Q: Where do you go for inspiration for your work?
A: When I write historical fiction it’s because a particular watershed moment in time has caught my attention: the first woman to make a living as a writer as in The Slender Tether; the fight to save medical knowledge during the witch-burning times in Europe, as in The Mandrake Broom. But in all instances I’m trying to make sure that I have something to say, a unique angle on a universal truth about ambition, disillusionment, love, freedom, control etc. and the book is an opportunity to explore as many facets of that issue as I can imagine.
Q: How do you know when you have a setting that really works for the story you want to tell?
A: It has to be very vivid and textural; it needs to help you manipulate the movement and communication of your characters; and the setting has to reflect the theme and characterization in the story. For example, a very depressed man who runs the local merry-go-round is set up with the status quo clearly in opposition to his mood.
Q: Have you ever scrapped a story because things didn’t come together? Is it better to scrap and start over or try to find the spot where you think you went wrong?
A: I’m convinced that a writer will have 30 good story ideas for every one that is finally published. There are so many ways that a story can fail that it’s amazing that any of them work at all. I would definitely recommend finding the spot where something went wrong and trying to fix it but new writers should not feel disheartened by having to scrap a story altogether.
Q: How hard is it to write about a large cast of characters when it comes to family stories?
A: It’s difficult to write a large cast of characters either fictional or nonfictional. I recommend trying to narrow the scope of the piece to focus on just the very most interesting and action-oriented stories from the family. The stories can even be from different family members: I call it the “string of pearls” technique of telling the best stories without too much concern for the time lapse or narrative in between them. All of that flat narrative can go into the appendix.
Q: Writing is joyful. But it is also hard. What keeps you going as a writer?
A: The overwhelming need to communicate; the joy I get from imagination; the beauty of words; the devotion I have to my characters as if they are real people and opportunities like this, A Rally of Writers, to meet the like-minded.