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.

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.