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 Shauna E. Black. Shauna writes historical fantasy (Western), epic fantasy and dystopian.  Her most recent book is Rebel Bound, and she’s working on a new edition of her first novel, Fury of the Storm Wizard, which will be re-released under the new title Thunderstruck. You can find her through her website or Facebook page, and she also occasionally hangs out on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Shauna is also offering a special free short story to blog readers, which you can read more about below, and download here.

How long have you been writing and what got you started?

I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. I’ve always loved books and reading, so I guess it was natural to start creating my own stories. I used to inhale Nancy Drew, and some of my earliest manuscripts were imitations of those books. I called my teen sleuth Julie Jones, and she had two best friends that were twins. I still have one of my original manuscripts, written in pencil on half-sheets of paper. I even drew the illustrations!

Probably the best thing that happened to me when I was young was my seventh-grade English teacher. She announced in class that she’d give extra credit for anyone who turned in original short stories. I went hog-wild and started handing her story after story. Never mind that I already had an A in her class. Ha ha! But she was very patient with me and diligently read each one. She gently corrected my errors and wrote encouraging things in the margins. One thing she said that’s stuck with me all these years was: “You are a writer!” I was over the moon when she told me that! The first book in my Soul in Ashes series is dedicated to her.

What are the best and worst things about being an author?

I like to end on upbeat notes, so let’s start with the worst things:

Marketing. (Ugh!) That’s it in a nutshell, for me. Actually, I do enjoy creating marketing materials, like newsletters and graphics for ads and so forth. I just struggle with the delivery part. Like a lot of authors, I’m a hopelessly-incurable introvert, but I like connecting one-on-one with folks once I get over that shyness hurdle. Then there’s the whole issue of drowning in an ocean of books and making my books visible to more than a handful of people. That’s been incredibly hard.

The best thing about writing is getting to make up stories in my head that make my heart sing. I love to exercise my creativity and dream up magic systems, twists on the world we know, and interesting characters that struggle and overcome big problems. It’s icing on the cake when I get positive feedback from readers who actually seem to enjoy my little imagination as much as I do.

I also like the entire process of publishing, which was a surprise for me when I first became an indie author. (Well, I love everything but formatting. Formatting should go in the paragraph with marketing. Ugh.)

I worked for years as a graphics designer in television and on the web, so I really love designing covers too, though I consider myself still a newbie in this arena, trying to learn what makes a good book cover.

What’s your favourite historical time period to write about and why?

I think it would be the Victorian era, encompassing Westerns. That’s where my first published book ended up, and I had a lot of fun researching the era. I set the novel in the town where my ancestors mined the Colorado Rockies, and I learned a lot about the mining industry. But my favorite aspect of it was learning about what a school day was like, and the games kids played—especially marbles.

The other reason I like Victorian is because I have a steampunk that’s been kicking around in my head for awhile, full of airships and piracy. One of these days, I’ll get around to finishing that one. 😉

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve researched in relation to your writing?

Hair jewelry. It’s just so deliciously enchanting and creepy at the same time. Ha ha! That’s another reason to love Victorian! A few years ago, I was visiting my brother in Indiana and went into a little antique jewelry shop. The owner was really knowledgeable and had some hair jewelry pieces on display. She told me a little about them, and I became fascinated. I started developing an idea for either a fantasy or a ghost story that hinged on hair jewelry. (That’s another one I need to finish. So many ideas, so little time!)

If you could travel anywhere in time and space, when and where would it be?

That’s a tough question—not because I can’t think of anything, but because I can think of too many things! I love to travel, anyway, and to be able to add time to that would just be incredible!

Well, if it’s anywhere, then that includes fictional settings in books, right? I’ve always wanted to visit The Citadel of Wizards in Barbara Hambly’s book Dog Wizard. It sits on a hill overrun with plants and has all sorts of secret passages and lovely little nooks and crannies.

But if I must be grounded in reality, then I’d love to visit the British Isles during the dark ages— visit being the keyword, since I wouldn’t actually want to live during that time without indoor plumbing. 😉

Where do you find creative inspiration?

A lot of my inspiration comes from the area where I live. I’m in the US Southwest, and there are Ancient Puebloan ruins everywhere. In the spring is the best time to visit them, since it isn’t too hot then. Most of the ruins are a little hard to reach, with moderate to difficult hiking. I’ve been visiting these ruins since I was a kid, and I’ve always found it fascinating to imagine what life was like for the people that lived back then. I guess that’s the most interesting facet of history for me: making up stories about the real people that came before—what they were like, the challenges they faced, what they did every day, etc. My Soul in Ashes setting borrowed a lot from the southwest (Aztec and Ancient Puebloan) mixed in with the Celts. Kind of an odd combination, I know, but I had a lot of fun juxtaposing those cultures against each other.

What’s your favourite historical resource?

I don’t know that I have any one main source for my research. I do a lot on the Internet, just word searches in Google. I remember the days before Internet was a thing (I’m dating myself here). Research was a lot harder. I would go to the library and drag home whatever books they had on the subject, but it was severely limited compared to what I can find out now. The whole world really is at our fingertips, and the hardest part nowadays is picking and choosing from the incredible amount of information out there. But, writing in the fantasy subgenre helps because I can bend the truth to suit the story, so the source doesn’t have to necessarily be accurate. Ha ha!

The best place in the world to write is…

At home by myself. To really write well, I’ve found I need a certain level of concentration that I simply don’t get when other people are in the house.  So, I like to do my writing while my four kids are at school and my husband is at work. After they get home, it’s all over as far as writing goes.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my bedroom by myself, reading or writing or drawing. I overheard my parents talking once about it. My mom was concerned because she didn’t think it was normal for a kid to be so solitary. My dad said, that’s just how writers are!

When you’re not writing, what do you get up to?

My husband is a CPA, so during the US tax season I’m his secretary. That means I don’t get much writing done in the spring, but I think it’s important to support him just as he supports me in my endeavors.

Other than that, I keep busy being a mom to four beautiful girls between the ages of seventeen and nine. There’s always something they need, whether it’s rides to piano lessons or play practices, help with homework, or dinner. (Oh yeah. Guess I have too cook every so often, too.)

What are you currently working on?

I’m in between projects at the moment. I just finished a YA dystopian, which was a complete about-face for me, as far as genre is concerned. But I really enjoyed writing it, and I have fans clamoring for a second instalment, so I’m planning to get going on that as soon as tax season eases up enough to give me some wiggle room.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog! I’ve really enjoyed chatting about writing! I would like to offer your readers a fun little story for free, as a thank you. It’s called A Mess of Magic and is a spin-off from my Thunderstruck novel. They can download it here.

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 Nix Whittaker. Nix writes steampunk/alternative history, sci-fi romance, and is working on her first mystery. Her most recent novel is The Jade Dragon, the third instalment of her Wyvern Chronicles trilogy, and she has also just released a Christmas novella, Ruby Beyond Compare. You can get in touch with her via her website or Facebook page.

How long have you been writing, and what got you started?

I started writing when I was a little girl as I ran out of books to read. I’m dyslexic and my teacher recommended that I read more books, but at that stage I was reading about 100 books a year, and I quickly read out my library. So I started writing my own. It took a really long time to actually finish any of my stories. Once I decided I’d publish, I finished a book in a month. That was three years ago, though some days feels like a lifetime.

What are the best and worst things about being an author?

The best – well, that is being able to live in different worlds in your head. I love being able to create new friends for myself. The worst is the imposter syndrome. Always thinking that no matter how many books you have that you are never good enough to be classed as an author.

What’s your favourite historical time period to write about and why?

At the moment I’m enjoying the 1830s as there was so little technology back then that you have to double-check everything. Little things like photos in newspapers. I like the challenge.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

The question should be where don’t I find inspiration. I can get inspiration from a throwaway comment from friends. A character from a movie or a documentary. Inspiration is everywhere.

The best place in the world to write is…

Last year I had writer’s block, so to get over it I headed to the mountains. Took the ski lift right up to the top of the mountain and watched ski bunnies go down the slopes while I sat in the nice cosy restaurant and wrote. The glistening white snow and the view down the slopes was great inspiration. I would recommend cold to write as it’s much easier to see the screen. I find summer terrible for glare off your screen if you try to write outside.

When you’re not writing, what do you get up to?

I’m a cliché when it comes to being an author. I’m an English teacher with cats. So when I’m not writing I’m teaching English, fostering kittens for the SPCA and reading. I read a lot. Though this year I didn’t reach my reading goal on Goodreads. Very disappointing. This year I’m being more conservative and I’ll only read 150 books.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I’m working on my first mystery. All my other books are epic in scope as they deal with civil war and empires. This time I’m going small to a single murder and the only thing really at risk is my character’s career and possibly life. I’m enjoying the red herrings though. You don’t have many of those when you are dealing with a moustache-twirling villain. Ironically I got the idea for this story from a book cover I was making for my other side job. It was too good to put in as just a pre-made, so I decided to keep it except I didn’t have a story to go with it. That was when my Lady Golden Hand was born.

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 Guy Worthey. Guy writes young adult adventure, specifically 1920s noir with steampunk elements. His most recent book is Ace Carroway and the Great War. You can get in touch with him via his website or Facebook page, or on Twitter (@guyworthey).

How long have you been writing and what got you started?

I’ve only been seriously writing fiction-for-publication for a couple of years. However, my first publication was in second grade, when the teacher collected poems from the class. She retyped them, mimeographed them (yep, before photocopiers!), and made books held together with brass brads. Each kid made their own covers by gluing the letters P-O-E-T-R-Y onto construction paper. I was enthralled by the experience. The poem was, in its entirety, “Once, when flowers popped, they exploded.”

What are the best and worst things about being an author?

Best: writing.

Worst: editing.

I bet all the authors say that.

On the interface with the outside world, however, I’m really torn by the childish need to seek approval and the introvert’s instinct to just hide. So, on that axis, the best thing is the good review and the worst thing is the bad review.

Finally, on the axis of coffee:

Best: coffee.

Worst: coffee runs out.

What’s your favourite historical time period to write about and why?

I can’t pick just one! I love the noir period, of course. I really want to write a steampunk story some time. I grew up on a steady diet of medieval fantasy, so I’m always drawn to a swords-and-sorcery yarn. Personally, I avoid contemporary, post-apocalyptic, and anything where people have elongated canines.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve researched in relation to your writing?

Underwear, maybe. Specifically, the problem of having a 1920s woman who does athletic things.

The thermodynamics of jet engines, maybe. Or, how the Hindenburg’s crew actually handled that huge thing.

Then there is the tool called a breast drill. I euphemistically called it a chest drill to avoid teens snickering about it. It’s a heavy-duty drill that you lean into to apply pressure, and that’s how it gets its name. It’s got a long handle for extra leverage that the operator spins with their right hand while guiding their aim with their left hand.

If you could travel anywhere in time and space, when and where would it be?

Definitely the future. As much as I love various past times and places, I really really really want to jump a couple hundred years forward and see how the moon base is coming along and check on the Mars colony and see if we have found life around some other star.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

I get inspiration from almost everything. Music, chance remarks overheard, reading, dreaming, or simply listening to other people talk about what is important to them.

What’s your favourite historical resource?

A good, dusty, overstuffed secondhand bookstore! Digging around in such a place is where I have found some of my best references. You find crazy, quirky stuff lurking in the corners of such shops. My most fervent hope is that internet doesn’t kill off these shops.

The best place in the world to write is…

By a window overlooking the storm-lashed Scottish seaside cliffs.

I imagine. Never done that, actually. I do have a window, though, and I try to sit by it. I actually enjoy typing on a keyboard to write, though I prefer to read in the traditional manner of ink on paper pages.

When you’re not writing, what do you get up to?

I have a day job, but also plenty of hobbies. Foremost among them is probably jazz bass. I never get tired of playing in a hot combo. In general, I allow myself to get distracted. The occasional wild goose chase is good for a body.

What are you currently working on?

I’m finishing #2 in my Ace Carroway series, called Ace Carroway Around the World. This means I’m editing. Sigh. As I edit, I try to not get seduced by the dark side, such as writing a spinoff or going back to my half-drafted fantasy trilogy. Anyway, Ace #2 should be ready for release by March or April.

 

One of the great myths about writing is that it only occurs when you’re typing on a keyboard (or writing by hand, if you prefer). In my case, however – and I know I’m not alone here – a great deal of my ‘writing’ takes place when I’m away from my desk, often when I’m doing something mundane, like housework or waiting for the bus. Different stories take different lengths of time to percolate, and I’ve found no relationship between the length of the story and the time required. Greythorne, for example, came together relatively quickly – within a week of getting the idea I was writing it down, and I had a first draft in three months – but The Iron Line is taking a bit longer. And, weirdly enough, I just finished a 2000-word short story, Reset (which I hope to make available to my newsletter subscribers very soon), which has been percolating for nine months – a long time for such a short piece.

In recognition of the idea that ‘writing’ actually often consists of random musings while doing other things, a growing number of authors have turned to technology, especially dictation software, to fill the gap. Indie superstar Joanna Penn often dicusses how she dictates her books while going on long walks, and many others have followed suit. In the past, I’ve found that switching mediums (especially going from the computer to writing by hand) can really help me when I’m feeling creatively blocked, so I decided to test-run the dictation thing, with interesting results. I used Dragon Naturally Speaking and dictated directly into Scrivener at first, before switching to recording directly into my phone for the second experiment.

Conclusion 1: Dictating my novel directly doesn’t work for me.

Dictation software has improved in leaps and bounds over the last few years, and it’s now actually pretty accurate most of the time (especially if you have a decent mic). My dislike of dictation stems not from the reliability of the software, but from the way it changed my thought processes, which was completely unexpected.

I’m a very visual person and, it turns out, there’s also something about the touch of the keyboard or pen that helps words flow for me. When I had to dictate them, my brain felt sluggish, as if it couldn’t handle having to get the words out through my mouth rather than my hands. Pauses were more awkward, as I felt like I should be speaking fluently, and at the same time I was very conscious about having to speak clearly so the software would pick it up.

It’s also worth noting that I’m a fast typist, so I didn’t gain a lot time-wise from dictating, especially when you factor in the time needed to go back and edit the mistakes (one of the best ones was when I mentioned how someone “smiled with his mouth but not his eyes” and it heard “mouth” as “mouse”). However, if you’re a slower typist, have issues like RSI, or are more of an auditory person, dictation may work very well for you.

Conclusion 2: Abstract recording (as opposed to direct dictation) really helps when I’m blocked.

I’m currently working on the second draft of The Iron Line, which is written in the first person. In the past when I’ve got stuck, I’ve often ‘interviewed’ my characters in my head and written down their responses. During a particularly blocked patch about a month ago, I decided to go one step further and record myself speaking in the voice of the main character, just as if it was a proper interview. I’d been taking some improv acting classes and was feeling much more comfortable about developing a character on the fly, so I figured it was worth a try.

It worked a treat. Unlike the direct dictation, where I kept getting stuck looking for the right word, these ‘interviews’ were more guides for the plot than anything else. I basically asked my character ‘What happened next and how did it make you feel?’ and then got in her head and told the story in her voice. The words didn’t necessarily make it into the written version verbatim, but listening to the recording helped keep the plot on track, and there was much less pressure just sitting on the couch and talking, rather than staring at a screen. Perhaps it’s because of my journalism background, and the fact that I’ve done a lot of interviews on both sides of the mic, but I found it really unlocked something just by approaching it a different way.

So I guess the moral of this story is don’t be afraid to try new things. We’re so lucky with the way technology is developing and that we now have so many innovative solutions available to us – not just as writers, but in daily life. If something isn’t working for you, change it up – you never know, you may just hit on the key that unlocks it all.

Communications for Volunteers cover

Well, I have some exciting news – my first non-fiction book, Communications for Volunteers: Low-Cost Strategies for Community Groups is out on Monday! It’s an introductory-level communications handbook for grassroots volunteer groups, which I was inspired to write through my own volunteering experience (I realised that many volunteer groups don’t have a good understanding of how best to market themselves or communicate with their members, and there aren’t many resources out there to help them).

This book was turned around relatively quickly – nine months from concept to publication – and it’s also my first foray into indie publishing, which has been a massive learning curve. At the same time, I’ve also been trying to edit and rewrite The Iron Line, which has taken a lot longer and been a lot more difficult than I anticipated, and it’s got me thinking a lot about the differences between fiction and non-fiction.

Many authors prefer to focus on either fiction or non-fiction, but I’ve been lucky in that, over the years, I’ve learned to write in many different styles. I’ve written fiction for almost as long as I can remember (and I’m still learning so much about the craft), but I’ve also worked as a journalist,  published various academic articles (and written a PhD thesis), and worked as an editor and writing trainer for the government, which is a whole different style again.

For me, non-fiction is a whole lot easier than fiction. I’m now pretty comfortable with straight-up general non-fiction, which is what my communications book is, but I still feel I’m on an incredibly steep learning curve with fiction. In general non-fiction, you still have to worry about structure, tone, voice and many other ‘craft’ aspects, but I find them a lot more straightforward to master than in fiction, where you also have to deal with characterisation, plot, subtext, dialogue, emotion and a whole raft of other things. It’s the difference between learning to juggle with two balls and then having to juggle ten – while they’re on fire.

The one writing style I still have a lot of trouble with is creative non-fiction. I’m a huge fan of longform journalism and personal essays, but I feel like a complete novice when I try to write them myself. I recently had a piece rejected by a literary journal (after getting quite a long way through the process) because in the end it was based too heavily on reportage, without enough ‘literary’-style analysis. I guess the moral of the story is that you never, ever stop learning, and just because you’re good at one style or genre doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a master of them all. I have to remind myself of this sometimes when I get a bit despondent about how The Iron Line is progressing – like at the moment, when I’m feeling like every word I write is garbage – and remember that this is a process of growth that takes years, if not your whole life. I think part of the reason I’m finding The Iron Line so challenging is that, now that I know I can finish a book (which was the main goal of Greythorne), I’m pushing myself in other ways. This will hopefully make for a better novel, but it’s pretty painful when you’re in the middle of it. In any case, for now I’m just enjoying the feeling of once again seeing my words between covers. That never gets old.