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Interview: Jeanette Baker, Author of Catriona

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Jeanette Baker is the award-winning author of fifteen novels, published by Pocket, Kensington and Mira Books.  Many of the books are set in the lush countryside of historical and contemporary Ireland where she lives and writes during the summer months. Her ancestors, the O’Flahertys, hail from Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands located off the coast of Galway. She takes great pride in the prayer posted by the English over the ancient citygates, “From the wrath of the O’Flahertys, may the good Lord deliver us.” Jeanette graduated from the University of California at Irvine with a degree in journalism and international relations and holds a Masters Degree in Education. When not in Ireland, she teaches in Southern California, reads constantly, attempts to navigate the confusing world of Facebook and, more recently, e-publishing, concocts creations from interesting cookbooks and enjoys the company of friends and children. She is the RITA award-winning author of Nell.

Please visit and blog with her at www.jeanettebaker.com.

When did you first know you could be a writer?

I don’t remember an actual epiphany or “first” realization that I could be a writer. From my earliest years in elementary school, writing came easily for me. As a child I was never taught to write. I don’t think that kind of instruction was considered as essential as it is today. There was a point in high school when my journalism teacher said, “You’re very good at this,” which I ignored for the most part. It wasn’t until college that I decided to write for a living. I was a journalist for 9 years in Northern Ireland. I remember the excitement of seeing my byline for the first time. I thought it would become routine, but it never has. Even after 16 novels, each new one is as exciting as the first.

What inspires you to write and why?

A story, for me, begins with an event in history. I love exploring country roads in settings rich in Celtic history, primarily Ireland and Scotland. I always take the tour, if there is one, and something small triggers my interest. It can be a place or a character. All my novels stem from those beginnings.

What genre are you most comfortable writing?

I would have to say the paranormal and, going into the more specific, the historical/paranormal. Someone, a reviewer, once said I’d created my own niche in the paranormal because I don’t have people traveling through time and attempting to live there. My books flirt with DNA memory and ancient curses that continue for generations within the same family.

What inspired you to write your first book?

Scotland’s most important battles: Bannockburn, Flodden Moor and Culloden.

Who or what influenced your writing once you began?

Writers who use/used words well: Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, Seamus Heaney, William B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Anne Rivers Siddons, Joan Wolf, Anne Patchett, Anne Tyler, and so many, many more wonderful writers.

Who or what influenced your writing over the years?

Again, wonderful writers who I’ve mentioned, events, personal and public, and travel.

What made you want to be a writer?

The desire to have others understand a position, to bring pleasure and knowledge where once there were misunderstandings and fear.

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?

Writing requires an organized mind. Creating a realistic plot requires setting in place sequential events and remembering small details that feature in more than one place in a story. I tend to be a whole picture person and frequently disregard the specifics. Like any discipline, writing requires paying attention to specifics. This is hard work for me.

Did writing this book teach you anything and what was it?

Every book teaches me something, whether it’s mine or someone else’s. I think it was Faulkner who said, “Every plot is about sin and redemption.” Catriona certainly is. While the main characters are the focus of the novel, the secondary characters are very strong as well. I wanted to create a novel with sympathetic secondary characters I could use again. I believe I did that in the characters of Jane and Mary. This required a great deal of rewriting, but it came together in the end.

Do you intend to make writing a career?

I would definitely call writing my career. I’ve had 16 novels published.

Have you developed a specific writing style?

When I teach writing classes, I print out anonymous samples of writers with strong voices. Usually students have no difficulty identifying the authors. For someone familiar with my work, my style would be identifiable.

What is your greatest strength as a writer?

I am an emotional writer. I would have to say my strength is my ability to find the emotion in events and convey it in words.

Have you ever had writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?

Everyone who writes prolifically has writers’ block. My strategy is to give the work a rest, read something else and when I go back to my project, reread the synopsis and the beginning chapters to recapture my original focus.

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