Why do you write?
The most direct answer is that I write because I must. That sounds cliché, but I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love words. I began reading at an early age, and I remember very distinctly the first time a strand of letters meant something. It felt like the entire world opened before me. I was a voracious reader, and my love of reading fostered a love of stories. As a child, my imagination was a vivid one, and I had difficulty going to sleep at night because I kept myself awake retelling whatever story I’d read that day, often adding my own variations and endings.
It was only natural that I start recording my versions of stories on paper. I was always writing things down. I loved taking notes in school; whenever I read something that resonated with me, I jotted it in a notebook; if I heard or read a word that was mellifluous or curious or humorous, I scribbled it on a scrap of paper…. Pieces of paper were my breadcrumbs.
My goal was always to write a novel, and I began with a romantic suspense. Writing is about telling the human story, and one of the most basic human needs and drives is romantic companionship. Romance is a beautiful avenue for exploring motivations and character development, and the element of suspense adds the facet of how we deal with stress and fear.
I have two romantic suspense novels published under a pseudonym, but my main interest lies in literary historical fiction. The World War II era has always fascinated me. It was a time in which our worldview was being drastically reshaped, in which honor and sacrifice and commitment were still commonplace. The story I’m currently working on is about a Welsh farmer who follows his son across war-torn France.
And that’s why I write, because these characters come to me, and I have to put their stories, their struggles and triumphs, on paper.
How has writing impacted your life?
Writing is such a part of who I am that it’s difficult to pinpoint specific instances of how it has impacted my life. I think it influences everything from how I view a stunning landscape to what I want to do for someone whom I love to how I watch people… I’m trying to think of a facet of myself that it hasn’t impacted, and I’m drawing a blank.
I think the best way I can illustrate it is to tell a story. I spent an autumn season in downeast Maine years ago working on a peach and apple orchard. Maine was gorgeous: crisp and blunt and craggy, and it was there that I fell in love with the sea. But the work was grueling. I was young and thought it would be romantic and that my little room over the cider mill on Penobscot Bay would be the perfect setting to write, but in reality, it was backbreaking, draining, and desperately lonely.
I was miserable, and for the first time in my life, I couldn’t write. Could not write. I was empty. I would sit with pencil and paper, and nothing would come. I was a dry well, and it was as bitter and desolate a feeling as if I’d come upon a waterhole in the desert parched and desperate and drew my bucket only to have it filled with dust.
Now, looking back, I can see that it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as that; I was simply exhausted and unused to such physically demanding work. But at the time, those were the foremost thoughts in my mind, and it was a lesson for me both in the environment I find most conducive for writing and in what the craft means to me.
What advice would you give to beginner writers?
I would urge beginning writers to do two things:
1) Know the rubrics and nuances of grammar inside and out. Writers play around with many of the grammar rules, but to do so imaginatively and effectively, you have to first know the rules you’re stretching; and
2) Read. Read voraciously. Read the classics, read fiction, read nonfiction. Read poetry and plays and theses. Read good works of literature and read bad ones. Reading enhances our grasp of language, the scope of our imagination, and the craft of storytelling.
“My dearest darling…” That was how Meghan Holloway’s grandfather began all of his letters to her grandmother while he was stationed in Okinawa in World War II. She never knew her grandfather, but she poured over his letters as a child. She went to school one day with lines drawn up the back of her legs, just as her grandmother had as a young woman whose nylons had been donated to make parachutes, and she endlessly pestered her paternal grandfather for stories of his childhood and service. The worn letters and patiently-told stories cemented her interest in history, especially in the WWII era. After traveling the world for several years and writing romantic suspense novels under a pseudonym, she’s settled down in the American suburbs, finishing a graduate degree in archival management and preservation, and working on her first historical novel.