Character Inspiration: Sarah Alexander and Elizabeth Wentworth

Fans of the Loving Husband Trilogy are familiar with Elizabeth, the greatest love of James Wentworth’s life. She is the woman he sees across the dining room table in Salem Village in 1692, and her beauty and warmth capture his heart forever. But where did the idea for Elizabeth come from? And who came first, Elizabeth or James’ future love, Sarah Alexander?

To answer the second question first, trying to figure out who came first, Elizabeth or Sarah, is like a chicken and the egg question. On the one hand, you think the chicken had to come first because how can you have an egg without a chicken to lay it, but then you think it had to be the egg because where would a chicken come from if there wasn’t an egg to hatch from? You can’t have Sarah without Elizabeth. They’re too intertwined. Chronologically, Elizabeth was first since she married James in 1691, and James and Sarah married in 2011.

Writing the novel was more complex than following the chronology. My initial concept for Her Dear & Loving Husband was for it to be a completely modern novel. In my mind, Sarah came first. The bigger story that includes the Salem Witch Trials didn’t come to me until I decided where to set the novel. Once I decided to set the story in Salem and include the witch trials, then Elizabeth appeared. Are Sarah and Elizabeth exactly the same? Not quite. Obviously, they share similarities, but Elizabeth lives in the late 17th century; Sarah lives during our times. The differences between them are the differences you might expect from people who live in different centuries.

Sarah was easier to conceptualize since she’s a modern woman. I can’t say that there was any one major inspiration for Sarah. For most of the characters I write, I imagine a favorite actor in the “role” of the character, which gives me a sense of mannerisms and speech cadence. For example, for John Wentworth, James’ father, I imagined one of my all-time favorite actors, Sir Patrick Stewart, as John, which gave me a very clear vision of how John would sound as he spoke, what he looked like, and how he acted. I didn’t have a particular actress in mind for either Sarah or Elizabeth. They were completely figments of my imagination, which can work as well since I can allow my imagination to run wild. While we’re on the subject, I didn’t have a specific actor in mind for James. Every other character in Her Dear & Loving Husband had a well-known actor in the “roles.” Call it my Loving Husband dream team. But the three leads—James, Sarah, and Elizabeth—were all from my own imaginings.

Elizabeth is more of a mystery in Her Dear & Loving Husband. We see her in snippets throughout the novel, and we have some sense of her personality, and we see how close she and James are so that we undertand why James was so devastated by her loss during the witch hunts. But we don’t learn a lot about her. She’s there in the background, a shadow that haunts both James and Sarah, but by the end she’s relegated to her role as a memory. My inspiration for writing Down Salem Way came from the fact that I felt like there was more to explore about James and Elizabeth’s experiences in Salem in 1692. I wanted to know Elizabeth better. I wanted to see more of James and Elizabeth together, happy, content in their lives together, and I wanted to examine how it all fell apart, through no fault of their own.

Character inspiration can come from anywhere. It can come from books, movies, TV shows, music, people you know, favorite actors, or your imagination. My imagination was my main tool for creating both Elizabeth and Sarah. What I’ve learned from this experience is that you can go home again—at least when you’re writing fiction. I wanted to explore Elizabeth a little more, and now I’m able to do that through writing Down Salem Way.

You can see the first sneak peek of Down Salem Way here. It’s written diary-style from James’ point of view. I’m enjoying writing as James. It’s time he had his chance to share his side of what happened in 1692.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

FAQ–The Loving Husband Trilogy

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions I receive about The Loving Husband Trilogy so I thought I’d have a go at answering them here.

1.Did you always know James and Sarah’s story would be a trilogy?

I did. From very early in the idea gathering process I knew the connection between James/Elizabeth/Sarah and I knew the ending as we find it in Her Loving Husband’s Return. The further I went into mapping out the story, the more I knew I wanted to cover several different historical periods. In order to keep the story as I saw it a manageable length, I split it into three books. I once said as a joke that I wanted to avoid writing a 900-page tome that would send readers screaming for mercy. I wasn’t too far off. The combined page count of the Loving Husband Trilogy is 818 pages.

2. How long did it take you to write the Loving Husband Trilogy?

It was four years, almost exactly to the day, from when I first pressed fingers to the keyboard typing out ideas for Her Dear & Loving Husband (in April 2009) until Her Loving Husband’s Return was published (in April 2013). It took two years for me to write Her Dear & Loving Husband since it took time for me to find the narrative thread. The plot was more complex than other novels I had written, weaving the way it does between the past and the present, and it took time for me to work it out.

I read about these authors who publish three, four, five books a year and I’m amazed by them. When all is said and done, it takes me between one and two years to write a book. Keep in mind I’m not writing the whole time. I have to live with an idea in my head for a while before I ever start writing. I have to kick the idea around, soften it up, pull it here and tug it there to see if there’s anything in those odd daydreams. I kicked the idea around about the vampire missing his long-dead human wife for about six months before I ever began writing. Once I start writing, it can take anywhere from six to eight months for me to have a draft I’m happy with, and then the revising and editing process is intensive because I’m persnickety about how the words read on the page. The revising and editing process takes me about three to four months.

3. Do you have beta readers?

Her Dear & Loving Husband wouldn’t be the story it is without the help of a critique extraordinare who became my beta reader. I saw the love story between James and Sarah so clearly in my head, but I was having trouble articulating it on the page. With the beta reader’s sharp eye and finely tuned comments, I was able to finally write the story I meant to write in the first place. Once I figured out what I was doing with Her Dear & Loving Husband, writing the next two was a much easier process.

Here’s a Loving Husband Trilogy F.Y.I: The original title of Her Dear & Loving Husband was The Vampire’s Wife. The beta reader suggested that The Vampire’s Wife was too much of a giveaway about the story, so after stumbling across Anne Bradstreet’s poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband” I changed it to Her Dear & Loving Husband. The revised title has the same idea as the original, but it takes more digging to figure out what it means. And I love that the poem was able to serve as a connection between James and Elizabeth and James and Sarah. Things like that make me happy.

4. Was Outlander or A Discovery of Witches an inspiration for Her Dear & Loving Husband?

No, which surprises even me now that I’ve finally read Outlander (now working my way through Dragonfly in Amber). I haven’t read A Discovery of Witches yet, but it’s close to the top of my TBR pile. I talked in this post about the similarities between Outlander and Her Dear & Loving Husband, so I understand why I get this question now. Any hunk named James—whether he’s from 18th century Scotland or 17th century England—is fine by me!

5. How do you come up with story ideas/characters?

For the story ideas, something—a news story, something I’ve seen in film or television, 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 reading Twilight, watching True Blood, and reading a number of other vampire novels. Victory Garden was inspired by a news report that said women weren’t voting in high numbers and I was reminded of a story I read about women who were arrested and force fed for fighting for the right to vote. Woman of Stones came about because I’ve always loved that story from the Bible: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” which to me is the secret to peace on earth. When It Rained at Hembry Castle was born from my love of Dickens and my fascination with Downton Abbey.

As to the characters, those are more of a mystery to me. I don’t know how to explain how I come up with characters 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 feel compelled to share. 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.

6. 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 from The Loving Husband Trilogy is a librarian. One of the nice things about the Internet is that I can do some my library research from home. 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 we’re able to access whole books on the Internet, and Google Books has become a strong resource. I love the Internet for on the spot research, like if I realize I need to know what might have been served at a meal in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692, though I often cross reference the information with several websites. I do my best to make sure the information I share in my fiction is accurate.

By the time I started writing 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. If you want to illuminate the history, write nonfiction. 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 the historical bits that make 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.

7. 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 since 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 believe our souls go on after our human bodies die, and I think it’s possible that those souls go on to be reincarnated into new life. That’s what my Buddhist friends believe.

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 certainly don’t know one way or the other—but writing these books was my way of wondering aloud what ghosts, vampires, and witches might look like if they were real.

8. Geoffrey? Really?

Geoffrey is a recurring character in The Loving Husband Trilogy, for those of you who don’t know. 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 haven’t read Her Loving Husband’s Return, but it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for James and Sarah fans 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.

9. Will there be a Book Four? Pretty please?

When readers first started asking this question after Her Loving Husband’s Return was published, my answer was “Probably not.” I felt James and Sarah’s story had been pretty well wrapped up in Her Loving Husband’s Return and I wasn’t sure there was anything left to say. Plus, I had other stories poking me in the ribs with pointed sticks until I wrote them down and set them free. After That You Are Here and When It Rained at Hembry Castle were released I started wondering if there was more to say about James and Sarah.

I realized that there had to be more to James and Elizabeth’s experiences in Salem Town in 1692. Has James really come to terms with what happened during that inexplicable madness? Thus, Down Salem Way was born. I have no publication date for you right now. I can tell you I’m researching it and writing it, and the story has finally started to click so that I can see how it’s all going to play out. If you’re dying for any new James and Sarah you can get, you can follow the progress of Down Salem Way on wattpad.com. I’m posting new pieces on Wattpad as I write them. These aren’t revised, edited chapters. These are first draft meanderings fresh off the press, so to speak. But, yes, Virginia, there will be a fourth book. After that, who knows?

10. When/why did you start writing historical fiction?

Like most things about my writing, I started writing historical fiction by accident. I knew since high school that writing of some kind was in my future, though I didn’t know myself at that time what kind of writing it would be. At first I thought I’d be a journalist, but one high school journalism class showed me the “Just the facts, Ma’am” style of news writing didn’t work for me. In college, I turned my attention to screenwriting. I took a number of screenwriting classes, and I even worked for a film production company.

Around this time, I watched Ken Burns’ PBS documentary about the American Civil War, and I had an inkling of a story I wanted to tell about how brothers, brought up in the same family, could come to fight on opposing sides in a war. When I sat down to write the screenplay, I realized, at about page twenty, that the screenplay format was too small for what I wanted to write. Screenplays are blueprints for directors, actors, set designers, costume designers, directors of photography, and the many others necessary to make a film. There were times when I worked in “The Industry” when I felt like the screenwriter was the least important person there. I didn’t want to write a blueprint. I wanted to describe exactly what the characters were wearing. I wanted to go into detail about the room they were sitting in. I wanted to get into the characters’ heads and wonder why they made the choices they did. In order to do that, I needed to write a novel. Thus, my journey into historical fiction had begun.

11. What other books have you written?

My other books can be found on the My Books page.

The only common denominator in my books is they’re all written by me. Other than that, each book is completely different from the ones that came before (except for the Loving Husband Trilogy, of course). I write about whatever I’m fascinated with at the time, which is why my subjects are so varied. After I’ve finished Down Salem Way, I’m writing a memoir about what writing has meant to me. Then I’m writing the last installment of Hembry Castle, and after that will come an historical novel set around the Oregon Trail, an idea I’ve been kicking around for some time.

I love hearing from my readers. Keep the questions and comments coming through my Contact link, via email at meredithallard(at)aol(dot)com, or through my social media networks. You can find the links on the right sidebar. You guys are the best!

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Outlander—Who Knew?

Only millions of fans around the world, that’s who.

Outlander is one of those books I’ve been meaning to get to for years—I mean really, years. My interest was renewed since there has been so much hoopla over the Starz series, but since I don’t get Starz I haven’t been able to watch yet. I finally bought an ebook version for my Kindle two summers ago, but still it sat. It was one of those covers I kept looking at, but I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately and Outlander was a next time…next time…book for me.

I finally finished reading Outlander two days ago, and now I could kick myself for waiting so long to read it. I already have book number two downloaded onto my Kindle. The funny thing about Outlander is that so many of my Loving Husband Trilogy readers have asked if I’ve read Diana Gabaldon’s books, and a few asked if the Outlander series served as an inspiration for my own James and his beloved Sarah. Obviously, no, Outlander wasn’t an inspiration for the Loving Husband Trilogy since I’ve only just read the first in Gabaldon’s engrossing series.

There’s no need for a detailed synopsis of Outlander here since there are so many around. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, 20th century inhabitant Claire Randall time travels to 18th century Scotland where she meets mighty hunky Jamie Fraser. The two certainly have their fair share of obstacles as they fall in love. Claire is torn as she has to decide between her life (and her husband) from the 20th century and Jamie. Don’t let this short description fool you. It’s a lengthy story with plenty of plot twists.

Having read the book, now I can see why readers have asked if Outlander was an inspiration for the Loving Husband Trilogy. I can see why both series would appeal to the same readers. Both are stories about a love that spans centuries. Both feature a James (yes, in the Loving Husband Trilogy Sarah calls him Jamie). My James’ last name is Wentworth, the prison in Outlander—a silly point but one I thought I’d make anyway. Both are historical fiction, though the Loving Husband books go back and forth between present day Salem, Massachusetts and their historical periods—the Salem Witch Trials, the Trail of Tears, and the Japanese-American internments, respectively. Outlander is an actual time travel novel, as in Claire travels from the 20th century back to the 18th century. Her Dear & Loving Husband isn’t really a time travel novel, although Sarah certainly experiences time travel-like elements. Fans know what I mean. There’s the psychic reading in both stories–Claire has her tea leaves read, which gives her some glimpse of her future, and Sarah has her palm read by Olivia Phillips, everyone’s favorite motherly witch, which gives Sarah a glimpse of her future. Claire suffers at the hands of those who will brand her a witch, as does Sarah, or should I say Elizabeth. There certainly are differences. My James is more an intellectual than a warrior, though he has his moments, and if he’s not exactly human, well, no one’s perfect. I do think my James would look pretty damn good in a kilt, but I digress… If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that I had read Outlander before writing Her Dear & Loving Husband.

I remember when I was a kid and I would get totally lost in the many books I read. I lived on the prairie with Laura Ingalls Wilder and I sat on that farm alongside Wilbur and Charlotte. The older I’ve grown, the more difficult it has become to become totally lost in a book in that way. Outlander is the first book in years where I felt as though I was totally escaping my real world while reading. Simply as an historical novel it’s worth five stars for the way it sweeps you into 18th century Scotland. Gabaldon weaves Claire and Jamie’s story through twists and turns like a master writer. If you love historical fiction, you will love Outlander, and, I’m sure, the subsequent books. If you love a good love story thrown in, all the better.

Book One in the Outlander series down, seven more to go!

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave