I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Charlene Newcomb to talk with me about her writing. Charlene is the author of Men of the Cross, Book I of Battle Scars. A tale of war’s impact on a young knight serving Richard the Lionheart and of forbidden love, this historical adventure is set during the Third Crusade. Book II, For King and Country, will be published in 2015. Visit Charlene’s website and find her on Facebook at CharleneNewcombAuthor, and on Twitter @charnewcomb.
Why do you write?
Growing up, I was the youngest of three children. With an 11-year age difference between my brother and me, I often was on my own. As early as I can remember I had stories floating around in my head. But it wasn’t until I was well into my 30s that I seriously put pen to paper. Back then, I carved out writing time to escape the pressures of family, work, and graduate school. Now the children are grown and on their own. Work and life remain busy, but I have more free time for writing. Not enough, mind you, but it’s a great feeling to see that blank page – or screen – take shape with words. Writers are told to write for themselves, but in all honesty, I have a great desire to share my journey with readers.
For the last few years, that journey has been to the 12th century. I don’t remember learning much about that era when I was in school: there were crusades, Thomas Beckett was murdered, John would be king, and Magna Carta would inspire 18th century colonists on this side of the Atlantic to write a Declaration of Independence. History was little more than names and dates. The way it was taught created little lasting impression on most students. My classmates called it boring! I had one or two teachers who introduced a human element and that brought the past to life for me. If I can do that for a few people through my historical fiction I am thrilled. Names and dates, politics, culture, and religion, are critical to the backdrop of the story. But through the characters in our stories – whether real persons or fictional ones – we can let readers experience all the joys and heartaches of those past lives and times while we entertain and educate.
How has writing impacted your life?
Writing has given me friends for life, both in-the-flesh ones and virtual ones. These folks encourage me to write and offer valuable critiques. It’s brought imaginary people to my life, too, who sometimes talk to me in the strangest places. You sing in the shower? I have conversations there. In the car: it’s good we have hands-free cell phones, else the folks sitting next to me at a stoplight might wonder about the animated conversation I’m having with myself.
The research I do for my medieval fiction has been so much more eye-opening than anything I learned in school. I feel I have a much broader perspective of events that have shaped our 21st century lives. I am much more aware of bias in reporting, now and then. I have grey shades on. Nothing is black and white, is it?
What advice would you give to beginner writers?
I still feel like a beginner myself though I published my first short story 21 years ago. I am still learning and honing my craft. But I am happy to share with other beginners how I approach this writing life, what works for me. I write. I revise, but not until I have written “the end” on the first draft. My most productive writing time is in the morning, and I try to write at least 5 days a week even if it’s only for 30-60 minutes. I do my research. I accept that I cannot possibly know everything about the time period, but I do my best to read multiple sources of information. I write the story I want to write, though it may not be the most popular genre or era. I don’t plan to retire from my day job. And lastly, I hang out with people who encourage me to pursue your dreams.
If you plan to self-publish
- find good critique partners; listen, and don’t be defensive
- revise, revise, and then revise again
- use beta readers
- get editorial help
- pay professionals to design your cover art unless you are skilled with graphic design
- be prepared to become a business manager
- use social media to engage other writers and to find readers but DO NOT do the hard sell. “Buy my book, buy my book, buy my book” will only turn people off
- submit your book to reputable reviews and awards sites
Keep writing! And now, for me, back to final edits on Book II of Battle Scars.