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.

Making Art Even When You're Lost with Andrea Hannah

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Mindy:             Today's guest is Andrea Hannah, an award winning author, essayist and workshop leader. She teaches on living a healthy, creative life at her Wild Heart retreats and writes about making art on Twitter and Instagram. Andrea joined me today to talk about using the same process, whether she's writing fiction or nonfiction, and the constant hustle of being a successful freelancer.

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Mindy:             You have written both essays and novels. You are a staff writer for Bustle and your YA novel, Of Scars and Stardust released from Flux in 2014. So you obviously have some experience across the board with different types of writing. If you could talk a little bit about your own creative process and how you manage those different arts of writing with the essay versus fiction.

Andrea:            It's super interesting because when you think about it, all of those forms and structures are completely different, right? But when I start any piece, whether it's a long form piece or even a short story or a poem or even if it's something for myself personally, I always start the same way. I think of my creativity as a message of what I want to say and who I am. We work in ideas and we are putting new, innovative thoughts out into the world that hopefully catch fire. So I always start with what do I want to say with this piece? I have tons of interests and I could go in a million different directions at any time. What is it that's important for me to say and am I the person that should be saying it?

Andrea:            So once I have that down, then I kind of work in big ideas, big abstract ideas I might think of mood or tone or theme. And that's where I started getting some visual ideas. I have like a private Pinterest board where I start putting things together for that. I build a world around it, characters and plot. And that's true for both nonfiction and fiction. So even when I write essays about my past, you're still applying a narrative structure to a life - basically to chaos. The only difference with Bustle is that I'm projecting Bustle's message. So they have a specific prompt and they have a message and what they want to say. And I'm just making sure that I echo that.

Mindy:             As someone who is interested myself in freelance writing and that process of getting picked up to write smaller pieces as opposed to really burying yourself in something that's going to take possibly years to write and hope that it can turn into an income. Can you talk a little bit about managing those smaller pieces and turning those smaller pieces like an essay into a freelance income? How does one get their foot in the door at a place like Bustle?

Andrea:            It is so rewarding to just work on a piece for like a week and turn it in and see it get published and be done with it like it's off your plate and it's so satisfying because you know how it is with a novel. It's just years and years until you can really see the finished product. Security's a big issue. I have two small kids and if I wanted to make a freelance career, I knew I would have to have something that had some stability where I knew more work was coming just for my own mental health. Bustle is actually one of the best companies to freelance for because they often post job listings online and they will look for what they call staff writers, but they're actually freelancers. Like I have to pay taxes out of my... On my own. So they have staff writers that they are on staff and you get a weekly schedule and a weekly list of articles and you apply for the job like you would any other job.

Andrea:            Like I think I sent in my resume in a pitch, a sample pitch, and then they called me and we had interviews and back and forth kind of thing. So, and I get a trial day there, but it's been wonderful. I've been there for a year and a half. It's a great company to work for and I know that there's always work coming, so it's got the stability of a regular job. But then there's also the flexibility, which is great. A couple of my other freelance clients, I go straight for. They're people that I pitched directly where I liked their work online, like they might be small business owners or studios or different places that I've been to before that I really like and I had sent them an email just conversational, friendly, like, Hey, I've been to your yoga studio or I really admire your work or I've read this book and I follow your business on platforms.

Andrea:            If you ever need a content or a copywriter, I do both. Here's a sample of my work, please contact me. And that's worked out for me a few times as well. So I have a couple of stable ghostwriting clients that I meet with on the phone every week and I write blogs and different social media posts for them as well. So, and then I also place like the periodic essay in different places as well, like Thrive Global or MindBodyGreen or any of those. That's not where the majority of my income comes from, if that makes sense.

Mindy:             Every freelancer that I've talked to talks about the hustle involved because you are chasing down every job.

Andrea:            Oh, for sure. Absolutely. So for me, having those stable behind the scenes incomes are really important for me because it's enough money where I feel secure enough and anything after that is bonus. So if I can't hustle for a specific week because I have a sick kid or I'm sick, it gives me a little bit more leeway.

Mindy:             You also have extensive experience, not only with your own creative process, but nursing the creative process of others as well as their creative soul. You offer both workshops and retreats to assist creatives. So if you could tell my listeners about how you came to create these programs and what they have to offer to participants.

Andrea:            You know how you look back at your life and there are clues to what you should have been doing all along, especially when you were younger and you don't really see it at the time. But hindsight's twenty twenty. That's kind of what this has been like for me. So I was recently at lunch with a group of writer friends and we were chatting about writing stuff and all of them said, oh yeah, I used to come home from middle school and just open up my mom's clunky laptop. And all I did was write until it was time for dinner. And they all chimed in. They're like, yeah. And I wrote my journals and I wrote in this and I was kind of like, aw, I didn't do that at all. I never had that desire to do that. What's interesting is I was always kind of like a creative kid who liked to make crafts and, and do art, and I went to art classes and I did dance and ballet and I wrote funny stories for a period, but mostly I was a creative kid who wanted to be a helper.

Andrea:            Anybody who needed help. I was always like, oh, I'll help you. And I was always kind of like, everybody's unofficial counselor. And I loved it. So I went into teaching actually. Really, I was a special education teacher for a long time and that quenched that thirst to help people, but it didn't necessarily allow me a lot of leeway to, to explore creativity and others'. And then early in my career, my mom died and she was super sick for a while before that. And my mom was a really, really creative, wild woman person born a little bit too soon. Um, she was just born at the wrong time and didn't have a lot of chances to express as her creativity.

Andrea:            She was a single mom working a lot, that kind of thing. And so her passing away really lit something in me to help creative people create with less friction in their lives. And uh, it merged the creative part of myself and the helper part of myself. There's this lack of allowing in creative people, so many artists and writers and musicians I talk to say things like, I can't write that because that's not marketable or I can't write in the morning because then I might miss this. I can't miss a single basketball game or else I'll be a bad parent. Or, if I take time for my own writing, the house will go to garbage, kind of thing. There's so much resistance to just letting yourself be who you're going to be and allowing yourself to be creative in the ways that you were made to be creative and allowing your projects to be what they're going to be.

Andrea:            And so over the years between my teaching - I also teach a creative writing class at a community college - doing mini workshops, has really led me to distill that theory down to "let's teach people how to know themselves, how to allow creativity to come through them." That's basically what my retreats are about. That's what any of my newsletters are about. It's, it's about time to sit back, find out who you are and what works best for you, and I've designed some specific tools, like a mapmaking process. And we do use some esoteric tools sometimes, like we dip into Tarot and astrology and all that stuff as tools for self-reflection so that you can find your own path and what works best for you and and make some cool stuff.

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Mindy:             One of the things that I really heard you talking about underneath all of that is guilt. Essentially it's a lose lose because we feel guilt if we aren't being creative because we do know that we are not fulfilling something that we are called to and also we are failing that project. Whatever that project would be. Whether you have one novel in your, if you have 10 it's like if you are not fulfilling that story, your story that no one else is going to tell, then you do feel like you're failing on that end. But then as you're saying, there is just a myriad of real life requirements that we have everyday. Kids, job, work, house, all of the things, social pressures, even all of the things that we are required to do to be a healthy functioning human being or at least socially responsible. And I think especially women, especially when it comes to the house and keeping the house clean and keeping food on the table and raising the kids. And it's not meant to be a sexist statement because plenty of men fulfill those jobs too. But I think women suffer more socially and personally if they're not doing those things and doing them very well.

Andrea:            I totally agree with you. I can't tell you how many people, women in my life have been or women identifying people in my life have been like, ah, I can't. I when the kids get older, I will make that website, write that novel, paint that painting. Women more than men, need somebody to stand there and pat them on the back for a second and be like, look, it's all right. You can get going on this. And I like being that encourager and I, even if that means I'm not in person encouraging them at a retreat. Maybe it's through Instagram posts or a newsletter or whatever. I just want women to know that what you make has value beyond and who you are has value beyond what you can do for somebody else.

Mindy:             I think it's really interesting too, you're talking about being a creative yourself yet, but many of your urges are directed towards helping others with their work. And I find that really fascinating to be honest because, and I say this as a creative myself, most of us are pretty self involved.

Andrea:            That's so funny. I, yeah, I didn't think of it like that.

Mindy:             I have never felt like, you know, I am going to help someone else make their work as good as possible because that is a drive that I have. You know what I mean? It's not. My passion is for my own work I guess is what I'm trying to say.

Andrea:            So you know what's so funny about that? I think that goes back to me as a kid being like, well what do you mean? Nobody? Like everybody else is sitting around painting and writing. Like I want to go help that kid on the street or something. And I'm not trying to say that to be like, look at me. I'm so awesome. It's just truly has been a drive within me my whole life. And I think what's interesting about that is I actually just quit teaching in a traditional school very recently and I had been teaching part time for a while. Up until then, and to be honest with you, I could have financially quit teaching a while ago, but I didn't for the reason that I didn't want to ever stay at home all day and write. That has never appealed to me. That kind of gives me hives. Thinking about it, I wanted to teach like I want to help people. I want to be interacting with people regularly. So I just started doing my retreats last year and I've booked a bunch of workshops and I'm regularly teaching at the community college by my house. I feel like I could leave that school setting. I wasn't going to be at home writing all day, which is so funny because people are so different.

Mindy:             Coming up. How Andrea's upcoming release A Map for Wild Hearts is designed to help creatives find their way through the obstacles blocking their artistic goals.

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Mindy:             So let's talk a little bit about how you do help people find their way to their art. Your newest release A Map for Wild Hearts: How to Make Art Even When You Are Lost, is designed to help the reader with a myriad of problems that they may come across in their creative process, but also their larger lives. So if you could tell us a little bit about that, what your goals are for that book and some of the things that you're hoping to address with that title.

Andrea:            A Map for Wild Hearts is one of the books in my heart. And I would say it's kind of a culmination of all of my life's philosophies wrapped up into this workbook. And it's part guidebook, it's part essay, and it's part research-backed philosophy on how to create with less friction. So the First Section of the book is titled How You Got Here. And it's very forest metaphor heavy, but it's all about how you may have gotten lost. Various ways that creatives tend to get lost. Everything from toxic relationships or showing your work before you're ready, or a comparison or lack of stability and structure in your own life or not dreaming big enough. And it talks through each section that way. And then the second section is How to Make A Map. Basically, how to get yourself out of the woods. You start with the idea and I walk readers through their creative process.

Andrea:            There are seven chapters where it starts with internal and it ends up being external. So the first three chapters are ideas and identifying your own voice and identifying your direction you want to head into. And each chapter comes with specific activities. Everything from prompts to mad libs style, fill in the blank to little quizzes. So they go through and do that. And once you've got your internal stuff together, you can kind of start to seek out relationships that are good for you or how to know when it's time to show your art to somebody. That's a lot about emotions. Like jealousy and anger and sadness. And then it also talks about joy.

Mindy:             I particularly like what you're saying about toxic relationships and also comparison. It doesn't matter where you are in your journey, someone is ahead of you. I know so many people and I was one of these that I thought, you know, if I could just get published then I will be happy. And uh, that's simply not true. You appreciate being published, but then you're like, well, I've got one book out now I want two. Now I want a movie deal. Why don't I have a Netflix show? You're never fulfilled. And then you're looking at other people going, well they have that. Why don't I?

Andrea:            So I'll tell you a little story. I'll be completely honest about this book as well. This is indie published and it's the first time I've done this and I've actually hadn't had any interest in indie publishing even though I think it's wonderful. I just, it hasn't been my avenue of choice until now. And I have an agent, we had this on submission for a long time as a proposal. And then I wrote the entire thing and had it professionally edited, which I don't suggest anybody does that, but I was so certain that this book had to be out in the world that I was going to indie publish it if it didn't sell. So it was an investment for me. We put it out and it got really close to being picked up several times. But in the end it was the marketing department at acquisitions that was like, I don't know, it's kind of this strange hybrid, like I wouldn't know how to market it.

Andrea:            Is it adult? Is it this? Is it a workbook? Is it a prose book kind of thing? And so it got turned down at acquisitions and for me that was heartbreaking. But I sat with myself a little bit there and I said, okay, what's the message, right? Do I think this is important enough to go out? Like I tell all these creatives, be brave, make without fear, put things out there, take chances. So I had to do that as well. And I am indie publishing this. It comes out on August 13 and to be honest with you, I'm, I'm happier with the publishing journey than I've been in a long time. It doesn't have a traditional book deal, but people are excited about it. People who read early copies have said that it's helped them so much that they can't wait to share it with other people. And that's really all I wanted for the book. So in the end, my goal is aligned with with what it is and I think that that matters more than looking at what other people have going on for them.

Mindy:             That's the truth. And I know just from having gone to acquisitions and been turned down quite a few times, that marketing, they're the ones that make the decision in the end and as a creative it is frustrating because I have zero control over what the market is doing. You have to look at it as a positive in that if it's the case that it made it to acquisitions, then that is an indicator that you're doing something right. It's not a judgment on your work usually. It literally is the market and the list at that moment and in that time that is making the decision about whether or not you're getting published.

Andrea:            Totally. And I say that in A Map For Wild Hearts too. There's a thin line between knowing when critique is valid and when you have to trust your own gut on something. And for me that was the line. If I had had editors saying, you know this part needs work, this doesn't make sense. If I had found some common threads, some common ground between all of what my agent was saying and critique partners and editors, then I would have really taken that to heart. There was no common thread and it was a marketing department decision for me that just meant well then I'll market it. Like, I'll do it.

Mindy:             Right. Absolutely. You know your audience and you know how and who to market it to. So strike out on your own for sure. And I like to what you're saying about how you had to take your own medicine, essentially you had to go and do the thing that you have been telling people to do for a long time and make that leap.

Andrea:            For sure. And I'm not going to lie, it was, it is and was super scary, but I am so glad that I've done it. So my advice to anybody trying to make anything is you go and you do it and try not to think about what other people are doing and just listen to your own true voice on it. And it might end up with an agent or it might end up with a publisher or you might be indie publishing it or you might lose passion for it and put it in a drawer. And you have to be okay with all of those results. You know how publishing is. You just don't know what's going to happen.

Mindy:             Oh, you don't. And it's entirely out of your control, which is freeing once you managed to embrace that.

Mindy:             Lastly, writing through chronic pain, illness, depression, and where to find Andrea online.

Mindy:             One of my most popular episodes on this podcast is with Hillary Jastram who is the CEO of SickBiz and she deals with chronic pain herself while being a creative. And so her episode about mental illness and depression and dealing with chronic pain while being a creative is my most downloaded episode. So in A Map for Wild Hearts is chronic pain, depression or mental illness something that you address as a block, as something that is getting in the way of the creative process for your readers?

Summer Thrillers Giveaway! Jeffery Deaver, Lisa Scottoline, Gillian McAllister & Bev Thomas!

I’ve got literal stacks of books around the house right now, so I thought it was time to give a few away. Here’s a collection of brand new, super fan thrillers for your summer beach reads! Check out the descriptions and enter to win below!

The Good Sister by Gillian McAllister: An electrifying novel about the unyielding bond between two sisters, which is severely tested when one of them is accused of the worst imaginable crime.

Martha and Becky Blackwater are more than sisters--they're each other's lifelines. When Martha finds herself struggling to balance early motherhood and her growing business, Becky steps in to babysit her niece, Layla, without a second thought, bringing the two women closer than ever. But when Layla is found dead one morning, at only eight weeks old, Becky is charged with the unthinkable: the murder of her sister's child.

Nine months later, Becky is on trial and maintains her innocence--and so does Martha. Unable to shake the feeling that her sister couldn't possibly be guilty, Martha sets out to uncover exactly what happened that night, and how things could have gone so wrong. As the trial progresses, fault lines between the sisters begin to show--revealing cracks deep in their relationship and threatening the family each has worked so hard to build. With incredible empathy and resounding emotional heft, The Good Sister is a powerhouse of a novel that will lead readers to question everything they know about motherhood, family, and the price of forgiveness.

A Good Enough Mother by Bev Thomas: A riveting page-turner that lets us inside the secret world of therapist and patient, where boundaries get crossed, and events spiral out of control. . .

Ruth Hartland is a psychotherapist with years of experience. But professional skill is no guard against private grief. The mother of grown twins, she is haunted by the fact that her beautiful, difficult, fragile son Tom, a boy who never "fit in," disappeared a year and a half earlier. She cannot give up hope of finding him, but feels she is living a kind of half-life, waiting for him to return.

Enter a new patient, Dan--unstable and traumatized--who looks exactly like her missing son. She is determined to help him, but soon, her own complicated feelings, about how she has failed her own boy, cloud her professional judgement. And before long, the unthinkable becomes a shattering reality....

An utterly compelling drama with a timebomb at its core, A Good Enough Mother is a brilliant, beautiful story of mothering, and how to let go of the ones we love when we must.

The Never Game by Jeffery Deaver: From the bestselling and award-winning master of suspense, the first novel in a thrilling new series, introducing Colter Shaw.

"You have been abandoned."

A young woman has gone missing in Silicon Valley and her father has hired Colter Shaw to find her. The son of a survivalist family, Shaw is an expert tracker. Now he makes a living as a "reward seeker," traveling the country to help police solve crimes and private citizens locate missing persons. But what seems a simple investigation quickly thrusts him into the dark heart of America's tech hub and the cutthroat billion-dollar video-gaming industry.

"Escape if you can."

When another victim is kidnapped, the clues point to one video game with a troubled past--The Whispering Man. In that game, the player has to survive after being abandoned in an inhospitable setting with five random objects. Is a madman bringing the game to life?

"Or die with dignity."

Shaw finds himself caught in a cat-and-mouse game, risking his own life to save the victims even as he pursues the kidnapper across both Silicon Valley and the dark 'net. Encountering eccentric game designers, trigger-happy gamers and ruthless tech titans, he soon learns that he isn't the only one on the hunt: someone is on his trail and closing fast.

Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline: From the New York Times-bestselling author comes a pulse-pounding domestic thriller about a group of friends who have been bound for twenty years by a single secret—and will now be undone by it. Someone Knows is an emotional exploration of friendship and family, as well as a psychological exploration of guilt and memory.

Twenty years ago, in an upscale suburb of Philadelphia, four teenagers spent a summer as closest friends: drinking, sharing secrets, testing boundaries. When a new boy looked to join them, they decided to pull a prank on him, convincing him to play Russian roulette as an initiation into their group. They secretly planned to leave the gun unloaded—but what happened next would change each of them forever.

Now three of the four reunite for the first time since that horrible summer. The guilt—and the lingering question about who loaded the gun—drove them apart. But after one of the group apparently commits suicide with a gun, their old secrets come roaring back. One of them is going to figure out if the new suicide is what it seems, and if it connects to the events of that long-ago summer. Someone knows exactly what happened—but who? And how far will they go to keep their secrets buried?

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