie’s boarding house reflects the kind of small community you find in a cozy, and there is a strong thread of humor and romance throughout my stories as well. The sex and violence is generally off-stage, and there is even a cute dog. On the other hand, I believe that because my historical mysteries are set in real places, with characters facing real issues of the time period, readers can feel a greater connection to the people in my stories than they may do with the quirky characters found in many contemporary cozies.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like? What can you tell us about the joys and the challenges of being an independent author?

M.L.L.: While I pursued my career as a college professor, I watched as my writer friends were treated in the increasingly hostile environment traditional publishing. As a result, when I decided to give publishing another try in 2009, I was open to considering the opportunities that self-publishing and the ebook revolution were providing. One of the major considerations for my decision to become an indie author was how long it took (and still takes) for a book to make it into print the traditional way. I’d conceived of Maids of Misfortune thirty years earlier, I’d written it twenty years earlier, and I didn’t want to wait another 2 years or more to get it into the hands of readers. If no one liked it, so be it. At least I would have given it a try.

Once this decision was made, it only took a few months for me to master how to design, and format ebooks and print books, and it took only 24 hours to upload the Maids of Misfortune. Within a day I had my first sale and my first positive review!

I also enjoyed learning the technical and marketing aspects of self-publishing. I am a life-long student, as well as a social scientist and a teacher, so learning how to publish independently, experiment with different marketing strategies, and then being able to share what I have learned with other authors, has simply added to my satisfaction with the process.

I can say without reservation that my decision to self-publish was the best decision I ever made. Besides the fact that my books have been a financial success, every positive review, every letter from a fan, every comment on my Facebook page is pure gold.

M.A.: I was looking at the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative, and I can’t believe I’m only finding out about it now. It is definitely something readers of Copperfield should know about. How did the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative come about?

M.L.L.: One of the upsides of the ebook/indie author revolution has been that books like Maids of Misfortune that weren’t making it through the gatekeepers/bottlenecks of agents, publishers and booksellers, are getting published and in the hands of readers. However, the question has become: how is a reader going to be able to sift through all those books and find the right one for them, and how is an author going to make sure their books are visible to the right market?

Book review websites like Copperfield Review is one answer and The Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative (HFAC) is another. HFAC was formed by a group of independent authors who recognized that there was strength in numbers. Behind the scenes we share information on technical issues (like cover design, formatting, getting books into the various ebooks stores like Kindle and Nook), and we help cross-promote each other’s work. All of this helps elevate the quality of our work and its visibility.

But the most important tasks were to recruit great historical fiction authors and design where readers could find our work. The group started less than three years ago with just a handful of authors, but we now grown to 40 members with 140 separate titles in our catalog, which can be found at HFeBooks.com.

M.A.: What can readers who love historical fiction gain from visiting the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative site?

M.L.L.: A fan of historical fiction can discover on our website high quality historical fiction that they wouldn’t find in traditional bookstores. In some cases the books are out-of-print books our authors have republished, in others, they are new independently published work by authors who are still traditionally published, and in most cases these are books by innovative independent authors.

Because membership in HFAC is by invitation only and we thoroughly vet those members and their work before inviting them, a reader can be assured that the books in our catalog are grounded in accurate historical research, are professionally edited, and well-written. We have listed the books by historical eras, as well, since many fans of historical fiction have favorite periods they like to read about. You can also find out about the author, the other books they have written, and you can read interesting articles by them about their historical research on our blog.

Finally, if you subscribe to the website, you will be alerted every week about discounts and free books that are being offered, as well as when a new book by one of our members is published. Other ways you can be alerted to this information is to follow us on twitter or Facebook.

M.A.:  Is there a way historical fiction authors can be considered to be included in the cooperative?

M.L.L.: The vetting process is very slow since at least two members have to read and evaluate an author’s work before extending an invitation. As a result, most of our recruitment comes from recommendations from other members. We also look at those ebooks that are successful in historical fiction categories in ebookstores.

The bottom line is: write high-quality historical fiction, market it well, and, in time, as you gain reader recognition there is a good chance your work will come to our attention.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

M.L.L.: Georgette Heyer was my first inspiration. She was a serious historical scholar, but the light romantic Regency novels she wrote are a continuing delight, and for over fifty years I have turned to her books when I need to escape the painful realities of this world. From Dorothy Sayers, and her Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane mysteries, I learned how to combine romance and crime solving. From Tony Hillerman’s New Mexico mysteries, I discovered that the importance of setting, and Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series gave me the idea of combining historical fiction and mysteries. There are many great contemporary writers who have continued on in these traditions, but these were my first inspirations.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction or mysteries?

M.L.L.: This may seem trite, but it is true. Read. Reread your favorite books in the genres you wish to write in, but do so looking at what worked to make them your favorites. Is it the characters, the plot, the pacing, the background material? Read new books, and here you might find yourself analyzing what doesn’t work for you. Why did you get impatient at some point, never really care for the main character, become confused? Do you seem to like books written in the first person? Third person? Shifting points of view?

If you are pursuing historical fiction, skim through general texts about the period, read autobiographies and contemporary fiction of the time. All of this should give you a general feel for the historical setting. But don’t spend too much time in detailed research until you are actually writing the book. Spending days figuring out what to call the kind of carriage your character might own, before knowing if that carriage will even figure in the story, can be a waste of time. This is the stuff you can fill in later as you go along (or after the first draft is written.)

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

M.L.L.: For those who think they might be interested in my work, do check out my website/blog or my Facebook author page.  I also have two short stories that feature minor characters from my full-length novels that you might find amusing. They are Dandy Detects and The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage.

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Meredith Allard is the Executive Editor of The Copperfield Review.

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Donna Russo Morin

By Meredith Allard

Donna Russo Morin is an award-winning author of historical novels, including The King’s Agent, To Serve a King, and The Secret of the Glass (Kensington Books).

Meredith Allard: On your website, you mention how growing up during the turbulent 60s gave you grist for your writing. When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

Donna Russo Morin: My first stories were written as soon as I learned how to write; my mother still has them, the paper yellowing, the creases growing weak with age. I wrote a great deal of poetry during those turbulent days of the 60s while I was living the turbulence of my own puberty. Then the influence of the King took over (Stephen, that is) and I did find my first fiction published in the form of short horror. But all the while I was reading, voraciously, historical fiction, from Gone with the Wind to Leon Uris’s Trinity. When I discovered Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, when I heard the perfect merging of fictional characters within a detailed historical construct, I knew I had heard the sound of my own writer’s ‘voice.’

M.A.: How did you decide which era(s) to focus on for your historical novels? Did you have a previous fascination with that time?

D.R.M.: My first book, The Courtier’s Secret, was a self-fulfilled wish…to be a Musketeer, something I wanted to be ever since the 1973 version of The Three Musketeers with Michael York and Rachel Welch. The second book came from a two minute news story on the glassmakers of Murano, about their continuing efforts to keep their process secret, The Secret of the Glass. The third actually came from the glut of Tudor books on the market and the question I asked myself…how awful I felt for all the royals who ruled simultaneously with Henry VIII; they were so very ignored (for the most part). That’s when I found Francois I and the French court. It was a world filled with intrigue with much more powerful women. Where better to put a young female spy who must make a decision…To Serve a King.

My research on Francois I led me to his real life art agent, The King’s Agent, who procured pieces by the great Italian Renaissance masters by any means. Battista della Palla truly was the Indiana Jones of his age; I knew he deserved his own book. That book led to a fascination with the Renaissance, a period I am now fully ensconced in, completely obsessed with, and am writing a trilogy set within the height of the time and in its birthplace, Florence. Having full Italian heritage and in the process of getting my Italian citizenship, I think it has all led me to where I belong, my home…Renaissance Italy!

M.A.: Your novels are so lush with the history you’re writing about. How do you go about researching the history for your novels? Do you travel to the places you write about?

D.R.M.: My research is a combination of the academic to the practical. For most books, I spend eight to ten months in the research phase. That includes reading as many primary source materials (letters, diaries, journals, manifests) as I can get my hands on as well as the books that specialize either in the era or the people who inhabited it. But I also include some form of practical research. For my first book, I learned how to fence. I attempted to blow glass for my second book. For my third I learned how to shoot a bow and arrow (archery has now become a full blown hobby for me and I own my own compound bow). For my latest release, I learned how to dagger fight. Right now I am immersed in the techniques of painting that were used in the Renaissance period with many visits to many museums and many sketches and antique paint mixing techniques attempted.

Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to travel to the location of my first novel, The Courtier’s Secret, which was set almost entirely at the Chateau Versailles. Spending hours there truly helped me infuse realism into the work. But thanks to the ever evolving internet, there are so many virtual tours available, it is much like traveling there. As I do feel strongly that my work going forward will be anchored in Italy, I do hope to live there a few months out of each year.

M.A.: How would you describe your novels to potential readers? What makes your novels different from others about similar eras?

D.R.M.: They are a vibrant and fast-paced merging of the factual and the fictional to take the reader on an adventure impossible in modern day, where I reveal not only what happened in the past, but how it truly felt. I don’t write bio-fic, which is a prevalent form of historical fiction, but I set my characters next to multiple historical people, allowing the reader to meet and interact with many of the great personages of the past through the experiences of my main characters. I also tend to stray from ‘trend’ topics. My Italy books were released long before Showtime’s Borgias. Renaissance Italy was the birth of new thought and innovation, new ways of life—both grand and lascivious. I endeavor to bring the rare gems of history to light.

M.A.: I always thought if I were a little braver I’d have become an actor. Maybe in my next life… What drew you to acting? Do you see any similarities between acting and writing fiction?

D.R.M.: Acting came to me actually. Though I had done a great deal of school acting (a shy extrovert finds a great outlet there), it wasn’t until I was walking through the local Sears store where I was ‘discovered’ and put in my first television commercial. Modeling and acting became a wonderful resource for income, especially while paying my way through college. Though I tried to ‘make it’ as a rather short woman (for modeling at 5’5) I never made it to ‘the big time.’ It has, however, been a lucrative if sporadic part-time profession. The greatest rewards have been working with (with being relative as I was an extra in The Departed and a Showtime series The Brotherhood) the likes of Martin Scorsese, Martin Sheen, and Jason Isaacs (Lucias Malfoy of Harry Potter).

I do think the ability to completely immerse myself into a character, whether it is as an actor or writer, is invaluable. For that is what I do whenever I write…putting myself ‘into’ the character, imagining what they would be feeling and doing in the circumstances my writing has put them in. It is an empathy that comes across on the page I think…I hope.

M.A.: All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

D.R.M.: Twisted.

In truth, I had no choice but to become an author, it was imprinted in my DNA. While I started writing as soon as I learned how to hold a pencil, external forces tried pushing me in other directions, then true destiny took over.

I took my first degree in Communications and mapped out a fairly successful freelance writing career while working a ‘day job’ in public relations and advertising. In addition to inclusion in the two anthologies, I was on staff at a local magazine, and my book review career, which began in 1988, hit a pinnacle of sixty published reviews, including publication in The Milwaukee Journal, The Hartford Courant, and Foreword Magazine.

Novel writing was always the ultimate goal. It took me seven years to write my first novel–giving birth to two boys at the same time–a medieval fantasy liberally laced with horror. It sits in my hope chest still, though I still have ‘hope’ for it.

In the summer of 2002, I came down with what I thought was the flu. After two and a half years and more doctors than I care to remember, I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. Six weeks later, my father passed away from cancer. I retreated from the world and into my books and writing. I re-watched The Three Musketeers and remembered how much I loved it and all the Musketeer stories. I remembered how I wanted to look like Rachel Welch/Constance (who doesn’t?) but I wanted to be Michael York/D’Artagnan. The idea for The Courtier’s Secret, my first book, was born. While being treated for the Lyme, I conducted nine months of research and wrote the first draft in nine weeks.  I found an agent in two months and she got me my first two book contract in four months. The rest, as they say….

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

D.R.M.: Stephen King taught me how to write, though he doesn’t know it. His talent for telling a complex story in a simple manner, as if he sat next to you and told it to you, was my tutorial. Diana Gabaldon’s amazing talent for merging fact and fiction in a dynamic manner became my ideal. J.K. Rowling’s triumph over a broken marriage and harsh financial situations is my own story. But, in truth, any artist—be it writing, painting, music—who is willing to forgo material wealth for the sake of the craft is worthy of emulation. People who want ‘fame and fortune,’ who think ‘I’ll write a book and make a lot of money and become a celebrity’ I find abhorrent. But those that want to create something magnificent for the sake of its creation, whatever the cost, those are the people who inspire me.

M.A.: I was reading about your latest project on your website and it sounds amazing. I can’t wait to read it. What can you tell us about it?

D.R.M.: Ah, speaking of destiny. As I said, my third book, To Serve a King, brought me to Francois. Francois was responsible for sowing the seeds of what would become, for us, the Louvre Museum. He was obsessed with art. He had, in Italy, an art agent, The King’s Agent (title of my latest book), who would procure from the Italian Renaissance greats art for Francois’ collection. These two books, and their emphasis on art, led me deeper and deeper into the Renaissance and the evolution of art that took place there. But, as always, I was frustrated by the ‘men’s club’ that is history. So I started researching women artists. That’s when it came to me.

The trilogy depicts the birth of the female Renaissance artist set against the turbulence and brilliance that is Florence in the late 15th century. But it is, as well, an homage to the bonds between women, their steely strengths and their petty weaknesses. It is full of intrigue, murder, revenge, love, sex, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, the great works of the age and how they were created. It is one of the most magnificent moments in history come to life through the experiences of a myriad group of women.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

D.R.M.: Be passionate about the era you write about. Don’t just pick it because it seems to be what’s selling.

Learn ten times more than you need to know or that you’ll include in the book and use only the material that serves the plot of the story. (But save ALL your material…you never know when you may use it elsewhere.)

If you ‘tweak’ history (which you may have to do in order to tell your fictional story) TELL THE READER! That’s what Author’s Notes are for.

Give credit to the hard work of the nonfiction historians from whom we get our glorious material. Include a bibliography even though you write fiction. They deserve it.

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

D.R.M.: I include Discussion Questions in the back of every one of my books. Share the stories with friends and family. Sit together and discuss the works, go through the questions, let your minds go where they lead, tell your own stories. If you belong to a book club, contact me and we can have Skype discussions. But most of all, if you learn something of the past from my books, if you feel something you’ve never felt before…I’ve done my work and I thank you for allowing me to do it.

About Donna Russo Morin:

Donna Russo Morin’s passion for the written word began when she was a child, took on a feminist edge as she grew through the sixties, and blossomed into a distinctive style of action-filled historical fiction at a defining moment in her life. With two degrees from the University of Rhode Island, the state in which she was born and raised, Donna’s first book, The Courtier’s Secret (2009) won RWI-RWA’s Best First Book Award and was a finalist in the National Readers’ Choice Award. The Secret of the Glass (2010), her second book, received a Single Titles Reviewers’ Choice Award and was a finalist in the USA Best Books of the Year Contest. Also a recipient of a Single Titles Reviewers’ Choice Award and a finalist in the USA Best Books of the Year Contest, Donna’s third Book, To Serve a King (2011), was a finalist in Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award as well. The King’s Agent (2012), Donna’s latest release, received a coveted starred review in Publishers Weekly. Donna is currently at work on a major trilogy about the clandestine birth of the female Renaissance artist set in turbulent Medici ruled Florence. Donna is a proud, single mother of two sons, Devon and Dylan—a future opera singer and a future chef—her greatest works in progress.

Donna’s books on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_10/184-1092533-4046236?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=donna+russo+morin&sprefix=donna+russ%2Caps%2C298

Donna’s books on B&N http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/donna-russo-morin?store=allproducts&keyword=donna+russo+morin

donnarussomorin.com 

donnarussomorin.blogspot.com 

Twitter @DonnaRussoMorin

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/DonnaRussoMorin

 

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Valerie Kirwan

By Glenice Whitting

If you want to explore life lived on the edge, then see, read or buy anything written by Valerie Kirwan. This talented author is something of a legend. Skilled in many genres she writes plays, novels and short stories that challenge, fascinate and intrigue. Her following of dedicated readers pack out playhouses and eagerly pounce on every new work.

LOVERS AND LOSERS

It was by chance that I won the La Mama Theatre door prize: Valerie Kirwan’sLovers and Losers of the Last Century. The next day, toast in one hand, book in the other I glanced at the first page. I was instantly hooked and soon totally immersed in an erotic, frightening, but fascinating world of friendship, love and deception. A friend called at noon and found me still in my pyjamas. We had a quick coffee and I was glad when she left. Odie dog whimpered for attention and finally, dinner bowl in mouth, begged. I absentmindedly tossed him a few dog biscuits. Nothing got done until I’d devoured the last word.

EROTIC ESCAPADES AND BLACK HUMOUR

My Internet search for this author revealed an inspiring list of published work. Fourteen plays staged at various venues including La Mama Theatre, Carlton Courthouse, The Botanic Gardens and St Martin’s Theatre etc. Four novels:The Will to Fall. Bizarre adventures and Shale Hemly Whirls. Top best seller list in 1984/85. The Moon is Bloodshot. Erotic escapades and black humour. The Disease of the Silkworm. Betrayal, slavery and sexual politics. The soon to be published Taking a Fool to Paradise , an unsettling but darkly amusing psychological thriller of obsession and potential violence. A collection of short stories: Wandering. Four novellas in Lovers and Losers of the Last Century , nominated for the 2003 Victorian Premier’s Award. Short stories have appeared in IslandMastheadImago, and New England Review . Four stories in the Beyond the Glass Anthology. Three literary awards, including the Jim Hamilton Award from the Fellowship of Australian Writers.

LIVING ON THE EDGE

So many accomplishments, but behind the achievements and accolades is the story of a fascinating woman who has overcome many difficulties to be where she is today. Kirwan studied English literature at Melbourne University, taught English and Drama and had several other jobs including working in a local nursing home. In 1974 she began writing, directing and performing in her own plays and was the first Australian woman playwright to be produced at La Mama Theatre. She became the Theatre’s first Playwright–in-residence and during that time, she wrote and directed her play “The Art of Lobster Whistling.” However, Kirwan did not stop at drama. “I always had a strong desire to write fiction, so, in the early eighties I gave up theatre to concentrate on my novels,” she says.

SHALE HEMLY WHIRLS

Novel writing gave Kirwan the opportunity to explore in depth her fascination with the element of chance, e.g., chance happenings, chance discoveries. “I welcome, perhaps even live for, the unpredictable,” she says. Kirwan creates situations where she is exposed to the unexpected and these experiences not only provided new writing material, but immense entertainment for someone who thrives on serendipitous situations. “Last spring a friend and I set up a small table in the center of a large park at midnight, and wearing large hats and gloves we played a game of chess in the wind. Only two youths on bikes passed by, said hello and went on their way, but I found the experience fun and exciting because of the wind and the beautiful night and the feeling that anything could happen,” she says. Kirwan used her many bizarre random games, called Shale Hemly Whirls, which encourage adventure and unpredictability, as the basis of her first novel, The Will to Fall

THE WILL TO FALL

It was also Kirwan’s untamed spirit of adventure and the ability to step out of the norm that resulted in the publication of The Will To Fall . She says, “When I told everyone I was sending the manuscript to Penguin Books, they said, ‘You’re crazy. Penguin will not publish an unknown, especially a first novel written by a Dadaist playwright.’ My husband said, ‘You’re mad, but I’ll drive you there if you want.’ He did and I simply dumped the manuscript on the reception desk without speaking to an editor. One year later Penguin contacted me and told me they were excited about the novel and they would publish it. Not only did they publish The Will To Fall, but the book made the twelve top best selling list in 1984/1985.

FATE INTERVENES

Unfortunately, after this success she became physically ill, unable to walk, lacking in the necessary energy to keep working and to be part of society. After a break of several years Kirwan was dismayed to discover that the art/literary/ theater world was now swamped with political correctness and that her edgy, dark, brave writing was not being published. Rather than tone down her work to fit in with the current market, she continued to write in her own individual style.

BLANDTRASH AND THE HORNET’S NEST

She joined The Hornet’s Nest and found kindred souls in the group of uncompromising writers who refused to be part of the homogenised BLANTRASH (a word invented by the group). The Hornet’s Nest published two of Kirwan’s novels. The success of these novels attracted the interest of Indra Publishing . This well known supportive publisher contacted Valerie Kirwan and a collection of novellas, Lovers and Losers of the Last Century (nominated for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award), was soon on the market.

Valerie’s latest novel, Taking A Fool To Paradise, a fabulous psychological thriller that keeps the reader guessing. If you get a chance, join the queue and get a copy of this latest novel recently launched by Indra Publishing and I’m sure you will agree with the write up in the Melbourne Times Newspaper :

“Valerie Kirwan’s stories are strong, warm and direct. They marry a sharp edge of detachment with a sensual depth charge. Her lyrical mind-rambling has wit, elegance and charm. Her’s are certainly the fine and sparkling reflections that should be available to all of us.” (David Edwards)

EMBRACING THE THEATER AGAIN

As her readership expands Valerie Kirwan becomes more and more passionate about communication through the written and spoken word. Recently, her interest in theater was revived when she was contacted by La Trobe University to stage one of her plays. “I’m just thrilled,” she says. “Fiction writing and the theater are opposite extremes. Novels are written in solitude and part of me needs the communication that theatre people bring.”

Unpredicted happenings play a big part in anyone’s life. Just when you have your life planned, an unexpected telephone call, a chance meeting or letter can turn that world upside down and life is never the same. Winning the door prize at La Mama Theatre meant a talented author touched my life and I now embrace life’s challenges with a sense of excitement and wonder. I too will play chess at midnight and experience, as Kirwan says, “The wind, and the beautiful night and the feeling that anything can happen.”

______________________________________________________________

Glenice Whitting started writing in her last year of a B.A. at Monash, which was ostensibly going to take her towards a career in Sociology. Fate however, intervened in the form of a class in fiction writing. Many of her short stories have won competitions and been published in newspapers, magazines, and journals. She is currently contributing editor for Inspiring Women at Suite101 and has an e-book of the same title. Her unpublished novel, Pickle to Pi , was shortlisted in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Her play, “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow,” was produced during the WWIT Fertile Ground New Play Festival.

Home Page: http://www.suite101.com/myhome.cfm/womenfollowingdreams 
E-book: http://www.suite101.com/topic_page.cfm/4651/4661

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Sandra Gulland

By Glenice Whitting

Sandra Gulland’s magnificent obsession? Josephine Bonaparte. Discovering, and writing Josephine’s amazing life story full of love and power, took Sandra from her comfortable Canadian culture headlong into the turmoil of the French revolution.

The sun’s dying rays slowly gilds the log home perched on top of a gentle hill. Sandra’s horse, Finnegan whinnies; birds call and finally roost as dusk falls. In the dark of night, Sandra Gulland dreams about a man and a woman who are going to play the parts of Josephine and Napoleon. When they don their costumes the actors lose their identities and become the characters. Sandra wakes, her heart beating, palms sweaty. She says, “This was a terrifying dream and I leapt trembling from my bed, my hands holding my stomach. I felt there was a glass ball inside me, and inside that ball was a spirit trying to speak. Simultaneously I knew that I would write a novel about Josephine.”

Twenty years later the result is three historical novels The Josephine B Trilogy,consisting of The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B: Tales of Passion and Tales of Woe, and The Last Great Dance on Earth, currently published in eight languages in eight countries. A visit to Sandra’s Stunning Website will give you some idea of the magnitude of her success.

How does a writer living in rural Ontario Canada, who used to hate history, eventually become an expert on a French empress born on a Caribbean island more than 200 years ago? Sandra says, “In 1972, I read a short biography about Josephine Bonaparte. It was an amazing story full of magic, love and power. I was kidnapped by Josephine’s profound humanity, her heart, her intelligence, her grace, her courage. She became for me a guiding spirit. An inspiration.” Josephine became Sandra’s magnificent obsession.

MARIE FROM MARTINIQUE

Bonaparte called his wife, “my Josephine,” but her name was Marie Josephine Rose Tascher Beauharnais Bonaparte. Sandra was determined to find the real person behind the name and began to understand the thoughts and feelings of this fascinating woman who, in a time when love was considered to be found only in romantic affairs, fell hopelessly in love with her husband, the enigmatic Napoleon. This was not the usual marriage of convenience, where the wife is simply an attractive figurehead. Josephine was absolutely devoted to him, and he was madly in love with her.

EMOTIONAL JOURNEY OF THE INTELLECT

Sandra’s research is impeccable and all embracing. She followed traditional channels, but also embraced spiritual channellers, psychics and tarot card readers to supplement her academic research. Sandra became a recognised authority on Josephine and the Napoleonic era. Her thick, meticulouslyfootnoted timeline detailing Josephine’s daily movements, and those of her family and friends: plus social issues, battles and even the flue viruses that plagued the population of Paris at the time, has to be seen to be believed.

However, it is the little personal things that bring Josephine to life. Readers are delighted to discover a woman who used charm and cunning to cope with the in-laws from hell, who tried to hide her bad teeth, who was a sensuous lover, a devoted mother, a warm and loving friend, who loved her pug dogs and whose life was a constant struggle against impossible odds.

IN JOSEPHINE’S FOOTSTEPS

To fully experience Josephine’s world, Sandra learnt to read French, travelled to Paris, walked through the neighbourhoods Josephine lived in, and went to the prison she was locked in. She travelled to Martinique, where Josephine was born and raised, attended mass in her church, went to the health spa she frequented, tried the treatments, visited museum exhibits in New York and Memphis and consulted with period scholars. After years studying historical evidence Sandra says, “ I felt that Josephine had been harshly judged. Few seemed willing to question the assumptions made in the past. Few seemed willing to try and see things from her perspective, to walk in her shoes, to give her the benefit of the doubt. And that, precisely, was one of my intentions when I began my novel; to give Josephine a chance to speak, to give her a voice.”

JOSEPHINE REVEALED

Sandra certainly has done that. She discovered a woman more of our time than her own. The Josephine Sandra has revealed was devoted to her children when it was fashionable to be aloof: intolerant of infidelity when it was fashionable to be unfaithful: negotiated deals with bankers and businessmen when it was unthinkable for a woman to involve herself in money matters, much less profit: had close male friends and was comfortable working with men when a sexual relationship was thought to be the only relationship possible.

THE LAST DANCE

The Last Great Dance on Earth marks the end of a passionate project that has consumed Sandra for more than twenty years to the extent that sometimes she finds herself unconsciously writing cheques and dating them with the year 1800. However, she is not alone in her obsession with Josephine. Readers in Italy, Spain, France, The United States of America, England, Denmark and Catalan line up to buy her books and the German hardcover edition of The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B sold 25,000 copies. All three titles have sold a staggering half a million copies world wide. “This is just astonishing,” says Sandra. “In Canada, sales of 5,000 constitute best selling status. I was also surprised to receive an email from a London friend telling me I was on Britain’s Guardian bestsellers list. However, for me, the highest praise is how well the books are doing in France. I thought that would be the most resistant market of all. It’s exciting and I certainly never in a million years expected it. In fact, when I began, I thought, no one’s going to want to publish this, let alone read it.”

Read it they did and clamour for more. Will they plead in vain? Is Sandra going to rest on her well-deserved laurels, content to doze in front of the fire in the comfortable family home that sits solidly atop a hill, occasionally gazing at the broad rolling spaces of Killaloe, two hours from Ottawa’s bustle, four from Toronto? Of course not. Her next book, which she is currently writing, is also set in France: the same country as her trilogy, but not the same century. This time it is the court of Louise X1V, the Sun King and Sandra is passionately researching and getting to know her new heroine, the fabulous royal mistress Louise de la Valiere, who just happens to also love horses.

Sandra cannot wait to begin learning the secrets of horse whisperers and to master riding sidesaddle. She will take Baroque dance lessons, try on the clothing of the period, including the heavy fashionable corsets of the time,and do anything else that will open a window to the soul of her latest magnificent obsession. ______________________________________________________________

Glenice Whitting started writing in her last year of a B.A. at Monash, which was ostensibly going to take her towards a career in Sociology. Fate however, intervened in the form of a class in fiction writing. Many of her short stories have won competitions and been published in newspapers, magazines and journals. She is currently contributing editor for Inspiring Women at Suite101 and has an e-book of the same title. Her unpublished novel Pickle to Pi was shortlisted in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Her play, “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow,” was produced during the WWIT Fertile Ground New Play Festival.

Home Page: http://www.suite101.com/myhome.cfm/womenfollowingdreams 
E-book: http://www.suite101.com/topic_page.cfm/4651/4661

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Mary Doria Russell

By Zack Ruskin

Author Mary Doria Russell is best known for her novel The Sparrow, winner of the Arthur C. Clarke award. This interview focuses on her newest novel, Doc, which explores the relationship between Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp.

ZACK RUSKIN : What was your approach to researching Doc? Did you binge on episodes of Deadwood, or were you eager to avoid past portrayals of your characters?

MARY DORIA RUSSELL : We don’t get HBO so I’ve never watchedDeadwood, though a lot of people have recommended it. In any case, Doc is set in Dodge City, Kansas. Midwestern towns are not interchangeable!

In general, I’m pretty strict about avoiding fiction that overlaps my own. I might read one or two of the best novels in the genre I’m entering, to get a feel for what top quality is, but after that – it’s all non-fiction for me.

I always ground my novels in fact – even speculative fiction like The Sparrowand Children of God required careful research. Typically, I collect 20-30 linear feet of reference works for each novel. For Doc, the books ranged from economic studies of the Kansas cow towns and the Texas cattle trade to a memoir by a 19th century prostitute to the history of a Jesuit mission school in Wichita.

And of course – dozens of biographies! Adults either build on or react against the first 15 years of their lives. Understanding the childhood of characters – fictional or real – is crucial. What was happening historically when each character was young? What were their parents like? I need a clear idea of what characters were dealing with at 14 in order to imagine a realistic response to their circumstances when they’re 24 or 44 or 64.

ZR: Which probably explains why your portrayal of Doc Holliday is such a surprise to many readers!

MDR: John Henry Holliday had beaten some terrible odds just by surviving infancy – he was born with a cleft palate in 1851, when such children commonly died within weeks of starvation or pneumonia. His uncle was a surgeon who repaired the defect. His mother invented a form of speech therapy to improve his diction. He was enfolded by a vast extended family that sheltered him in childhood and supported him in his youth. He was quiet, bookish. Intensely close to his mother. An accomplished pianist, and a serious student who earned the degree of Doctor or Dental Surgery from the best dental school in the country when he was only 20.

So I didn’t start with “the infamous gambler and gunman Doc Holliday.” I started with Alice Holliday’s fragile infant son, and and worked forward from there. John Henry Holliday did not spring to life in Tombstone, Arizona, spoiling for a fight. His life was more than that.

ZR: So you don’t find the expectation of accuracy confining when you write historical fiction?

MDR: Oh, no! I like the touch stone of reality. But how you handle facts is important.

Doc is set in 1878, so in my novel, the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral is still years in the future for the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday. I wanted to strip all the accumulated nonsense and slander away. I wanted to find them before they were anybody – before the lies and legends began to accumulate.

I also felt that no novelist or biographer had really taken the full clinical reality of John Henry Holliday’s tuberculosis into account. So I did a lot of research into the effects of untreated TB and respiratory disease. TB is not just an annoying cough. It’s a vicious, painful, debilitating disease that progressively destroys the lungs until there’s simply not enough oxygen uptake to keep you alive. It’s a slow and terrible form of suffocation, and John Henry had had watched it kill his beloved mother by inches.

So he knew exactly what he was facing when he was diagnosed with advanced pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 22. Think about that: he spent his entire adult life dying. He was almost always in significant pain. He was sicker every year until he died at 36.

Now, the usual interpretation of that fact is that Doc was a nihilist or a fatalist, but it’s also a fact that he spent his entire adult life trying to find something that would retard the progress of the illness or mitigate its effects. To the very end, he was searching for a cure. He wanted to live.

Tuberculosis – not the gunfight at the O.K. Corral – was the central reality of Doc Holliday’s life. Absent tuberculosis, he would have lived and died as his cousin Robert did: as a successful Atlanta dentist, respected in his community and his profession, with a wife and children. A forgotten man, but a happier one.

ZR: You’ve crossed a lot of genres throughout your novels. Do you find you have to alter your prose to fit the narratives?

MDR: I alter my prose to fit each book and for each character whose point of view I’m conveying. That’s the fun of it – finding the voice of each character, hearing their dialog. That’s when I know I’ve got a story going – when I can hear the voices.

In writing Doc, the narrator’s voice was an echo of Shelby Foote, the Southern historian who was featured in the Ken Burns film “The Civil War.” The narrator in Doc is similarly relaxed, discursive, informative – a storyteller who speaks now and then, when commentary is called for or when the action needs explanation. He is compassionate, understanding, wry.

The bulk of the story is conveyed through the voices of the characters, however, and their frames of reference differ widely.

John Henry Holliday was an educated man of the 19th century, familiar with Greek and Latin classics, with French literature, and history and mathematics. He studied chemistry, metallurgy, physiology, and anatomy in dental school. He played classical piano and read widely. So he thinks and speaks in paragraph form, in sentences with clauses, quoting Homer or Shakespeare or Flaubert.

By contrast, Wyatt Earp was probably dyslexic and certainly not over-burdened by education. His sentences are short. His grammar’s poor. His thinking is concrete, linked to the world of horses and weather.

So even in narration, their voices are distinctive.

ZR: I’m curious about how you’d categorize your first novel, The Sparrow. I’ve seen it shelved in various sections at bookstores, and in some ways it fits in all the places it’s kept.

MDR: Yes… It’s usually shelved in Science Fiction, and it certainly does fit that category. They don’t give the Arthur C. Clarke Award to mysteries! On the other hand, the commonest thing I hear about that book is, “I hate science fiction but I loved this book.” So it works for people who are sophisticated readers of the genre and also for those who are actively hostile to it.

Personally, I thought of The Sparrow as a historical novel that takes place in the future. As in Doc, there is a strong narrative voice – that of a Jesuit historian, looking back at the events from a distance of a century or more. For the reader, the story is in the future, but for the narrator, it’s all far enough in the past that he has some perspective on the decisions and mistakes of the characters. He unsparingly recognizes damage caused by the characters, but he is compassionate in conveying their story. His first remark about them is, “They meant no harm.”

That’s the perspective I try for when writing historical novels. I have some distance from the events. I can feel some compassion for real people who made real mistakes in the real world, but I also recognize the harm they’ve done, even inadvertently. There are consequences, and there is judgment, but there is also a recognition that they thought the were doing the right thing at the time.

ZRWhy does historical fiction have such an appeal for you?

MDR: I just love research. I love digging into histories and biographies and economics and psychology. If I’m not working on some great big chewy research problem, I get cranky and nervous and start redecorating. My husband always knows when it’s time for me to tackle a new book: he bumps into furniture that didn’t used to be there.

My inclination toward historical fiction also has something to do with the fact that I had severely crossed eyes as a child.

I was born into a time and place when that defect could be surgically repaired. Even as a kid, I was aware of how important that was. Imagine how different my life would have turned out if I’d been born earlier or in a different country! In the 1400s, I might have ended up in a convent – too homely to be considered marriage material. In the 1600s, I might have been shunned as a witch. If I’d been born into my own family two generations earlier, my life might have been like that of Agnes Shanklin in Dreamers of the Day.

A Thread of Grace is a World War II thriller, and in any book about the Holocaust, the underlying questions are, How could this have happened? What would I have done? Each of the characters in Thread is one of my potential answers to that latter question.

The Sparrow and Children of God were set in the future. Nevertheless, the task was to create a believable time and place that were not my own. Within that context, the characters Anne and George Edwards let me think about the kind of wistful freedom that childless couples have: they can pack up and go to Puerto Rico, or Rakhat, without worrying about never seeing their grandchildren! My husband and I became parents at the age of 36, and we were suddenly rooted in a way we hadn’t been before Dan came into our lives. What might we have done and become if we’d remained childless?

Which is not to say that my novels are about me! But a writer’s life is a toolbox, and you use what comes to hand. You bring empathy to bear on the historical research.

ZR: Going back to Doc: one of the most interesting things about Doc Holliday is that he was a dentist–

MDR: Not if you go by the movies!

Most screenwriters have failed to find much drama in dental work. They usually ignore the fact that John Henry Holliday held the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery from the best school in the country in his day. Or they make him into a physician. Or there’s just a throw-away line, like when he urges someone to “Take care of your teeth.”

ZR: But he really was serious about his profession!

MDR : Absolutely. John Henry Holliday was a dedicated professional and inDoc, I try to make it clear why. When his companion Kate demands to know why he wastes his time trying to be a dentist when he could make so much more money just playing poker, Doc’s answer is stark and stunning: “Because I can relieve sufferin’.”

Remember, until quite recently people lived with the chronic pain of decay and the acute misery of abscesses. Take Lawrence of Arabia, just as an example. He was 32 when he enlisted in the R.A.F. after the Great War. His records show that he was missing 8 teeth and had significant decay in 12 others. And his dental health status was actually considered good! Try to imagine chewing with that mouth! But that was typical for middle class Brits in 1923. Things were even worse on the American frontier in the 1800s.

So dentistry wasn’t just a dull day job that Doc Holliday ditched when he got a chance to go West and gamble! That’s why I didn’t write about Tombstone. I wrote about Dodge City in 1878 is because that was the last time when he was well enough to re-establish a dental practice. He’d have stayed in Dodge if Kansas winter hadn’t turned out to be so hard on him. He lived quietly there – the only time his name was in the papers was when he announced the opening of his dental office.

ZR: How did you learn about dentistry practices in the American Old West?

MDR: From Dental Cosmos, the premier 19th century dentistry journal. I read all the issues between 1870 and 1878 – from when John Henry matriculated at the Philadelphia College of Dental Surgery until he arrived in Dodge City.

ZR: Is it true that you managed to work some horse riding into your research process?

MDR: Yes! As a girl, I’d save up my babysitting money to pay for an hour at a stable on an elderly saddle horse – you’re more a passenger than a rider under those circumstances.

But horses the backbone of the economy in the 19th century and a constant part of everyday life, as cars are today. Wyatt Earp was a serious horseman, and I needed to get a feel for his life.

So I spent time on the KD Guest Ranch in Adamsville, Ohio, where Kari and Dave Burkey taught me to ride with authority. And I had the time of my life!

I also watch RFD-TV, a network that has a lot of shows about riding and horses. And I read books about equine veterinary issues, horse breeding and racing. Not nearly as fun as penning calves at the KD Ranch, but very interesting.

ZR: Did you ever go to Dodge City while you were writing Doc?

MDR: No. The town has changed during the past 133 years! I worked from plat maps and photos from the 1870s. I grew up in Illinois and was familiar with prairie ecology, so I know what the landscape looks like at dawn, for example.

On the other hand, I visited Griffin and Fayetteville, Georgia, where John Henry Holliday spent much of his childhood because that landscape was his frame of reference when he went west. Personally, I find the flat lands subtle and serene and beautiful, but if you grow up with rolling hills and pines forests, the prairie can seem empty and boring, and intimidatingly lonely.

I’m writing about Tombstone next, and I will visit that area. I’ve never lived in or near a desert, so I’ll be spending five days on horseback in the country around Tombstone, and will visit in both spring and fall, to get a feel for seasonal changes.

ZR: Westerns have been out of fashion in Hollywood for some time, but there seems to be a resurgence in them lately.

MDR: Yes! True Grit was a big hit, and there seems to be an appetite for them again.

ZR: Why do you think the time is right for the genre now?

MDR: For adults in the 50s, I think perhaps early TV Westerns were partly nostalgia for the time when they’d had close contact with horses and the land. Back then there were still horse-drawn wagons on the streets of Chicago, where I grew up, but horses and mules were quickly disappearing from people’s daily life, just as television was gaining ground and as suburbia was encroaching on farmland.

For kids like me, they provided settings for imagining freedom that was unmonitored by the parents and neighbors and teachers who controlled so much of our lives.

Then in the 1960s and 70s, the Civil Rights movement and the American Indian Movement made simplistic, racist “Cowboys and Indians” tropes unacceptable. For a while, there was a revisionist reaction: Indians became noble and kind, cowboys became ugly and vicious, but the Western was still about good guys and bad guys.

Finally the genre was replaced by Star Wars and Star Trek, where you could make aliens the bad guys and not worry about being picketed by protesters.

I think we’re beginning to get enough distance from all that to start thinking in terms of real human beings, not categories and groups. Also, Westerns as a written genre tended to be pulp, with a few exceptions like Shane and The Oxbow Incident. Perhaps starting with Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove,there’s been an effort to write to a higher standard, to present realistic characters in historically accurate situations and to think past the easy solutions and handy cliches of the genre’s first century.

I’m not sure I could defend this analysis in an academic debate, but those are my first thoughts about it anyway…

ZR: Back on the subject of historical fiction, can you offer up some books you think readers of your work should be sure to check out?

MDR: I enjoyed Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and Iain Pear’s The Dream of Scipio. And I really admire Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra. That’s a brilliant biography, but it’s so wonderfully written, it reads like a good novel.

And it’s unfashionable to say this, but Gone With The Wind is a better book than it’s given credit for, today. Margaret Mitchell and John Henry Holliday were cousins – their family histories overlap, so I reread the book as background for Doc, but came away from it with a lot of respect for the novel and its author.

Mitchell was really brave – it takes real guts to put a ruthlessly, relentlessly self-absorbed character like Scarlett O’Hara in the center of a 1000-page story. And yet, the narrative drive never flags, and Scarlett’s blinkered selfishness is used to make other characters’ nuances stand out in high relief. Not an easy trick to pull off…

ZR: Before I let you get back to writing, would you talk about the role of music in your books?

MDR: You know, I’ve only recently become aware of what a strong element music is in my writing. Not so much in Dreamers of the Day, but in all the other books there are characters who are musicians or who sing, or who are so moved by unearthly music that they are willing to cross the heavens to hear more of it.

Until recently, I had never studied music formally – it was all listening: just emotion and reaction for me. But John Henry Holliday and his mother were accomplished pianists. To write for them, I needed to become familiar with the 19th century piano repertoire by Chopin and Beethoven, and Schumann.

When I started this novel, my tastes ran to 1980s bands like Def Leppard and Van Halen, but I just fell in love with Chopin. I cannot get enough of Chopin! And I ended up structuring the entire novel around Beethoven’s Emperor concerto.

The first thing I did after sending the manuscript for Doc to the publisher was go shopping for a piano. I couldn’t find middle C when I started lessons a year ago, but since then, I’ve mastered Traumerei, with training wheels; a very simplified Chopin prelude, and the grown-up version of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C from The Well-Tempered Clavier!

Six-year-olds are usually pushed at lessons; at 60, you’re pulled by the music. I’ll work for months on one piece until there comes a day when that music isliving right there in my own hands. That is pure magic. ________________________________________________________________

Zack Ruskin graduated in 2010 with a BA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes short stories, reports for Patch.com, and works for Book Passage bookstore in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is currently becoming certified as a copy editor at University of California, Berkeley and interning at McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern. He is infatuated with his Norfolk terrier Scout, hiking in the fog and arguing baseball with his friends. All his words can be found at  http://www.zackruskin.com/ .

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Lee Roddy

By RD Larson

I’ve known Lee Roddy for a number of years and love his books. I just finished Days of Deception. It gave me such pleasure to go away in time and have a train adventure. In addition, all of the children in my life have at least one historical novel written by Mr. Roddy. It pleases me to say that each of those children has an abiding interest in history. You can’t go wrong when you read a Lee Roddy book.

Lee Roddy is a best-selling author who has written 50 novels and 15 non-fiction books with sales in the millions of copies. His credits include Grizzly Adams, which became a prime-time television series, The Lincoln Conspiracy, which made the New York Times best-seller list, Jesus, now a film in more than 500 languages, and four series of novels for young adults. Visit his websitewhere you can order his books and read more about him.

Lee Roddy: Hi, RD. I appreciate your doing this interview.

RD Larson: Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Readers want to know about your work. How old were you when you started to write?

L.R.: My first short stories were published when I was 14, so I’d been trying for a year or so before then. However, it took many years before I could make a full-time living off of my writing

R.D.L.: Did you always like history? And how did you to start writing historical fiction? Have you always had a great love for history?

L.R.: Some of my adult novels and three of my series for juvenile readers had contemporary settings, but my love of history moved me to write about that for both young readers and grown-ups.

I was very fortunate to have a high school teacher who taught me that history is not dates and events, but people reacting to their times. I really loved history from that time on.

R.D.L.: Where did the inspiration for The Lady Pinkerton Chronicles come from? Was there something specific in the time after the Civil War that you wanted to explore?

L.R.: I always try to write about something not well known in history, so I knew the Civil War has been the subject of more books than for any other period, but there was little on Reconstruction and building of the transcontinental railroad. I wondered what would happen if a female former Union spy and an ex-Confederate cavalryman were involved with railroading leading up to bridging the nation with iron rails. It took three books to tell this romantic suspense story

R.D.L.: Do you have a schedule that you follow when you are writing a novel? Do you work a certain number of hours a day, write a certain number of pages a day, etc.?

L.R.: I arise daily at 5 a.m. and am at the computer by 8 a.m. I work until 5 p.m; five-and-a-half-days a week. I do not try for a certain number of pages each day, but do write each one as best as I can.

R.D.L.: Do you always conceive the novels as part of a series, or did the idea for the series grow out of one book?

L.R.: I usually think of characters or a subject that is too big for one book although I have written several stand-alone novels. I prefer series or trilogies. That’s because they give me the space to explore the period, the characters and stories in greater depth. If readers become intrigued with the characters, it’s natural for them to want to read more about them and their situations.

R.D.L.: What are you working on now? What areas of history would you like to visit in your writing in the future?

L.R.: I have two works-in-progress: one has a different slant about the California Gold Rush of 1849. The other takes a unique angle about the Pony Express. As for the area of history I would like to write about in the future – well, for years, I’ve thought about how I could help people rediscover their true American heritage. I see so much deviation from the historic facts that I’d like to tell stories that recapture what it was really like, and not slanted as much of our heritage is today

R.D.L.: Your wonderful exciting novels come to life through your use of history. How does your research process work? Is it time consuming? Do you have any research tips for writers of historical fiction?

L.R.: I prefer working with original resources when possible, so I’m always looking for old manuscript sources, etc. I work by getting an idea of what I think would be interesting to readers and also keep me enjoying the search. Usually, I read an hour each night on various subjects that interest me. I travel to the historic sites where possible taking my video camera and tape recorder. Yes, it is very time consuming, but it’s a pleasure, not work. My interest stays high because I have a strong desire to pass on what I’ve learned through researching history.

As for tips: You’ve got to love what you do or your manuscript won’t have the spark and glow that should show in the finished story. Of course, all well-told stories have about the same basic structure and contents, so it’s how you tell the story that makes it appeal to readers.

R.D.L.: Some writers believe that every fact must be true, while other writers wish to take some dramatic license with their works of fiction? What do you think? A novel has to be exciting to take the reader into it.

L.R.: I believe a fact is always true, but I also believe it’s okay to “write from the silences,” as an author friend expresses it. That is, I sometimes take historic characters, described as they were and shown in a factual setting, and have them interact with my fictitious character. However, I never go against what is historically known about that character or the locale in which he encounters my made-up person(s). Often I can find what the historic character said or wrote, and use those words in a scene. I never change an historic character for the sake of my story. I want that character to be true to self, just as my imaginary characters are true to themselves as I envision them.

R.D.L: What is your advice to aspiring writers of historical fiction?

L.R.: First, learn the craft of writing a solid story. At the same time, begin or continue the unending search for both the historic facts to be melded with characters that only exist in the mind. The challenge comes in trying to write an exciting, page-turning story set against an historically accurate setting. The goal is to entertain while painlessly feeding in bits of heritage that make the reader understand the times, and glad they read the work so they’re eager to buy your next book.


RD Larson was born on the north coast of California. Two of her childhood stories were published before age twelve; at age fourteen, she wrote and produced a play at the local library for younger children. She attended Humboldt State, majoring in art and art history, and then continued her education at College of the Redwoods and Sacramento State University. Ms. Larson began to write again, attending many writing classes and seminars, each time saying she learned more about herself and her writing. In 1995, she began to enjoy e-writing on the Internet and joined writer groups and exchanged many writing ideas worldwide. In 1999, her anthology of her childhood stories was published by bookmice.com. Mama Stories has been read in New Delhi, Beijing, Sydney, and Ottawa, and many readers all over the U.S. have written to her in response to her work. She was a Pirate’s Alley Faulkner’s semifinalist in 1996, and she was nominated in 1999 for the Frankfurt Award. She lives in the Gold Country of California in the Sierra Foothills and enjoys an avid interest in the rich historical past of the area.

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Anita Diamant

By Faith L. Justice

Faith L. Justice: How did you get started writing?

Anita Diamant: I wrote poetry a long time ago, but you can’t make any money in poetry. I switched to journalism and non-fiction. When I turned 40, I wanted to do something different. Fiction offered a different challenge. It uses a different side of the brain.

F.L.J.: How would you describe your story in The Red Tent?

A.D.: It’s a historical novel set about 1500 BCE with a plot plundered from the Bible and told from the perspective of a woman and her culture. Jacob’s daughter Dinah is a great story. It has sex, violence, plot, drama, suspense, and an unexpected bloody denouement. Dinah’s silence in the Bible is a big opening.

F.L.J.: A few people criticized your feminist version of the story and subsequent characterizations of the patriarchs.

A.D.: This is what happens when you appropriate the Bible – you’re treading on sacred territory. It’s very understandable that people get upset and proprietary about their vision of the sacred and what you should or shouldn’t be able to do with it. With a female first person narrator you see the women’s world. Dinah wouldn’t have known what the men’s world was like. Until very recently men and women inhabited very separate spheres. There was always interconnection, passion, love, and interdependence economically and many other ways. But I think we lived in very different worlds especially where you have traditional extended families. Men and women didn’t hang out at the end of the day and chat about what their day was like at the office. They had very special responsibilities and social sense. Women wouldn’t know a whole lot about the daily details of the men in their lives. They loved them, they were important to them, but they didn’t spend the lion’s share of their hours with one another.

F.L.J.: You’ve sold over 200,000 copies. What’s been the appeal?

A.D.: The story works in different ways for different people. Readers have told me how the mother, daughter, sister relationships resonate for them. They connect with the importance of female relationships. And then there’s the Bible. It’s sort of the other person in the room. There’s this book, the reader, and the Bible. Whatever your relationship is to your sacred tradition in the West you have some relationship to the Bible if only through the names of the characters. We all know a Jake or Becky or we’ve named our children Rachael or Isaac. Biblical names are hot again. These people function in our lives whether or not we’re Bible readers, church or synagogue goers. These stories belong to us from childhood. For some people it’s a way to reconnect personally with the tradition they felt alienated from, there’s some power released. I don’t take credit for it. That’s something way deeper than I intended. I didn’t count on that when I was writing the story.

F.L.J.: How did you go about researching it?

A.D.: As a journalist I’m comfortable doing library research and I did a lot. I had a fellowship at Radcliff for a year which gave me access to the Harvard system. This allowed me to poke around in the divinity school library, the Schlesinger Library and Wagoner Library for facts about daily life – food, clothing, remedies for disease, and what houses in Egypt might have looked like. In particular I researched female medicine – midwifery, birth control, and abortion. I didn’t do Biblical research. The sheer weight of the research nearly overwhelmed me. I had to stop myself a lot and tell myself that I didn’t need to become an expert on this. I just needed the details that served my plot.

F.L.J.: How did you organize it?

A.D.: I didn’t outline. When I started the book, I knew that it would begin with Dinah’s birth or pre-birth, there would be this dramatic climax, and end with her death. That was really all I knew. Getting the fellowship sort of legitimized the process. It made me feel like I really had to write this book. I was also working on other books and articles at the same time. I didn’t have an advance, this was my hobby. I really enjoyed it, even though it was difficult and challenging, because it was really different.

F.L.J.: I read you had trouble getting an agent and getting it published.

A.D.: I initially sent it to agents whom I thought would get it. They didn’t. Then I sent it to some I know. One took it on, but he had to back away because of other commitments. I ended up with a local agent. She found a publisher on the first mailing. She sent the manuscript to five houses and heard back from St. Martins. It was a modest first novel advance. But that wasn’t the end of my difficulties. I lived through a classic publishing story. My editor at St. Martins was fired a month before the book came out. It became an orphan book. The editor who took it over liked the book, but she already had a full plate. It was never advertised and didn’t get reviewed in any major outlets. The hardback had modest sales of a little over 10,000 copies

F.L.J.: The paperback sold over 200,000 copies. What drove those sales?

A.D.: I’ve spent nearly three years promoting the book. When Picador USA decided to bring it out as a trade paperback, St. Martin’s announced it would remainder the hardbacks. I said, ‘Please don’t do that. Let’s use them [the hardbacks] for promotion. Why not send them out to clergy?’ I got the lists for them and the publisher paid the postage, provided the books, and mailed them out. We initially sent the books to the female rabbis in Reform Judaism – about 500 women. The President of the organization was a friend of mine and wrote a cover letter recommending the book. Another friend who was the president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinic Assembly provided a cover letter and we sent copies to all of the Reconstructionist rabbis – both men and women. People preached from it and recommended it to their congregants.

I have a10-year track record of writing for the Jewish community and it embraced this book in a big way. The President of the Reform Movement started a literacy project and said everyone should be reading at least four Jewish books a year. The Reform Judaism Magazine, which goes out to about 400,000 households, named The Red Tent as a significant Jewish book. They featured it with a picture of the cover and an interview with me. That’s a recommendation with a lot of impact. November is Jewish book month, so Jewish Community Centers all around the country have book fairs where they invite authors and sell books in advance of the holidays. I had done that with my other books. I only had a little interest in The Red Tent the second year it was out, but the next year, I had to turn down invitations to speak all over the country.

F.L.J.: So you started with Jewish community – did you expand beyond that base?

A.D.: Picador mailed copies of The Red Tent to female Christian clergy and independent reading group leaders. Reading groups have been real fans ofThe Red Tent. The publisher offered discounts and promotional materials if bookstores bought in quantities of ten or more, making it more appealing as a book group reading selection. They created and printed a reading group guide and made it available through their website. The icing on the cake came when Mickey Perlman, who publishes What to Read: The Essential Guide for Reading Group Members and Other Book Lovers recommended The Red Tentas one of her favorites.

The sales numbers speak of a much broader audience. This is a real word-of-mouth book. If ten women read it, they tell their friends, and those friends recommend it to their friends. The more I do bookstores, the more people come up to me from church groups. I spoke at Pittsburg State College and had 2 or 3 ministers and book groups from a couple of churches.

The independent book sellers have been great. The Red Tent was on theBook Sense bestseller list for months. You don’t realize how much of a difference it makes. The independents just do things differently. Clearly they know their readers and they know what they like and they support those books. It’s just a very different relationship. They have a lot more flexibility in what they can order and what they can display and it makes a difference to people like me. The independents hand-sell. When their customers come in and ask, “What should I read?” they say, “You’re going to like this book.” My local independent bookseller has been incredibly supportive and has sold a ton of my books. Locally, it’s been his best seller for many years. I’ll go to events and sign fifty books. I’d do anything he asks.

The publisher sold the rights to foreign sales. Now The Red Tent is translated into 10 different languages, and sold in 11 countries. The covers are really different but it’s doing very well. It’s just amazing to me. It’s wonderful. I was invited to Holland by the Dutch publisher and did a book tour in Amsterdam which was – WOW.

F.L.J.: You’ve said there is an element of luck in getting published.

A.D.: I’m not a literary writer. I didn’t go to whatever school it is or have the mentor you need to get reviewed in the New York Times. Publishing is a weird business. There are good books that don’t get published and crappy books that get published and promoted up the wazoo. It seems pretty serendipitous and arbitrary to me. I had luck in that I found an agent, a publisher liked the book and published it beautifully. Picador picked it up, and, in spite of modest sales, St. Martins didn’t remainder it right away. The fact that The Red Tent did well has something to do with spiritual seeking, that it’s an intensely woman’s story and had a base in a very literate community that buys books.

F.L.J.: What’s next?

A.D.: A contemporary novel. I’m really looking forward to writing all summer.


Faith L. Justice’s pre-writing life included work as a lifeguard, paralegal, college professor, and business consultant.  She lives with her husband, daughter, and cat in New York City.  Faith’s nonfiction has been published in In These Times, Salon.com, Writer’s Digest and The Writer, among others.  Visit her website.

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