I have always loved writing, though I did not always know what form it would take in my life. I thought of myself primarily as a nonfiction writer, because smaller freelance magazine and newspaper articles were more easily managed in my busy schedule. When my children were younger, I would take a writing course once a year at my local community college as a way of improving my craft and being around others who loved writing. While doing a class exercise on developing character and plot, my professor took me aside and told me with a grin, "Eileen, you're a fiction writer... you just don't know it yet." Her words really stuck with me. Sometime later, an idea for a novel came to me, so I decided to go for it. As soon as I started, my writing made sense to me in a way it never had before. I was morphed into a fiction writer and I've never looked back.
One of the questions that I love to hear the answer to (because they vary widely) is do you have a writing routine, and if so, what is it?
I believe it's essential for an author to have a writing routine to stay productive. I have a tiny office in my home which gives me some creative space. Each week I establish my writing schedule and work hard to protect it. Early morning hours are my favorite time to write. I try to balance my writing with research, email, and the social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, web page) that is necessary for today's published authors. Social media can be distracting, so I am careful to separate it from my writing time. I try to make the most of my time in front of the keyboard.
What authors/books do you enjoy reading when you are not reading for your own writing?
I have a broad taste in books depending on my mood. I have recently read books by Valerie Martin, James McBride, Mary Mackey, Toni Morrison, and Lisa See. All wonderful. I am inspired by authors who are not afraid to tiptoe into delicate areas and give voice to those deserving of acknowledgement, tribute, and literary life, and do so with responsible and respectful integrity.
Both of your books, Promise Bridge and Shadow of a Quarter Moon are set in the time period around the American Civil War. What is it about this time period that drew your interest to it? (I have to admit that it isn’t one of my favorite periods.)
Any turbulent period in history is fodder for great books and memorable characters. The heroes are more heroic and the villains more villainous because they are woven from truths. The years of slavery in the United States are no different, yet it is a time that we often avoid revisiting because of the horror and shame it stirs in our moral conscience. However, in keeping the door closed on this period, we miss the chance to celebrate and marvel at the incredible acts of courage and daring deeds that were the genesis of social change in our country. The secret network known as the Underground Railroad is the perfect example of the best of America in the worst of America, and it serves as a vehicle of transformation for my main character, Jacy in Shadow of a Quarter Moon.
A couple questions about book covers – How do you feel about the covers of your books? Did you have any input in the design? How well do you think they represent the content of your book? (I personally love the cover for Promise Bridge.)
I am thrilled with covers for Shadow of a Quarter Moon and Promise Bridge. The art department for NAL/Penguin Group did a terrific job capturing the "feel" of both books. My editor, Ellen Edwards, always encourages me to share my thoughts about cover ideas, but when all is said and done, I rely on their expertise and insight. They never disappoint. The design and color schemes are so warm and inviting. An author couldn't ask for more.
I have recently heard it said within the historical fiction community that “you need to have a marquee name to have a successful book” as well as “American history doesn’t sell”. How would you respond to these comments and have you found these comments to be a challenge for you in pursuing the publication of your novels?
I try not to get too caught up in the trends of publishing. What's hot and what's not can shift with one breakout novel. Do I worry that a reader may overlook me simply because of the aisle or shelf on which my book is displayed? Of course. But I know readers are more savvy than that. They discuss books they've read and check out the blogs for books of interest. In the end, it's all about writing an exciting and engaging story with characters we care about. Though the premise and setting for Shadow of a Quarter Moon makes it "historical", there are elements of suspense, intrigue, mystery, and romance in the layered plot and characters. I think any good book balances these elements to some degree, no matter the genre. I'm very fortunate that I had a broad spectrum of readers embrace Promise Bridge, and so far, the same seems to be true for Shadow.
I know that Shadow of a Quarter Moon is just being released, but do you have any upcoming book plans in the works?
I am very excited about my next project which is set in the post-Civil War South. It was a very volatile period, particularly after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. About a third of the novel is written and the entire story has been plotted. I have paused momentarily to complete some research. I love the research phase because it's a process of discovery - not just of historical facts, but of tendencies, beliefs, and nuances of the time. Through research, I become better acquainted with my characters and the world around them. Quite often the surprises discovered during research can shift plotlines and shape characters in unexpected ways. Combining research with imagination is the most creative part of the process, and for me, the most exhilarating.
Thank you Eileen for these wonderful answers - I know I threw some hot-button questions at you! You can visit Eileen at her website for more information about her books.
Here is some additional information on Eileen's books:
Shadow of a Quarter Moon is the suspenseful and moving story of Jacy Lane, the daughter of a wealthy North Carolina horse breeder in 1839. After Jacy's father is killed in a suspicious accident, Claudia (the woman Jacy knows as Mother) reveals a secret that shatters her world. Jacy is not the well-bred woman she believes herself to be, but rather she is the light-skinned offspring of a dalliance between her father and a slave.
The shocking revelation destroys Jacy's sense of who she is and where she belongs in the world. If her secret is revealed, she will be cast out of "white" society. But as she tentatively gets to know her true mother and brother, as well as a protective slave named Rafe, Jacy begins to see life in the South with fresh eyes. To secure their wealth, Claudia tries to manipulate Jacy into marriage with a well-positioned but lecherous suitor. Claudia threatens to sell Jacy's newfound family, forcing her to make a decision that will take her on a treacherous and life-altering journey.
Promise Bridge is the inspiring story of an unlikely friendship between Hannelore Blessing, a plantation mistress and a slave girl named Livie. As their bond grows stronger, the women are launched on a harrowing journey of awakening filled with shared risks and nurtured promises. Amid whispers of the Underground Railroad and the rising tension preceding the Civil War, these remarkable women discover their ability to trust, love, and ultimately take action.
Aided by Colt, a devoted suitor hoping to win her heart, Hannah comes to understand that true friendship means letting go so Livie can be free to find a life and destiny all her own. However, a vicious slave catcher stalks the women - and his unseemly motives and relentless pursuit threaten all that Hannah holds dear.
Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court