Why do you write fiction?
When I was 11, I walked into the kitchen and saw my mother slap my sister Cathy so hard her head bounced off the pantry door. I said to myself, someday I will write about this. I haven’t yet, but I’ve written stories, poems, and now novels ever since. I write because the day seems incomplete when I do not write. Now that I’m writing novels, I write because their stories need to be told and because I believe in perseverance, in heroes, and in celebrating each step we take to achieve our dreams.
Please tell us about your book. What ideas or images inspired this story?
About five years ago, my husband and I visited Fort Vancouver, here in Washington. As we walked out into the fields, I spotted a sign that simply said. ‘Once Scots, Native Americans, and Hawaiians worked in these fields for the Hudson’s Bay Company.’
Then, just before retiring from teaching English at a community college, I took a creative writing class. The instructor asked us to not write any violent stories. My writing life changed in that moment, for I had been working on a novel about a kidnapping, a very dark story called Mothers Don’t Die (which I may yet publish). In that instant, I decided to write a series of stories about mermaids. Don’t ask me why.
One of those mermaid stories was about a selkie (merman) off the coast of northern Scotland, later published in The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales. That story led me to the 19th Century, the Industrial Revolution, and the plight of small farmers (crofters) who lost everything (I majored in history in college). The merman disappeared, new characters emerged, and I began writing Standing Stones, Book 1 of a three-part series. Book 2: Years of Stone (in final revision) follows Mac McDonnell who’s been sentenced to Van Diemen’s Land (present day Australia). Book 3: Rivers of Stone (currently in research/drafting stage) will follow Mac’s brother to Canada and brings me right back to the Hudson’s Bay Company, Fort Vancouver, and the Pacific Northwest. I’m still working on getting those Hawaiians in the story!
Do you have an ideal reader in mind when you write? If so, please describe that reader.
I imagine someone who loves the stories hidden behind the great sweep of history, more what the average person hopes and dreams. For example, if I were somehow transported to the Middle Ages, I’d more likely be a barmaid in the local tavern than the lady in the castle on the hill. I’m attracted to the underdog, someone who fights against insurmountable odds to achieve her or his goals. I still believe in happy endings, that we can be inspired by what we read, no matter how grim the setting or the number of obstacles the hero faces. My ideal reader probably has too many books in her personal library and carries a book wherever she goes.
Please describe your writing routine.
In drafting stage, I leap out of bed at 6 am (truly) with ideas for scenes and dialogue ready. I flip on the computer before breakfast and start to work. The next 2-3 hours are quiet time for writing. Breakfast is haphazard. I pound the keyboard, jot notes in my working journal, track number of words written, and revise the 3×5 scene cards on my planning board. Then the rest of the day takes over, and I’m lucky to have time to work on blogging, social media, marketing, and my own reading (currently Gina DeMarco’s The Neanderthal’s Aunt). In revision stage, I’m not really writing as much as editing. I’m a sprinter of a writer, so multiple reviews are needed before I’m satisfied each scene sings and the story holds together. And then there’s the fermenting, sometimes dark research stage, when I’m done with one project (even the minutia of e-book formatting) and am not quite ready for the next story. Here I may write poems, flash fiction, and outlines. But I don’t really outline formally, just mind-maps, lists, charts, and drawings.
Once a first draft is complete, I begin subbing some chapters to the NOVELS_L group on The Internet Writing Workshop, an invaluable online source for critiques. Next come a few trusted beta readers, and then I let the novel out into the world.
What advice do you give new writers just starting out?
The most important message I could give truly is to TRUST YOURSELF, your ideas, your unique voice and vision. WRITE. LOTS. Too many times we doubt our ability to tell the story we love. Just do it. Make the space. Use any technique that works for you. Take classes. Go ahead. But stay away from people (readers, other writers) who make you wake up in the middle of the night and wonder why you are writing.
For all writers, it’s useful to clarify your PERSONAL WRITING GOALS. Is this a career? A hobby? Where are you in your writing career? What do you want to achieve? What skills do you need to achieve those goals? As a much older-than-average writer, I feel pretty good about my writing/editing skills. Now I leap into self-publishing. I want to connect with readers, share stories, and simply write.
Now is not the time to be shy. I challenge writers to BECOME TECHNOLOGICALLY SAVVY. As Frank Zafiro said recently at a self-publishing authors’ panel at Auntie’s Bookstore here in Spokane, “Yes, I twitter. I feel like a twit.” We need to be savvy about our online platforms, our tweeting, our Facebook author pages, our use of e-mail programs like MailChimp, and our marketing. Some of us will self-publish and that involves a whole new set of skills. I recommend getting active in writer’s groups. Face-to-face is excellent IF you can find a group that nurtures and challenges you. If not, try an online option. Check out The Internet Writing Workshop, or A Round of Words in 80 Days, or the larger National Novel Writing Month, or the A to Z April Challenge (good for bloggers).
Write deep, write true, and have fun along the way. After all, writing Standing Stones led me to spend two months in Scotland.
More about Standing Stones:
Standing Stones is the first of two books that begins when Lord Gordon comes to Foulksay Island. His uncle has died, and inspired by the sweep of the Industrial Revolution, Lord Gordon wishes to make his new estate profitable by replacing tenant farmers who have lived on the island for generations with sheep.
Mac McDonnell, a fisherman and head of household for his sister and three brothers, leads protests against Lord Gordon’s changes, but Moira, his sister, falls in love with Dylan, one of the men Lord Gordon has brought to the island. The people of Foulksay Island have gathered to celebrate the end of summer. Dougal, the second oldest brother, is playing the fiddle. Here is the moment that Moira and Dylan meet:
Moira watched Dougal’s fingers fly over the fiddle. She felt proud of him, and her feet tapped the rhythm of the drum. The dancing grew frantic as more people pushed into the hall. Moira closed her eyes and gave herself over to the dance, the music keening in her head and heart. A strong arm held her at her waist and twirled her around.
Moira’s eyes flew open. “And who might you be?”
“I’m Dylan, from across the water, ready to dance your feet off and steal your heart.” He grinned and bowed.
Dylan was much shorter than her brothers, wiry, and dark when they were fair, his hair curly with sweat. His eyes, nearly black, sparkled. He smiled again, and Moira felt her breath catch. “Dance with me?”
She gave him her hand, and they danced one set after another, until they were both breathless.
“Any others like you at home?” he asked.
“No, not a one. Just me,” Moira shouted over the music, turning away and then back as he twirled her to the music.
“Ah, ‘tis fortunate I am, for then I’ll only have me heart broken once.”
Moira laughed. His hand caught and held hers, and his dark eyes dared her to let go.
“Wait until you meet my brothers.”
“And how many brothers do you have, all tiny men, as small as trolls, no doubt?”
“Four brothers,” she replied on the next round. “Mac, Dougal, Colin and Jamie. All of them are giants compared to you.” She glanced over at Dougal and waved. “There’s Dougal.”
“He looks ferocious,” said Dylan. “Does he have an evil temper?”
“None of my brothers would harm a soul.”
“Then why is he glaring at me like that?”
How to connect with Beth:
Link to book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4diurx6Wn4