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Monday, July 06, 2020

Another author interview, on the occasion of Cowbird Creek Book 2


Here's an author interview -- with myself, as I wrote the questions as well as the answers. The focus is on my upcoming novel What Frees the Heart, Book 2 in the Cowbird Creek series, and on romance series (plural) in general, but I also explain National Novel Writing Month and my history with it, and go on a short detour about my picture book manuscripts.

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Q. Did you plan from the start to write a historical romance series?

A. No. I barely had the nerve to write historical romance at all! I’ve read historical fiction for many years, and had thought of attempting it, but the necessary research intimidated me. Within the last few years, I started reading both historical and contemporary romance, but felt even less prepared to tackle that. And yet, as November 2018 loomed and I asked myself what book to write during National Novel Writing Month, I somehow headed in the historical romance direction. The result, after some initial changes in character and backstory, and a significant course correction once my beta readers weighed in, was What Heals the Heart, Book 1 in the Cowbird Creek series.

I was greatly relieved at how well the book was received – and in particular, that readers thought I’d managed to convey the time and place in a convincing manner. That emboldened me to return to Cowbird Creek for another book, and to start planning Book 3 for November 2020.


Q. How does a romance series work? Where do you go from Happily Ever After?

A. You move on to another couple from the same setting and give them a HEA of their own! Some romance series go from one to another member of a family, while others, like the Cowbird Creek series, feature different people in the same town.


Q. Who are the main characters in What Frees the Heart? Did they show up in the first book? And will we get to see any other residents of Cowbird Creek this time around?

A. Caution: the answer to this question includes spoilers for Book 1, What Heals the Heart!

Readers of What Heals the Heart have already met Tom and Jenny. Tom is the farm lad whose leg Joshua had to amputate. Jenny is the young prostitute whose arm Joshua bandages, and who reminisces about rolling bandages for soldiers when she was a child.

Joshua and Clara appear frequently in What Frees the Heart, both (especially Joshua) playing a role in the plot. Silas Finch, the cordwainer who married Dolly, is a significant secondary character. We naturally see a good deal more of Madam Mamie, Jenny’s employer. And even though Freida and Jedidiah have left town, they do turn up and play their part in the HEA. (If I’d planned a series from the get-go, I might have found a way to keep them around, as Freida is a favorite of many readers and close to my heart as well.)


Q. What was the most challenging aspect of writing What Frees the Heart?

A. There were a few challenges! I had to deal with prostitution without either glamorizing it, or so thoroughly depressing the reader as to overwhelm the romance plot. I had to show Tom’s life as an amputee as realistically as I could, while also showing the spirit that helped him cope with that disability. But the most daunting challenge had to do with character voice. Joshua Gibbs was a well-read scion of an upper-crust Philadelphia family. Tom and Jenny had to think and speak in a very different way. I’d never tackled anything like their points of view before.


Q. What’s next in the series?

A. I’d like to keep the key details to myself for a bit longer. One of the reasons: I have an author newsletter, and I try to give my subscribers the first look at covers, excerpts, and other details about upcoming books. The signup link for the newsletter (also accessible from my author website’s home page ), is here. I send one newsletter a month, except during release months when I may send two – and I make it easy to unsubscribe.

I will drop this hint: readers already know a fair amount about one of the two main characters. The other character probably doesn’t live in Cowbird Creek full time. And the tentative title is What Shows the Heart.


Q. What’s National Novel Writing Month?

A. Pardon me while I tear up – because National Novel Writing Month (also called NaNoWriMo or NaNo) gave me, or gave me back, my writing career.

It was my childhood ambition to be a novelist. In fact, at age 10, I wrote a 200-page novel for which the kindest words would be “disjointed” and “derivative.” (My mother, praised be she, typed up all 200 penciled pages and bound the result so I could feel “published.”) I tried again at age 14 and gave up after 40 pages. And while I wrote poetry in high school and took a disastrous short story seminar in college, I gave up on writing novels, or any fiction longer than a picture book, for several decades.

Then, my oldest daughter tried NaNoWriMo in 2009,during her senior year in high school, and “won” by completing a 50,000 word rough draft – all while visiting colleges and finishing high school. When she told me she was doing NaNo again the following year, I decided to give it a try, figuring I’d probably drop out in a day or two. And here I am, almost ten years later, about to publish my tenth novel.

But to actually answer the question J, NaNoWriMo is a group endeavor, organized online, for anyone who wants to write a novel. Each November, people from all over the world sign up and undertake to write at least 50,000 words of a new novel, entirely within that month. The idea is to bull on through, at an average pace of 1,667 words per day, without stopping to self-edit. The goal is a very rough draft, which the writer can then revise and edit to their heart’s content. One can update one’s word count online, track one’s progress, find “buddies” with whom to compete or commiserate, and visit various forums. In the forums, one can ask research questions (which can get very arcane and bizarre), find writing prompts, and vent about the writing process.


Q. What was that about picture books?

A. I started writing picture book manuscripts when I was pregnant with my older daughter, the one who later led me to NaNoWriMo. I even had an agent for a while, who never did succeed in snagging the interest of any publishers. Now that self-publishing has evolved to the point where it’s feasible to self-publish a picture book, I’d like to find an illustrator whose vision for one or more of these books matches my own, and who’s interested in collaborating. The titles include Mommy Calls Me “Acorn”; Catching Mommy’s Shadow; Where Do Fireflies Sleep; When It’s Winter; and You Can’t Kiss a Bubble.

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Here's the preorder link for What Frees the Heart.

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