Author Talia Carner on Stories Finding the Author

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always included in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewee’s mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well. 

Today’s guest for the WHAT is Talia Carner, whose first novel, Puppet Child launched a nationwide legislation–The Protective Parent Reform Act. China Doll made Amazon’s bestsellers list and served as the platform for Ms. Carner’s presentation at the U.N. in 2007 about infanticide in China. Her novel, Jerusalem Maiden, (HarperCollins 2011,) won the Forward National Literature Award in the Historical Fiction category. Her latest novel, Hotel Moscow, (HarperCollins 2015) won USA Book News award in the Multicultural category. Her upcoming novel, The Third Daughter, (HarperCollins September 2019,) is a daring exposé of sex trafficking.

Inspired by Sholem Aleichem’s story, “The Man from Buenos Aires,” author Talia Carner’s novel, The Third Daughter (HarperCollins, September 2019) breaks the silence on the trafficking of Jewish women from Eastern Europe to Buenos Aires in the late 1800s. For historical background, book tour schedule, reviews, and contact for book group participation, please check her website.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your books?

Stories find me. I don’t seek them out. Each time I am far along with a novel and think that maybe it’s my last one, the next one presents itself. Each takes hold of my head and heart and compelled me to sit down to what turns out to be three to six years’ work at a time. I’ve long realized that the seeds of every story had sprouted in my psyche years earlier, where they fermented…. All it takes is a passing comment, a line in a newspaper, or a road sign, and the idea blooms, takes hold on me and doesn’t let go until I crawl under the skin of a new protagonist. I rise and fall with her spirit as she struggles—and prevails against—the forces that shape her life, be they psychological, political, social, geographical, legal, economic, or religious.

Once the original concept exists, how do you build a plot around it?

I don’t plan the plot, but rather I get on the journey with the protagonist, and learn alongside her while she finds herself in a myriad of situations involving the central social issue or the historical truth of the novel. That said, on occasions I must stop and redirect her so she doesn’t lead me away from the main storyline into less relevant parts of her life. Most importantly, I ensure that the moral dilemma is strong, and does not wear out in the course of the book. Equally circuital is that when things go awry for her, she and I—as the author—don’t shy away from confronting the drama that such a situation entails. It takes guts to write the harrowing experience, and I put myself in a dreamlike trance to feel it fully and let the words spill onto the computer screen. In the editing phase, though, I might soften the scene to fit the readers’ tolerance, so they won’t throw my novel against the wall in horror…. This has been the case with my new novel, The Third Daughter, which deals with sex trafficking. The reader gets a strong reading experience, but also satisfaction from the emotional rides and the thrill, the way she might experience in a gut-wrenching film that stays with her afterward for days.

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Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

I don’t plot ahead of time. Each time the reader is surprised, I was surprised when the story took that dramatic turn. The most I do is follow the analogy that writing a novel is like setting out to drive at night from New York to California. You know the final destination, but you can see only as far as the headlights. In my case, I may keep in mind that those headlights should reveal, within two to five chapters, a hand that reaches down from the sky and yanks the story into a new orbit. I may or may not know where this short drive ahead will lead.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

I sit in front of my computer, close my eyes, and start typing. The right story moves to the forefront. That said, I’m two years into researching novel #6—including four trips to France, where the story is set—but have written very little of it. That story has the historical background in place; I know my protagonist well, but I still have no idea where her journey will take her. Luckily, by now I trust my instincts that, once I finish the bulk of my book tour for The Third Daughter and have time to devote to writing this new book, it will all fall into place.

I have 5 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

 Since I am in a dream-like state when I write fresh material or concentrate hard on revisions and editing, I can’t imagine being distracted by either cats or music. There were times I tried music, but I ended up getting up to dance…. I may sit at the computer for 10 hours at a stretch without eating, with only the occasional bathroom break. If you are in a dream, can you stop to be awakened by a phone call, and then return to the dream?

Debut Author Samantha Hastings on Setting in Historical Fiction

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well. 

Today’s guest for the WHAT is Samantha Hastings, who has degrees from Brigham Young University, the University of Reading (Berkshire, England), and the University of North Texas. The Last Word is her debut novel.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

I was living in Reading, England and attending graduate school there. I began reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters—a very thick Victorian novel. I was almost to the end of the book and I started to get concerned; instead of wrapping up plotlines, it continued to spin new ones. Then I turned the last page and there was a note from her editor saying that the author had died. The editor assured the reader that the two main characters did eventually get together, but I didn’t get to read it happening. I was so disappointed. I had no idea that the book was unfinished when I started reading it. And I wondered how Elizabeth Gaskell’s original fans felt never being able to read the last words of her book. Especially, after reading it serially for two whole years! 

In The Last Word, my main character, Lucinda Leavitt, has a similar experience when her favorite author, Mrs. Smith, dies before finishing the serialized version of her book. Mrs. Smith’s editor does not tell the reader how the love triangle worked out. Lucinda sets out to find out who Mrs. Smith really was and how she would have finished her story.     

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

The plot was the hard part! It took me fifteen years before I had a story to tell with my original idea. Mrs. Smith, the dead authoress, at the beginning of the story is an anonymous person. Lucinda Leavitt doesn’t even know her first name or anything about who she was, where she lived, her family, etc. Lucinda only has one clue to find her and that’s the last address where the publisher sent her royalties.

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Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

Definitely. The more research that I do about a historical era, the more the time period itself becomes a character. The clothes, food, transportation, historical events, all seem to find a way into the story, which alters the plotline. The plot for me is always a puzzle and piecing it together is what makes writing so much fun—and really hard. 

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

I have more ideas than I do manuscripts. I find inspiration for “fresh material” by reading nonfiction books about people or time periods. I typically like to hone in on unique people and lesser known historical events.  

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

 This happens to me all of the time. Sometimes it feels like having to pick a favorite among your children. It’s difficult. How I ultimately decide on one, is the idea that is keeping me up at night thinking about it. That idea always becomes my next project.  

 I have 5 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

 I’m allergic to pet dander—I can’t breathe and I get all covered in spots. So, my writing buddies are Skinny Pop popcorn and Diet Dr. Pepper.

Historical Novelist Kip Wilson On History As Inspiration

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

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Today's guest for the WHAT is Kip Wilson author of White Rose, is a historical about anti-Nazi political activist Sophie Scholl. Kip holds a Ph.D. in German Literature, is the poetry editor at YARN (Young Adult Review Network).

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

I actually had two specific origin points for this book. The first came when I first heard about the White Rose resistance group in high school German class. I was inspired by the group’s bravery and determined to learn more about its members. I wasn’t a writer yet at the time, but I remained interested in Sophie Scholl and the group for years, ordering new books about them as they were published and even taking a trip to Munich and Ulm, Germany to find out more. I first tried to write the book as nonfiction, but it just wasn’t working, and I set the project aside. Only years later did I hit the second origin point. During a chat with two verse novelists, I figured out that writing the story in verse might be the very thing it needed. I got to work on it the very next day.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I kept as close as possible to the known historical facts about the group, so the plot was already there, with plenty of conflict, twists, and stakes built in. The challenge was more about deciding which facts, which details to include and how exactly to present the story.

I do work best alone with only the sounds of nature outside my window, so I get my best work done at #5amwritersclub..png

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

In the case of White Rose, the plot was predetermined by the history, but the way I presented the timeline of events changed during revision. I originally told the story in reverse order, but through revision I settled on a version with two timelines, one close to the original ending and one starting years before that.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

Ideas come all the time, but unfortunately an idea isn’t enough to decide for me to decide if the story has mettle. I have to spend some time with the idea, do some research, get to know the characters, and above all, dive in to that time and setting to see if it’s something I simply must explore.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

It is hard to choose! Because I write historical fiction, a lot of the work (and the fun!) is in the research, so I’m often doing background research on one project while drafting another or doing some fact-checking on one while revising another. But if I’m passionate about the time period and setting, I’ll definitely at least place it on my back burner for someday.

I have many cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

I have ten-year-old twins, and they both love to read and write, so sometimes we do those things together. We all share one computer, so I sometimes end up in my notebook instead of at the keyboard when they’re around. Still, I do work best alone with only the sounds of nature outside my window, so I get my best work done at #5amwritersclub.