Every month I’ll be interviewing an author who writes historically-influenced fiction, and introducing you to some fantastic new writing talent. Their genres vary, but all of them are writing stories set in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
This month’s featured author is Michelle Isenhoff. Michelle primarily writes historical fiction set in the Civil War era, but has also dabbled in the fantasy and dystopian genres. Her most recent book is Reprisal, the fifth and final instalment of her dystopian Recompense series. You can contact Michelle through her website, on Facebook or Twitter, or follow her author page on Amazon.
How long have you been writing and what got you started?
I’ve been writing stories since I could hold a pen. I still have my young author’s book from first grade. But I didn’t get serious about publishing until my senior year in college. My professor, Dr. Judith Fabisch, was hugely influential in getting me to take the initial plunge and submit a few articles to magazines. Several years and four novel attempts passed before I completed a middle grade book I felt was good enough to submit to a publishing house. It wasn’t picked up. Meanwhile, I wrote two more. Both stirred some interest among publishers. In the end I got them both back, but the experience gave me confidence in my work. The following year (2010) I received a Kindle for Christmas. By spring, I had revamped all three of my novels and published them on Amazon. This year, I released my nineteenth novel.
What are the best and worst things about being an author?
The worst part is definitely marketing. It’s really hard to get noticed without the prestige and reach of a traditional publishing house. I’m not very good at promoting myself, and I hate doing it. But it goes with the territory. Another difficult thing is the toll it takes on my body. Writing requires long hours of sitting in front of a computer. I make sure I stand for half of those hours.
The best part of writing is the rush of finishing a new novel. Every story takes weeks—usually months—to assemble. There’s something so satisfying in taking that draft and fine-tuning it into a cohesive, polished product. Publishing is definitely a major highlight, but I just love that final editing process where something so rough becomes something so beautiful.
What’s your favourite historical time period to write about and why?
I love all eras of American history. I have one novel set during the Revolution, and I’m currently writing in the 1920s. But the Civil War era is my favorite. I’ve written extensively in it. The war is so tragically lamentable, because it could have been prevented so easily when America’s government was being formed. Instead, the problem of slavery was left for the next generation to deal with, with catastrophic results. I see the Civil War as sort of the central event of America’s short history. The politics link back to the Colonial era and the Revolution, as does the military fighting style. But by the war’s end, weapons technology had advanced so much that the old style of fighting gave way to trench warfare, linking it to WWI (which followed only 50 years later) and the modern era.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve researched in relation to your writing?
I’ll have to jump outside the historical fiction genre for this one. My Taylor Davis series is a humorous, middle grade, supernatural, sci-fi adventure. It’s a little bit out there and was really fun to write. It didn’t really have any weird research, per se, but it led me all over the place. From submarines to medieval weapons, from London historical sites to African literary types, from scientific gadgetry to angels. I never knew where I would land next!
If you could travel anywhere in time and space, when and where would it be?
Gettysburg. I’ve done so much research on the Civil War that I’d love to visit (not live in!) that time period, and Gettysburg was the pivotal moment. I have a horrified fascination with the battle itself, but I’d also like to witness the political shift as it played out across the nation in the subsequent months.
Where do you find creative inspiration?
Battlegrounds and historical sites always get my imagination working. Even when I read a dry history text, I can’t help but wonder about the people who experienced whatever I’m reading about. My Candle Star series and my Ella Wood series both began with a trip to Gettysburg. And The Color of Freedom was prompted by a trip to Lexington and Concord.
I also tend to let my mind wander when I’m gardening or biking. I bike between 1000-1500 miles a summer (to make up for all that sit-down writing), so that’s a lot of brainstorming time. My kids and their friends are an endless source of material, as well.
What’s your favourite historical resource?
Probably the Library of Congress website. I use a lot of works prepared by historians, but I love to read primary resources—slave narratives, journals, period newspapers… The website is huge and not very user-friendly, but if I spend some time at it, I can uncover so much material. Far more than I could ever use. And it’s all right at my fingertips.
The best place in the world to write is…
My hammock in the backyard!
When you’re not writing, what do you get up to?
When I’m not writing, I’m probably biking. I also enjoy camping with my kids, romping with my dog, riding roller coasters, swimming in big waves, and watching home-town high-school football games.
What are you currently working on?
I’m actually writing a novel that I want to shop around to publishers. Since self-publishing in 2011, I’ve never done this. Series work best for self-publishing, and stand-alone novels do not. But this is a single, substantial novel about an intriguing part of Michigan history that has strong appeal today. Since I have no idea what the publishing future or time frame will be for this one, I’d prefer to keep the premise under my hat for now.