A big thank you to Linda Lappin who invited me to participate in this Tour. Her wonderful historical books contain vivid characters and deeply significant places as she leads readers into worlds that feel, always, a bit haunted by those who have gone before.
I have been asked to answer four questions.
1) What am I working on?
I'm always working on a number of things; lately I'm doing both fiction and academic writing.
This blog post will leave the academic writing for another time, and will talk about my Historical Fiction and Young Adult novels. We'll start with YA.
YA: Currently I’m working on Book 2 in a YA series of three novels. The first book, titled One Eyed Jack (available on Amazon), introduced young readers to Lauren and her one-eyed horse Jack. Book 2 takes place a year later as Lauren and Jack spend a summer on an adventure ranch in Colorado. Book 3 will take place a year after that, on a ranch in Texas where they learn to herd sheep and goats.
Historical Fiction: After finishing Monsters Fall, my time travel historical novel set in 1570 Italy, set in the garden of Bomarzo, I recently bgan working on another time-travel historical novel, this time set in Shakespeare’s England. Shakespeare himself plays less of a role than his work does, and I expect to be done with this one by spring, 2016.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My YA novels – ostensibly ‘girl and her horse’ stories – differ significantly in that they deal with challenges faced by a horse with a significant disability, and by an owner of such a horse. Many YA novels offer models of relationships between young people, male and female, and explore the fears and insecurities that accompany negotiating those relationships – and mine do that as well. But the added element of having a one-eyed horse weights those other issues in significant ways.
Historical Fiction: My historical novels differ in that they add an element of time travel – a kind of science fiction spice – to a foundation of historical fiction. Not only do my characters from today encounter and interact with historical figures but they experience life in the past as only a present-day person could. We get not only details about life in the past but the discomforts and joys, dangers and revelations that could occur from an ‘outsider’ perspective. These books have two main characters, one from the past and one from the present, and their stories entwine in ways that neither character – nor readers – could have imagined.
3) Why do I write what I do?
Everything stems from personal experience, one way or another, though my books are not necessarily autobiographical. With one exception, the YA series.
YA: Twenty years ago I was asked to assist as a veterinarian took out the eye of a horse I’d known and worked with. The event connected us in a way I hadn’t been connected to any other horse; I purchased him a few months later, and he and I became an inseparable unit. We went everywhere a ‘normal’ horse could go, he learned to jump, and he became one of the best horses I’ve ever had – before or since. I felt writing about him would honor his memory, let me talk about him in ways that would entertain others, and would introduce the possibility that simply losing an eye need not be a tragedy. Overcoming adversity is easy with love, and lots of courage; this is a message I feel is important to convey to young adults.
This process is much more planned and organized - and more personal - than that of my other work.
Historical Fiction: My historical novels stem from an entirely different source. They always begin during a visit to a place – sometimes a place I’ve visited before, but more often somewhere new to me – that has some kind of historical weight. Examples of this would be: Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, the Imperial Forum in Rome, the underground Vaults that run beneath the city of Edinburgh, or – as with my novel Monsters Fall mentioned above – a 16th century Mannerist garden in Bomarzo, Italy.
The story begins as a… sensation. A sense that somehow I have slipped… and I can almost hear, almost see people who have been there before me. It’s not as metaphysical as feeling as if I’ve found a window through time; it’s more an overwhelming realization that I am walking in the footsteps of hundreds or thousands (or millions, in the case of Rome) of others, and that a myriad of stories have played out right there. It’s as if those places are a book of sorts, and that ‘reading’ that book will bring forth the lives of those (imagined) others.
At that point there isn’t yet a story, there is only the sense of something lurking in the back of my mind, a moment or a whisper I didn’t quite hear. For a while – a week, a month, a year – I often feel as though an idea, a memory, a thought, has slipped just past my line of sight and lodged itself into a kind of ever-growing place somewhere in my mind that will, when it’s ready, begin to coalesce into a story. I learn who my main characters are and I know the ending, but no more. And then…
4) How does your writing process work?
Historical Fiction: After all of the above… one day I just sit down and start writing. It is as simple as that, really. I don’t outline, but by the time I start putting words to paper I know who my main characters are, I know where they meet, I know their goals and desires, and I know the end to which they are all moving. As I begin writing – via computer – I also buy a new notebook which becomes the place where all the stored up ideas, thoughts, bits of conversation, connections, possibilities end up – written by hand. I write down everything that comes to me at this point, and I’m meticulous about especially keeping track of questions I have about the true facts of history as well as the interweaving of the stories within my novel. I run through possible story tangents, I ask questions about characters’ motives, and I often ask, in fact, who the heck that person is who just appeared.
For you see, as the story itself unfolds I find that my characters, more often than not, do or say things I didn’t expect – or that a new character arrives on scene unannounced and unplanned. These are my favorite moments, and it is here that the story begins to tell itself. For me this is the most exciting part of writing – the reality that the mix of weighted, historical place, real historical figures, a present-day character who travels to a foreign land, and the magic that is writing and storytelling itself, is far larger than I, and far more independent of me than it, perhaps, should be. I stop writing when the story ends, and the ending is always the ending I knew it would be from the beginning; how the characters arrive there is neither clear to, nor dictated by, me. It’s an exciting process, and when I finish a novel like this it always exhausts me.
Next week the authors you’ll be hearing from include Naomi Sandweiss, a writer of history and creator of worlds that weave historical figures into today’s reality.
Two other authors will be posted by the end of the day GMT, January 28, 2014!