- What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?
I’ve always loved Alternate History because the question “what if” has always been so tantalizing to me. I love history—I even teach it to high school students—but real history can be very depressing. And frustrating. There are so many moments when just the smallest change could have changed everything. And sometimes those changes nearly happened. Whenever an author can find those moments, there’s the potential for some great storytelling!
2. How important is research to you when writing a book?
Since I write both Alternate History and Prehistoric Fiction, research is very important. It’s also one of my favorite parts of the writing process. When researching Nazi Germany for From the Ashes, I discovered so many things I didn’t know, despite having been a WWII buff for decades. The really exciting thing was finding that some of my crazy ideas weren’t so crazy. Some of them actually happened; others nearly did because actual historic figures were thinking along the same lines I was.
3. What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?
Without the invention of the PC, I don’t think I’d be a published author today. I’ve always written stories, but the transition from handwritten on binder paper to ready to publish was extremely daunting back when I was starting out. Computers allow me to edit as I write, change my mind and make changes almost without knowing it. When I have to, I can even throw away whole sections without crying or tearing my hair out. Let’s hear it for technology!
4. When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve told stories for as long as I can remember—to anyone who would listen, but most often, to myself. When I was in grade school, I thought it was perfectly normal to imagine the next adventure of the hero of a book I’d just finished, or to insert myself into a favorite movie or tv series, and build a new story. I thought everyone did it. When I learned that wasn’t the case, I asked a teacher, “What do you call people who make up stories for fun?” She said, “They’re called writers.” I said, “Then that’s what I’m going to be.”
5. What inspires you to write?
All kinds of things. I get ideas just from living. But when I write a book, it’s because I feel strongly about something. It’s usually a desire to fix something that I see is wrong with the world, or the people in it. Other times, it’s because I fall in love with a genre, but no one has written the book that I want to read. So I write it myself.
6. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
As a high school teacher and full time mom, I learned I couldn’t write every day. I write when I can. I usually manage to impose some self-discipline during school vacations; I find morning works best for me. But for the most part, I write when I can, for as long as I can and as much as I can—until the book is finished.
7. Do you think writers have a normal life like others?
I think writers have lives like any other artist—but I wouldn’t call it normal. Writers can be quieter or more introverted than say, actors or musicians, but we all have the same tendency to get lost in our work, tune out of a conversation when something we hear sparks an idea, and generally look at everything as a possible creative work. And, if asked, I think most of us would say that normal is boring.
8. Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?
It depends on the project. With From the Ashes I knew what the last line was before I started, and wrote the story just to get there. With my current project, I knew the event that would happen at the end—although I still don’t know how I’m going to get there. Usually, however, I just fall in love with a story, and start writing. I follow it to whatever ending the characters decide on. Sometimes, the ending is a complete surprise to me.
9. Who are your favorite authors?
Current favorites are mostly historical novelists: Ken Follett and Kate Quinn are two I’ve enjoyed recently, and highly recommend. Jean Auel, founding member and reigning queen of prehistoric fiction is the one that set me on my path to getting published. I’ve also been reading a lot of the futuristic dystopian novels that seem to be everywhere now, and found Meg Elison and Joe Hart to be wonderful new voices in the genre.
10. Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
A Creative Writing teacher once told me that the secret to writing was to apply seat of pants to seat of chair—in other words, start writing and keep at it. And to a certain extent, I agree that practice is the best way to get better. But for me, belonging to a writers group has been the best thing for my writing. I’ve been in two different groups in the last twenty years. My first lasted five years and sometimes felt more like boot camp, but it made me both a better writer and a better editor. I’ve been in my current group for over ten years and I really love the people, and everything we do for each other.
11. Do you attend science fiction conventions?
I’ve been going to conventions since the early ‘80s. For years, it was to meet favorite authors and discuss their books with my fellow fans. Later, it was to meet agents and editors, and attend writer’s workshops. I learned a lot about the craft of writing, and the bizarre world of publishing. Now, I go there to help run the workshops, sell and promote my books—and still talk with my favorite authors and be part of fandom.
12. Do your novels carry a message?
Yes. Not all books do—in fact, a friend once told me, with more than a little exasperation, “if you want to send a message, use Western Union!” From the Ashes has, beneath the exciting adventure of a rebellion against a totalitarian government, a strong suggestion that people learn to get along with each other and celebrate our differences, rather than kill each other over them.
13. How much of yourself do you put into your books?
Most of my protagonists are strong women who overcome significant obstacles. I think of myself that way, although my characters do things I can only dream of doing. It’s interesting to note that Adolf, in From the Ashes, my first male protagonist, is probably the most like me. He starts out shy and insecure, and deals with most of his problems with a kind of wry humor, as he leaps from one crisis to the next.
14. Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?
Many times. The most memorable was in a YA fantasy novel in which the main character was being bullied by her classmates. I used some of my experiences in middle school, including things other girls actually said to me. An editor sent the manuscript back with a rejection letter in which she insisted that children that age could not possibly be so cruel. I later got the satisfaction of reading that chapter—and the letter–to a room full of middle-school students who laughed when they heard the letter, and asked if the editor had ever actually met anyone their age!
15. How realistic are your books?
You’ll have to ask my readers:) But, given that I write alternate history and prehistoric fiction, I try to make them as realistic as possible. With From the Ashes, which is set in a world where Nazi Germany won WWII, I had plenty to work with from other authors who worked with the same premise. The fact that I’ve been studying the Holocaust since I was thirteen helped add to the realism, as well as family history. I lost family in the Holocaust, and was able to incorporate my own search for what happened to them into the novel.