Interviewing Susan Spann

Dear Reader,

We indie authors need to stick together, and most especially us  indie historical fiction authors. We seem to be a rare breed.

Today my guest is Susan Spann, a fellow indie historical fiction author who was kind enough to answer some tough questions for me.

Learn more about Susan

Susan lives in Northern California with her husband, teenage son and three cats (one of which is large enough to count as two). She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Association, and enjoys horseback riding, archery, rock climbing and books about adventures (both fictional and non-fiction).

When not running amok or too far in the weeds, Susan writes historical fiction. Her work takes legendary (or semi-legendary) historical figures and tells their stories as though they had really lived. She loves research as much as writing, and particularly enjoys finding a kernel of fact that can grow into an interesting story. You can find her on Twitter as @SusanSpann.

How do you transform your passion into focused research?

I approach research like a category 5 hurricane goes after a coastal fishing village – hit hard, cover as much ground as possible and leave no stone unturned.

When I’m starting a new novel (as I am now) I pick the legend or person whose story I want to tell and then scour the Internet, bookstores, and the library for information. Sometimes I also contact museums or researchers in the location where the events took place. I read as much as I can about the era in which the story is set and the people and places involved. I look at history, geography (including photographs when possible), culture, literature, and especially personal narratives. Only after I stuff myself full of facts and images do I try to let a focused story flow.

How do you translate your research into an entertaining narrative?

Starting from legends gives me an advantage. Someone already took a life and turned it into a song or story that people want to hear. After researching the historical “soil” in which the legend grew, I try to cultivate the story as it might have really happened, generally in a first-person narrative voice, without losing the vital elements of the legend itself. I’m looking for a blend of fact and fiction that does justice to both.

It also helps to work with children and animals. W.C. Fields discouraged it, but I include them in every novel and I never want for entertainment – some of it more scatological than I expected.

How do you sneak an underlying message into your entertaining narrative?

If you put all the white spaces between the words together, they make a picture of a horse in a snowstorm.

The honest answer is, I cheat: legends carry their own messages, which amplify on their own when the story goes from short-form to novel length. I find characters I admire and work on telling their stories in a compelling way. When the protagonist is admirable and surrounded by a supporting cast of realistic characters and challenges, the messages seem to take care of themselves.

Thank you to Susan for providing great answers to some tough questions! Make sure you check out her website and follow her on Twitter.

Interested in being interviewed?

I’d love to profile you on Worderella Writes, especially if you are an indie author, and most especially if you are an indie historical fiction author. I look forward to learning more about you and your upcoming projects!

Chatting with Eloisa James

Dear Reader,

I contacted Eloisa James after I finished reading This Duchess of Mine about five minutes after I put the book down.  I didn’t understand it. I began the book disliking the characters. I finished the book still disliking them a little, but feeling as though I understood them.

Despite my disliking them, I cared about them.

This boggled my mind as a reader and an author. How did Eloisa make me care about characters I disagreed with? I was so impressed I sent her an email asking about her trick. Her answers fascinated me, and I asked if I could post our conversation on our blog.

Eloisa, being the gracious lady she is, gave me permission.

Dear Belinda,

Thank you for this lovely note!  I’m sorry it took me a while to answer.  My characters were manipulative—I am too *g*.  At any rate, I’m glad you decided to like them anyway.  One of my goals as a writer is not to write characters that everyone will love, every time—but to try to write characters who have realistic traits, but still fall in love and are lovable.

I’ll give a shot to your three questions:

How do you transform your passion into focused research?
Passion is a vague word for writing…. what I have is an idea.  The idea generally springs from some sort of historical fact, say the condition of toilets in the Georgian period (When the Duke Returns) or the discovery of digitalis (This Duchess of Mine) or the disgraceful conditions behind child-workers & gold wire buttons (A Duke of Her Own).  I do just as much research as I need to to feel that I have a handle on that situation–because always the goal of a book is to create a great story, not to give readers an information dump.  Knowing too much can be a liability sometimes.

How do you translate your research into an entertaining narrative?
See above.  I take a problem: something that interests me about the past and then weave a story about it.  For Affair before Christmas, for example, I found myself wondering what it was really like to have all that tall Marie Antoinette hair piled on one’s head.  Voila:  the plot springs from the question.

How do you sneak an underlying message into your entertaining narrative?
Well, underlying messages…  I don’t know that I have all that many of those.  I guess some come along with the characters.  When I created a drunk in Much Ado about You, for example, I dried him out in Taming the Duke, so there was a message there about alcohol.  But I don’t have the sense that many of my readers are looking to my books to solve their substance abuse problems.  If I have an underlying message it would be that it IS possible to have a thoughtful, loving, and kindly relationship–and no woman should settle for less.  And in tandem with that, marriage is no picnic, and that kind of relationship needs as much nourishing as any other.  And finally, that every man can learn to be good in bed.

Awesome answers, right? And, can I just say how exciting it is to have an author respond to an email when you figure they are way too busy? Indie authors take note!

So I responded to Eloisa’s email because I thought she wasn’t giving herself enough credit with her answer to my third question…

Eloisa,

Thank you for the reply! Yes, your answers do help, and give me insight into your writing. My mother, for instance, doesn’t like manipulative characters, and doesn’t understand why anyone would write about them. This is very helpful for me to explain why and how a writer can go in this direction.

I suppose underlying messages come more from readers’ perceptions of our work, rather than our purposeful insertion of a message. In This Duchess of Mine, I felt as though the underlying message was to never give up; that people can mature and make a difficult situation work if they both try. It’s a good thing to keep in mind for a young, professional, single girl like me!

Suffice it to say, I’m not sure I could ever pull it off myself. Props to you for working with difficult-to-love-but-we-love-them-anyway characters!

So there you have it. Big name authors like Eloisa James are pretty fricking sweet. I’m definitely going to check out another of her books just because I feel I understand her a little better and will probably enjoy her writing more because of it.

All the best,

Belinda

Interviewing Stacey Cochran

Dear Reader,

I’d like to introduce you to Stacey Cochran, my guest from the West today at Worderella Writes.

He was kind enough to answer my three questions with some excellent answers, so don’t let me keep you. Read on!

Learn more about Stacey

Stacey Cochran was born in the Carolinas, where his family traces its roots to the mid 1800s. In 1998 he was selected as a finalist in the Dell Magazines undergraduate fiction competition, and he made his first professional short story sale to CutBank in 2001. In 2004, he was selected as a finalist in the St. Martin’s Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife Dr. Susan K. Miller-Cochran and their son Sam, and he teaches writing at North Carolina State University. His books include The Colorado Sequence, Amber Page, CLAWS, and CLAWS 2.

How do you transform your passion into focused research?

Thanks so much for hosting me today.

To answer your question, it really just takes a ton of persistence. I suppose that deep down a writer must believe that what he/she has to say matters. We probably all start from that premise. In the case of the CLAWS books, it started with that belief and a curiosity about the area in which I lived.

See I moved to Arizona in 2001 from North Carolina, and the landscape out West was so different from what I’d known before that I immersed myself in it. Around 2003 and 2004, a number of mountain lion stalkings began popping up in the news in Tucson, and I thought that it would make for an interesting topic for a novel.

How do you translate your research into an entertaining narrative?

Well, it all starts with character. First I had to imagine who would be my guide through the novel… a novel about mountain lions. The logical answer was a wildlife biologist. I settled on Dr. Angie Rippard because “Rippard” was the name of my favorite high school English teacher, and it seemed to fit the story.

I followed the story template — the plot structure, if you will — of Jaws. But instead of an ocean-going adventure, CLAWS was set in the desert high country of Arizona.

How do you sneak an underlying message into your entertaining narrative?

The message in CLAWS is pretty direct. Unregulated and uncontrolled real estate development into wilderness lands in the American West is harmful to the environment. I didn’t hide the message at all. The villain of the story is not the mountain lion; the villain is the ruthless real estate developer who builds golf course communities on the sides of previously virgin mountains.

The tragedy is that this is what has happened all over Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, and that there’s been little progress to stop it.

Whether nature will fight back as it does in CLAWS and CLAWS 2 remains to be seen. What’s more likely to occur is that we will keep poisoning our atmosphere with CO2 and our oceans with mercury, and that our physical health (and our children’s health) will continue to deteriorate. Overpopulation of our planet is a real and serious stress on our environment, and our environment will continue to respond to that stress in ways that affect our health unless we make massive, lasting policy changes.

The CLAWS books are meant to stir that conversation into being.

Thank you to Stacey for providing great answers to some tough questions! Make sure you check out his CLAWS books, as well as other books published by the Stacey Cochran publishing arm.

Interested in being interviewed?

I’d love to profile you on Worderella Writes, especially if you are a self-publishing author in need of some marketing help. All I ask is that you email answers to the following three questions, along with a requested posting date. I look forward to learning more about you and your upcoming projects!

Worderella Interviews James M Turner

Dear Reader,

I’d like to introduce you to James M Turner, my guest from across the pond today at Worderella Writes.

Turner is an author, composer, musician and screenwriter. Having had a successful career as a highly paid professional musician, he now works in the film industry. His first television series screenplay ‘The Taker’ is currently in development and will hopefully move into production later in 2010.

About ‘Beyond the Comfort Zone’

According to James, his newly released work Beyond the Comfort Zone is a memoir of a short period in the life of James M Turner. Having enjoyed a career as a professional musician for the rich and famous, in 2002 he moved to south east Asia where he eventually came into contact with the child trafficking trade.

Together with an acquaintance and the help of a US organization they attempt to gain the confidence of the traffickers and bring them to justice – saving the cargo in the process.

There is a little bit in there about James’ hedonistic days of travelling the world as a high paid musician, but this is really just a foil to throw into stark contrast the subsequent adventure in Asia.

It’s a tale that follows two young men trying to do the right thing and in the process nearly losing themselves as they spiral downwards into a shadowy world where human lives, at least their lives, are worth nothing. There is danger, intrigue, high emotion and a fragile love story woven together in what one reviewer called an exceptional journey …the making of a Hollywood blockbuster, in short a Shantaram for South East Asia.’

I’m very pleased to have James here to interview. So let’s get on with the questions!

How do you transform your passion into focused research?

Well, in the case of Beyond the Comfort Zone as it was a memoir there was very little research to be done, it was more a ‘method’ writing piece. I did a little historical research in the areas where I thought that people needed contextual help to understand the jeopardy, but again I was already fairly well read in that subject and it really was minimal internet verification.

However, when I was writing ‘The Taker’ my main research consisted of putting myself in the environment. I had a rough plot arc, stepping stones as I like to call them, but I wanted to feel the atmosphere.

This consisted of me sitting in downtown L.A. and soaking up the sights and sounds, making notes as I went. Also, as there is a technology component to the story, I researched cutting edge technology and then imagined how I could push it a bit farther.

Probably the longest gestation period in the development process in ‘The Taker’ was with the characters. I think I had between ten to twenty thousand words of back-story before they even set foot on page one of the script. That made for a fairly quick writing process as I had a very good idea how these people would react in certain situations.

How do you translate your research into an entertaining narrative?

As Beyond the Comfort Zone is a true story, the entertaining narrative really took care of itself. These were real people, very complex individuals. I had a location which was exotic (Thailand). Then the story itself was as dramatic as any fictional thriller.

I tried to make the writing as concise as I could which meant that if I didn’t feel that something was moving the story along or there was some part that needed to be told in a more succinct manner – then out it would go.

One of the things that people have picked up on is the ‘page-turner’ aspect of Beyond the Comfort Zone most people tell me they have read it in 24-36 hrs. I think that is something that my cut throat editing approach has enhanced. If it isn’t contributing to moving the story forward, then it has to go.

How do you sneak an underlying message into your entertaining narrative?

Well, there’s an old quote from Don Maclean who wrote the song ‘American Pie’. When they asked him what the lyrics and the song meant to him he replied ‘It means I don’t have to work again!’ But, to be serious, I’m not sure sneak is the right word. I have however been amazed at how people take away all sorts of ‘hidden’ meanings and sub-plots from Beyond the Comfort Zone. Actually I’m quite happy for them to do that and very glad that the book lives on with people for quite some time after they have read it.

For ‘The Taker’ however hidden meanings are very much an integral part of the plot structure. I had a rough idea of interconnections between events and people, but just wrote the story down without expanding too much on any of those. Then, when the story was complete, I went back to those moments I had identified and dropped in little nuggets that at the time don’t attract too much attention. By the end when the revelations appear there is a clear though (hopefully) surprising link.

However, as I said before, I am constantly surprised by the conclusions drawn by others as to what is sub-text and hidden meaning. Of course I’ll take credit for that…even when it wasn’t deliberate.

Thanks for joining us today! For more information about James, visit his website James M Turner.com and read reviews on Amazon (UK).

All the best,

Belinda

Worderella does an Interview

Dear Reader,

The amazing thing about the internet is how it is able to connect you to people who care about your work. Tomorrow, Critique This WIP is interviewing me on their blog.

We will be talking about everything from why I began writing to how I defeat the Dreaded Writer’s Block. Definitely check it out, because Critique This WIP is a great group of ladies who talk about the publishing world.

In terms of my progress with Catching the Rose, I’m applying to be a seller on Amazon so I can submit the interior of the book for the Search Inside functionality.

As a reader, I love it when I can browse the interior of the book. In fact, if given the choice, I will always choose the book that allows me to search inside vs the one that won’t. Are you the same way? Do you prefer to read a little of the book before you buy it?

Are you like me, a cheater who reads the ending before I decide I’ll spend the money? I like to know if I’ll like the ending… if so, I’ll probably enjoy the journey. But then, that’s me.

All the best,

Belinda