Readers: FAQs

Here are answers to some of the questions I'm often asked about writing.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
A: General advice: It took me more than twenty-five years to get published. To succeed, you have to have faith in yourself, persevere, and listen to your instincts. There are a lot of killjoys out there, and you may receive misdirection. Ultimately, you're the one who knows what's right for your writing career. If you can envision it, you can become it.

Advice for writers of historical fiction: There's only so much you can comprehend about the past by reading and listening. Historical accuracy and attention to detail help make history come alive for readers, so you cannot afford to be "armchair" about it. To make an adventure in the past real and establish your storyteller credibility with twenty-first-century readers, you have to get out there and live the time period. Become involved with a reenactment group. Live in historically accurate clothing for a weekend event. Explore the technology, food, and weaponry available from that time period. Visit the historical site. Readers can tell if you've never worn period clothing, discharged a period weapon, or "been there."

Q: How much money do you make writing books?
A: I make enough for Uncle Sam to regard it as a real business each April. More importantly, I'm doing what I love for a job. How many people can say that every day?

Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: I've traveled a great deal, visited many historic sites, and correspond with people from other cultures. I read widely across fiction and non-fiction (both primary and secondary sources), I attend writers' conferences and listen to subject matter experts and other authors. For this series, the actual history and its setting often dictate to me much of what must happen.

Q: What are your writing habits? What is your writing day/process like?
A: My most productive time to write is pre-dawn. I rise before five and write as much as I can before noon. This series involves a great deal of historical research - more than I can complete before I start writing the first draft - so I write the novels in chunks, pausing between chunks to complete more research.

Q: Do your characters come from real people (such as friends and family), those you have imagined, or fictional characters?
A: My characters are an amalgamation of real, imaginary, and fictional people.

Q: How long does it take you to write a book (after you get an idea)?
A: Depending on what I'm writing, between two months and two years.

Q: What inspires your stories?
A: My own life experiences. Also history, books, TV, and movies.

Q: How old were you when you wrote your first fiction? What got you started writing?
A: I wrote my first fiction in second grade, a week or so after the eye of a hurricane passed over my home. When I was a kid, I burned the midnight oil reading any mysteries I could get my hands on: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Kay Tracy, the Bobsey Twins, etc. And TV in the 1960s was outstanding for a kid with a vivid imagination: "Hawaiian Eye," "The Untouchables," "Star Trek," "The Twilight Zone," "The Outer Limits," "Dark Shadows," "The Adventures of Jonny Quest," "Combat."

Q: What authors do you like to read?
A: I enjoy having an author hook me with a combination of place, atmosphere, and sympathetic protagonist. Doesn't matter in what genre or time period the story occurs. Martin Cruz Smith did it for me with his contemporary suspense novel, Havana Bay. Terri Windling's The Wood Wife, speculative fiction, is excellent. Susan Hill's ghost story, The Woman in Black, raises the hair on the back of my neck every time I read it, and she does it all without blood and guts - just the power of the imagination. Rhys Bowen's Murphy's Law, set in early twentieth-century New York City, and Ashley Gardner's Regency England series starting with The Hanover Square Affair also evoke a place for me that's very real and keep me turning pages. I find the protagonists of all those books sympathetic.

Q: How many novels have you written?
A: I've completed more than a dozen novel-length manuscripts, but some of the early ones aren't fit for human consumption.

Q: What is the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War?
A: The Southern theater encompasses the military actions, such as battles, that occurred in the southernmost of the original thirteen colonies: Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. Plus, a surprising amount of military action for this global war also took place in Florida, Alabama, and the Caribbean.

Q: Why do you set your series in the Southern theater?
A: In traditional accounts of this war, the importance of the Southern theater has been minimized. I set my series there to draw attention to the important role the Southern theater played. The war migrated to the South near the end, when the facade of noble, glorious cause had been stripped away by years of bloodshed. By that time, all participants were exhausted, and primitive emotion lay easily accessible. When that point is reached, those who are truly courageous become beacons because they act appropriately in the presence of fear.

Q: What's so important about redefining the role of women in history?
A: Often, history is defined by a succession of wars described from men's point of view, detached, with no connection to the here and now. If women could relate their side of the story, we'd hear a vastly different history. Most importantly, we'd hear about emotion that helps us relate what's happened in history to the decisions we're making now. And we'd know that if we want to be rescued from any messes we've plunged ourselves into, we'd have to look inside ourselves for the heroes.

Q: How did you get involved with living history?
A: When I began writing Paper Woman back in the '90s, I realized that I needed hands-on experience with everyday life in Colonial America to enable me to portray it accurately in my fiction. The Internet is a wonderful tool for finding out all about living history.

Q: In living history, why do you reenact on the side of the Crown forces?
A: I knew how the patriots thought and reacted from my high school history texts. I realized that if I wanted a convincing depiction of a neutral in my fiction, I had to know how the other side thought and reacted.

Q: In the American War of Independence, weren't the British all Nazi-like butchering monsters and criminals?
A: No. Both sides in the American Revolution began the war honoring a centuries-old code of battlefield ethics. For example, if a soldier on either side raped, injured, or stole from a civilian, he was punished excruciatingly. Toward the end of the war, honor degenerated on both sides. Especially in the Southern theater, historians see vigilante justice replacing formal due process. By no stretch of the imagination do the Crown forces dominate in committing atrocities. And they never committed the atrocities that Hollywood ascribes to them, such as burning a church full of civilians.

Q: What led you to write historical rather than contemporary?
A: I have always been interested in the Revolutionary War, especially the portion of the war that doesn't usually make it into novels and history texts. The Southern colonies and the Caribbean receive scant mention, but historians and scholars now suspect that more battles were fought in South Carolina than in any of the Northern colonies. I was also intrigued at the thought of including suspense with crime elements - but without the help of modern-day forensics. How would people back then have solved crimes?