Today seems like the perfect day for an interview about writing, publishing, and Vikings. Yes, Vikings. I just set the coffee table with two teacups and am about to pour tea for my guest, whom you might already know.
I’m speaking of author Shehanne Moore, whose blog I have followed for some time now and thoroughly enjoy reading (the hamsters that frequent her blog will be here soon). If you want to join us, I can add another teacup. Sit here with us and listen in for what promises to be a compelling chat that includes discussion of her book The Viking and the Courtesan. Did I mention Shehanne writes historical fiction? Ahem, she does, and her wonderful wit is overflowing on this sunny spring day.
Hi Shehanne! How about we start by learning more about you and your writing background?
Well, my bio will tell you I’m Scottish. I live on the banks of the beautiful River Tay. These days it’s with Mr. Shey, my two daughters have their own lives–close by though. I’d love to travel more but I get my fair share on my beloved Scottish mountains and right now I’m busy doing up the house we moved to eighteen months ago. I’ve probably wanted to be a writer since I was like… seven.. and flown that one a bit by the seat of my pants, I mean, here I am writing historical romance, when I once wrote comic strips for girls and edited a history journal…
I think it’s wonderful that you fulfilled your childhood dream of being a writer! Now you have published several books! How would you describe your latest book The Viking and the Courtesan for anyone who is not yet familiar with it?
A royal pain in the proverbial actually. Seriously to get the idea of the time travel across and convince my lovely ed this was the way to do it, I opened my blabby big mouth about the heroine being a member of a time travelling dynasty. So now there’s a looming deadline for a prequel. Apart from that it’s a story about two people finding each other despite the vast time/culture chasm separating them. Oh and, as if that is not enough, the hero’s scary betrothed, Snotra.
How intriguing! Let’s pause to watch the trailer for The Viking and the Courtesan *we clink teacups as we bend over my tablet’s screen to watch the book’s YouTube trailer*:
Woohoo, bring on the romance! What inspired you to write the novel, Shey?
Basically? I was stuck. I had this idea for a Viking story but I was really struggling to get the heroine’s goal and conflict. Let’s face it, if you were captured by the Vikings, you would have very little hope of escape, of getting back to wherever you home was. So I had put the idea on the back burner while I teased out another idea set in Regency times about a woman running a marriage wrecking agency and being asked to ruin her own.
That one just started to write itself but then I felt that some of the themes in it were too similar to my first book, The Unravelling of Lady Fury–unrequited love, kidnap, the necessity of keeping one’s position in society at any cost. Then the little idea train struck. It went, ‘Bang. Hello Shey, why don’t you knock the two books together?’ Naturally I told it no. Don’t be silly. It can’t be done ( I think my lovely ed thought the same).
I like your reference to the “idea train.” You’ve been on this train and taken it to the publishing station more than once now. Do you have a process for creating the plot lines and, if so, would you kindly share some information about it for aspiring writers?
AHHH. I only wish. Despite being 70,000 words in with this prequel I have no process whatsoever and no idea where the story is going next, which is pretty terrifying at times, especially when I need to hand it in six weeks’ time. I just get this kind of flash of a scene. That’s it. With the two separate stories that I managed to knock together for The Viking and the Courtesan I saw the cold dawn for a woman who’s been captured in a Viking raid and she’s disguised as a man—that was it. For the other I saw Lady Malice taking down all the details of this marriage she is being asked to wreck. I never have more than that to work with.
What I do is start teasing out the scene. I try to think then of what goals these characters have and why, then what kind of character they are. I suppose that when you don’t work with a plot and you have characters that then proceed to do what they like, so you have no idea at all where the story is going next, it is important to flesh out the goals and the type of person you are writing about. I’ve always found the plot takes care of itself. At all costs just try, and get something down on the page and the reason this is happening. Then, at least, you’ve something to work with.
To me, character is king. Whenever I hit a wall but I need to get something written, I always go back to my characters. Where are they, and what do they want at this point, what will they do to get it? But the bottom line is I am asking myself what kind of people are they, so what are they bringing to this situation they are in right now? I always find that next bit writes itself.
This advice is going to help writers. Of that, I have no doubt. I’m just wondering a bit more, though… How did you find your writing style, and has it changed over time?
I don’t know, did I find it?! Seriously I really had to find out how to write romance. I much prefer writing epics with tons of characters. This business of only ever being in the point of view of two, kills me. I’ve always kind of experimented. My heap of manuscripts includes things like a 1930’s gangster story about a gangster’s moll and it’s kind of hard-boiled, pared-down prose. I’ve written other things that are totally different.
Eventually, to get published I thought, ‘Romance.’ It was a genre I never ever thought I’d write in but when I decided to give it ago, I wanted to go with my way of writing so far as possible. I like to write deep POV, I like to be tongue in cheek and I do like flawed characters who are the victim of themselves rather than other people. I guess you might say I wanted to do romance my way.
And “your way” is great because it is unique! Just like this spring day – there will never be another one exactly like it. Looking ahead to the future, tell me, is there an author that you want to meet one day?
Aw, just one? One of the best things about this business is the wonderful writers I’ve come to know. I would love to meet all my writing friends, Incy Black, Antonia Van Zandt, Jane Hunt, Noelle Clark, oh and a certain Mz Birmingham.
I’m hoping to meet Noelle next year. She’s talking about coming to Scotland. Also, way back I read The Russian Concubine by Kate Furnivall. She was my idol. I nearly fell down when she spoke to me on Twitter one night! She’s been so kind and encouraging in every way since. We talk about meeting, drinking wine and talking writing and grand-babies, and I hope that will happen.
Wonderful – and Mz Birmingham enjoys meeting you today too 😉 Back to you, though, my dear, this is your spotlight! Do you have advice on how to get a publishing contract, which you did when Soul Mate Publishing contracted you to write The Viking and the Courtesan?
Well, firstly get your steel teeth out of the jar. I already had a publisher but the time had come to try elsewhere. Just because you have books out that does not mean it gets any easier. In fact in some ways it’s harder. Be realistic. We all have dreams of being snapped up by some big house.
The industry may move at the rate of molasses but not in the business of eBooks and ePublishers. That has changed the entire ball game so if you are hanging onto the traditional model, of getting an agent and then into a big house, think again. I’ve seen a lot of good writers holding themselves back that way and getting ‘hurt,’ if you like. It’s really hard and you have like two seconds to get an acquiring editor’s attention, so make sure you polish your query and synopsis till it shines. Read how to write the best one. Study online examples. There’s a ton kicking about.
I often get asked to look at an aspiring author’s work and straight off the query and the synopsis are making every mistake going. Then start looking around. Don’t waste time querying a house that says they don’t take work over 75 thou words, if you have written 90 thou. You could have written War and Peace, the chances are they are not going to bend the rules for you. Choose the publisher that is the best fit for your work and one with a good reputation. Follow their submission guidelines closely. And don’t be too precious. If someone points out a mistake to you… i.e. you should have written the query this way, take that on board, because that advice has been honestly given and it’s so easy not to see your mistakes.
Thanks for the helpful words here for writers searching for publishers! Let’s go to another topic now… Do you have a favorite quote? If so, could you share it with us?
Tomorrow is always another day. Never give up on anything.
Yes, tomorrow is full of promise. What other advice can you give to writers as we end this interview?
I think what I’ve seen of this business and those in it, keep going, get past the black dog called doubt. That might be about your writing not coming together, looking at other writers and thinking you’re wasting your time, also about keeping going generally. It’s a hard business. The market is saturated. That doesn’t mean you should give up.
I like your enthusiasm for writing and your words about never giving up! You have shared a lot of valuable information with us today, Shehanne, and I thank you for that. Now let’s have another cup of tea. Thanks to the readers who came by to join us 🙂
If you can’t get enough of author Shehanne Moore, you’re not alone! You can pick up The Viking and the Courtesan now.
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