Hi, Eris, and welcome! We’re thrilled to have you here today. Even though I have read your books, can you tell my friends about your newest release?
Sure! Gallows Pole I think has really driven home for me how much I enjoy telling the stories of outsiders.
If the name’s ringing a bell, you’re probably thinking of the Led Zeppelin song (actually, it’s a folk song that’s been around forever, they just did one of the most popular modern versions). If you listen to the lyrics, there’s this man about to be hanged and hoping his friends and relatives will show up in time and be able to bribe the hangman to let him go. None of the money bribes work, but when his sister shows up, well, she has something different she can offer, no? I always thought this plot would make a good movie, and then one day I had the song playing and thought, “Why don’t you write this story?” And then it was one of those times when a story comes together like lightning, everything all at once, and the drive to get it on paper was relentless. It commandeered my life, so much that I stopped in the middle of a much longer novel to write it.
It’s really a Beauty and the Beast story. The hangman is willing to trade Emmat, the heroine’s, life for her brother’s, but other than what most men want from a woman, she has no idea what she’s getting into. And because I like writing outcasts and tough women, Emmat has a secret: she’s also a criminal. A notorious one. It’s a story about two people who do horrible things because they feel like life has backed them into a corner, and how those two people might be able to redeem themselves.
I’ve had a few reveiwers commenting on the fact that as a historical romance, this story is unusual in that it doesn’t take place on estates or in ballrooms among polite society, and I really take that as a compliment. I love to write about characters and settings that go against the grain. The troublemakers. Probably because in my real life, I’m a fairly well-behaved person (more or less, ha!), so I guess my writing is where I can live through characters who aren’t.
And are you working on anything right now? Will you sneak and tell me about it? I won’t tell anyone if you do…
On paper or in my head? Because in my head, I have a dozen things going on at once. Someone please make it stop so I can focus. Hehe.
On paper, I’m working on the last chapter of book one of a romantic fantasy trilogy. The series is called After Exile, and the first book is An Emperor for the Eclipse. It was supposed to be one long book, but then I saw how much wordcount it was taking me to get from point A to point B and decided to split it up into three books. Because each one is going to be 120K+ words (kill me now).
Fantasy was one of my staple reading genres growing up (and still is!), and I always wanted to write something like that, but I’ll admit, my dirty side was always a little disappointed about the fade-to-black on any potential love scenes. So now that I’m in the driver’s seat, that’s what you get. A full-fledged fantasy world and plot, but with relationships and sex welcome at the table rather than implied or glossed over.
As a fantasy, I’d say it leans to the Game of Thrones end, where politicking and people’s relationships take a front seat, versus Lord of the Rings, where there’s a lot of focus on fantastical creatures and beings. This isn’t a story ripe with dragons and magic. There’s a little bit of that, but I wanted that element to be only just outside of a normal, believable reality, and mostly to put the focus on the characters.
In short, the series is about the hero who starts the story fallen from grace—exiled, as per the title—ready to give up on life, and he gets elevated to a leadership position he doesn’t want. He has to spend the rest of the series accepting what he was born to be: a leader. There’s a second chance romance for him, but there’s also another major couple the story follows, and two secondary couples. As far as sex goes, it’s for the open-minded, because there’s a variety, from vanilla to BDSM, to lesbian. It’s kind of a grab bag, but so is real life, eh?
So what inspires you?
Good lord, everything. History. Rebels. Music. A lot of weird spiritual stuff I won’t bore you with. It really comes from everywhere. The smallest grain of a thought catches my attention sometimes, and then I shake my head and realize I’ve been zoning out for 30 minutes, following the trail, extrapolating the idea. I may or may not have missed a freeway on-ramp because of this.
What were the challenges you faced (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing your latest book to life?
I’m a complete nerd for historical accuracy, and I have to say it was a bit of a challenge to find information on some of the elements I needed for Gallows Pole. It’s harder to find specific information about how people like hangmen and highwaymen lived, because in the early eighteenth century, the lower classes didn’t really spend a lot of time writing down what was going on in their daily lives, and the educated classes didn’t tend to bother recording much about “undesirables”. Information can be found, but you have to sometimes work with what little you can get.
I also had to big-time revise the way the last chapter goes down. About half-way through writing the story, I just realized that it would need to be a chapter longer than I’d originally planned, and that was because my original resolution to the conflict felt entirely to easy and tidy for me. I needed to have some more obstacles for the heroine and really make her fight hard over her ultimate choices.
And logistically, every book is difficult, in that finding writing time in my life is sometimes like squeezing blood from a stone. But we (writers) get it done. We have to.
What books have influenced your writing most?
Probably the books I enjoyed growing up. Fantasy and sci-fi novels. I think the pile of Anne Rice novels I read, especially her vampire stories, where I discovered books that made the reader empathize which characters who might otherwise be villains played a heavy role. There is a lot of sympathy for the devil going on in the things I write. She also made me love well-researched historical fiction. And believe it or not, I’ve enjoyed a lot of “boring” history books. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Gibbon). A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (Churchill). I think a lot of the pragmatism in the way my worlds are written comes from having read things like that. Seeing how societies behave on a large scale. The more things change, the more they stay the same, you know?
How did you come up with your title?
Sigh. It really is the same name as the song that inspired it. I also might have gone with The Hangman’s Wife, if my publisher vetoed Gallows Pole, but it never came to that. Other stories of mine have more creative titles, I swear! Gallows Pole does have a nice innuendo to it, though, and that suits my immature sense of humor just fine.
Did you include any experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
In this particular book, not so much. Maybe if you count the amount of swearing the heroine does in her head, but other than that … Anything in this story coming from my real life would be mostly limited to sensory recall. How it feels to try to see in a pitch-black room, the sounds horses make, the way crows hop around in a field. Things like that.
Wait, I take that back. There is a scene where the heroine is displeased to be dealing with Her Montly Visitor. She’s all miserable and headachy and bloated, and the hangman takes the time to rub her head and back to make her feel better. That was pure fan service, just for me, because I have had those days, and my husband is my hero when he tries to make it better. So that is very much from real life.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
From what I’ve learned so far, I would say two things.
First, it’s a good idea to listen with an open mind and make an effort at really understanding advice other people are giving. Other authors, other industry professionals like editors, publicists, agents, book cover designers, etc. You honestly don’t have to do a damn thing they say, but why not benefit from their experience? Try out the things they recommend. If they don’t work for you, then discard them. Learn the so-called “rules” and then start tossing the ones that don’t seem to help or matter to you. But don’t discard everything just because “I don’t wanna!” Stubbornness is the less-helpful cousin of Tenacity.
The second thing stems from the first. You don’t have to do this in one sitting, but I think it’s a good idea to get a handle (and this may take time and some introspection) on where you fall on the Art/Money spectrum. Are you doing this to make art, or are you doing this to make money/be popular? There is no wrong answer. Both are legitimate goals and you might be anywhere in between those two ends. But the correlation I’ve seen is, the further you are at the Art end, the more you can break all the rules and do whatever you want. Write in any genre or crazy combo of genres, even if they’re not selling right now. Have your characters do things that upset people. Experiment with weird narrative styles, unorthodox endings. If you’re way at the Money end, you’re going to need to really heed industry advice and have a specific game plan for yourself. Find out what the market is doing. Spend time staying on top of industry news and putting strategies into place. Don’t do things that make readers unhappy. Even though I think most writers are somewhere in the middle, I think everyone tips the scales at least just a little bit in one direction or the other. I think it’s good to know which direction that is for you, because it can really help guide you when you come up against some of the tougher decisions. You can say, “What is my end game? What am I really doing here?”