My guests today are authors Alison Bruce and Kat Flannery. They have collaborated on a historical young adult novel set during the Civil War. In this interview they share their inspiration for the book, what got them into historical romance, writing, the Muse, and what they love most about their writing life, among other things.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Hazardous Unions. When did you start writing and what got you into Historical Romance?
ALISON: I’m a lifelong storyteller, but I didn’t get started writing fiction until I was in Grade 5. I wrote a story about the end of the world. It wasn’t for school, but I had a crush on my teacher so I showed it to him. My mother got a call that day. My teacher was worried I was depressed. Around that same time, my mother introduced me to Georgette Heyer’s historical romances – possibly to give my mind a more positive outlook.
KAT: Just like Alison I’ve always loved to tell stories, most were over embellished and went on forever. As I got older I realized that I love a happy ending and I love to learn new things. Historical Romance came into play from the two.
Did you have a mentor who encouraged you?
ALISON: My mother and my sister always encouraged my story writing. Mum always wanted to be a writer and took a night course. I still have her final assignment: “Madam, Your Tranquilizer is Showing.” My sister also wanted to write. Fiction didn’t come easily to them, however. I think that’s why they did their best to encourage me to pursue writing and shared their editorial skills to improve my writing.
KAT: When my boys were quite young my best friend encouraged me to take a writing class. There I met my mentor, Roberta Laurie. She not only taught me the correct way to write but encouraged me as well.
Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?
ALISON: My biggest struggle was overcoming my own cowardice. I started submitting stories to magazines at age eighteen and stopped by age twenty-one because I couldn’t handle the rejection. It took twenty years of being toughened up by writing training material and marketing copy for clients to prepare me to face rejection again. Meanwhile, I kept writing fiction for my friends, family and mental well-being. After all, if you don’t get the stories down, the characters drive you crazy.
KAT: Absolutely! My own insecurities were difficult to get over, and when you’re getting rejections as Alison explains it doesn’t help. One day I took all the rejection letters I’d received and I taped them to the wall. I wrote down one negative comment from each and I strived to over come them.
What was your inspiration for Hazardous Unions?
ALISON: Kat asked me if I wanted to do a pair of connected historical romance novellas with her. I said yes. We settled on the Civil War period pretty quickly because we were both writing Westerns. Kat thought of writing about siblings. I suggested twin sisters because I have twin cousins. Essentially, we went back and forth, bouncing ideas off each other, inspiring each other.
KAT: Ali has explained it perfectly. We seemed to complement each other with our ideas and our writing.
Do you have any plotting secrets? Do you use index cards or special software?
ALISON: My special software is WordPerfect. I have to submit and edit in MS Word because that’s the standard now, but I write my first draft, index my notes and organize my life with WP. As for my plotting secrets… If I told you I’d have to kill you.
KAT: That’s the crime writer in Ali. I love it. I use a coiled scribbler with each book, and this is where I plot all my ideas. I write down the general idea of the book and as I get going I add to it.
What do you tell your muse when she refuses to collaborate?
ALISON: I say nothing. I throw more coffee at her and if that doesn’t work, I throw research. I had to throw a lot of research at my muse for Hazardous Unions. Our publisher had one directive – besides our deadlines – write a feel-good Christmas romance. The trouble with war, especially one as bloody as the American Civil War, is there’s not a lot to feel good about. Throw slavery, religious bigotry and class struggle into the mix, and research ends up making you angry at man’s inhumanity to man. Then I came across a PBS special on the lives of slaves in their own voices. It reminded me that the worst of times often brings out the best in people. That satisfied my muse.
KAT: I research, and as Ali has explained, this book had its fair share. I knew nothing other than the basics about the Civil War. It was difficult to place love and romance in a time when people were dying. I struggled with this, and had to distance myself from the time period a in order to do so.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to write. Can you relate to this?
ALISON: I’m more likely to be anxious if I don’t write. I do get a bit stressed out when I can’t find the words I’m looking for. Much arm waving and hair pulling results.
KAT: Yes, I strive to make each story completely different and this includes phrases. So I can relate to what Ali is saying about worrying if I used the right words or if there are none at all.
Do you have a writing schedule? Do you set yourself weekly goals for your writing?
ALISON: I used to have a daily goal of 2000 words a day, five days a week. That went out the window the moment I was published. I work on my books every day but that might be writing, editing, promoting, researching or tossing around ideas for the next book.
KAT: I write every day when I’m into a manuscript. I do a weekly word count and I only push myself to get there if I’m on a deadline.
How do you celebrate the completion of a novel?
ALISON: I’m a single mother with two kids. They have to take up the slack around the house when I’m on deadline, or even just on a roll. I do something with them to celebrate – order pizza, go to a movie, that sort of thing.
KAT: Oh, our poor kid’s. I have three boys and my husband works out of town, and when I thank them for not complaining about Kraft dinner and chicken fingers almost every night in my acknowledgements I mean it. When I finish a book we celebrate three nights in a row. Each one of my son’s gets to pick their favourite dinner and I make it. When my husband comes home we go out for dinner.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
ALISON: I love bringing it all together: the research, plotting, characterization. I enjoy turning all the ingredients into a novel. I admit, I also love finding out that other people enjoy what I cooked up.
KAT: Everything! Creating great characters that I hope will touch my readers in some way. The twists and turns in the plot and then holding it in my hands when I’m done.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
ALISON: I’d like to thank Kat Flannery for inviting me to work with her. I couldn’t ask for a better collaborator. It’s been a great adventure.
KAT: Ali, I couldn’t have done it without you. I’ve had so much fun and through it all I’ve made a good friend.