Margaret Leroy On Solving Novel Plotting Issues + The Art of Building Strong Female Characters

margaret leroy-picsName: Margaret Leroy

Hometown: London

Based In: London

Education: St Hilda’s College, Oxford

Briefly: Author of The Soldier’s Wife, The Collaborator, Trust, The Drowning Girl.

Author Crush: Ursula le Guin

Your Writing Space: I quite like writing in bed!

If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be: a forensic psychologist

Up Next: The English Girl comes out in the UK in August; it’s set in Vienna in 1937/38, before and during Hitler’s annexation of Austria. I’m currently writing a novel set during the London Blitz.

Who was the most avid reader you knew growing up?

Me! There were a few books in my childhood home, but mostly I borrowed books from the library. The Lord of the Rings was my obsession growing up: the English teacher at school introduced me to Tolkein, and I became addicted.

Which of your books have been the most problematic in terms of where you wanted to take the plot and where the plot wanted to take you?

The most problematic was my second novel, Alysson’s Shoes, which is about a psychiatrist who makes an error of judgment with devastating consequences.

Margaret Leroy-The Drowning Girl

How did you resolve it?

I think so often authors struggle with their second novel: you’ve poured so much of yourself into your first novel that for a while you can feel there’s nothing left! To resolve a plot problem, you just have to keep writing. Often a clue to where you can go is there in what you’ve written already – perhaps in a subplot or even some chance remark one of your characters makes.

You’ve expressed your fondness for strong female characters.

I do prefer to write about women: I don’t think I’d feel confident having a male protagonist! The protagonist/ main character has to be strong for the story to work – she can’t be too passive, she has to act on the world, or at least to learn to act on the world in the course of the story. I like to put women into interesting situations – like Guernsey during the Occupation, Vienna in the shadow of war, or the London Blitz – and see what they do!

With you were creating Vivienne de la Mare, and when you put into consideration the choice that she had to make between duty and love, did you weigh in the consequences of her going either way, before deciding where you would take the story?

I always work out the plot before I start writing, so I knew how the story would develop. The Occupation of Guernsey appealed to me so much as a setting because of these difficult choices people had to make. Situations like occupation or civil war are wonderfully rich for writers, because nothing is straightforward, and it’s often not clear what the right course of action is. Moral dilemmas can make for great stories.

When you compare The River House, and your other novel Postcards from Berlin…which drove you the craziest during the editing part of the publishing process?

I always feel that editing is the most difficult part of the writing process, as you’re responding to the suggestions of someone with entirely different life experience from you, and trying to incorporate their ideas into the story. So, it’s always a struggle, but usually the book is far better once you’ve been through the process! As a general rule, I tend to find cutting much harder than writing new material.

margaret leroy

Why do you think that some books build reputations over time, as opposed to garner instant fame? Do you think marketing and publicity play a part?

I think there’s a great mystery about which books readers will take to their hearts, and publishers are almost as much in the dark as anyone else: after all, twelve editors in the UK turned down Harry Potter. But marketing and publicity are certainly hugely important, and it’s wonderful for an author when a publisher decides to really get behind a book.

What would you say to aspiring writers about getting started?

I always advise people to keep notebooks. So many touching, funny or extraordinary things happen to us, and we always think we’ll remember them, but often we don’t. If you keep notes, you have a wonderful resource which you can dip into again and again.

What are your views on self-publishing?

Like most writers today, I’ve certainly considered it! In fact I’m planning to self-publish my two early novels, Trust and Alysson’s Shoes, to make them available to my readers today. But, I suspect that to really reach an audience as a self-published writer, you have to have a very strong online presence, which takes a particular kind of talent and a lot of hard work!

Author’s Website| Amazon Author Page|

Author Photo: Nikki Gibbs Continue reading

Erin Lindsay McCabe On The Process of Writing A Historical Novel + Manuscript Revision Stress

542148_515052671859160_398417159_nName: Erin Lindsay McCabe
Hometown: Chico, California
Based In: Newcastle, California
Education: Literature major/history minor at University of California, Santa Cruz; teaching credential at California State University, Chico; MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College of California
Briefly: Author of I Shall Be Near You.
Favorite Read: Oh, so many! Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood; The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy; The Story of Lucy Gault, by William Trevor; The Jump-Off Creek, by Molly Gloss; True Grit, by Charles Portis; Away, by Jane Urquhart; Away, by Amy Bloom; Lolita, by Vladimir Nabakov; Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon; The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, A Sudden Country, by Karen Fisher, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote…
If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be… a teacher. I taught high school for English for 7 years and still sometimes teach at the college level.
Fiction or General Publishing How-To Book I’d Recommend: Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. It’s pricey but well worth the money.
Up Next: I’m working on a novel inspired by the adopted daughter of serial killer Belle Gunness.

How old were you about when you first learned of the U.S. Civil War?

Oh, I don’t know. I very distinctly remember being utterly fascinated watching the entire Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary with my parents when I was thirteen. But I must have known about the Civil War before then.

How did you get interested in writing historical fiction?

As a kid, I was drawn toward books with a historical bent—I loved the Little House on the Prairie series and Anne of Green Gables, for example——though it took me a long time (until I was out of college) to realize that historical fiction was really my favorite genre to read—though I will read just about anything if it is character and plot driven. It was in college, majoring in literature and minoring in history, where I really began to see the overlap between literature and history—how what authors are writing about illuminates so much about the culture and concerns of their society and their time. That really fascinated me.

Can you give us an overview of the writing of I Shall Be Near You?

I first learned of the real Rosetta on whom my novel is loosely based, during my final quarter of college. I wrote a paper about her for my U.S. Women’s History final. But after that, I didn’t really Continue reading

Alyson Richman on Handling Virtual Book Clubs And Getting Into Foreign Book markets

alyson richman photoName: Alyson Richman
Hometown: Saint James, New York
Based In: Long Island, New York
Education: Choate Rosemary Hall and Wellesley College
Briefly: I love to write about art, beauty and what motivates people to create
Favorite Read: One Hundred Years of Solitude
If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…a painter
Up Next: The Garden of Letters, my fifth novel, comes out October 2014

Your mom is a painter. Would you say that you grew up in a home that encouraged artistic endeavors?

Yes, my mother taught me early on to see in a unique way. Not only did she teach me to look at everything for color, light and texture, she taught me about movement and composition. I’m constantly trying to incorporate these concepts into my writing. I imagine every chapter to be a mini painting. I want my readers to see every thing in their mind’s eye. To me, sentences are brushstrokes that move you through the story.

How did you get interested in writing historical fiction?

I think it began with taking my first art history class. Continue reading

Lisa See On Her Novels’ Screen Adaptations + How Writers Can Master the Craft of Writing + The Role of Critique Groups

Lisa SeeName: Lisa See
Author’s Website:
Twitter – @Lisa_See
Facebook Fanpage – Lisa See

Hometown: Los Angeles
Based In: Los Angeles
Education: BA in Modern Greek Studies
Favorite Read: Angel of Repose.

If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…A landscape designer

Author Crush: I have to choose one? Not possible! Here are a few I’ve been reading lately that I like: Ruth Ozeki, Willa Cather, Jess Walter, Adam Johnson

Fiction or General Publishing How-To Book I’d Recommend: My mother, Carolyn See, wrote one. It’s called Making a Literary Life. And it’s great!!! But it’s less about the actual writing than it is about how to become a writer. I don’t know if you can get useful writing advice about plot or character from a manual, but I do think you can learn a lot about what it takes to be a writer, publishing, and editing.

Up Next: I’ve just finished China Dolls. It takes place during the nightclub era in this country during the 1930s and 1940s. At that time, there were Chinese American nightclubs, in San Francisco mostly, that featured performers who billed themselves as the Chinese Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the Chinese Frank Sinatra, the Chinese Houdini, the Chinese Fill-in-the blank. Sometimes they would go out on the road to perform on what was called the Chop-suey Circuit. I’ve spent the last three years interviewing many of the perfromers, including the Chinese Ginger Rogers, who is now 96. Oh, and she’s actually Japanese not Chinese! So, China Dolls is about three girls who start out as chorus girls at a nightclub (based on the real life San Francisco nightclub, the Forbidden City) and what happens to them. Of course, they each have secrets. It wouldn’t be one of my books if the girls didn’t have secrets!

Where do you prefer doing most of your writing?

In my office, which is in my house and looks out into our garden.

Some would say you have a fascination with China.

I’m part Chinese. When I was growing up, I heard many stories about the family. But I also loved Chinatown. My parents were divorced when I was three and I moved around a lot, so Chinatown and my grandparents’ house were the constants in my life. Other things could change around me, but these two places stayed the same. After I wrote On Gold Mountain, I wrote three mysteries that took place in contemporary China. These allowed me to explore modern China and also think about how the past has influenced and continues to influence U.S.-China relations. With Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, I went back to the deep past, where I was able to look at things that my family still does today but that I really hadn’t understood. In a sense, writing books allows me to research things I haven’t always understood in my family: why candy is given at funerals, why there’s such an emphasis on sons, or why lettuce leaves are given to dragons during Chinese New Year.

Did you expect Dreams of Joy to top the New York Times bestseller’s list? And it actually debuted there too!

It debuted at Number One! Continue reading

Mary Brock Jones On How She Does Research For Her Historical Novels + The Future of The Historical Fiction Genre

Mary Brock Jones (2)Name: Mary Brock Jones
Website: Mary Brock Jones
Blog: Mary Brock Jones Blog
Facebook: Facebook Page
Goodreads: Goodreads Page
Twitter: Twitter Handle
Hometown: Born on a farm near Oamaru, South Island, New Zealand.
Based In: Auckland, New Zealand.
Education: BSc, Zoology; BVSc, Veterinary Science, and have just finished a Graduate Diploma, English.
Briefly: I live in Auckland, New Zealand with my husband and a cat, now that our sons have all grown up and moved out. We recently bought a farm just north of the city, so escape there most weekends to wrestle with the gardens and play farmer, then traipse back to town and the traffic during the week to earn the money to pay for it. I write historical romance novels and science fiction, though have only had my SF short stories published so far. Novels: A Heart Divided (Escape Publishing, April 2013) and Swift Runs the Heart (Escape Publishing, Sept 2013). Awards: RWNZ Clendon Award Reader’s Choice, 2012.

Favorite Read: There are so many books, but ones I have read repeatedly include Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series, Nora Roberts Chesapeake Blue, Nalini Singh’s works, particularly Kiss of Snow and Slave to Sensation, Catherine Asaro’s Skolian series, particularly Diamond Star, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series and M.M. Kaye’s Trade Winds. As you can see, I like series. Other favourite authors include Robert Heinlein for sci-fi, the brilliant Georgette Heyer for historical romance, Jayne Anne Krentz and her alter egos, Jayne Castle and Amanda Quick, and fellow New Zealand contemporary romance authors Jackie Ashenden and Karina Bliss. A stand out book that defines for me what it means to be a New Zealander is Man Alone, by John Mulgan. Trade Winds also gave me the lines of Elizabethan poetry that epitomize what storytelling is for me.

“Teach me to hear mermaids singing,”
From John Donne’s “Go and Catch a Falling Star”

With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander,
With a burning spear and a horse of air,
To the wilderness I wander.

By a knight of ghostes and shadowes
I summon’d am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond the wild world’s end.
Methinks it is no journey.
From “Tom O’Bedlam” by Anon.

Pet Peeves: Kindle e-books open at the beginning of chapter 1, rather than at a blurb to remind me what the book I bought months beforehand is actually about.

If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…Maybe a journalist, so I could indulge my ‘nosiness’ even more.

Author Crush: Dorothy Dunnett for the vividness and glory of her writing.

Fiction or General Publishing How-To Book You’d Recommend: Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Writer’s Digest, 2001.Stephen King’s On Writing, Hodder, 2001.

Both of these are easy to read, and very much ‘can do’ books. Also helpful are the many standard screenwriting guides, for tips on how to structure a story, communicate information non-verbally and keep your writing and dialogue tight and effective. Examples are Save the Cat by Blake Snyder ( ), Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field, and Screenwriting Tricks for Authors (and Screenwriters!) by Alexandra Sokoloff.

Up Next: I’m currently working on a science fiction novel, involving a climate change theme.

What’s the first book that comes to mind when you think of your childhood?

All of the Narnian books, for the fantasy and the characters. Talking animals — irresistible!

How did you get interested in writing in the historical romance genre?

I’ve always Continue reading