Why Historical Fiction?

Why Historical Fiction?

I am endlessly fascinated with the past, and love to explore how common people lived in various time periods. I see such resonance in the present: one of the books I am writing is set in the late 1940’s and the issues it explores – the lives of gays and lesbians in a conformist time, returning soldiers and Army nurses coming home with PTSD and little help, the need to be true to one’s own heart – are certainly with us today.

I am immersed now in researching antebellum New Hampshire for a Gothic I am writing. My working title is “The Rabbit Thief” and you can see my working cover here. It’s an odd habit, but I need a visual cover to start off the writing. the mid 1850s were wild with changes: the Second Awakening, Lyceums, women’s rights, abolition and the Underground Railroad, transcendentalism, industrial growth and the establishment of mill towns and industry. But while all of that informs the novel in some way, it is at heart a gothic tale of a woman convicted of murder, sentenced to hang, and the story she weaves as she faces her last days.

Of course, there are those historical romance stories I wrote for SilkWords.com. Quite fun to write, albeit challenging to plot (What if the character doesn’t say something? What if she does? Readers can follow all the threads. I mean, have you ever wondered what would have happened if you made a call you didn’t? Turned left instead of right on a street? Well, that’s the nature of SilkWords stories.) Unfortunately, Silkwords has closed its doors – but I will be reworking these stories this year for publication in the summer – fingers crossed.

Bowery Girl came from my interest in social history, and grew out of a dream I had of a young woman who lived in the cellars of New York. What would she be like? I remember in the dream, the walls seeped with waters from the East River, and sound travelled in circles.

The Writing Process

At Amoskeag Mill

For me, writing (or more to the point, getting something done) is about setting goals and discipline. Once I’ve found a character or situation that intrigues me, I will spend a long time just “mulling things over”, asking what-ifs, wondering who else fits in a story. Then there’s lots of false starts and discarded drafts and, just maybe, something sticks long enough that it becomes the book I want to write. I don’t know how to write short stories; novels are fairly forgiving in allowing a bit of meandering. Novels are deadly long in the process  – the idea or image that sticks needs to be around for at least a couple of years of sitting down in a chair and slogging on and facing self-doubt and using the Delete key.

I regularly attend writing workshops through PDX Writers – the approach (Amherst Writers Method) is positive, and the feedback points out what works. The prompts open my brain to new ideas and angles and motivations and scenes, and breathe fresh air into my work.

Where Do the Stories Come From?

Anywhere and everywhere: a memory, a place, a snip of conversation from someone passing by on the street. My latest book, Under the Pale Moon, came from my love affair with Monterey, California. And specifically from my love of Del Monte beach – not the prettiest beach in the area, but a working beach that is run-down and sometimes scroggy. The characters in the story grew from that.

The Publishing Process

Editors are wonderful. They have an excellent eye for detail and for really focusing and shaping a story. I have been lucky to work with wonderful editors. Be prepared to edit and rewrite and shift scenes. Be happy about it. Get things in before deadline. Be prepared to promote yourself and your book. Read your reviews if you have the stomach for it – some are kind, and some teach you things.

Favorite Writers?

Writers who inspire me: Sarah Waters, Emma Donoghue, John Steinbeck. Of course John Steinbeck. I grew up on the Monterey Peninsula, and lived there for years later as an adult. I can take you on a walking tour of all the places he wrote about. His words and how he writes about the area are in the bones of me.

Beyond Writing

My latest obsession is saber fencing – while I have fenced epee and foil in the past, I am in love with the speed of this sport. I train at an amazing club, and if you’re at all into fencing and want the very best coaches and all around cool people, check it out: www.pdxfencing.com. PS – world champions below – definitely not me!

Here’s a picture of my writing mascot, Tuffy the Blind Cat. We have a dog and three cats, but Tuffy runs the house.


Family, fencing, friends. Doesn’t sound very spectacular, but it suits me fine. As does the rain in Oregon.