IT MAY BE SURPRISING that one true thing in my novel Thieving Forest is the plethora of sisters in one family. I grew up with six sisters—yes, seven girls in all—and no brothers. When writing Thieving Forest I condensed the number to five, since I thought seven would be just too many for a reader to keep track of, but they are based on my real siblings. Like the sisters in the novel, we grew up in Ohio, albeit an Ohio with running water and antibiotic ointment. Thieving Forest takes place at a time when the roads were mostly deer paths.
When doing research for the novel I read a lot of early settlers’ accounts—journals, first-hand travelogues published in the magazines of the day, and letters—and many of these contained such wonderful details that I had to take the advice of T.S. Eliot: “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.”
What did I steal? An account of being bit by a snake by Samuel Prescott Hildreth, and a description of a Moravian dinner/ceremony with Native Americans by David McClure. I read accounts by early Jesuits who visited Native American tribes almost two hundred years before my novel took place, and I was also heavily influenced by the conquistador Cabeza de Vaca, who found himself lost and wondering among Native American communities in the Southwest in 1540.
The great thing about writing historical fiction is that real events can act as a springboard to your imagination. It’s true that I made up an entire Native American tribe, whom my protagonist called the Stooping Indians because of their malnutrition (they nevertheless saved her from starvation); however, this tribe was based on tribes that Cabeza de Vaca lived with and wrote about.
Thieving Forest is a story about an abduction and a search for those taken. It is also a story of survival and transformation. Susanna Quiner watches from behind a tree as her four older sisters are taken by a band of Potawatomi. Left to her own resources (her parents recently died), Susanna decides to go after them herself. But as she finds her sisters one by one, she discovers that they have changed. Part of her transformation is accepting her sisters’ new lives, and forming her own life without them.
Isn’t this the way of any family, historical or modern? We spend years and years growing up together, and then we go off to school or to jobs or to have our own adventures, and everything changes. The details might differ (antibiotics, better roads), but in essence siblings—especially younger siblings—have experienced the break-up of families from time in memoriam. We grow up, we leave home, and we change — often in that order. And the process of accepting our sibling’s life choices can be difficult.
So although the story of Thieving Forest is fiction, I like to think that the essential feeling beneath it is true. What is real is what we pin the details on: human nature. And you just can’t make that up.
WHEN MY FIRST NOVEL, 12 BLISS STREET, came out, my editor at St. Martin’s urged me to visit as many bookstores as possible—although she also told me that since there was no marketing or publicity budget for my book, it would have to be on my own dime.
Eager to make my book a success, I lined up bookstore readings in San Diego, San Francisco, upstate New York (where I happened to be vacationing that summer), and Cleveland (where I grew up). And the readings were enjoyable, once they got started (I was a basket of nerves beforehand, however). But were they worth the money? Did the booksellers buy more of my books, remember my name, keep tabs on my career?
I have no idea.
Ten years later, the publishing landscape has entirely changed. About six months before my novel THIEVING FOREST was due to come out, I hired a social media consultant (the fabulous Frances Caballo), and we hit the ground running—or rather, we hit the keyboard typing (fast). She helped me to understand how I can find readers online without ever leaving my office, if I’m honest about my book and realistic about who my readers might be.
Frances suggested I look into a blog tour via The Muffin’s Women on Writing. It was something she did herself for her book, and found it extremely successful. Here’s how it works: If the folks at the Muffin like your work, they have you fill out a very thorough form, in which you have room to talk about your book, yourself, and anything you feel qualified to blog about. My blog tour topics range from how to handle historical research to being a writer with a dog (a time-honored tradition).
I was a little surprised about how many topics I might very well write about, and how many people — bloggers who invite writers like me to post guest blogs— were interested in my book. Surprised and pleased. And there were fun things in the mix like giveaways and prizes.
What shouldn’t have been surprising was how fun it’s been. I love to write, so natch! But, like the bookstore readings, before I began I was nervous. However I am a writer, after all, and not a stand-up performer, so this feels like a much better fit. I’m more comfortable, and after the first few guest blogs I haven’t been so nervous.
And I don’t have to buy plane tickets or a new outfit. (I did buy a new pair of shoes, but that was more for me.)
Don’t get me wrong, I love bookstores, and I go to a lot of readings every year. But I’m beginning to wonder if bookstores are really better for the reader me than the writer me.
And now that I think about it, that just might be a great topic for another guest blog.
Blog Tour Dates
Monday, October 13 @ The Muffin
Stop by for an interview with Martha Conway and a chance to win Thieving Forest!
Tuesday, October 14 @ Writer with Dogs
Martha Conway shares a little about how important a dog can be to writing research today at Writer with Dogs.
Wednesday, October 15 @ All Things Audry
What is a Quest Novel? Stop by for author Martha Conway’s thoughts on this exciting genre.
Thursday, October 16 @ Book Talk
Looking for something new to read? How about a historical novel set in the rough and wild frontier of Ohio in the early 1800s—Thieving Forest by Martha Conway.
Friday, October 17 @ Deal Sharing Aunt
Big families…what is that they share, what makes them unique? Learn more about family from Martha Conway and enter to win her novel Thieving Forest.
Sunday, October 19 @ Writer Unboxed
Martha Conway will be sharing why she thinks we should embracing heroines, instead of heroes, especially in historical novels. Stop by and tell us your favorite heroine.
Tuesday, October 21 @ Katherine Hajer
When you’re caught up in the magical world of a book do you ever wonder what DIDN’T make it into the final draft? Martha Conway, author of Thieving Forest, tells about the painful decisions that have to be made.
Wednesday, October 22 @ Caroline Clemmons
What do you know about Native American families? Martha Conway, author of Thieving Forest, shares a few things you never would have guessed.
Thursday, October 23 @ Renee’s Pages
Need some tips on researching historical fiction?Ask Martha Conway, author of Thieving Forest, set in the Ohio frontier during the early 1800s.
Friday, October 24 @ A Writer’s Devotion
Learn more about author Martha Conway in today’s interview.
Monday, October 27 @ Katherine Hajer
The Headless Horseman isn’t the only scary thing in the forest this Halloween. Read a review of Thieving Forest and find out what else lurks there.
Wednesday, October 29 @ Words by Webb
Get a quick peek at author Martha Conway with a 5Ws interview.
Friday, October 31 @ Lisa Buske
Sisterhood hasn’t changed much in 200 years: find out how Martha Conway’s sisters played a role in the writing of Thieving Forest.
Monday, November 3 @ Lisa Haselton’s Reviews and Interviews
Stop by to learn more about author Martha Conway and her latest historical novel Thieving Forest.
Monday, November 10 @ Vickie S. Miller
Stop by for a visit from Martha Conway, author of 12 Bliss Street and Thieving Forest.
Tuesday, November 11 @ The Lit Ladies
Stop by for an interview with author Martha Conway and a chance to win her latest novel Thieving Forest.
Wednesday, November 12 @ Kathleen Pooler
Author Martha Conway shares “What Independent Publishing Means to Literary Authors” as well as a last chance to win her latest book, the historical novel Thieving Forest.
If you have a website or blog and would like to host one of our touring authors or schedule a tour of your own, please email WOW at email@example.com.
LAURA FRASER is the Editorial Director and co-founder of shebooks.net, which publishes short e-books by and for women. Last month shebooks launched a Kickstarter campaign to build a fund to pay for women writers. I learned about this campaign just this week via twitter (and immediately contributed), and asked Laura if she would answer a few questions about herself, shebooks, and life in the fast-past world of ebook publishing.
What’s your background?
LF: I’ve been a journalist based in San Francisco for a long time, and have written for everything from Mother Jones and the New York Times to Vogue and Gourmet. I’ve done a lot of teaching and have been a member of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto collective for about 15 years. I’ve written three books—an investigative expose called Losing It, about the diet industry, and two memoirs, All Over the Map and An Italian Affair, which was a NYT bestseller.
Why did you start shebooks? How long has it been around?
LF: My longtime friend and editor Peggy Northrop and I were at a journalism conference at Berkeley in 2012, where we were excited by the talk about the explosion of digital media, which is giving readers new ways to find compelling stories. And we were pleased to see writers find fresh ways to work and make money outside the usual channels. But it became clear to us that female authors, journalists, editors—and ultimately female readers—were being shut out of the revolution.(Our “aha!” moment came at a panel where there were all guys onstage announcing their new companies to an audience that was nearly all women. I turned to Peggy and said, “It’s all the same guys.” She nodded and said, “Someone should do this for women.” Then she went back to her hotel and started registering website names.)
So we decided not to wait for our invitation to the party. Shebooks was the result: a new media format, real money for writers (our writers all share in our profits), and engaging stories that women can’t wait to read, that fit the corners of their busy lives. We also applied for and received an early grant from the New Media Women’s Entrepreneurial Fund at the Journalism Lab at American University, which put us into business.
Can you tell me a little bit about the kind of books you select for shebooks? How many books do you publish a year?
LF: We are publishing e-books that are between the length of an article and book—about 10,000 words, if you’re a writer, or an hour read if you aren’t. We publish fiction, journalism and memoir; our sweet spot is short memoir, and no one else is doing that. We publish two a week, every week.
What’s the average turnaround time, from manuscript acceptance to ebook?
LF: That depends on how many we already have scheduled, but it usually takes at least a month to edit, copyedit, and design a cover.
That’s really fast! Why a Kickstarter program?
LF: We are doing a campaign called Equal Writes to raise money to fund and publish women writers. We believe that if more high-quality women writers have a platform, it will raise their visibility and they will be published more throughout the media. Kickstarter also helps raise awareness of our new company, and gets us new subscribers.
What books are on your nightstand now?
LF: I just finished The Year She Left Us, by Kathryn Ma, which was terrific. Now I’m reading Abroad, by Katie Crouch. The others on my to-read list are Dissident Gardens, by Jonathan Lethem; The Unamericans, by Molly Antopol; Queen Sugar, by Natalie Baszile; Clever Girl, by Tessa Hadley; Bleeding Edge, by Thomas Pynchon; Lovers at the Chameleon Club Paris 1921, by Francine Prose…there’s a big stack. They’re all print books. I love print books at night but read e-books constantly when I travel and commute.
What’s your ebook reader of choice?
LF: iPad mini
To learn more or to contribute to the Equal Writes Kickstarter campaign, go to http://kck.st/U3Rn91.
A COUPLE OF MONTHS ago I was at the bookstore Book Passage in Corte Madera. I couldn’t find anything new I wanted to buy, but before I left empty-handed I stopped by the second-hand (nearly new? gently used?) bookshelf. There I found a collection of short stories set in Quebec and Paris by Mavis Gallant. I’m a big believer in buying used books on a whim without looking too far into why you’re attracted to them (this doesn’t apply to relationships). There’s a moment when you are reading the back cover or the first page and something clicks, and that’s it, that’s enough, do it, buy it, it’s only ten bucks. And usually it’s well worth it. It was in this case.
Mavis Gallant used to publish in the New Yorker decades ago, when they published short stories that appealed more to my taste. The collection I picked up, Across the Bridge, has a few stories with Quebec as the setting, and I’ve never really read much about that city. And apart from Alice Munro, I don’t read many Canadians. Why is that? I don’t know. But I instantly loved Across the Bridge. There’s an understated tone of something I can’t put my finger on in these stories, something rich and strange and complicated. Emotions that can’t get to the surface. Characters who live their odd lives as though they are mundane, and those who live mundane lives in a charged, eclectic fashion.
This is the type of story that used to be around a lot more, and that I miss. Stories that follow the artery of a character’s life in a focused, microscopic way, a way that makes you feel as though you know what it would be like to be them and to think their thoughts. It’s a great pleasure to be able to step inside someone else’s mind, and it goes a lot further than watching television, which does not immerse you, in my opinion, the way a good book immerses you in a character’s life. And I think it’s good for you, it’s good for all of us. It brings on compassion, or at the very least a slightly closer understanding of how someone else might view the world.
I have the feeling that now that indie publishing is on the rise, we might see more stories like this. Case in point is Paulette Alden’s new collection of short stories, Unforgettable. In these stories, we trace one character’s “regular” life (no vampires!): Miriam Batson, who works at a bookstore, teaches at a local college, grills hamburgers with her husband on a summer night, and experiences the death of her father and the decline of her mother.
Why would we want to read about such mundane events? But we do. It’s better than a support group (no one yammers on and on, for one thing), because the character who is sharing her experience is highly articulate, intelligent, and sensitive. Also interesting. I feel like I’ve gained some insights into my own life just by reading what Miriam Batson has to say about hers. It’s true that reading about a life that involves science fiction superheroes, say, or nineteenth century courtesans, or mystery-solving Swedish detectives can be great entertainment. But it turns out, so can reading about a life not too different from your own.
Thanks to my friend Humaira for inviting me to participate in “My Writing Process Blog Tour” via @MondayBlogs. I love writing and talking about writing. Stop me if I go on too long.
1. What am I working on?
A few years ago my neighbor, in casual conversation, said to me: Well you know, my son just can’t lie. She might have been saying he didn’t like onions, or hadn’t learned his times tables yet—that’s how matter-of-fact she was. And when I thought about her son, I could see how she was right. He took great pains to try to be truthful, even if that meant a string of qualifiers in every sentence. And then I thought: that’s a great trait for a character. What if you take a person who fundamentally cannot lie, and then put her in circumstances that force her to do just that? What would that do to a person?
So that’s what I’m writing about. And since I love doing research, I’ve set the story in antebellum America on a riverboat theatre going down the Ohio River (I grew up in Ohio). The South is on one side, the North is on the other, and my main character, the one who cannot lie, gets caught up in the Underground Railroad. So she not only has to lie, but she has to break the law, too.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
In some ways my work is historical fiction and in some ways it’s literary fiction set in the past. I love the idea of turning traditions and stereotypes on their heads. My bad guy wears a white hat.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Writing is like solving a puzzle that you first have to create. Something tugs at me (like the character who can’t lie) and I want to work out what happens. At first the process seems very cerebral, but as I go along month after month developing the story and writing it down, I realize that there is always a personal element way down somewhere. The novel I just finished, called Thieving Forest, is about a family of sisters, and I grew up with six sisters. I had been reading Patrick O’Brien and Joseph Campbell and I wanted to write a quest story—but with a female lead.
4. How does your writing process work?
I do a lot of exercises in the beginning, working out what my characters want, what they need, and what obstacles I can put in their way. I also do a lot of research. After I decide on a time and place, I try to read a lot of first-hand materials—journals and so forth—which generate ideas about what might happen in my story. I found a great first-person account of what happened to a frontiersman who’d been bitten by a snake, and it became a pivotal scene in my novel.
Eventually I make a kind of outline, although it might just be a list of scenes. Every morning I write for ten minutes using a prompt, just to get the juices flowing—I may or may not use what I’ve written— and I do this even if I’m in the research phase. Then, when I’m writing, I try to write for at least two hours. I find that I often want to stop after I’ve written about one page (okay, that’s great, enough for today!) but if I push myself on I almost always get to something better, something that will help me carry the story forward the next day. Coffee helps.
I have invited two very talented writers, Monica Comas and Alice K. Boatwright, to blog next Monday July 23rd about their process. A quick intro:
Monica Comas (née Rivituso) started writing creatively as a kid growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. Determined to make a living with words, she went on to receive her master’s in journalism from New York University. After a decade working as a journalist, then a financial editor, she’s returned to her creative-writing roots to focus on fiction full-time. Words that don’t end up in a manuscript, can be found here: http://www.monica-comas.com.
Alice K. Boatwright is the author of two books: Under an English Heaven and Collateral Damage. Under an English Heaven is the first Ellie Kent mystery — a literary romance mystery set in the Cotswolds, inspired by my lifelong love of England and the cozy mystery genre. It was published by Cozy Cat Press and is available as a paperback and e-book.
Collateral Damage, which was published by Standing Stone Books in 2012, is three novellas about the long range impact of the Vietnam War. It received the 2013 Bronze Medal for Literary Fiction, Independent Publisher Book Awards and was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Collateral Damage was on the Small Press Distribution bestseller list in both 2012 and 2013, and it is also available as both a paperback and e-book. You can find it at www.collateraldamage.us. Alice’s Blog Tour will be up on June 23 at http://paris-writers.tumblr.com/.