Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with historical fiction and non-fiction author Cindy Vallar. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Cindy.
Cindy: Hi, Morgen. Thank you for having me visit.
Morgen: You’re very welcome. I’m delighted you could join me. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Cindy: I was born and raised in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I met my husband while attending college in Maryland. A friend of our mothers introduced us. We had never met before, even though he was our newspaper boy when I was little and his younger brother and I attended elementary school together. After college, I was a school librarian in Maryland for twenty years. When Tom was transferred to the Midwest, I retired to pursue my dream of becoming a writer.
I dabbled with poetry and short stories while in school, preferring to write rather than doodle when bored in class. I became more serious about writing while working at a private school for seriously emotionally challenged teenagers. There is a lot of stress in that environment, so I wrote to relieve that stress. After we moved to Kansas, I worked on finishing my Scottish novel and wrote piracy articles for an online database. I also reviewed books for several publications.
Today, Tom and I live in North Texas where I continue to write historical novels intertwined with love stories. I am the editor of Pirates and Privateers (www.cindyvallar.com/pirates.html), a monthly online column on the history of maritime piracy. I also edit on a freelance basis and present workshops online and in person. I’m reviewer and columnist for the Historical Novel Society’s Historical Novels Review. I belong to the Historical Novel Society, Clan Cameron Association of North American, Scottish Clans of North Texas, National Maritime Historical Society, Laffite Society, EPIC, and the Louisiana Historical Society.
I invite you and your readers to visit my award-winning website, Thistles & Pirates (http://www.cindyvallar.com/), which includes an excerpt of The Scottish Thistle, as well as pictures of the places depicted in the novel.
Morgen: What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Cindy: The novels I write are historical fiction, but my piracy articles are non-fiction. I’ve considered writing mysteries and contemporary romance, but my first love is historical novels, so that’s what focus on when I write.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
Cindy: The Scottish Thistle is my debut historical novel about the Camerons and MacGregors during Scotland’s Rising of 1745. Odin’s Stone is a romantic short story of how the Lord of the Isles settled the medieval feud between the MacKinnons and MacLeans on the Isle of Skye.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Cindy: Yes, The Scottish Thistle is available as an eBook. When I submitted it to my publisher, I chose one that published both eBooks and print copies. I submitted everything electronically, including questionnaires about my book and me. The edits were also done via e-mail. I wrote the blurbs and log lines that the publisher used, and provided ideas on the cover art.
I read both print and eBooks. I purchased one of the original Nooks and love it. I even introduced my husband to them. I enjoy eBooks, but I’ll always love print books.
Morgen: Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Cindy: The titles of my stories come from me, rather than the publisher. I made some suggestions about my cover art, which the artist listened to. I love the cover that Trace Edward Zaber designed for The Scottish Thistle.
I think titles and covers are very important because they are the first items a potential reader sees. They have to intrigue and snare the reader, and if it doesn’t, no one will buy the book or read it.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Cindy: Currently, I’m working on The Rebel and the Spy. It’s actually the first novel I started writing, but I set it aside once I got married and while I worked on The Scottish Thistle. The Rebel and the Spy is set during the War of 1812 and uses New Orleans, Baltimore, and Washington, DC as backdrops. The initial idea for the story came from Walt Disney. In his introduction to one episode of his weekly television show, he talked about a mysterious, gentleman pirate named Jean Laffite, who helped Andrew Jackson and the Americans win the Battle of New Orleans. It’s only in the past decade or so that information on Laffite has become more available, and I finally found the resources I needed to finish the story I started back in college.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Cindy: I try to write every day. When I have trouble figuring out the next scene in my story, I usually work on one of my pirate articles for Pirates and Privateers. Setting aside the novel for awhile usually disperses the block. If it doesn’t, it may mean I need to do some additional research. Sometimes, discussing the problem with my critique partners also helps. They’ve suggested avenues I hadn’t considered before.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Cindy: I plot out my stories only in the sense that I follow a historical timeline. I have a general idea of how the pieces fit together, but I don’t plot out a chapter until I’m ready to work on it. Even then, the plotting is general and often changes as I actually write.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Cindy: I write a scene, and then the next day, I’ll usually edit that scene before going on to the next scene. My critique partners complain because my submissions are fairly polished when we exchange work, but they often provide valuable feedback that forces me to rethink how I wrote the scene. After listening to their suggestions, I’ll rework the scene, which is often much better than the original.
It’s hard for me not to edit since I’m a freelance editor. I sometimes find myself editing a published book that I’m reading because it’s tough to turn off the editor switch.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Cindy: Historical fiction requires research, and sometimes that involves a lot of research. For example, when I started working on The Scottish Thistle, I knew only four things about Scotland. It had a Highlands and a Lowlands. There were clans, many of which seemed to begin with Mac. The Scots spoke with a brogue, and the men wore kilts. In the end, it took me a decade to research the story.
It’s taken even longer to do the research for The Rebel and the Spy. Part of that stems from the fact that until the Internet, it was difficult to locate source material on the Laffite brothers. I didn’t fully understand the craft of writing when I started this story either. I learned while working on The Scottish Thistle and in researching and writing about pirates. Some of my initial ideas had to be totally reworked because they weren’t historical accurate. Also, William C. Davis’ The Pirates Laffite demonstrated that my timeline was off, which necessitated additional research and opening the story earlier than originally planned.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Cindy: I prefer third person. I occasionally read books and edit manuscripts written in first person, but for me that’s too limiting. I’ve never tried writing in second person, in part because I feel as if someone’s preaching to me. Third person allows me to enter a fictional world and escape the present, far better than the other points of view.
Morgen: Second person can feel like that. I enjoy writing it (but I write ‘dark’ stories which second person lends itself to well) but only for short stories. Do you write any poetry or short stories?
Cindy: I wrote poetry when I was in high school and college. Readers can view a few of these at my website (http://www.cindyvallar.com/write1.html). My short story, Odin’s Stone, can be found online at my website (http://www.cindyvallar.com/odinstone.html).
Morgen: Please tell us more about your non-fiction.
Cindy: I write non-fiction articles on maritime piracy, which readers will find at Pirates and Privateers (http://www.cindyvallar.com/piratearticles.html). Some of these have been reprinted in various online and print venues. I also write a column for Historical Novels Review entitled The Red Pencil, some of which are available to read on my Editing Services page (http://www.cindyvallar.com/critiques.html). You can also find some of my other articles on My Other Writings page (http://www.cindyvallar.com/writings.html). My website also includes pages with book reviews I’ve written, some of which can also be seen at the Historical Novel Society website (http://www.historicalnovelsociety.com).
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Cindy: Write every day. The more you write, the better your writing becomes. Don’t give up. No matter what others say or the number of rejections you may get, if you want to write, write. Take workshops that help hone your writing style and improve your technique. Join a critique group. Your partner(s) will give you invaluable feedback that will improve your story and perhaps suggest parameters you never considered. They also keep you from being lazy with your writing.
Morgen: If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Cindy: I would probably invite Harriet Tubman, Joan of Arc, and Cheng I Sao. Harriet and Joan were two of the first ladies I read about growing up and their stories have always inspired me. Cheng I Sao was perhaps the most successful pirate ever. She was active during the beginning of the 19th century, but she was savvy enough to know when to retire and to retire with most of her loot. I would probably cook either a Lancaster County ham dinner with scalloped potatoes, or have my husband make his Maryland-style crabcakes. Dessert would be apple pie just like my mother and grandmother made.
Morgen: Nice. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Cindy: I have several that inspire me, but the one that particularly speaks to me is from Isaiah 43:2. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” These words have helped me a lot over the past few years. In 2009 I began suffering debilitating pain, and it took the doctors a year and half to diagnose the cause – Ankylosing Spondylitis. When things became really bad, this passage helped get me through the tough times. Today, my AS is in near remission and I have my life and my writing back. These words, though, help me through rough patches.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Cindy: I read, do jigsaw puzzles, watch television, and listen to old-time radio shows. I collect teddy bears and kachinas.
Morgen: I didn’t know what kachinas were so went to good old Google (http://www.native-languages.org/kachinas.htm). 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Cindy: Whenever I find a good writing-related website or research site, I link to them on my Favorite Research Links page (http://www.cindyvallar.com/links.html).
Aside from The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary and Roget’s International Thesaurus, I have found four books helpful:
a) Names through the Ages by Teresa Norman
b) Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
c) A Dash of Style by Noah Lukeman
d) The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Cindy: You can find out about me and my writing at my website, Thistles & Pirates (http://www.cindyvallar.com/).
Morgen: Thank you, Cindy.
I then invited Cindy to include an extract of her writing and this is from the opening scene in The Scottish Thistle…
Earlier, Thistle had blessed the torrential rain. Now, the smuggler cursed it. A lightning bolt slashed the ink-black sky. The shadows of the night blurred, and Thistle shuddered. The premonition descended with the finality of a coffin lid being nailed shut.
Thistle stood at the left hand of a dark-haired man. Swirls of mist curled around their feet and shadowy forms rose up between them, separating Thistle from the stranger. A flash of steel pierced the darkness. The white mist turned bright red, then faded to nothingness.
The smuggler’s eyes flew open! Thistle strained to hear, but thunder and wind obliterated other sounds. Lightning flashed, but in the instant it illuminated mountain and glen, Thistle glimpsed the peril.
A lone rider spurred his mount along the rough Highland track bordered by tall firs. He stiffened, then toppled from his horse. Two caterans emerged from the trees and crept forward. While one searched their unconscious victim, the other rifled his satchel.
As the smuggler’s four companions surrounded the caterans, Thistle stepped onto a wind-smoothed boulder. With an arrow nocked taut against the string of the black longbow, Thistle aimed the lethal missile at one cateran’s heart and waited.
A flash of white light followed by a jarring thunderclap startled the thief. He raised his head and screamed. His companion dropped his pilfered booty. He fell to his knees and crossed himself. “Please, Thistle, spare us! We meant no harm.”
The smuggler’s sudden and surreptitious appearance unnerved the caterans. Thistle smelled their fear and snickered beneath the mask. “Are ye saying the man sprawled in the mud is after taking a wee nap during such a fierce storm?”
They cried out, each trying to shout down the other.
“We found him here!”
“He is dead!”
The rider moaned.
“Dead, ye say? Then he comes back to haunt ye.” Thistle stepped closer and spoke words laced with menace. “Truis! Be gone! If ever I find ye in these glens again, I willna be so forgiving.”
And a synopsis of The Scottish Thistle…
Loyalty and honor. A Highland warrior prizes both more than life, and when he swears his oath on the dirk, he must obey or die. Duncan Cameron heeds his chief’s order without question, but discovers his wife-to-be is no fair maiden. Although women are no longer trained in the art of fighting, Rory MacGregor follows in the footsteps of her Celtic ancestors. Secrets from the past and superstitious folk endanger Rory and Duncan as much as Bonnie Prince Charlie and his uprising to win back the British throne for his father. Rory and Duncan must make difficult choices that pit honor and duty against trust and love…
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