Leiyin learns she has three souls upon her death, souls who explain they are trapped with her ghost until she atones for some egregious transgression in her mortal life. They witness her, through memories, rebel against the patriarchal traditions of her father, suffer the consequences, and live with regrets for her naivety. In the early 20th century, Leiyin controls little about her life, and this during a civil war and Japanese aggression. Epiphanies hit her hard and fast reliving her memories. She must communicate with mortals to appease the gods by rescuing the fates of her loved ones in order to ascend to the afterlife with her souls. Chang’s blending and bending of Chinese culture and history create a compelling narrative of inadvertent espionage and acceptance of one’s place in society. The speculative elements placing Leiyin outside her own story fascinate the reader as they astonish Leiyin. Chang’s novels are educational in many ways, to the anticipated appreciation of readers of historical fiction, speculative fiction, and fans of Tatiana de Rosnay and Laura Spinella.
Tall Poppy author Heather Webb’s works have been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly and more, as well as received national starred reviews. In 2015, Rodin’s Lover was selected as a Goodreads Top Pick, and in 2017, Last Christmas in Paris became a Globe & Mail bestseller and was also shortlisted for the 2018 Women’s Fiction Writers Association STAR Award. When not writing, you may find Heather collecting cookbooks or looking for excuses to travel. She lives in New England with her family and one feisty rabbit.
Describe your writing process, including schedule, environment, strategies / techniques, and inspirations abstract and material.
My daily process changes based on the needs of my household, but I try to sit down at least 3 (but hope for 6!) hours per day to write, edit, plot, or research. Sometimes that means I’m just picking at one paragraph and moving things around, if I’m feeling stuck that day. I do, however, try to aim for 1,000 words per day and 5,000 words per week if I’m in the drafting phase. If I’m editing, it depends entirely on the draft. If it’s a second or third draft, I’m still doing a lot of overhauling and layering, which means I move fairly slowly. Later drafts move much faster once the bigger elements of the story and characters are in place.
I tend to work at Starbucks, my kitchen table, or at my desk, but it’s in my bedroom due to space restrictions so I don’t have a devoted office space, unfortunately. One day! It’s on my bucket list.
Walk me through your publishing process, from final draft to final product, explaining who on your team does what, and what marketing you do as the author. Elaborate upon going international, winning awards, and public speaking, please.
Publishing is a tricky and dangerous process. Ha! Just kidding. Each of my books is very different, including many of the team members who work on them, so I’ll keep this simple. Each book is in process for about a year once it leaves your desk from multiple rounds of edits, to cover design, to marketing and sales materials so the book you read that hits the shelf has been finished for at least a year. If it took awhile to find a publishing home, it may be much older than that, and chances are, the author is either working on something else entirely or may even have another entire novel completed. In terms of marketing, authors do as much as they can to help promote, but at the end of the day, we don’t move the needle all that much unless we’re a very big name. It’s the incredible sales teams behind us, book placement in physical stores, and ads and promotions with online retailers.
Tell me about your support system—online and IRL—and how that may shift during the progress from idea to launch. Who are your biggest cheerleaders?
My biggest cheerleaders (beyond my family!) are my critique partners. They read early drafts and deliver feedback that is sometimes painful but always helpful. I can’t imagine where I’d be without them. I also happen to love them dearly as people. I have to give a shout out to some of my favorite organizations who have been incredibly supportive as well: the Writer Unboxed community, Tall Poppy Writers, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Historical Novel Society, and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. I feel incredibly blessed by my community. My colleagues are wonderfully talented, supportive people, and if I started listing names, I’d never finish. The writing community is truly special and unique that way.
Did I read that you had a dream about Josephine, inspiring you to change your career from high school teacher to author? I find that astonishing! How does your life influence your art / work and vice versa? Where does research fit in, and do you have assistance?
I did have a dream about her! It didn’t make me quit teaching, however. I resigned because I was expecting my second child and daycare would have eaten my entire teaching salary. (Pathetic, right?) So I made the choice to stay home with my babes. Before I resigned, however, I did have a persistent dream about Josephine, and I knew very little about her, so it was quite odd. I decided to check out a biography to learn about her and I fell in love instantly. I hadn’t even finished that first biography when I told my husband I was going to write a book. He looked at me like I was from another planet. So whether or not I resigned, I was going to write a book, damn it!
As for research and assistance, I wish I had an assistant! I’m on my own, but I do love it. I try as often as possible to visit locations in person, utilize primary source material, and when necessary, I reach out to experts in certain fields.
What do you love most about your creativity? (You may shamelessly plug your editorial services here as well!)
Indulging my creative side fills me with a kind of peace I can’t attain anywhere else. There’s something about going into your head and letting it riot with ideas and thoughts and dreams. I love the act of doing it as much as the end product, whether it be writing, cooking, or doing fun projects with my kids. Though at times, I have to admit writing can be frustrating when things aren’t working. But this is all part of the growing and expanding and trying new things. The challenge. We writers relish that part of the process on some level or why bother? Living a creative life feels like a gift and I definitely don’t want to waste it.
Author Extra: What’s your next book?
Here’s a little blurb on my next book, Meet Me in Monaco, set to the backdrop of Grace Kelly’s wedding in 1956. It releases in July 2019, and I’ve co-written it with author Hazel Gaynor. We hope to have a cover soon!
Set in the 1950s against the backdrop of Grace Kelly’s whirlwind romance and glamourous wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco, New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb take the reader on an evocative sun-drenched journey along the Côte d’Azur in this page-turning novel of passion, fate and second-chances.
Movie stars and paparazzi flock to Cannes for the glamorous film festival, but Grace Kelly, the biggest star of all, wants only to escape from the flash-bulbs. When struggling perfumer Sophie Duval shelters Miss Kelly in her boutique, fending off a persistent British press photographer, James Henderson, a bond is forged between the two women and sets in motion a chain of events that stretches across thirty years of friendship, love and tragedy.
James Henderson cannot forget his brief encounter with Sophie Duval. Despite his guilt at being away from his daughter, he takes an assignment to cover the wedding of the century, sailing with Grace Kelly’s wedding party on the SS Constitution from New York. In Monaco, as wedding fever soars and passions and tempers escalate, James and Sophie—like Princess Grace—must ultimately decide what they are prepared to give up for love.
Connect with Heather:
Facebook (Heather Webb, Author)
After eight years in a monogamous relationship, Ella expected a proposal at their favorite restaurant. That’s not what she got. So she runs away to Paris to rediscover herself as the adventurer she was before the relationship. Yearning for the most Parisian experience, she falls into a bet to taste all 365 varietals of French cheese, becoming an Instagram sensation. However, she still chooses glamour over substance in men; though the romance is inevitable, it’s still fun to watch Ella grow and evolve. Brownlee creates a character as enchanting and quirky as Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic Becky. But she goes beyond Ella’s endearing personality to educate readers on French cheeses, with delectable descriptions and fascinating anecdotes and history, even referencing Napoleon. Fans of Kinsella, foodies, Francophiles, and romantics will appreciate this lovely story that I was fortunate to receive from Amberjack Publishing through NetGalley.
I met Diane in person at a book signing in Topsail Beach at Quarter Moon Books. In my overzealous fangirling, I crashed a book club photo and had to be gently shooed away. I’ve been her most awkward fan since, and she’s been the most gracious literary star. I show up for each new book’s signing / reading like a middle-aged stalker who looks so innocent (muahaha), and Diane keeps smiling and signing my new books. If only she could write super fast; I know I will love each new story. I was fortunate to receive an early copy of The Dream Daughter—my review—coming out October 2.
Tell me about your writing process—any tricks / nuances to keep you on track, inspirations material or abstract, where you write (Topsail!) and when.
I usually write either in my Raleigh area sunroom or at my condo on Topsail Island. I generally have a year to write a book. The first few months, I think about my idea and start doing research, often visiting the area where the story takes place. I begin picturing scenes and putting them on post it notes that I move around on a big presentation board until I like the arc of the story, thus creating an outline. At the same time, I think about my characters, specifically what type of person will have the hardest time dealing with whatever dilemma I’ve come up with for the story. If there is no personal struggle, there is no story. I think about which characters will have a point of view in the story and will they have a first person or third person point of view and will I write the story in present or past tense. I sometimes look on the internet for pictures of people who make me think of my characters. I find this a huge help in creating characters who feel very real to me and hopefully to my readers. These are all decisions I make before I start writing.
Finally, I start writing about 6 months before my deadline. I usually listen to movie soundtracks as I write because I like the emotional ups and downs of the music. I’m always doing research as I write. Also, I listen to my characters because they frequently go astray from my outline and I’ve learned to pay attention to them. I write three to five drafts. Finally, often a bit late, I turn in the book. That’s where my dynamite editor comes in. She reads the book, looking at the big picture. What works and what doesn’t? She makes many suggestions, sometimes requiring a big change in the book. I’ve learned to listen to her, and I rewrite. And perhaps rewrite yet again.
Lead me through your publishing process, as in who does what when, and your marketing responsibilities (book tours! What else?).
Here’s how it works. First I write a book. Then I have an agent who is responsible for finding the publisher she thinks will do the best job with that book. She is also responsible for negotiating the contract with that publisher. You can see in my answer above some of the work the editor does with regard to my book. The publisher then, of course, publishes the book. If the publisher feels strongly that they can make the book a bestseller, they will give it a lot of advertising and other support before and during publication. My publisher for the last six books, St. Martins Press, does a great deal of promotion for me. I try to hold up my end by keeping up with social media (which I enjoy), giving interviews, touring to speak to groups and do book signings, where I get to meet my readers, the best part of the process!
Before the Storm series
Describe your support system: groups online and IRL (MKA, another favorite author of mine)—your biggest cheerleaders…
My biggest supporter is my significant other, John. He’s a photographer and understands the creative process and doesn’t complain that once a year, as deadline nears, I disappear from real life into my imagination, 24/7. Aside from him, I have many local writer friends who I get together with often. And then I have my “official group.” We call ourselves The Weymouth Seven because we originally met up at the Weymouth mansion in Southern Pines, NC, where authors are invited to work for up to two weeks each year. Now we usually meet up on Topsail Island. You’re right that Mary Kay Andrews is a big part of our group. She’s our ringleader, the one who keeps us on track during the week that we meet. Other members are mystery writer Margaret Maron, historical mystery writer, Sarah Shaber, horror and thriller writer Alexandra Sokoloff, and mystery writers, Brenda Witchger and Katy Munger. We have fun but we work hard at the same time.
Keeper of the Light series
You’ve always had touches of history in your novels. Recently, you’ve opened up to historical fiction, and now sci-fi / fantasy with your latest book about time travel. How did this come about; in what ways do your life and work influence each other, and how did your previous profession prepare you for fiction writing? Also talk about secrets, their importance to you and your work, and what kind of secrets you like best to weave into your stories.
When I heard about the eugenics (forced sterilization) program in North Carolina, I knew I had to write about it. That meant setting the story during the years of the program, so I selected 1960 and thus wrote my first novel (Necessary Lies) with a totally historical setting and I found I really enjoyed it. Two books later, I decided I wanted to write about the 1944 polio outbreak in Hickory, NC during which the town built a functioning polio hospital in 54 hours (The Stolen Marriage). So I would say, if the idea that comes to me is historical, I will happily write it, but I am still perfectly happy writing contemporary books as well.
When it comes to The Dream Daughter, that is a whole different subject! For years, I had the idea that’s central in The Dream Daughter: a woman is told that her unborn baby will die, but she learns that if she’s willing to take a huge risk and travel to the future, her baby could very well live. I put this idea off for years because it is so unlike my other books, but finally, I talked to my editor and she gave me the go-ahead. The book was tremendous fun to write and the early reviews have been amazing. I’m grateful to readers who dislike time travel for giving this book a try because it’s still “vintage Diane Chamberlain” and people seem to be loving it.
I think your question about my previous profession (clinical social work) and secrets actually go together. I worked in hospitals and then in a private psychotherapy practice with adolescents and their families, and one thing I learned is how destructive secrets can be in a family. I was fascinated by that topic, so it often appears in my stories.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I’m very grateful for my imagination. It got me into tons of trouble as a kid, but now pays off. I might be stopped at a traffic light and see a woman pushing a baby carriage across the street and within 30 seconds, I imagine a car hitting them, and the police discover it was on purpose and there was a connection between the woman and the driver, or maybe even between the baby and the driver . . . it’s exhausting having a brain like this, but it often pays off in the end if it means I can entertain my readers.
Connect with Diane:
Franco-American Linden Malegarde travels to Paris to celebrate with family his father’s 70th birthday to find himself trapped in a flood and more than one family crisis preventing their evacuation. Over a few deluge-filled days, the Malegarde family bursts at the seams, spewing secrets and long-held hurts, with deadly descriptive flashbacks and a horrifying centimeter-by-centimeter account of a real-life flood. De Rosnay’s writing flows like the Seine spilling over its banks, sparing no characters of their integrity in situations that require fortitude beyond their human frailty. She takes on more than one social issue, in Linden alone being an outsider in more than one way, in more than one country, his saving graces being a successful creative and having a supportive partner. Readers of historical fiction, Francophiles, and fans of Liane Moriarty and Thritty Umrigar will appreciate this novel. I was fortunate to receive an early copy of #TheRainWatcher from #St.Martin’sPress through #NetGalley.
After a glimpse into her future as a leader of her people, this family saga opens with the childhood of the great Obeah, Meme Abeje, who lives to see the official end of slavery in her homeland of Martinque, and her niece Hetty’s migration to Canada, where she becomes an abolitionist with husband Dax Rougeaux. After a quick (and confusing) foray into the future of the Rougeaux family in the mid-1940s, Hetty’s granddaughter Eleanor brings the story full circle, when she visits Martinique to honor her Obeah great-great aunt at the end of the 19th century.
Jaeckel explores the far-reaching tentacles of slavery affecting the progeny of a slave under a softer yoke of oppression: blame placed on a woman raped, children given away in their best interest, and lack of freedom as free blacks. With a strong sense of family, the Rougeaux are tested with secrets against social mores and pass, as sexual orientation is accepted, as a child is accepted, as his mother is accepted. All are loved, a testament to family ties and sense of self that goes back to Abeje’s mother Iya, who kept her children’s African names even as French masters christened them with western ones that meant nothing to her. Abeje and Eleanor’s stories bookend the novel and stand out from the others in their similarities, a free black just as enslaved by society as her ancestor.
I was fortunate to receive this wonderful book through a Goodreads giveaway.
I met Mary Tod, pen name M.K. Tod, through Lake Union’s Facebook group, a supportive online author collective who welcomes readers into their ethereal coffee klatch. She writes historical fiction novels, blogs about history, and creates reader surveys. Her fourth novel “Paris in Ruins,” set in 1870s Paris during the Franco-Prussian war, should be coming out soon! I’m fortunate that she agreed to an interview on my little blogblogblog. I’ll let her take it away…..
First of all, many thanks for inviting me onto your blog today, Lael. It’s a pleasure to spend time with you and your readers.
Tell me about your artistic / writing process, including schedule, environment, and inspirations.
Writing is a second career for me. After thirty years in sales, technology and consulting, I went with my husband to Hong Kong for three years—a fascinating but dislocating experience. There I was, half way around the world with no job, no family, and no close friends. On a whim, I began researching my grandparents’ lives which ultimately led to my first novel, Unravelled. Thirteen years and almost five novels later, I find that the genesis of a story typically hits me unexpectedly. I jot the idea down and let it ruminate for a while, then bring it up one day with my husband—could be over dinner or while we’re out somewhere or even on a road trip. That conversation puts a little more flesh on the idea. From there, I develop a chapter outline. Once I have an outline that makes sense along with several characters fleshed out as to desires, circumstances, backstory, and conflicts, I begin chapter one.
I work at my desk situated in an alcove in our bedroom almost every day, if not on the latest novel then on marketing, blogging, keeping up with social media, and connecting with readers. I love hearing from readers!
For me, just like most other authors I’ve met, writing is a passionate pursuit. Once I’m in the grip of a story, I get lost in that world with photos of people, places, maps, landscape, homes, clothing, and various articles and fiction and non-fiction books for inspiration. It can be a messy process and, of course, the first draft is only a beginning!
Why does historical fiction intrigue you? Describe your research—elaborate all you wish.
I’ve always loved historical fiction from my first exposure to the novels of authors like Mary Renault, Rosemary Sutcliff, and Jean Plaidy. There was something about travelling back in time that sparked my imagination and perhaps those stories helped with the transition from childhood to gawky teenager with hormones that had no home. Historical fiction has dominated my reading ever since. And then, while in Hong Kong researching the wars and depression my grandparents went through, I became obsessed with World War One.
What I now realize is how much research goes into well-crafted historical fiction. You need to intimately understand the world of your characters—the political, cultural, religious, social, and other beliefs and norms that governed life in whatever time period they live in. You need to appreciate how they thought, what they had for breakfast, the clothes they wore and how long it took to get dressed, the books they might have read, the restrictions governing their lives, how long it took to travel to the next town—the list is endless. To write stories set during WWI, I also had to immerse myself in the tools, techniques, and strategies of war and understand the horrific experience of trench warfare.
Research is a complex, time-consuming process and as a writer you can then select only a few details to paint the picture for your readers just like the deft brush strokes of a Chinese painting can suggest a flower or a mountain or the face of a woman. Over the years, I’ve found sources I return to again and again as well as techniques to make the research more effective.
For example, I love maps. Maps suggest worlds. Whether it’s a map depicting troop movements in northern France, or a map of a small village showing roads radiating out from a central square, or a map of 1871 Paris, each creates an imaginary world and the people within it. When I find a map from long ago, I’m like a kid in a candy store.
I think I spend almost as much time researching as I do writing. Fortunately, I love doing both!
Walk me through your publishing timeline—who does what when, and your responsibilities.
I’ve taken two publishing paths—self-publishing and more traditional publishing. My husband and I published the first two novels, Unravelled and Lies Told in Silence. I worked with a freelance editor who also designed the covers for these novels. Then my husband did the page layout, figured out how to create MOBI and EPUB files for Amazon and other e-book retailers, and worked with a printer to create paperback versions. My role was marketing, which included virtual book tours, all sorts of guest posts, lots of social media activities and so on to get the word out.
I was delighted when Time and Regret was taken on by Lake Union Publishing (one of Amazon’s publishing imprints). The team there guided me through a smooth, professional process from developmental edit, to cover design, and on to production. On release day, I was ready to go with a round of marketing activities to complement those of Amazon. More than eighteen months since publication, Amazon continues to offer marketing support for Time and Regret.
Talk about your support system: beta readers, ARC reviewers, publishing team, readers, etc.
Beta readers and ARC reviewers are treasured colleagues. Beta readers give the gift of honesty by answering the questions: Does this story work for you? And if not, why not? They aren’t editors, they’re test readers. ARC reviewers give the precious gift of the first reviews on influential places like reading blogs, Goodreads, Amazon, Kobo and so on. I’m fortunate to have discovered several people who are so generous with their time and effort.
And readers? I can’t say enough about how wonderful it is to have readers who’ve taken the time to read my novels, give their feedback, post reviews, send me notes, leave comments on a blog, encourage me to write another story, and ask when the next novel is going to be available. I’ve had some great jobs over the years but writing is unique. In many ways, it’s a lonely profession, one full of self-doubt and intense periods of what-the-hell-am-I-doing. Readers complete the story, giving it life, breath, and feeling. Without readers, novels are merely words on a page.
What is your favorite thing about your creativity?
This is such a difficult question! I always struggle with the word favorite. But let me answer it this way: the best thing about writing fiction has been discovering that I can. I’m a mathematics and computer science grad who disliked both English and History. To discover the excitement of creating stories and have them read and enjoyed has been both awesome—in the full sense of the word—and fulfilling. I only wish there were more hours in the day.
Author Extra: Reader Surveys
In addition to writing novels and blogging and all the work that goes along with those activities, I also conduct reader surveys. In 2012, I went looking for an answer to the question: Why do people read historical fiction? Finding almost nothing out there in the Google-Sphere, I conceived the notion of conducting a survey. With the help of Sarah Johnson of Reading the Past and a few other authors and bloggers, word of the survey spread. In 2013 and 2015, I also surveyed readers for answers to a range of questions like how many books do you read each year, where do you find recommendations, what’s your favorite type of story, and so on. In 2017, I did a smaller survey focused on WWI fiction. This year, the reader survey will go beyond historical fiction to ask about other genre preferences and topics like the influence of social media. Lael Braday has kindly agreed to publish the survey link when it comes out and I hope you will take a few minutes to respond. Results from past surveys are available on my blog.
Lael, it’s been great fun talking to you and your readers. Many thanks for your questions. You’ve made me think again about how fortunate I am to have discovered a passion for writing stories.
Connect with M.K. Tod:
Although I have a website, the best place to find me is on my blog.
Scottie married Michael and they moved to Siena, Italy, both bringing secrets and gathering more, so that they appear to be a happily married couple, he selling American tractors to Italians and she his adoring housewife. Showing Italians the American Dream fulfills a larger agenda for Michael, while Scottie tries to look behind the curtain and see his true self. She seems to have a lot more freedom than expected for a woman in the mid-50s, and Italian men are portrayed as oversexed political creatures. Homosexuality is handled in a sensitive, if somewhat stereotypical, manner considering the times—adultery is inexplicably given more tolerance. When the couple open up and confess all, they become a team, and Michael learns that political secrets are larger than his own agenda, gobsmacked by his own company. This is a great historical fiction, with Siennese culture, the fallout from being overshadowed by Florence, and the political turmoil of Communism versus pro-Western leaders vividly portrayed. It shows the complexities of the world players’ motives and relationships, and how this plays out in the individual lives of the Italian people.
I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this wonderful book from the publisher through NetGalley.
The diversity in these stories is impressive, from girls facing internal and external religious challenges, to girls pretending to be something they’re not to make their way in a man’s world. These are tales of young women refusing to be a product of their time, yearning to be free of society’s mores. The authors refrain from a black and white picture, with a young Mormon girl questioning her religion, yet continuing to fight her community’s detractors. Secrets abound, as an orphaned girl lives life as a boy to take care of herself, and a young boy trades his secret of being a transgender with a Hispanic girl putting in tremendous effort to pass as white for Hollywood. One story had magical elements that didn’t seem to contribute to the plot, but as a whole, this book offers up a dozen girls as unintentional heroines who fought against patriarchy, misogyny, and other obstacles they intended to overcome.
I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this wonderful book through NetGalley.
Echo Moon finishes the Ghost Gifts trilogy, beginning with Aubrey and her souvenirs from ghosts she helps that she calls “ghost gifts,” through her marriage to journalist Levi St. John, to their son’s story of his past life, wherein he envisions shooting his true love Esmerelda Moon—Esme. Spinella pulls the reader into an early 20th-century culture of supper clubs and amusement parks, showcasing Luna Park of Coney Island, with its rides, performers and customers. We even witness the shadier “rides,” “performers,” and “customers” of the Elephant Hotel, a brothel set on the edge of the park. The hotel is real, but turned brothel after the heyday of the family-oriented park, and pulls Spinella’s story into the historical fiction genre as she carefully blends it into her novel.
In Ghost Gifts, Aubrey solves the mystery of Missy Flannigan’s decades old, cold-case murder with a recalcitrant Levi St. John, and they reluctantly fall for each other. In Foretold (Ghost Gifts #2), Aubrey and Levi are raising their son Pete, who suffers nightmares that are actually visions of his previous life as a photojournalist in WWI. The investigation of a John Doe (who turns out to be Aubrey’s friend Zeke) murder in which Levi is assisting culminates in the kidnapping of Pete, who is of course rescued by his parents. In Echo Moon, Pete finally solves the murder of Esme, with the help of Zeke’s niece Emerald—Em. Spinella spins coincidences into relevant evidence and drops the solution out of nowhere, but it all makes perfect sense. She has a way of surprising the reader without making the reader feel dumb for missing clues, and her characters are colorful and complex.
I received an early copy of Echo Moon from the publisher in a giveaway. Thank you, Laura! I love it! Visit her website to follow her on social media and purchase her books. Tell me a personal experience with the paranormal in the comments, and I’ll choose a random winner to send my ARC of Echo Moon!