Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview series at The Writing Life. I am very pleased to welcome Meghan Holloway, author of the romantic suspense novels, A Thin, Dark Line and As Darkness Gathers.
Welcome to The Writing Life, Meghan. Please tell us about yourself.
“My dearest darling…” That was how my grandfather began all of his letters to my grandmother while he was stationed in Okinawa in World War II. I never knew my grandfather, but I’ve poured over his letters. I used to draw lines up the back of my legs, just as my grandmother had as a young woman whose nylons had been donated to make parachutes, and I’ve endlessly pestered my paternal grandfather for stories of his childhood and service. The worn letters and patiently-told stories cemented my interest in history, especially in the WWII era.
I found my first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at a friend’s house and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery.
I flew an airplane before I learned how to drive a car, did my undergrad work in a crumbling once-all girls’ school in the sweltering south, spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, and traveled the world for a few years. Now I’m settled down in the foothills of the Rockies, working on a masters in a once-all girls’ school in the blustery north, writing my third and fourth novels, hanging out with my standard poodle, and spending my nights helping solve crime.
What are the genres of your books?
I’ve previously published two romantic suspense novels under the pseudonym Emma Elliot, but my work in progress is a venture into a new genre for me: historical fiction.
Welcome to the fascinating world of historical fiction. Please describe what your work in progress is about.
My story is about a Welsh sheep farmer, who is a veteran of World War One and whose son is a conscientious objector in WWII. After the Somme, my protagonist swore he would never set foot in France again, but after almost three decades, he’s forced to renege on that vow to save the son he thought lost to him.
How did you come up with the title?
I love a rousing battle speech, and one that became cemented in my mind in my undergrad studies is from Shakespeare’s play, The Life of King Henry the Fifth. In Act III, Scene I, before Harfleur in France, Prince Hal, the titular king, gives this incredible rallying speech to his soldiers. It begins with the lines:
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger.
My protagonist is a quiet, stalwart man, very set in his ways, a salt of the earth type. But he’s forced back into the height of violence and tumult because of his love for his son. Thus, I’ve purloined a bit of Shakespeare for my title: Once More unto the Breach.
What inspired you to write Once More unto the Breach?
I’ve long been fascinated with the WWII era. It was an age of tremendous courage and sacrifice and duty, and I think the title of Greatest Generation is a well-earned one. My grandmother told me stories of turning in her stockings to aid in parachute production, and when I was young, I drew lines up the back of my legs as she did. My grandfather was in Okinawa, and in an old hatbox in the back of a closet, I found the beautiful letters he wrote to my grandmother while stationed in Japan. My great-uncle was a medic, and when I asked him, only once, to tell me about his time in the war, his eyes welled with tears and he refused to speak of it. The men and women of that era have been greatly honored, but they’ve also been greatly haunted, and that kind of juxtaposition—glory and horror—has always intrigued me. Writing has long been my passion as has studying WWII, and combining the two has been my goal as an author.
This particular story was inspired by a friend who frequently challenges me with writing exercises. After a specific writing prompt, my characters, Rhys and Charlotte, were born.
Does the main character resemble you? If so, in what ways?
The heroines of my two previous novels—A Thin, Dark Line and As Darkness Gathers—shared certain aspects of my personality. Eloise in my first novel has my passion for books and librarianship and my stubbornness. I like to think I’m as resourceful as Finch, the main character of my second book, and as quick-thinking in tough situations.
The novel I’m currently working on is my first exploration of a male main character. I’m certain aspects of myself come through on the pages, and while Rhys isn’t based on any particular person, he most resembles my grandfather and the friend of mine who originally inspired the story. He has my grandfather’s physical features—the towering height, the large, strong hands—and he has my grandfather’s taciturn nature. He has my friend’s unflappable, rational personality and strong sense of responsibility and honor.
It’s been intriguing and very much a study in psychology to write in a male perspective.
What was the last book you read? What did you think of it?
I just finished The Girl on the Train the other day, and I loved it. When I’m writing, I don’t read books in the genre in which I’m writing. I think a writer’s brain is very osmotic, and I don’t want to absorb someone else’s way of writing about the same era and events about which I’m writing. So when I write suspense, I read historical fiction; when I write historical fiction, I read suspense.
With The Girl on the Train, I very quickly guessed the whodunit, but I loved the way Hawkins wrote such a layered tale with such incredibly unreliable narrators.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I love Alyson Richman’s books, Sarah McCoy’s, Tessa Dare’s, Paul Fraser Collard’s, Rick Atkinson’s, and Ellen Marie Wiseman’s. They are some of my automatic buys. I also love Loren Eiseley’s work, and my all-time favorite author is Mary Stewart.
What author(s) or person(s) have influenced you as a writer and why?
Mary Stewart has been a tremendous influence on my writing. I first stumbled upon her romantic suspenses when I was about twelve years old. I loved how vividly she detailed a setting, how she used dialogue to convey action, and how classy, vulnerable, and strong her heroines were.
In my undergrad work, I studied Creative Writing, and two of my professors, Dr. Randall Smith and Mr. Howard Bahr, were instrumental in teaching me not merely how to be a good writer but how to be an effective storyteller.
Do you have a favorite place to write? To read?
I love the idea of a private study, but in actuality, I do most of my reading and writing on the couch with my standard poodle playing lichen to my legs. I wrote my first novel, A Thin, Dark Line, sitting at my kitchen table. But all my subsequent writing has taken place on the couch.
Tell us something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
Well, let’s see… When I was a child, I wanted to be a Navy SEAL; I flew a plane by myself before I ever drove a car by myself; I rafted down the Nile for my eighteenth birthday; and I am an excellent markswoman.
Very impressive! What do you find is the most challenging aspect of writing?
The most challenging aspect of writing for me is getting that first draft down on paper, to eke out a solid, riveting tale from my imagination and from the events of history. I’m a muller when I write in that I ruminate over every word and turn of phrase. I’m also a perfectionist, so if something I’ve written doesn’t strike the right chord with me, it is scribbled out of my notebook, and I begin again.
What is your favorite part of writing?
My favorite part of writing is the editing! I love fleshing out that first draft, filling in any plot holes that were left, rounding out the characters and especially the secondary ones, creating a more seamless, cohesive story. After I finish writing out the first draft—and I write everything longhand and then type it—I print out the draft and sit down with it, a slew of red pens, and a stack of legal notebooks. I relish that phase of writing.
Did the writing process uncover surprises or learning experiences for you? What about the publishing process?
I always research different aspects of my books, but this has been the book that, by far, required the most research. So much so that in the beginning I had a hard time even putting pencil to paper. I felt like I needed to be an expert at every aspect of not just the war, but the location, the weaponry, the clothing, etc, etc, etc. I was beginning to obsess over the fact that I felt like I would never know enough to feel comfortable writing about an era in which I had not lived and experienced. That was a learning process for me, to realize I don’t—in fact, I can’t—know every single detail about every single aspect of the war and what life would have been like then.
The publishing process was a very significant learning experience, because publishing has taught me how to write a marketable book. Being an author is very much about being a business and being saleable, and that is the publishing house’s job: to take your story and to make it a book to be sold to the largest market possible.
What do you hope readers will gain from your books?
There are always themes and undercurrents in my books. In A Thin, Dark Line, the main theme is that history is cyclical and the image one presents to the outside world is not always an accurate one. In As Darkness Gathers, the question that was asked throughout the story was “are those with whom you’re closest truly the ones you can trust?” My work in progress explores the idea that war is fought on many fronts and that even the smallest act of courage can have a rippling effect.
Mainly, I write to transport the reader. I want the reader to be engrossed and consumed by the story I tell, to feel what the characters are feeling, to be able to visually see the scene unfold, and to be left thoughtful and moved.
Looking back, Meghan, what did you do right that helped you write and market your books? What didn’t work as well?
To be frank, in my first venture as an author, I did not market successfully. Now, my goal in that first venture was to be published, and in that I succeeded as a writer. But the publishing house I signed on with was small and didn’t have the resources to market on anything but a minuscule scale, and I didn’t have the business savvy to market either at that point. I was worried about coming across as pushy and obnoxious, so I didn’t try to sell myself or my books with anything but an occasional post about my stories. That didn’t work. I didn’t have the following built up to be able to write a book, have it published, and then sit back and watch it sale.
So I had a learning curve in that aspect. Being an author is very much a business, and the author is very much a salesman and spokesman for the book. But the example of other authors has shown me there are ways of doing that with elegance and class.
Any advice or tips for writers looking to get published?
When I finished my first novel, I spent a lot of time researching publishers. I created a list of publishing houses that would accept an unsolicited manuscript (meaning, you didn’t have to go through an agent to publish with them), and I started going down the list and submitting. Put together a stellar synopsis, and abide exactly by the rubrics the publishing house lays out when asking for submissions. And know that rejection letters are par for the course in this profession. I was lucky enough to receive only one before signing on for a three book deal with a publishing house. However, that house went under right after I published my second book.
With my work in progress, I’ve decided to go through an agent, and my best advice as someone who’s still in the process with this is to do your research and be courteous.
Website and social media links?
My website: http://authoramholloway.my-free.website
Where can we find your books?
A Thin, Dark Line
As Darkness Gathers
At this point, you can only find my work in progress in my notebooks and on my laptop. It was put on the back burner for a couple of years while I finished my graduate work, but I will soon be working on finding an agent for the manuscript and then a publisher. I will certainly keep you posted, though!
Wonderful, please do! Meghan, what’s next for you?
After I find a publisher for my work in progress, I may venture back into modern suspense for a story that’s been niggling at my mind for a while now about how little justice there is in the judicial system and whether or not vigilantism has its place in society.
Thank you for chatting with me, Meghan. I enjoyed getting to know more about you and your books. All the best with your books and writing!
ABOUT ELEANOR PARKER SAPIA:
Eleanor Parker Sapia is the Puerto Rican-born author of the award-winning historical novel, A DECENT WOMAN, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, which garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. Eleanor is a writer, artist, and photographer, who is never without a pen and a notebook, and her passport and camera are always ready. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives and writes in Berkeley County, West Virginia.
Eleanor’s book, A DECENT WOMAN: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK