Last week, we heard from Tessa Harris, author of the Thomas Silkstone mysteries (Anatomist’s Apprentice). This week, we are very pleased to interview another writer working the historical vein. Vicky Dreiling writes historical romance of the Regency period. Historical writing takes research and plenty of time–thank you Vicky, for speaking with us about the writing life!
I have always identified with the Asimov quote: “I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I’d die.” I recall that you also wrote from an early age. Could you say a bit about your early experiences?
When I was ten years old, I put a diary on my Christmas wish list. I’m uncertain, but I believe my interest in the past and diaries may have stemmed from my curiosity about Laura Ingalls Wilder. I know I read Little House on the Prairie. The idea that words could live on long after I was gone fascinated me. I wrote in that little diary until it fell apart. Every year afterward, I got a new diary and faithfully kept it. I also wrote terrible poetry in spiral notebooks.
Can you talk about when you decided to “write for real”—that decision to write for publication and give this work the time and energy it so deserves?
I wrote one historical romance in the nineties that actually won several contests.
It also garnered a nomination for the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart competition for unpublished writers. I got numerous requests for the book, but ultimately, it wasn’t strong enough. After a trip back to university, I ended up with a degree in English and a minor in marketing. I didn’t plan this, but those combined skills really helped me when I decided to write another historical romance and submit it for publication. I did my homework and this time, I was prepared. Then I met my agent by accident. I’m not joking. You can read my lucky tale here: http://bit.ly/1ia06fZ
Every writer has a different writing strategy. How do you approach the writing process? Revision? Writers’ block?
When I’m stuck, I take a shower. I’m very clean! Seriously, I’m a pantser (e.g. I write by the seat of my pants). It’s frightening and energizing at the same time. The only thing I start out with is a high concept premise, and that premise drives the entire book. As for revisions, I have a very talented editor. She’s brilliant.
Can you tell us about your experience building worlds and characters? How do you create your voice and make it real to readers? Do you have beta readers?
Writing historical novels requires a great deal of research as you know, but it is fascinating. Most historical readers are familiar with the settings and proprieties of Regency England. I use Pinterest to help me visualize places such as Almack’s and the Albany. Readers also find it fun. At one time I had a critique group, but when the group think crept in, I left. I work exclusively with my editor.
In terms of world building, it helps that I’ve been to London numerous times (via business trips) and have toured castes, palaces, parks, and boat tours of the Thames. However, some of my books demand a certain amount of world building due to the unusual premises. My first historical Regency romance included spoofs of modern dating practices. This necessitated new terminology. I had so much fun creating those spoofs.
You asked about characters. I’m not a planner. I never use character sheets. My characters just appear, and I get to know them as I write. Reviewers often mention they are believable, honorable, and intelligent, but I don’t have a secret sauce to baste them. I only write synopses because they’re required by contract, but I never look at them afterward. Also, I never tried to develop my voice. I hear other writers talk about it, but I can’t relate. Interestingly, my English professors pointed to my voice in essays. That surprised me. However, I suspect many writers seamlessly adjust their voice depending on circumstances or genres.
I am a historian and researcher by training and trade—can you talk about how you plan for historical fiction?
I’ve been researching the Regency England period for well over a decade. What surprises me is how much new research is required with every book. To be honest, I’ve spent some serious money on research books over time. Those of us who have a passion for history find it compelling. I also research as I write. Questions pop into my head as the story twists and turns, necessitating a search for the answer. Sometimes the hardest part is cutting out that fascinating fact, but we writers have to delete our little darlings.
• Do you have advice for new writers on “breaking in” to the publishing world? Or upon the need/value of agents?
First, I know several successful indie published authors. Some are hybrid authors (indie+NY publisher), and others do one or the other. When I sought an agent in 2008, self-publishing wasn’t considered a respectable alternative. Of course that has changed dramatically. My first book published in January 2011. While many writers speak about how difficult it is to publish with one of the big five, the truth is it has always been challenging. These days, however, writers have a viable choice. I’ll share what I did to land that first sale. It worked for me, and might work for others.
o Finish the book. Then revise, revise, revise. If you suspect a problem, there is one.
o Be fearless. Fear is a writer’s greatest enemy.
o Enter contests. I got several requests for the full manuscript from agents/editors. In one contest, I got the overall highest score plus a check for $450, and a request for the full.
o Trust your gut instincts, regardless of what one agent or your critique partners say. Early on I turned down a major agent because she wanted me to change the premise of my book.
o Learn the art of the elevator pitch.
o Research before you target editors and agents.
o Before you accept an agent’s offer, ask to speak to one or more of her clients.
o Connect with other authors. The more you share; the more you know.
o Many authors lump all publishers and agents in the same basket. There are BIG differences among them.
o Don’t leap on the first offer. If you’re unsure, ask a veteran author for advice.
o If one door closes, knock on another one.
o Submission land can be a depressing place. Counteract it by writing the next book.
Vicky Dreiling is a confirmed historical romance junkie and Anglophile. Frequent business trips to the UK allowed her to indulge her passion for all things Regency England. Bath, Stonehenge, and Spencer House are among her favorite places. She is, however, truly sorry for accidentally setting off a security alarm in Windsor Castle. That unfortunate incident led her British colleagues to nickname her “Trouble.” When she’s not writing, Vicky enjoys reading, films, concerts, and most of all, long lunches with friends. A native Texan, she holds degrees in English literature and marketing.
Visit her at: http://www.vickydreiling.com/
• Publicist: Melissa Sangiocomo
• Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vickydreilinghistoricalauthor?ref=hl
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/vickydreiling
• Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/vickydreiling/
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1bCC2Nn
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Vicky’s Amazon Central Page: http://www.amazon.com/Vicky-Dreiling/e/B003RO6NEI