I would like to introduce Linda Root to Layered Pages today. Linda has written numerous historical fiction novels and is a wonderful friend of mine. The floor is all yours!
A little bit about myself.
I was born in Cleveland in 1939. There was a war brewing and America was emerging from the horror of The Depression. During my early years, in our house it was easy to confuse FDR God. My mother was to be honored at an FDR fundraiser when her water broke. She never forgave me for it. I also had an unusal reaction to the WWII—probably due to mother’s addiction to movies and all of those Pathe newsreels of Hitler shouting. I have never cared much for men who shout. Because of my obsession with the war, my father took me to a Christian Science Practitioner who suggested I engage my brain in something healtier than war news, and suggested children’s classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I also got a library card. When I was in Second Grade, I entered an art contest sponsored by the Cleveland Public Schools and Municipal Library. My prize was a book, Jungle Animals. When I was in 5th grade, my principal wrote to the library requesting I be permitted to take out books from the general library instead of being restricted to the children’s section. I began reading Zane Grey and Charles Dickens.
In 1951 we moved to California where I spent six months in culture shock. I am certain there is a public library somewhere in San Diego but I never found it. In 1951 San Diego had no major league sports teams, no ballet and a symphony that was no competition for George Szell’s Cleveland Orchestra where my piano teacher was a cellist and her husband was concert master. I did however survive, and by 1957 when I graduated from Helix High School as one of four valedictorians, I had delivered student newscasts on local television and won numerous writing and editing awards. I went to Pomona College on a Union-Tribune Scholarship.
Alas, those were the days whch inspired the movie Peggy Sue got Married. When I came home from Pomona after my sophomore year with a GPA that would have earned me a PhiBetaKappa key the following year, my parents and friends looked at the third finger of my left hand and wondered why I was going out in public naked.
It took me fifteen years and two failed marriages before I got back on track and went to law school. In 1979, both my young third husband and my son John died of unrelated illnesses. I took a semester off from law school to get my soul back.. The mother of a friend who had been my mentor suggested I recuperate by writing a memoir of my son, but I was too emotionally distraught to even try. Instead I went on a motor trip with a close personal friend from happier times whose treatments for melonoma had left him with a guarded prognosis. Three weeks after we returned from visiting separate batches of relatives in Florida, we got married. That was thirty three years ago and we have been traveling through the bumpy road of life together ever since.
And yes, I finished law school and had another son to add to my two children Jolie and Michael. We moved to the desert and I became a prosecutor. But still, I was not writing, or so I thought, until one afternoon in 1983 as I sat in the chambers of the phenomenal Hon.Rufus Yent who had just seen Paul Newman in The Verdict.
‘I was wondering how I got stuck with you guys insteal of Paul Newman, until I realized Newman is an actor,’ Yent said. ‘You guys are not just actors. You people are actors, script writers, costume designers, producers and directors and probably key grips, whatever that is..All Newman has to do is act. No wonder he is so &#@ good at it. When Newman in three minutes of screen time has the audience panting to render the verdict he has requested, about fifty million dollars has gone into his argument. You guys do it once every couple of weeks for less than a hundred grand a year. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to charm your juries as if you were Paul Newman,’ Yent concluded wth a smile.. ’
But it wasn’t until after one hundred thirty jury trials and numerous appearances before a microphone bank that I seriously began to write.I did not retire to become a novelist. I retired at the top of my game. Chris and I wanted to travel. But an ugly thing called cancer intervened.
While Chris struggled with the after effects of aggressive treatments for basil tonque cancer, I began reworking a book I had started in the mid-1990s,aa true crime story called Rainbow’s Bones. But I was too close to my many victims of abuse and child sexual assault to complete the story. I needed something different. Enter Alison Weir.
When I read Alison Weir’s comprehensive history, Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, I recalled having devoured Antonia Fraser’s hallmark biography of Marie Stuart when it came out in the 70’s. Between 1959 through 1979, I had read a lot about the Queen of Scots and whether I liked her or hated her depended upon the religion and viewpoint of the author. Some just did a better job than others of hiding it. Wier revisited the debate concerning Marie Stuart’s culpability in her husband Darnley’s murder, but she left the matter unresolved. Arrogant me, I thought with my background in criminal prosecutions and my reputation for mastering conspiracy crimes, I could do it better. I began to put together a Murder Book.
That was in 2008. Three years later I self-published a giant historical novel The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, a very different story than the one I began to write. I had authored what one reader has called ‘a love story for the ages’ involving two people I had never heard of when I began my research. I have been writing like a whirlwind ever since. At 75, I have no time for wind down.
Why I write: I was cleaning out a closet today and came upon a box of items I thought had been forever lost. It contained my first widely published writing, ‘On the Death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I wrote it within an hour of learning of the assassination, and I have no conscious memory of having written it.
The day after JFK’s assassination, I copied the poetry and sent it to Congressman Lionel Van Deerlin because I wanted to share it. He read it into the Congressional Record where it was picked up by several metropolitan dailies and a slew of conspiracy theorists. I received a stack of mail including death threats against Bobbie Kennedy. Being politically naïve, I sent them to the Feds, which is how I ended up with a letter of appreciation signed by John Edgar Hoover. If nothing else, I know what the ‘J’ in J.Edgar Hoover stands for. My words brought a brief moment of fame and a bittersweet memory of how I had wanted to be a journalist. The JFK poem awakened me to a truth: as long as I had words to share, I had not lost myself.
Four years ago on a sleepless night a year after my sister died, leaving me with no one to share my middle of the night epiphaniies, I composed a message to her ghost. Like the Kennedy poem, my expression needed to be shared so I sent it to my son, a struggling freelance writer living in Berlin, like the expatriate in Cabaret. It is the product of too little sleep and too much wine, so forgive me the iconoclisms and profanities. This is an abridged but otherwise unedited version:
I am having a 4am epiphany as to why I write. I can phrase the concept in philosophical terms, …but the bloody truth of the matter is that I have these marvelous words floating around in my brain, catchy phrases, humorous concepts, homilies, similes, metaphors, similitudes (Word doesn’t recognize the word) and platitudes, like longitudes and latitudes, simple statements of fact that the simpler they become, the more profound they are, the more profane they are, the better, and quite frankly, no one around me knows they are there, or if they do, they simply do not give a damn..
I have thoughts, like, for example, when I was a little girl I thought Cleveland had always been there until fourth grade when I was force-fed a book called Early Ohio, and discovered that Cleveland came into being in the 18th century.Then, a year or so later I discovered like Cleveland, the Universe hadn’t always been there either. And now I realize that the same is true of this thing called ME. ME( or I if you prefer) was not always here, and very soon will not be.In spite of the words in my head that thrill me, taunt me, tease me, devour me, molest me, caress me, no one will give the slightest nod when I, too, am gone.
And so I write on the outside chance that what I write will become a monument to the words that escape me when I die, like the headstone in a graveyard no one visits. Like butterflies at night,I wonder where they go.
‘As the sun lowered, midges swarmed in the still air of the Flesh Market, feeding on the blood of animals and men.’ I wonder how many people on the edge of my life recognize those words or know who wrote them. I did. ME, at page one of The First Marie?
~ I suppose my midnight musing is as close as I will ever come to expressing why I write.
As to how writing has impacted my life, it has been a life preservor, tossed my way at a time when I needed it to stay afloat.
When I left the District Attorney’s office it was not to write: it was to live, to travel, to try new things in exotic places. My husband’s cancer ended all of that. The most important thing in my life now is keeping Chris at home, and that requires a change in life-style. It would be disastrous for me, who thought I was retiring to a life of high adventure if I were not able to share the romance and derring-do I create for the characters in my books.
When I was a child I was captivated by Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem The Land of Counterpane from A Child’s Garden of Verses. In his youth, Stevenson was bed-bound. I think of it when I sit on my side of our mechanical bed and self-transport to the outer ward of Warkworth Castle, where as Will Hepburn I draw my daggers in defense of my wife and child. Even better, when the battle is won, as Daisy Kirkcaldy, I get to make wild passionate love to the son of the man even the Queen of Scots could not tame before we ride to London to save the king.
And now, a bit of advice for new writers:
My first advice to any novelist is not to wait till you are 70 before you write your debut novel, unless you intend to write a Bucket Book. If you are looking to publish a trilogy or even a sequel, best get started early.
As I look back at my debut novel, I had no idea of what I was doing. When a box of books arrived, I sent one of my paperbacks to an editor at the Historical Novel Society and a second to a college classmate who writes reviews for Bookloons. I received an email from the editor at HNS declaring I was’ one helluva novelist’; he read First Marie in what he called ‘one glorious gulp’, and was going to assign it to a reviewer on his staff. If he could not get anyone to review it for the December edition, he would consider writing one himself. For the next three quarterly issues, I checked HNS carefully and my book was never there.
I suspect a second reading exposed major editing flaws, a factor mentioned in Bookloons in which my college classmate called my copy ‘somewhat rough.’ She also thought 740 pages was too long to attract readers. Being of the generation when large historicals were the rage, I had no idea what she meant. I had not bothered to research the trends.
I should have withdraw my book, hired an editor and done the marketing feasibility study I would have conducted had I been opening a tattoo shop. Because of the size of my tome, editing services at Createspae would have approached the price of a Mini Cooper. I had been sufficiently impressed by copy editing awards won in high school to think I could spot my mistakes. I was wrong.
Withdrawing First Maria for additional editing was a hard choice, because it was making money. I broke even within a year. But she deserved better than reviews citing typos and spelling errors. There would be no Brag Medallion for First Marie. Eventually I did produce a second edition but the damage had been done. If there is an axion to writing as an independent it is :if you can do so without selling your worldly possessions and your first born, hire an editor.
Here’s a list of steps I would have taken if I’d known then what I know now:
Step One: Let your completed first draft sit two to three weeks before you attempt revisions . Go write something else. Redecorate your bathroom. Summit Fuji. Raise chickens.
Step Two: Whether you intend to send your manuscript to an editor or seek an agent to market it to a publisher,or simply plan do it all yourself, find a comfortable chair and read your manuscript from start to finish in one sitting. You will be tempted to edit, but don’t. Pretend you are reading a library book that is due by the end of the day. If you have trouble reading it through in a single session, address the issues head on. Was it frequent bladder breaks or boredom that made reading difficult? Be painfully honest in spotting what turned you off. Then do not agonize over it. Fix it.
Step Three: When you have a story that flows, download your manuscript from your computer to an ebook reader, and read each page on the reader while you edit on the computer. At this stage, I find it best to deal with concepts rather than with proofing. What you are seeking is a consistent storyline, a plot which moves forward and characters who drive the story with panache. How to spell hyperbole and ashkenazi come later.
Step Four: Let it sit a week and do a line edit.
Step Five: Repeat step four and do not cheat..
Step Six: Disconnect auto-correct and repeat step four.. Otherwise auto –correct will destroy what you just fixed. I write some words in Scottish. Auto correct dinnae spiek Scots.
Step Seven: Know the difference between an editor and a proofreader and utilize each. For concept, send your manuscript out to beta readers. Select them wisely from those familiar with your novel’s sub-genre. If you cannot find reliable betas, try an editing program such as Auto-Crit. It is time consuming, but so is waiting for feedback of a beta. As for proofing, look for an editor who will do a cursory proof read for a nominal fee. Use Spell Check, but never depend on it. Grammar checks are worse. Whoever designs them never diagramed a compound-complex sentence.
Step Eight: If you plan to self-publish and have an editor, do a final line edit before you send it off. Doing so will save you money and prevent your editor from sticking pins in a straw doll fashioned in your likeness. If you are shopping for an agent or a publisher, read submission requirements and forward only what the requirements specify. Caveat: Clean out your jewelry box or your tool chest and sell what you do not need on Ebay. Deposit the money in a saving account so you can hire an editor when no one grabs your book.
Step Nine: When your edited manuscript comes back, do a final line edit. In other words, repeat step four. I believe the author should be the last person to approve a manuscript before it goes public. When you are confident you know the mechanics, upload your text and the killer cover you have purchased or produced according to the instructions of the platform you have chosen. I use Createspace and Kindle Direct, but there are others. Presently I produce my books free of costs other than cover photography and research materials—less than $100 per book.
I am still paying for my mistakes. If I had taken my time with The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, sold my Jimmy Choos and hired an editor, the edit would have paid for itself in increased sales for First Marie and its progeny. It is difficult for a novelist who debuts at age 72 to take the time to do it right. It is even worse to have done it wrong.
Lucky for me, I am still alive to profit from what I learned. Currently I have the number one seller in the sub-genre Scottish Fantasy (The Green Woman) and number three in the historical fiction sub-genre The Queen of Scots (1603: The Queen’s Revenge). Margaret George and Jean Plaidy beat me out, but I am in good company.
Step Ten: Keep writing.
And Stephanie, thanks for letting me expound.
Thank you, Linda!