Writing About Writing, Law, Life, and Occasionally Politics
I post news and excerpts about my novels, plus miscellaneous thoughts, speculations and occasional rants about writing, publishing, current events, legal issues, philosophy, photography, and events in my life.
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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.
Did you plan from the start to write a historical romance series?
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
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.
How does a romance series work? Where do you go from Happily Ever After?
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
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
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.)
What was the most challenging aspect of writing What Frees the Heart?
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
What’s next in the series?
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.
What’s National Novel Writing Month?
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.
What was that about picture books?
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.