My guest today is Florence Byham Weinberg, author of the metaphysical fantasy, Anselm, a Metamorphosis, just published by Twilight Times Books. In this interview, she talks about her inspiration for the book, as well as writing and the obstacles she faced during the publishing process. You can find more about her on her website: www.florenceweinberg.com
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Anselm, a Metamorphosis. When did you start writing and what got you into metaphysical fantasy?
As a university professor for 36 years, I was expected to publish, so I wrote four scholarly books and many articles and reviews. The first scholarly book, my doctoral dissertation, came out in 1972. Writing fiction, however, began in earnest in 1998 as I prepared for retirement (in 1999). I completed the first novel in 2000 and have written 10 mainly historical novels and historical mysteries. This most recent novel is a departure, a foray into fantasy. What got me into it? Initially, a dream about a body-swap that went wrong. It was a good idea, so I wrote it as a short story, then as a novella, and finally expanded it into a properly structured novel.
Did you have a mentor who encouraged you?
I considered myself a skilled writer when I began, but was greatly helped to become a true novelist by Gerald W. Mills, who edited the first three historical novels (The Storks of La Caridad, a mystery; Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross, and Seven Cities of Mud). Gerry is a Renaissance man, a musician, an engineer, a sailor, a professor of creative writing, and an author. His latest book is a memoir called Sailing Uphill.
Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?
I had major struggles in the beginning finding an agent or a publisher, being rejected 243 times by agents. My historical novel about the 16th Century figure, Louise Labé — both poet and knight in armor — was published in French in Lyon, France, before any books in English came out. I was accepted by Twilight Times Books without the benefit of an agent thanks to my then editor, Gerald Mills, who represented me to them. I have stayed loyal to that publisher ever since.
I had a dream in which I was transplanted into someone else’s body, while my mind remained the same. This dream occurred in 1965 (the novel retains the 1960s setting). The idea appealed to me, and I wrote part of a short story (actually about 50 pages) based on the dream, but abandoned the project, since I was writing my doctoral dissertation at the time. I kept the story and last January expanded it into the novel you see today.
Do you have any plotting secrets? Do you use index cards or special software?
I always have a general idea of the direction of the novel. Since most of my novels are historical, I follow actual history as rigorously as possible, doing research, often archival research. I always add an appendix in the back of the book that tells the reader what is fictional and what not. I fill in historical gaps with my imagination of what must have happened, and in those cases, I let the characters be my guide or my Muse. In Anselm’s case, the characters themselves suggested ideas to me. I never outline, although if there are many characters, I imagine each one: hair color, complexion, eyes, etc., and keep a log to be sure I remain consistent. This part could be on index cards, but I’ve never used them. I compose on a computer (with Windows 8 at the moment) but need no special software.
What do you tell your muse when she refuses to collaborate?
I complain to her that she is betraying me and needs to get busy. Sometimes she listens. Usually, though, when I’m embarked on a novel with a theme I really like as in Anselm’s case, my muse always collaborates.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to write. Can you relate to this?
Instead, I feel joy and anticipation. Only when my Muse fails me do I get anxious.
Do you have a writing schedule? Do you set yourself weekly goals for your writing?
I rise at 8:00 AM, have a quick breakfast, then I edit what I’ve written the day before, and am usually inspired to continue the story a bit. I break for a mid-day snack and then do errands and chores as needed. After dinner, I sit down again and continue writing, sometimes until 2:00 AM. Next day, I’m back up at 8:00, however. As for a weekly goal, no; I’m satisfied if I have made good daily progress. I have written a novel in as little as three months; my last historical novel took me seven years because of all the travel (repeated trips to Germany) and research (in many German archives) involved.
How do you celebrate the completion of a novel?
By having a double Glenfiddich with one “rock,” then going to a favorite gourmet restaurant for dinner with wine — and with a good friend or with several good friends. The best thing is always the conversation, though.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
The marvelous adventures I can have vicariously, the research trips I take (to Mexico, to many places in the USA, to Spain, France, and Germany), the thrill of digging in dusty archives and finding nuggets of knowledge unknown to anyone, and the friends I make in the process.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
When a person writes a book, the characters become very dear and very real. I found myself talking to Eric Behrens/Anselm Farnese at times. None of your questions has centered on the plot of the novel, which is a tale of a body-swap. Since Christians (and many other world religions) believe that the mind or soul exists as a separate entity from the body, and philosophers such as René Descartes tried to prove it, I decided — no, I was compelled — to explore that idea. What if, through some ancient ritual, one person could exchange bodies with another? How would that work? What would they feel? The result was Anselm, a Metamorphosis. Hmm. Maybe I’ll write a series of body-swap novels!