1. How do you come up with story ideas/characters?
For the story ideas, something—a news story, something I’ve seen, something I’ve read—captures my imagination, grabs hold of my brain cells, and won’t shake loose. I have a lot of ideas that float through my brain at any and all times of the day, but the ones that become novels are the ones that latch on and won’t let go. The Loving Husband Trilogy was born from True Blood and reading vampire novels. Victory Garden was inspired by a news report that said women weren’t voting in high numbers (this was more than fifteen years ago) and I was reminded of a story I read in school about women who were arrested and force fed for fighting for the right to vote. My Brother’s Battle was inspired by the Ken Burns documentary about the American Civil War. Woman of Stones came about because I was reading the Bible a lot in those days, and I’ve always loved “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”—in a nutshell, the secret to peace on earth. One of my next projects has been brewing in one way or another for more than ten years, born from my love of Dickens and my fascination with Victorian London.
As to the characters, those are more of a mystery to me. I don’t know how to explain it except to say that to me, the characters are already there, inherent in the story, and it’s up to me to figure out who they are and what role they have in this tale I want to tell. The characters and the story are too intertwined—I can’t separate them one from the other. When I started imagining this vampire mourning his long-dead human wife, that vampire was James, even if I didn’t always know his name.
2. How do you research the history in your fiction?
I know we live in the Internet age, but I’m still a fan of the old fashioned way of researching. I enjoy going to the library, searching the stacks, and weeding through the books to find exactly what I’m looking for. It’s no surprise to me that Sarah is a librarian! One of the nice things about the Internet is that I can do a lot of my library searching from home so I know where to go when I get to the library. I still like to take my notes by hand. That’s a personal preference, but I feel like I absorb the information better that way. I do like that more and more we’re able to access whole books on the Internet, and Google Books has been a strong resource. I love the Internet for on the spot research, like if I realize I need a date or a street name or something of the sort, though I often cross reference the information with several websites.
When I first started writing historical fiction in the dear, dim past when I began My Brother’s Battle (written from 1994-2000, with major revisions in 2012), I studied everything I could find about the American Civil War, and trust me, there’s a ton of information out there. Shelby Foote dedicated twenty years of his life to writing about the American Civil War. My earlier drafts of the story had a ton of research that wasn’t part of the fictional story I had created about Benjamin Honeysuckle and it caused the narrative to drag in places. By the time I got to Her Dear & Loving Husband in 2009, I learned that the purpose of historical fiction is for the history to illuminate the fiction, not for the fiction to illuminate the history. Paragraphs of facts that have nothing to do with the story, or that detract too much from the plot, slow the story down. As a result, I learned to do general research on the historical period for my own knowledge, but in my writing I’ll only use bits of history that makes sense within the story. In other words, Her Dear & Loving Husband isn’t a treatise on the Salem Witch Trials; instead, details of the witch hunts are used to help illuminate James and Sarah’s story.
3. Do you believe in paranormal elements, reincarnation, Wiccans? What do you think happens after we die?
I’ve had a lot of questions about whether or not I believe in the supernatural elements of the James and Sarah books. I don’t believe in vampires or werewolves. I don’t think it’s so much about believing in Wiccans because they’re really there. There are many all over the world who consider themselves Wiccan. Do they have magic powers like Jennifer and Olivia? I know Wiccans cast spells, and I’m not one to judge whether or not their spells work!
As for reincarnation…I certainly don’t know. I believe that human beings are composed of body, mind, and spirit. I believe we’re more than our earthly experiences and five senses show us. I watch Super Soul Sunday on OWN, and I believe a lot of Oprah’s experts when they talk about the soul. I do believe our souls go on after our human bodies die, and I think it’s possible that those souls go on to be reincarnated.
The Loving Husband Trilogy is fiction, and the reason I love writing fiction above all else is because it allows me to explore the possibilities. Reincarnation may or may not happen—I don’t know for sure one way or the other—but writing these books was my way of wondering aloud what reincarnations (and vampires and witches) might look like if they were real.
5. I want to write historical fiction. What is your advice for me?
I have some general advice for writers of historical fiction here. Really, my best advice for anyone who wants to write anything is to take your time learning —find your unique voice and figure out what you want to put out into the world. Reading, if the writer has done her job, should be easy, but writing isn’t easy.
6. Geoffrey? Really?
I’ve had this question asked a few different ways, and it always makes me smile. I can’t say too much for those of you who are still reading Her Loving Husband’s Return, but it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to learn that there’s more to James and Geoffrey’s relationship than meets the eye. The clues are there, mainly in Her Loving Husband’s Curse. A couple of you have written to me to say you figured the mystery out before it was revealed at the end of HLHR. Well done! I love it when readers read with an eye for detail.
7. Will there be a Book Four? Pretty please?
I’m thrilled that there are so many of you who love James and Sarah’s story so much you want it to continue. What I can say for certain is that at this moment I have no plans for a fourth book. From early in the writing process I saw this as a trilogy, and I think the story is wrapped up pretty well at the end of Her Loving Husband’s Return. I already know the next two books I’m going to be writing, and they’re very different from the Loving Husband Trilogy—one is a modern-day love story, and the next is right back to historical fiction with a setting in Victorian London.
Having said that, I’m also a never say never kind of person. As soon as someone says “I’ll never…” the universe has a funny way of throwing that exact thing right back into the person’s face. That’s why some singers are on their seventh “Farewell Tour.” If an idea occurs to me that I’m excited about and that I feel will add to James and Sarah’s story, then by all means I’ll write it. I can’t say when that would be, or if it would definitely happen, but I’m open to the idea.
Keep those questions coming! FAQ Part 3 next week.